At Religion Dispatches, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan reviews Is Critique Secular?: Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech, a collection of essays by Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and Saba Mahmood, which addresses “the ongoing failures of the Euro-American liberal legal order in the face of the conflict between religious and secular values—and in doing so puts those very categories into question”:

is critique secularThe principal essays, by anthropologists Talal Asad and Saba Mahmood, take the Danish cartoon controversy as a starting point… The Danish cartoons were first published in 2005. The angry response from Muslims around the world was incomprehensible—and repellent—to many outside those communities. In some places there were riots, and later boycotts of Danish goods. The most common explanation for the violence in the English and European language press was that the production of images of Mohammad is prohibited by Islamic law and further that Muslim immigrants in Europe and elsewhere have failed to internalize the democratic value of free speech. Jyllands-Posten, for its part, self-righteously claimed to be heroically rescuing free speech in the face of the fearful self-censorship practiced by Danish writers and artists with respect to criticism of Islam. The incident was portrayed as a clash between the liberal values of an open society and an anti-modern, authoritarian, and superstitious religion.

In their essays, Asad and Mahmood convincingly argue that this narrative largely misses the point in almost every respect. It misunderstands Islam; it misunderstands the liberal political order; and it misunderstands the complex common genealogy of Christianity and secularism.

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