National Interest: Can John Locke Save Political Islam?
This article was originally posted at The National Interest.
“I NO sooner perceived myself in the world,” wrote English philosopher John Locke, “than I found myself in a storm.” Locke was referring to the maelstrom of religious fanaticism and intolerance that was tearing apart the social fabric of post-Reformation Europe. Born in 1632, Locke’s life encompassed one of the most turbulent periods of European history. The problem was not only the enmity and power struggles between Protestants and Catholics. Despite an official end to the wars of religion with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, militant Christianity could still destabilize governments, provoke mob violence, persecute religious dissenters and create a refugee crisis in the heart of Europe.
We can hardly ignore the parallels between Locke’s world and our own: the Syrian Civil War, the rise of the Islamic State, the horrific assaults on religious minorities, the massive flow of refugees from the Middle East, and the widening conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The repression and violence in the wake of the Arab Spring has exposed the fundamental crisis in modern Islam: a culture of intolerance reminiscent of Europe’s legacy as a persecuting society.
When President Obama addressed Muslims worldwide in his celebrated 2009 speech in Cairo, he praised Islamic history for demonstrating “the possibilities of religious tolerance.” Speaking before the United Nations five years later, his mood was considerably darker. Though denying that America was at war with Islam, Obama warned of “the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.” Even President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt speaking at Al Azhar University in January 2015, made an impassioned plea for “a religious revolution” to stymie extremist Islam that has “antagonized the entire world.”
Read the rest of this article at The National Interest.
Joseph Loconte is an associate professor of history at the King’s College in New York City and the author of A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918.