Thursday, September 13, 2007

AC Grayling Talk

Last night, Sarah and I went to a fantastic event organised by Mr. B's Book Emporium (probably the best independent bookshop in Bath). AC Grayling the renowned Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College came to discuss his new book (Towards the Light: The story and struggles for Liberty & Rights that made the modern West). Having not heard or seen him before I was expecting a rather dry and academic treatise. As it happened he was hugely engaging and incredibly impressive. He interspersed the context and content of the book with amazing anecdotes from discussions that he has had with the great and the good at the World Economic Forum and invectives of the struggle for protection of individual liberties in the face of an increasingly draconian state security apparatus.

The one area that struck home for me was the discussion of the tension between Western Liberal Democracy and increasingly orthodox hegemony in the Islamic world. He discussed how the increasing orthodoxy and violence of the Spanish inquisition in the late 15th century led to the backlash of the Renaissance and the Reformation. It led me to wonder where this increasing cycle of violent, militant orthodoxy in the Islamic world will lead and at what point the more liberal majority in the Islamic world will react to it and defuse it with another Islamic Renaissance. It strikes me that Western Liberal Democracy and Islam are not mutually exclusive. However, a shift in the balance of power within the Muslim world would need to take place to enable a political liberal democracy to co-exist with Islamic cultural norms and behaviours. However, the recent evangelical nature of the Bush Doctrine and Christian neo-conservatism are reinforcing the shift towards militant and orthodox Islam as a protective measure. As it stands, the is little public recognition of fact the militant orthodox Islam is a minority within the Muslim world. The combination of globalised mass media and facilitated access to arms enables the minority to amplify their message and dominate the public consciousness of Islam. A greater emphasis on all the good that is done elsewhere in the Muslim majority could help to balance out the picture and provide an impetus to the more liberal majority whilst marginalising the dangerous minority.

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