Question: Would promoting a view of religion as a cultural
product reduce intolerance?
Ian Buruma: Well I don’t
think it would make much difference whether we call it a cultural
product or anything else. Of course to some extent it is a cultural
product. I mean the religions most people believe in are the ones that
they were born with or part of the communities they were born into, but
recognizing that is not going to lessen the hostilities or the tensions
that are there because I think the reasons for those are social,
political and as I said earlier to do with more general anxieties, which
are not always very focused. But when people are frightened the first
things that they are going to react against are minorities, alien
minorities—or minorities that look alien—and the people who supposedly
have power, the elites who are blamed for making life difficult.
Would some European countries benefit from the establishment of an
Islamic political party?
Ian Buruma: It might, but the
problem… Well, it depends on the political system. In a basically two
party system like Britain, or the United States for that matter, having a
splinter party that is religious that kind doesn’t make any
difference. In countries with proportional representation where you
have coalition governments, many parties there are of course religious
parties. You have Christian Democrats. You have Christian parties of
various kinds, and it is very possible that there will be Islamic
parties of that nature. The problem with forming an Islamic party, and
there have been people who have tried, is that there is no such thing as
an Islamic community. They are very divided. They come from very
different cultures. There is a schism between the Shiites and the
Sunnis and so on, so it is difficult for Muslims to make a common
political cause even though from the outside, from the non-Muslim
perspective they all may look like one great monolith.
Is genuine religious compromise possible in a liberal democracy?
Buruma: Well yes, because without compromise you can’t have a
liberal system, liberal democratic system. That is the name of the
game. And so you would have to have compromises and in fact, on a daily
basis we have compromises. The question is where do you draw the line
and are there things that you cannot compromise with and I would draw
the line always at the use of violence or the threat of the use of
violence. If people use violence or threaten violence to impose their
views on others that is something that cannot be tolerated or
Recorded April 21, 2010