I am an American by nationality, a Pakistani by memory, and a citizen of the world by conviction. Islam is my faith and like millions of other Muslims in America and Europe–I am shaping the future of Islam in the “west.” I recently had the opportunity to attend a debate between Tariq Ramadan and Christopher Hitchens titled Is Islam a Religion of Peace? However, I thought the question to be irrelevant—what is clear is that Muslims have “arrived” in the west, and that they are taking claim, molding and shaping a uniquely western identity. America is a nation built by immigrants (E Pluribus Unum) and the Muslim population is contributing to the debate of America’s future. Europe is aging (average-40) and the need to remain economically viable in the era of globalization requires an influx of immigrants, and this has bought Europe’s insecurities about its identity to the forefront. The question should not be whether or not Islam is a religion of peace, but instead, why are secular liberal democracies so concerned about the faith of their new citizens?
Tariq Ramadan, Oxford professor of Islamic studies, and possibly the most influential Muslim voice in Europe, was banned from entering the United States under the Bush administration. The ban was lifted after ACLU applied pressure, and the Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, formally removed George’s decree. Christopher Hitchens is a regular contributor to the Atlantic, an intellectual, author of numerous volumes on atheism and is a vocal supporter of atheist doctrine. Hitchens does not go on the offensive against Islam—but rather against faith in general. In fact, Hitchens asks how any religion (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or Islam) could be doctrines of peace. Tariq’s main point centered on the argument that a minority population participating in violence does not represent the majority of believers. He emphasized that there has been a development of a new Muslim identity. Hitchens’ most probing question was about secterian violence– referring to the bombings of Shia holy site in Samar Iraq. The question made Tariq pause.
“I think the debate was heated, it didn’t accomplish much, but at least there is dialogue” an elderly woman told me as we entered the Six train. In her hands, she carries a signed copy of Hitchens’ Hitch-22, while I carried Ramadan’s What I Believe. It was an interesting contrast.
Tariq’s master’s thesis was titled: The Notion of Suffering in Nietzsche’s Philosophy. Nietzsche writes in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “Man is something that will be overcome, what have you done to overcome him?” Hitchens and Ramadan would produce diametrically opposite answers to that question.