On the Muslim Question

On the Muslim Question

by Anne Norton
     
 

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In the post-9/11 West, there is no shortage of strident voices telling us that Islam is a threat to the security, values, way of life, and even existence of the United States and Europe. For better or worse, "the Muslim question" has become the great question of our time. It is a question bound up with others—about freedom of speech, terror, violence, human

Overview

In the post-9/11 West, there is no shortage of strident voices telling us that Islam is a threat to the security, values, way of life, and even existence of the United States and Europe. For better or worse, "the Muslim question" has become the great question of our time. It is a question bound up with others—about freedom of speech, terror, violence, human rights, women's dress, and sexuality. Above all, it is tied to the possibility of democracy. In this fearless, original, and surprising book, Anne Norton demolishes the notion that there is a "clash of civilizations" between the West and Islam. What is really in question, she argues, is the West's commitment to its own ideals: to democracy and the Enlightenment trinity of liberty, equality, and fraternity. In the most fundamental sense, the Muslim question is about the values not of Islamic, but of Western, civilization.

Moving between the United States and Europe, Norton provides a fresh perspective on iconic controversies, from the Danish cartoon of Muhammad to the murder of Theo van Gogh. She examines the arguments of a wide range of thinkers—from John Rawls to Slavoj Žižek. And she describes vivid everyday examples of ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims who have accepted each other and built a common life together. Ultimately, Norton provides a new vision of a richer and more diverse democratic life in the West, one that makes room for Muslims rather than scapegoating them for the West's own anxieties.

Editorial Reviews

Prospect - Paul Laity
She scores many hits, and illuminates the smug racism behind much recent blazoning of Enlightenment values.
Christian Century - Steve Young
Two strengths make Norton's work stand out in the crowded field of books that address Islam and democracy. First is her insistence on considering Islamic voices of the past and present, from medieval philosopher al-Farabi to Qutb and Ramadan, as conversation partners within the Western tradition. Second is her concise rebuttal of prominent philosophers, in particular Jacques Derrida, John Rawls and Slovaj Zizek, each of whom has perceived a danger in the nature of Islam.
From the Publisher
"Is there a clash of civilizations, as Samuel Huntington maintained, between the Muslim world and the West? Norton's response will be of interest to students of geopolitics and Islamic studies."Kirkus Reviews

"She scores many hits, and illuminates the smug racism behind much recent blazoning of Enlightenment values."—Paul Laity, Prospect

"Two strengths make Norton's work stand out in the crowded field of books that address Islam and democracy. First is her insistence on considering Islamic voices of the past and present, from medieval philosopher al-Farabi to Qutb and Ramadan, as conversation partners within the Western tradition. Second is her concise rebuttal of prominent philosophers, in particular Jacques Derrida, John Rawls and Slovaj Zizek, each of whom has perceived a danger in the nature of Islam."—Steve Young, Christian Century

"Professor Anne Norton of the University of Pennsylvania, is a liberal academic who takes on all the anti-Muslim hysterics, right wing paranoiacs and sloppy thinkers in this measured and profoundly thought-provoking book."—Charles H. Middleburgh, Middleburgh Blog

"Anne Norton provides us with a window into the interaction between European versions of modernity and the Islamic experience, drawing attention to how Muslims often face resistance and hatred as they enter into previously constituted elements of European society."Tikkun

"Anne Norton's On the Muslim Question . . . is distinguished by moral daring and intellectual perspicacity, that is bold and passionate in tone but also rigorous and academic in substance. . . . Anne Norton's scholarly effort, as much an academic tract as a pamphlet and a political statement, redeems all those promises and amply testifies to the intellectual and moral resources of the academy as well as its integrity."—S. Parvez Manzoor, Muslim World Book Review

"Anne Norton . . . has written an incisive volume analyzing a question at the heart of a number of contemporary vexing domestic and foreign policy issues. She brings to the task an impressive command of the subject matter as well as exceptional insight and judgment as a political theorist."—Mujeeb Khan, H-Net Reviews

