This morning BBC Radio 4's Start the Week was a discussion centering on the Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany, and his new work.
What I found remarkable about this was less Al Aswany, or even the panel discussion, but the issues redolent in Tom Sutcliffe's introduction. Sutcliffe stated:
"The greatness of Islamic societies in the past has led Muslims of all kinds to dream about and plan for equally glorious Islamic societies in the future. How can they get past the disappointing compromised and sometimes violent present though? Must an Islamic state necessarily be at odds with modern secular democracy? And can an open pluralistic society come to a working accommodation with a monotheistic faith?"
There is plenty of food for thought here. For Islamists, the gap between theory and reality in Muslim majority societies, and especially in countries which declare themselves Islamic, poses an almost insurmountable challenge. Thus far, the easiest response has been to call for ever more of whatever interpretation of Islam is to hand - hence in part the Islamification of Pakistan under Zia, and later the development of both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. To my mind it also helps explain the prevalence of conspiracy theories in both Muslim communities here and in Muslim majority nations - if life is not ideal, it cannot be due to the beliefs on which life is predicated, but the wiles of those opposed to the faith. Equally, the extent to which a pluralistic society can accommodate Islam is one of the issues of our age - certainly since the Rushdie affair.
But as so often with the BBC, Sutcliffe accidentally tells us as much about his world, as he does anything else. Just read that first line again:
"The greatness of Islamic societies in the past has led Muslims of all kinds to dream about and plan for equally glorious Islamic societies in the future".
I am not sure many Radio 4 listeners felt uncomfortable hearing those words. Substitute the word British, for Islamic and Muslims, and then see how it reads. You could equally do that with the words German, American or French, to similar effect.
"The greatness of British societies in the past has led Britons of all kinds to dream about and plan for equally glorious British societies in the future".
But Sutcliffe, and I suspect many Radio 4 listeners, would feel distinctly uncomfortable if a politician were talking of the glories of Britain's past forming the basis to establish a glorious future. The liberal aversion to Donald Trump talking about the United States in such terms, is marked.
Why then is liberal opinion tolerant of such a vision for Islamic societies?
Significantly, references to glorious Islamic societies of the future tend not to predominate in the discourse of contemporary British Muslim representative organisations. You can certainly find it though in recent decades - old Islamic Foundation pamphlets are a good source for it - and it is certainly present in the current rhetoric of the Islamic State. For now though, we tend to hear much more from the Muslim Council of Britain about pluralism, democracy and accommodation.
Am I the only person who considers that deep down in Tom Sutcliffe's words is a recognition, by his focus on 'glorious Islamic societies in the future' that we don't really buy all this talk of accommodation and pluralism, but, as with many others, he is much too polite to say so?