At Public Discourse this week, an interesting trifecta: in Monday’s installment, Michael Novak, in ” Religious Liberty and the Development of Doctrine in Islam ,” predicts:

By the year 2020, rough and painful human experience will lead the Islamic nations of the Mediterranean Basin to resound with positive cries for democracy, human rights, individual liberty, and the dignity of every man, woman, and child. By 2020, Islamic peoples will be crying out publicly in favor of regimes that allow men and women to act from reflection and choice, and to live as peoples who are free and responsible, and who are eager to show initiative and unprecedented creativity.

Novak’s essay is adapted from a talk he gave after dinner on May 6 in Princeton, to the participants gathered together by the Witherspoon Institute (where I work) for a two-day conference on ” The Case for Religious Liberty ,” a project of our Task Force on International Religious Freedom, chaired by Dr. Tom Farr of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center .

Present for Novak’s talk were two Muslim scholars who were moved to respond to Novak’s prediction.  On Wednesday, Abdullah Saeed wrote ” Let Freedom Ring: The Muslim Call for Religious Freedom ,” noting:


While many Muslims still do live in extremely repressive societies, a substantial number of those in Muslim-majority countries are enjoying a level of freedom comparable to that in the West. With such freedom, Muslims have been able to discuss, promote, and propagate ideas about intellectual, political, and religious freedom, topics that were taboo until recently. Debates on human rights are taking place on internet sites and blogs, as well as in academia. Even the most controversial issues, including religious freedom, apostasy, and blasphemy, are being openly discussed.

State censorship of writing and speeches, which managed to successfully eliminate any public call for freedom, is no longer as pervasive, and where it still exists, it is no longer as effective. People’s greater freedom to express themselves has resulted in an ever-rising level of intellectual output, in books, television programs, discussions, debates, and on the internet, which has further weakened the despots’ hold over Muslim societies.


And today, Mustafa Akyol concludes the week with ” Islam Will Find Its Own Way to Freedom ,” observing:
The modern Middle East . . . has been haunted by the vicious cycle between two extremes : secular authoritarianism and Islamic authoritarianism. Islamic liberalism, which had its roots in tradition, and which looked promising in the 19 th century, was obscured.

But now, with the Arab Spring of 2011, we seem to be at a critical turning point . . . .


There is much to ponder in these three articles.  Perhaps there is much cause for hope.  But there is sure to be much dark turmoil and obscurity along the way, even if the future of the Muslim world is ultimately a bright one.

Akyol’s new book, Islam Without Extremes , has just come into my hands.  Perhaps I can prevail on my friends at First Things to find a good reviewer for it . . . ?

Articles by Matthew J. Franck

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