These words are intoned by a sympathiser, and a Muslim (by definition; see below) writing for the Gray Lady on the annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to Mecca.
The article positively gushes with good things about Mecca; about what a fine, tolerant, and (ugh) diversity. The story is headlined with this editorial note: Islamic Pilgrims Bring Cosmopolitan Air to Unlikely City. Wow. Cosmopolitan. Diverse. The trailer for the article, on the front page, carefully notes that “the holy city” is “one of the most open and liberal in the Muslim world.” Which is, of course, not a very high bar to leap. From the story, these editorialized basics (hey, it’s the Times; you expected straight news?):
Rare in most of the Muslim world, the willingness to debate and raise seemingly taboo questions is standard here in the birthplace of Islam and the site of the hajj, the annual pilgrimage beginning Wednesday that attracts about 1.5 million Muslims from all corners of the world for five days of meditation, prayer and, often, vigorous debate.
In workshops and meeting rooms, at schools and mosques in the city, the freewheeling discussion of theology, history and politics lives on. And if this intellectual melee was any indicator, the debate is quite civilized – no raised voices, no threats, no personal attacks.
In Mecca, Dr. Bagader said later, that is the way. “This city is a stage where people from all over the world can come and find an audience to listen to them,” says Dr. Bagader, a Meccan native. “There is an acceptance of being different here.”
Well, not exactly. No Christians allowed. No Hindus allowed. And most certainly no “sons of pigs and monkeys” allowed. Oh, you, dear reader, may not be a Muslim, so I’d best translate that last: The Perfidious Jews.
To call Mecca tolerant or diverse is to either not understand the meaning of these words, or to be so blinded by bigotry as to not even realize the truth. Islam claims to be a religion of peace open to all, and it is certain that anyone, regardless of skin color or ethnicity, is welcome to become a Muslim — except perhaps for black Africans in the Darfur region of Sudan, but, hey, who’s counting? As for the “peace”, what kind of a reception do you suppose a Christian preaching the Gospel would receive in Mecca?
Well, this apologetic for Islam raves on about the glories of free intellectual discourse, and that is hardly a bad thing. But it is only one necessary thing for a free society. The more important, and necessary, part is to invite your neighbors in for some coffee and dates, and to not banish them because they do not share your religion.
As for the “Berkeley-style liberalism” in the title, consider this from the article:
All that has resulted in an unlikely liberalism – not quite a Berkeley-style liberalism, but still a striking oasis of open thought and discussion in a world of hardened politics and interests.
The author is wrong. Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and Islam in general all exhibit, precisely, a “Berkeley-style liberalism”, in which only the prevailing creed may be preached. Meccan “liberalism,” to the extent it exists at all , operates only within a narrow band of Islam. No other creeds are allowed to be heard in the Muslim public square.
All of this is reported upon in the West, at least in the mainstream media, as unremarkable, and usually without negative commentary. Imagine the reportage should there be a Christian pilgrimage at which non-Christians were not just prohibited, but at which they would take their very lives in their hands to dare to voice a contrary creed in public. Something tells me that the media would scream in outrage about us heartless, bigoted Christians.
It is far past time that people recognize Islam for what it is as it is now practiced — an intolerant and bigoted religion.