No More Fanaticism as Usual
It's been quite a week in the wonderful world of Islam.
Nigerian Islam's encounter with that powerhouse of subversion, the Miss
World contest, has been unedifying, to put it mildly. First some of the
contestants had the nerve to object to a Shariah court's sentence that a
Nigerian woman convicted of adultery be stoned to death and threatened
to boycott the contest -- which forced the Nigerian authorities to
promise that the woman in question would not be subjected to the lethal
hail of rocks. And then Isioma Daniel, a Christian Nigerian journalist,
had the effrontery to suggest that if the prophet Muhammad were around
today, he might have wanted to marry one of these swimsuit hussies
Well, obviously, that was going too far. True-believing Nigerian Muslims
then set about the holy task of killing, looting and burning while
calling for Ms. Daniel to be beheaded, and who could blame them? Not the
president of Nigeria, who put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the
hapless journalist. (Germaine Greer and other British-based feminists,
unhappy about Miss World's decision to move the event to London,
preferred to grouse about the beauty contest. The notion that the
killers, looters and burners should be held accountable seems to have
Meanwhile, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hashem Aghajari, a person
with impeccable Islamist credentials -- a leg lost in battle and a
résumé that includes being part of the occupying force that seized the
Great Satan's Tehran embassy back in the revolution's salad days --
languishes under a sentence of death imposed because he criticized the
mullahs who run the country. In Iran, you don't even have to have cheeky
thoughts about the prophet to be worthy of being killed. The hearts of
true believers are maddened a lot more easily than that. Thousands of
young people across the country were immature enough to protest against
Mr. Aghajari's sentence, for which the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei, duly rebuked them. (More than 10,000 true believers marched
through Tehran in support of hard-line Islam.)
Meanwhile, in Egypt, a hit television series, ''Horseman Without a
Horse,'' has been offering up antiSemitic programming to a huge, eager
audience. That old forgery, ''The Protocols of the Elders of Zion'' -- a
document purporting to prove that there really is a secret Jewish plot
to take over the world, and which was proved long ago to have been faked
by Czar Nicholas II's secret police -- is treated in this drama series
as historical fact.
Yes, this is the same Egypt in which the media are rigorously censored
to prevent anything that offends the authorities from seeing the light
of day. But hold on just a moment. Here's the series' star and
co-writer, Mohammed Sobhi, telling us that what is at stake is nothing
less than free speech itself, and if his lying show ''terrified
Zionists,'' well, tough. He'll make more programs in the same vein. Now
there's a gutsy guy.
Finally, let's not forget the horrifying story of the Dutch Muslim
woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has had to flee the Netherlands because she
said that Muslim men oppressed Muslim women, a vile idea that so
outraged Muslim men that they issued death threats against her.
Is it unfair to bunch all these different uglinesses together? Perhaps.
But they do have something in common. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was accused of
being ''the Dutch Salman Rushdie,'' Mr. Aghajari of being the Iranian
version, Isioma Daniel of being the Nigerian incarnation of the same
A couple of months ago I said that I detested the sloganization of my
name by Islamists around the world. I'm beginning to rethink that
position. Maybe it's not so bad to be a Rushdie among other ''Rushdies.''
For the most part I'm comfortable with, and often even proud of, the
company I'm in.
Where, after all, is the Muslim outrage at these events? As their
ancient, deeply civilized culture of love, art and philosophical
reflection is hijacked by paranoiacs, racists, liars, male supremacists,
tyrants, fanatics and violence junkies, why are they not screaming?
At least in Iran the students are demonstrating. But where else in the
Muslim world can one hear the voices of the fair-minded, tolerant Muslim
majority deploring what Nigerian, Egyptian, Arab and Dutch Muslims are
doing? Muslims in the West, too, seem unnaturally silent on these
topics. If you're yelling, we can't hear you.
If the moderate voices of Islam cannot or will not insist on the
modernization of their culture -- and of their faith as well -- then it
may be these so-called ''Rushdies'' who have to do it for them. For
every such individual who is vilified and oppressed, two more, ten more,
a thousand more will spring up. They will spring up because you can't
keep people's minds, feelings and needs in jail forever, no matter how
brutal your inquisitions. The Islamic world today is being held
prisoner, not by Western but by Islamic captors, who are fighting to
keep closed a world that a badly outnumbered few are trying to open. As
long as the majority remains silent, this will be a tough war to win.
But in the end, or so we must hope, someone will kick down that prison
NYT 27th Nov. 2002