Islam, the West, and Tolerance: Conceiving Coexistence

By Isaac, Tseggai | Comparative Civilizations Review, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Islam, the West, and Tolerance: Conceiving Coexistence


Isaac, Tseggai, Comparative Civilizations Review


Aaron Tyler, Islam, the West, and Tolerance: Conceiving Coexistence. New York: Palgrave, 2008.

Aaron Tyler's book is about tolerance, coexistence, and reconciling religious and ideological differences. The book begins by giving an excellent background analysis of the points of divergence "between Islam and the West." The author focuses on three broad themes that reflect theoretical and substantial perspectives.

First, the modern world is described as characterized by anxious dilemma in the face of post-September 11 trauma. The dark incident of September 11, 2001 has unleashed angry recriminations between the Muslim world and the West.

Even though fringe groups and malcontents in the name of Islam have conducted terrorist acts, their misguided acts need not be attributed to Islam. By comparison with Christianity and other religions, Islam is not more violent than the rest. Episodic violence by Muslims in direct reaction to the West's geostrategic interests, such as the "double standard regarding the Palestinian-Israeli question," unquestioning support for the state of Israel, the Iraqi invasion, and cultural invasion in the form of "Western secularism and materialism" may have aroused anger among some extremists. Extremists do not define Islam; Islam, in the fullness of its tenets, is a religion of peace.

The apparent unease on the part of the West regarding Islam is an inevitable outcome of Islam seeking to validate itself in the face of globalization driven by Western power and influence. Islam must be tolerated, accommodated, and welcomed by the West. Tolerance, an ancient concept common in the medieval era, that had played a critical role before the liberal ideology came into vogue, is essential today and much more needed than ever before. The author differentiates tolerance from toleration by dismissing toleration as a forced, reluctant, and matter of fact acceptance of the Other. Tolerance is the opposite; it is a willing embrace of the Other without any pretexts or contingencies. Islam's reticence toward ? and skepticism of? Western cultural values needs to be understood from the perspective of tolerance in its authentic rendition.

Western consumerism and materialism are perceived by many in the world of Islam as a relentless threat to the survival of the religiocultural values and traditions espoused by the greater Islamic community. The West's postmodern relativism is regarded by many Muslims as intolerant to those traditional Muslim communities that adhere to a system of absolutes (p. 2).

Second, the ubiquitous Huntington paradigm about the clash of civilizations, looked at from the point of view of this book, is not without merit. The author agrees with Huntington that "colliding" ideologies have caused cross-cultural misunderstandings and upheavals. Even though Huntington was a nationalist zealot who expressed his pessimism about Islam as a menace to Western civilization, his misgivings concerning multiculturalism on Western terms fit well with Islam's rejection of multiculturalism on Islam's terms. In order to reverse the impending "cultural confrontation", the author argues that "Islam and the West" must learn to "coexist." Against this backdrop, Western intolerance of Islam seeking its own ways of perpetual validation is an obstacle to coexistence.

Many Muslims view the West's dissemblance of tolerance as a disingenuous, valueless indifference, where individuals are extracted from their group identities, and a universal strangeness and religious apathy are espoused. Muslims describe the thin conceptualization of tolerance that dominates the West as nothing more than hypocritical relativism or indifference, intolerant of absolute convictions (p. 161).

Third, coexistence is the essential antidote to conflict. Historians such as Bernard Lewis identify coexistence as a prudent alternative. Muslims, such as the grand mufti of Syria, and Christian and Jewish religious leaders have identified the indispensability of coexistence.

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