Monday 16 July 2007

A call for renewed pride in liberalism

I'm always happy to give people a second chance. So I'm prepared to forgive Theo Hobson this piece last year with its crude caricature of 'secular fundamentalism' on the basis of his thoughtful article on Hizb ut-Tahrir in this week's Tablet (subscription required). Hobson describes his experience of attending some 'roundtable discussions' organised by the group, where he grew uneasy with the obsession (encouraged by some non-Muslims present) with blaming everything on British foreign policy and with seeking victim-status for the Muslim community. His experience of encountering the radical conservatism of fundamentalist Islam forces Hobson to reaffirm his belief in the values of secular liberalism, but leaves him wondering 'whether Islamic extremism was exacerbated by the wavering conviction of liberals.' Aware that in the face of Islamism's vision of 'grand organic unity', secular liberalism can seem like a weak alternative, Hobson ends with an appeal for a renewed pride in liberal principles, which he believes should be supported by religious believers like himself:

Maybe we need to renew liberalism as a positive social vision: of shared freedom forming the basis of the best possible form of society.

Liberalism is not just the least worst thing: it is the best thing. If we are religious, maybe we need to renew the idea that liberalism is a sacred good, a gift from God. For surely there is divine worth in a system that defends the young woman forced into an arranged marriage, for example, saving her from patriarchal tyranny. Ought we not to have pride in this?

After the apologies for fundamentalism by erstwhile liberal religious commentators like Madeleine Bunting, Karen Armstrong et al, this restatement of liberal Christianity is a healthy sign and ought to be welcomed by believers and unbelievers alike.

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