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Ian Buruma writes about politics and culture for a variety of major publications—most frequently for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Corriere della[…]

Many Muslims feel excluded from Europe’s political process, yet the internal divisions of Islam have prevented believers from making common cause.

Question: Would promoting a view of religion as a cultural rnproduct reduce intolerance?

Ian Buruma:  Well I don’t rnthink it would make much difference whether we call it a cultural rnproduct or anything else.  Of course to some extent it is a cultural rnproduct.  I mean the religions most people believe in are the ones that rnthey were born with or part of the communities they were born into, but rnrecognizing that is not going to lessen the hostilities or the tensions rnthat are there because I think the reasons for those are social, rnpolitical and as I said earlier to do with more general anxieties, whichrn are not always very focused.  But when people are frightened the first rnthings that they are going to react against are minorities, alien rnminorities—or minorities that look alien—and the people who supposedly rnhave power, the elites who are blamed for making life difficult. 

Would some European countries benefit from the establishment of an rnIslamic political party?

Ian Buruma: It might, but thern problem… Well, it depends on the political system.  In a basically two rnparty system like Britain, or the United States for that matter, having arn splinter party that is religious that kind doesn’t make any rndifference.  In countries with proportional representation where you rnhave coalition governments, many parties there are of course religious rnparties. You have Christian Democrats.  You have Christian parties of rnvarious kinds, and it is very possible that there will be Islamic rnparties of that nature.  The problem with forming an Islamic party, and rnthere have been people who have tried, is that there is no such thing asrn an Islamic community.  They are very divided.  They come from very rndifferent cultures.  There is a schism between the Shiites and the rnSunnis and so on, so it is difficult for Muslims to make a common rnpolitical cause even though from the outside, from the non-Muslim rnperspective they all may look like one great monolith.

rn Is genuine religious compromise possible in a liberal democracy?

Ianrn Buruma:  Well yes, because without compromise you can’t have a rnliberal system, liberal democratic system.  That is the name of the rngame. And so you would have to have compromises and in fact, on a daily rnbasis we have compromises.  The question is where do you draw the line rnand are there things that you cannot compromise with and I would draw rnthe line always at the use of violence or the threat of the use of rnviolence.  If people use violence or threaten violence to impose their rnviews on others that is something that cannot be tolerated or rncompromised with.

Recorded April 21, 2010
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