abc.net: by Abdul Hakim Murad: Must one be liberal to belong to the West? For all the polite multiculturalist denials, this question is being put to us more and more insistently.
The European Union, as it struggles to articulate a common cultural as well as economic vision, regularly toys with grand statements about Europe as a vision of human community, whose success underpins the universal model now being urged upon the rest of humanity. European liberals – with their Enlightenment, civil society, democratic institutions and human rights codes – sometimes seem to self-define as a secular Messiah, willing and ready to save the world. To resist is, by implication, to align oneself with an unregenerate, sinful humanity.
Yet we Europeans are in fact in the middle of a difficult argument. We are constantly quarrelling with ourselves over definitions of belonging. We can unite to build an Airbus, but will we really unite around a moral or cultural ideal? What, after all, are the exact historic grounds for European cultural unity? And – this now looks like the continent’s greatest concern – how can Muslims fit in?
Islam and the western tradition
Perhaps it helps if we look at Europe’s distant roots. Homer, long ago, told us how Europa, the daughter of the King of Phoenicia, was abducted by Zeus, duly ravished, and borne off to the island of Crete, where she gave birth to the Europeans. There is something emblematic and transgressive about this myth of origin: a Lebanese maiden torn from the breast of Asia and deposited in a corner of the continent which eventually bore her name.