Everybody knows the Enlightenment is dying. I don’t mean in the hells from which people board immigrant boats. It was never very alive here in the first place. I mean in the heavens to which the boat people seek suicidal access.
They end up drowning less for the love of the Postchristian West, it would seem, than out of despair with the Muslim East. Blame politics and economics, for sure. But could it be that all three phenomena — despair, poverty and dictatorship — are rooted in the same cultural impasse?
Today Brexits, Trumps and, let us not forget, the Islamic Invasion of Europe are spelling an Endarkenment all across the North, confining progressive and egalitarian principles to intensive care units. And I’m wondering what that could mean for despairing Muslims in the South.
The Enlightenment fuelled all kinds of repulsive affronts: colonialism, nationalism, capitalism. But it also begat completely sexy memes like reason, the empirical method and secularism. Only thanks to these memes does the West look like paradise today. Only in their absence did we start to live in infernos. And it’s time to admit that, whatever we feel about them, memes remain nation-less, race-less. Beyond sectarian affiliation.
The dawn first broke in the realms of Christendom, so the world’s earliest Non-Sectarian Individual ended up a Postchristian. It could’ve been Postanything, really. But if not for that creature’s emergence here, there or somewhere, there would be no antibiotics, psychoanalysis or Whatsapp.
Now it’s true that today’s Postchristian liberalism has stood humanism on its head. It has embraced trigger warnings. It has started civil wars. It has confused democracy with theocracy and reduced Sufism to self help. But surely none of that is the fault of the Non-Sectarian Individual.
The excesses of political correctness and multiculturalism smack rather of cultural fundamentalism. They recall the kind of mindset that has deprived Muslims of Enlightenment sexiness even though their natural philosophy and hermeneutics made indispensable contributions to the Enlightenment.
First there was the indignity of being colonised. Then, the way rationalism undermined religiosity. But mostly there were postcolonial identity constructions. These, we have used to preserve and paranoiacally protect our sense of inferiority since our fall from grace. But as it turns out they give us a starkly limited spectrum of self-definitions to choose from. We can either be active terrorists and closet jihadis or we can be non- and ex-Muslims.
Could the post-Postchristian Endarkenment be our cue to think about being Postmuslims, then? To reclaim empiricism and secularity not as imports or impositions but as proven ways of turning hells into heavens? And burn the death boats forever…
It’s completely far-fetched, I know. But the OED definition of “Postchristian” as someone who professes no religion rings hollow, under the circumstances. Right now I feel “Postmuslim” is the only way to profess Islam.