Bostom opines: These are the intellectuals we and our governments in the West, and all other bastions of liberal democracy, must support openly, if Islamic societies are ever to emerge from their oppressive barbarity.
Interviewer: Do you have a problem with religion?
Dr. Ibtihal Al-Khatib: Of course not. My problem is with religious coercion. That is what goes on in most Arab countries.
Bostom continues: Amidst the endless stream of blather across the political spectrum about “reform” in the Islamic world, from the dangerously uninformed pieties of a Michael Novak (who insists upon supporting so-called reformist Muslims, that “…know these [‘freedom, individual dignity, equality under the law, and the rule of law’] flow also from Islam…”), on the right, to the deliberately deceitful characterizations of Islamic Law and history by the thrusting young auto-janissary Noah Feldman, on the left, I am constantly drawn back (seeking mental solace!) to the uncompromised, pellucid arguments for genuine reform enunciated (here, and in more detail here) by the Pakistani ex-Muslim scholar (and dear colleague), Ibn Warraq.
Now thanks once again to MEMRI, an articulate and immensely courageous Kuwaiti woman journalist, Ibtihal Al-Khatib has articulated, elegantly, in her own voice the same arguments put forth by Ibn Warraq. These are the intellectuals we and our governments in the West, and all other bastions of liberal democracy, must support openly, if Islamic societies are ever to emerge from their oppressive barbarity.
The following extracts are from an interview of Dr. Ibtihal Al-Khatib which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on March 14, 2008 wherein she continued to criticize Hizballah—despite receiving threatening letters, calling her a Jew, a collaborator, and an apostate—while maintaining that secularism is the only way to protect religious freedom in Arab Muslim societies.
Dr. Ibtihal Al-Khatib: Our mission, as journalists, is to make it clear that the principles of secularism and liberalism, which have gained a bad reputation recently in the Arab world, are not…
Interviewer: Why have they gained a bad reputation?
Dr. Ibtihal Al-Khatib: Because they are characterized as heretical.
Interviewer: You mean that they are confronted by accusations of heresy.
Dr. Ibtihal Al-Khatib: Yes. Anyone who is secular is accused of being a heretic, which is absolutely untrue. Secularism is the belief in the separation of religion and state. In other words, religion belongs to God, and the state belongs to all. Every person is free to practice his religion and follow his spiritual path, but all are subject to a civil state.
That way, we ensure just treatment for all, instead of Sunnis enjoying more rights than Shiites, or vice versa, and Christians having no rights whatsoever in an Islamic state.[…]I won’t say that I am either Shiite or Sunni – I declare myself to be a Kuwaiti, and that’s it. As for my spiritual path, it is between me and my Creator.
Dr. Ibtihal Al-Khatib: All I’m saying is that you cannot use these [core Islamic] texts to build a modern state. I say this is impossible, because there are many different ways of understanding these texts. In addition, in modern countries, there are not only Muslims. You cannot build a country on Islam alone, and exclude followers of other religions.
Interviewer: So you want a state that has nothing to do with Islam?
Dr. Ibtihal Al-Khatib: I want a state that is not based on religion – a civil state. But one of the conditions is to protect people who want to practice their religion. Let me give you an example. The Bohra is a Muslim sect, which has recently been denied the right to have a mosque in Kuwait. Why?
Interviewer: You want to defend religious rights with secularism.
Dr. Ibtihal Al-Khatib: Secularism protects the rights of minorities, and all the religious rights. Of course.
Interviewer: Sometimes the rights of the majority are lost amid all the talk about the rights of the minorities.
Dr. Ibtihal Al-Khatib: How can they be lost, if you establish a civil regime that protects everybody, and tells you that just as you are free to follow your Sunni path, I am free to follow my Shiite path, and Christians and Jews have their rights too? This way we are all equal and protected by the secular regime, which treats us all without discrimination
Tundraman adds: In principle, she is right. On an individual level she is very right -religion and politics, state and religion, should be kept apart. The problem is that in the Islamic religion, that is not the case. However, when it comes to “secular states”, we DO have a kind of continuum there also among Western democracies.
Take Finland, for example, which has two state churches. In that, it is less secular than France, although there is of course freedom of religion in Finland and protection of the rights of minority religions. Israel is also a modern democracy with freedom of religion – but some issues are not totally secular (as, for example, the impossibility of having a civil marriage or divorce). One should not demand more of a secular Muslim state than one demands of a Christian or Jewish secular state. Never the less, Muslim states (with perhaps the exception of Turkey) still have a very long way to go even to that point.
KGS: In principle I agree, but given the very nature of Islam, a Muslim state can’t be allowed the same religious latitude that other religious states currently enjoy, of both a secular system and an religious identity at such an early stage. In a theoretical scenario that takes place in the Islamic world in a few hundred years after serious reform, then I believe that it could -in theory- become a reality. Therefore, there should be more demands from Islam (regardless of the double standard) at this particular junction in history until it proves it can function as other states function in the west.