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Fr. 688

November 26, 2015

Maajid Nawaz’s stature as a mediator for radical Islam and democratic societies has continued to grow with the release of his co-authored book with a prominent critic of Islam. This development is all the more remarkable when one considers his past. As a recent blog post explains:

Maajid Nawaz knows something about differences of opinion: from adolescence to adulthood, his opinions about religion have changed more than most. From the age of 16 until his late 20s, Nawaz was a dedicated advocate of radical Islam, working to impose a fundamentalist sect on comparatively liberal societies. He underwent a conversion, however, away from religion and today he is as dedicated to the liberal cause of secular rights and freedoms as he was to Islam.

With this, the author moves to the crux of the presentation: Nawas is uniquely positioned to expose those forms of dialogue which best secure this kind of mediation. Namely:

In the wake of the Paris attacks, Nawaz is better-suited than nearly anyone to help us dialogue over radical Islam and discover a universal form of dialogue that allows us to tackle disagreements in our personal and professional lives. And according to Nawaz, to dialogue is to tolerate. It requires three things from an interlocutor:

+ An emotional connection to the other person is necessary in the form of empathy. Too often our adversaries are dehumanized merely as vehicles for the opinion we disagree with.

+ Find common ground so you can begin the conversation by discussing what you agree on. You can address disagreement later on.

+ Recognize the internal logic to someone’s point of view. You’ve got to understand where someone is coming from in order to have a productive conversation.

Although we might take issue with whether pragmatic approaches to discourse and reason-giving permitting endless instantiations can truly be deemed universal form of dialogue, the three principles presented bear further consideration. Indeed, these three tactics have previously appeared, albeit in different form, in our writings on political discourse and often with reference to Stout.

In particular, 3.) underlines the fact that individuals are quite often justified in holding their beliefs due to acculturation and group membership, even if they are otherwise unable to justify those same beliefs to others. As to 2.), this issue with raised with regards to the extent of disagreement which can arise between two parties otherwise capable of understanding the other’s usage of shared words; so long as interlocutors can make themselves understood to the other in this way, then the non-trivial background of shared agreement proves quite deep.

1.) merits additional discussion at this time, despite having broached the issue with regard to Singer and expanding a circle of care to all humanity. Specifically, 1.) suggests a practical path towards opening channels of communication and building sustainable discursive partnerships: make one’s interlocutor see one as a person. This might follow from participation in a joint activity, membership in a social group, sharing a meal or even earnest discussion of personal matters. No matter, the key remains to establish a human relationship with the person outside of the opinion which one has come to embody for that person.

If the key to fruitful political dialogue lies in establishing relationships of this sort, this suggests certain limits for our political process as presently constituted. Can a representational democracy comprised of millions of citizens coherently pursue both a politics of emotional interconnection and discursive practices issuing in fruitful exchange of reasons? The answer is far from clear, simply due to the number of people caught up therein. For one cannot feasibly establish emotionally grounded relationships with millions; this holds both for the citizen interacting with other citizens and the citizen interacting with his or her representative in the assembly. Some measure of facelessness must remain.

Certainly, community efforts can be made to improve on deficiencies of this sort, but it remains relevant, for cases like the above as much as our own, to consider whether human psychology and emotional economy does not of itself impose limits on the forms of government which we can reasonably hope to promote. If it is merely wistful to assert that humans were better made for smaller communities in the hundreds or thousands, the reminder provided by the foregoing can help to ground expectations with regards to the political process and public discussion.



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