THE SECULAR ISLAM SUMMIT hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. But here’s a column by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. (Link should work for a few days). Excerpt:
Undersecretary Hughes is not at this summit, of course, nor is anyone else from the State Department, nor is the U.S.-funded al-Hurra Arabic TV station — facts archly noted by the conferees. In the quasi-official U.S. view, the speakers at this conference amount to an exotic, publicity-seeking fringe group, with whom close association is politically unwise.
Al-Jazeera, however, is here, suggesting that the real Arab mainstream better appreciates the broad interest the conference’s speakers attract in the Muslim world, as well as their latent power. Perhaps this is the flip side of the appeal of extremist Islam, an indication that what Muslims are mainly looking for are radical alternatives to the unpalatable mush of unpopular autocratic governments, state-approved clerics like Sheikh Tantawi, and Saudi-funded “mainstream” organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations. . . .
A fair bit of U.S. government money is being spent on conference security, including from the FBI. Still, it’s remarkable that the government, given the huge resources available from places like the National Endowment for Democracy, provides no funding or support for this conference or its various participants.
Here are two questions for the government: If Mr. Warraq, Dr. Sultan et al. are really irrelevant to the larger Muslim debate, why are the jihadists so eager to kill them? And if the jihadists want to kill them, don’t they deserve support as well as security?
Read the whole thing, and reflect that the Bush Administration still seems to be behind the curve on the “public diplomacy” front.
There’s also the conference’s St. Petersburg declaration, which is well worth reading. (Video at the link, too.) Excerpt:
We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.
We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.
We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.
We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.
And while the media have mostly ignored this, Gateway Pundit has been all over it. Here’s video of Nonie Darwish, and here’s video of Wafa Sultan. Plus, don’t miss this big roundup. Who says bloggers don’t do original reporting?