Little Green Footballs

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Clash of Civilisations betrayal

Johann Hari comments on an important movement treated badly by the media, ignored by racists and betrayed by governments. Moderate Islam.

Seventeen years ago, the streets of Westminster and Bradford filled with smoke and shrieks as Muslim protestors threatened to “burn alive” a man who had dared to use his freedom of speech in a way they disliked. On the surface, it seems like little has changed since the Salman Rushdie affair, when a theocratic dictator demanded the slaughter of perhaps our greatest novelist and much of the democratic world equivocated. Once again, artists are driven into hiding in a liberal democracy for apparently insulting Islam. Once again, most of the democratic world resorts to a “yes… but…” non-defence of freedom. But this time there is a difference – an inspirational difference.

This time, moderate Muslims are fighting back. Slowly, steadily, a stream of heroic Muslims are standing up, loudly refusing to be defined by fanaticism and death-threats. In Jordan, the newspaper editor Jihad Momani has risked his life to publish the cartoons alongside an editorial demanding, “What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?”

And across Britain, Muslim women are refusing to bow to fundamentalists who believe beheading is a legitimate form of literary criticism. While criticising the cartoons of Mohammed as “distasteful”, Fareena Alam, editor of the Q News, damned the protestors, demanding to know “what the parents of the child wearing the ‘I love Al-Quaeda’ cap would say had their son been on the number 30 bus that terrible day.” At a massive conference of young Muslims organised by Fareena last week, one speaker said the way for Muslims to express their faith was “to mobilise to end the conflict in Congo, or to make generic Aids drugs available where they are not”, to roof-raising cheers. Sairah Khan, the Muslim near-winner of the Apprentice, said the ‘Death to Freedom’ protestors were “far, far worse” than the cartoonists, adding “If you don’t like it here, go and live somewhere else.”

The right are busy hyping this fight as a Clash of Civilisations between democracy and Islam – but that is a betrayal of democratic Muslims like Jihad and Fareena and Sairah. This is a clash within Islam between democrats and totalitarians, and demonising all Muslims is a racist, foolish way to ensure the wrong side wins. Religions are not inert, homogenous blocks; they are elastic, and they stretch and shift shape over time. The British Muslim community is genuinely divided, as a recent Populus opinion poll proved: some 12 percent of Muslims my age believe suicide-murder in this country can “sometimes” be justified and 34 percent believe British Jews are “a legitimate target”, although at the other end of the spectrum more than half of British Muslims believe Israel has a right to exist. These are much better than the figures at the time of the Rushdie affair, showing that Muslim opinion is in flux – and can be swayed by persuasive argument.

Only a fierce, fighting moderate Islam can win this struggle. In France’s Muslim ghettoes, an amazing movement of Muslim women called "Ni putes ni soumises" (neither whores nor doormats) has risen up, initially to fight against the epidemic of domestic violence in their communities but increasingly to craft a liberal – even feminist – brand of Islam. In the past fortnight, we have seen the first stirrings from their British sisters.

I live round the corner from the East London mosque, and most weekends there are stalls of jihadists perched outside, preaching sharia law and suicide-slaughter. However tempting it might seem, I don’t want to see these young men driven underground (or Underground) through censorship and the introduction of thought-crimes like the government’s mooted ban on “glorifying terrorism”. I want to see every one of their stalls matched by a stall of feisty Muslim women like Sairah and Fareena, ridiculing their bizarre beliefs and manifest sexual inadequacy, and offering young Muslims a different and better brand of Islam. Don’t suppress the battle within Islam – let’s have it out on the open and on the streets, led by amazing Muslim women like Fareena and Sairah.


Osama Saeed said...

I wonder how he has insight into the "manifest sexual inadequacy" of those outside East London mosque. And what's that got to do with anything anyway? Freudian slip?

elemental said...

I would assume he is making a presumption of "manifest sexual inadequacy" based on some of the more archaic practices of Sharia, especially as it relates to treatment of women.

The article was spot-on and highlights the danger of hate groups like LGF and JihadWatch. Those types of critics thouroughly prevent Islam from self-criticism and put them constantly on the defensive. If you can call out Islam for legit problems and do it without invective or advocating genocide then real, progressive change can happen.

Brad said...

With all due respect, how do blogs like LGF, etc "thouroughly prevent Islam from self-criticism and put them constantly on the defensive?"
I don't think you can present any evidence that this is the case. There are about 1.3 x 10 9 muslims in the world, and taking into account significant digits, rather than actual numbers, none of them read those blogs! They wouldn't even have known about the silly cartoons had some imams not gone on a Madison Avenue-style advertising spree. (just to show that I'm with you guys on many things, I would have loved to be part of the burning of Ronald McDonald)

elemental said...


I don't mean specifically LGF, or just blogs in general - I'm referring more to the type of criticism - think Ann Coulters and Theo Van Gogh rhetoric. Toss in a little Jyllens-Postens. Add the amplification of Aayan Ali Hirsi compared to the stiffling of women reformers who still practice Islam. Combine that with the obvious anti-Arab xenophobia involved with the current port debate and you have a collective body that is constantly on the defensive. Its not as if there aren't many critics inside the Arab or Muslim world - there are many in Jordanian and Pakistani papers, but for the most part, it seems that Muslims aren't really in a position to hand ammunition to people, who receive far more amplification than they do, and will use it to excoriate them.

wiseone said...

Mainstream Muslims? Moderate Muslims? That is like trying to find Jewish Nazis.

I applaud secular persons from the Middle East condemning Muslim terrorism, but if you are not practicing the beliefs of the terrorists, you are not really a part of Islam.

I think these secular advocates would be better served by denouncing Islam and advocating others in the Arab world to do the same.

dawud al-gharib said...

'whiz-on' is obviously a troll, but since ugly trolls need to be beaten out from under the bridge into the sunlight where their foul smell is exposed, here goes:

i) you're a secular moron, and i don't think those two need to go with each other. muslims can believe in Islam, and 1.2 billion do, without engaging in terrorism and slaughter of civilians. What's yet to be shown is that the 'civilized West' can acquire the resources it wants from the muslim world without theft, murder, and oppression by proxy.

ii) you don't believe in any faith, though more than half of humanity believes in some 'Greater Power', Creator, or afterlife/Judgement. You think mocking Islam offends the terrorists, and equate all muslims with terrorists. I equate foul writing and poor grammar with a bad education, and sexual obsessions with moral degradation -from a glance at your webpage, you evidently have an obsession with perverse sex, and attribute to those you dislike ('mullahs', 'imams', etc) all your own repressed sexual desires. You know of projection? Jung, Foucault, Freud... please do read a book, rather than wanking off to internet porn.

iii) You evidently haven't studied Islam, the faith as scholars understand it from the Qur'an and Sunnah, or the faith as practiced by 1.2 billion muslims around the world; with their heterodox, diverse, and culturally and socially varied understandings. That a small number of muslims engage in terrorism, perhaps 10 000, indicates that 1/10th of 1 percent are lunatics... so what about Abu Ghraib, Waco, Gitmo, Oklahoma City, Eric Rupert Rudolph, the Basque ETA, the Lord's Resistance Army, the US Army, the CIA, the IRA, arms dealers, NAMBLA, etc, etc, etc... ?

Or are you just playing selective with your choice of foulness and perversion?

Please, feel welcome to screw yourself. You're probably the only one who will.