"[T]he book is an insightful analysis of the way Islam and Muslims figure in contemporary discourses, and it should be read by students and scholars interested in representations of Islam and Muslims. I recommend it."—Lasse Thomassen, Political Studies Review and Political Theory

"This will be excellent and important reading for missiologists, social anthropologists, political scientists, and others."—Bruce Campbell Moyer, Seminary Studies

"On the Muslim Question, is an indispensable reading for scholars as well as those interested in understanding the complex relationship between Islam and the West."—Asif Mohiuddin, Islam and Civilisational Renewal

"On the Muslim Question combines virtues rarely found in one place. It is scrupulously attentive to the everyday facts about the ways in which the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds interact and devastatingly sharp about the way in which the facts undermine a lot of high-flown commentary on the supposed threat the Muslim world poses to the West. . . . [Norton] is a witty and graceful writer. . . . On The Muslim Question is a triumph."—Alan Ryan, Journal of Church and State

Library Journal
Halfway through this book, Norton (political science, Univ. of Pennsylvania; 95 Theses on Politics, Culture, and Method) writes that when reading the works of philosophers and theorists who have died, “readers are obliged to read critically, dismissing or condemning some of what [the authors] wrote, accepting other works and passages as useful or brilliant.” This advice should pertain to all readers of all books, including this one. Norton’s central claims, that the clash of civilizations is not borne out in the daily lives of ordinary people and that the West needs to examine critically its political and philosophical stance toward Islam and the Muslim world, are compelling, but she tends to slip too easily into sweeping, unsupported statements that detract from her argument and are unnecessarily provocative. For example, maintaining that Western feminists are more concerned with polygamy in other countries than with sexual assault in their own is baffling and comes across implicitly as an argument for cultural and moral relativism. Contending that people fear suicide bombers because they are “an image of what is feared in Muslim immigrants who assimilate” is an unfortunate piece of social psychoanalysis. These types of weaknesses detract from what Norton maintains is the book’s actual claims.

Verdict Readers already familiar with Norton’s work may wish to explore this book. Others may find it heavy going.—Julie Edwards, Univ. of Montana Lib., Missoula
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
What to do about the Muslims? It's a question, writes Norton (Political Science/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, 2004, etc.), that non-Muslims have been asking, and the answers have been few. If the question of a religiously observant Jewish enclave within European societies weighed heavily on thinkers of the Enlightenment, then the matter of a religiously observant--not to say fundamentalist--Muslim enclave within the secular West has excited much recent argument, principled or not. Norton observes, for instance, that for many thinkers, including the late Christopher Hitchens, the "Muslim question" is really the question of religion writ large, with the added twist of whether a secular society should be expected to tolerate those who would dismantle it if they came into power. The governments of the West, writes the author, "hesitate to include [Muslims], hesitate to extend them the rights and privileges of citizenship." That is less true of the United States than of Europe, and if Muslims in this country suffer "discrimination, surveillance, detention, and imprisonment," by Norton's account, the worst offenders have been European nationalists such as Holland's murdered agitator Theo van Gogh. While those nationalists have reacted to provocations such as the rioting in the Muslim world in the wake of apparently anti-Islamic cartoons in a Danish newspaper, then, Norton remarks, it has to be recalled that almost all the violence that ensued was visited by Muslims upon other Muslims in Muslim countries. Norton sometimes channels Slavoj Zizek in a knotty and not entirely satisfactory way, as when she offers a sort of semiotics of space at Abu Ghraib: "The Iraqis are confined in shackles, in cells, in a prison, in a country they cannot leave, whose boundaries they cannot close." Mostly, though, she offers a sympathetic, tolerant and evenhanded view of events. Is there a clash of civilizations, as Samuel Huntington maintained, between the Muslim world and the West? Norton's response will be of interest to students of geopolitics and Islamic studies.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691157047
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
02/24/2013
Series:
Public Square Series
Pages:
282
Sales rank:
1,365,186
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Anne Norton is professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. Her books include Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire; 95 Theses on Politics, Culture, and Method; and Republic of Signs.

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