Pandaemonium

THE MYTHS OF MUSLIM RAGE

Salman Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton, has hit the bookshelves just as the world has become embroiled in a new controversy over Islamic sensibilities. The extraordinary violence unleashed across the Muslim world by Innocence of Muslims, an obscure US-made video, has left many bewildered and perplexed.

Rushdie was, of course, at the centre of the most famous confrontation over the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. The publication in 1988 of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, launched a worldwide campaign against the supposed blasphemies in the book, culminating in the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa on 14 February 1989 condemning Rushdie to death, and forcing him into hiding for a decade.

Joseph Anton is Rushdie’s account of the fatwa and the years that followed. So, what does the battle over The Satanic Verses tell us about the current controversy over The Innocence of Muslims?

The Rushdie affair is shrouded in a number of myths that have obscured its real meaning. The first myth is that the confrontation over The Satanic Verses was primarily a religious conflict. It wasn’t. It was first and foremost a political tussle. The novel became a weapon in the struggle by Islamists with each other, with secularists and with the West. The campaign began in India where hardline Islamist groups whipped up anger against Rushdie’s supposed blasphemies to win concessions from politicians nervous about an upcoming general election and fearful of alienating any section of the Muslim community. The book subsequently became an issue in Britain, a weapon in faction fights between various Islamic groups.

Most important was the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for supremacy in the Islamic world. From the 1970s onwards Saudi Arabia had used oil money to fund Salafi organisations and mosques worldwide to cement its position as spokesman for the umma. Then came the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that overthrew the Shah, established an Islamic republic, made Tehran the capital of Muslim radicalism, and Ayatollah Khomeini its spiritual leader, and posed a direct challenge to Riyadh. The battle over Rushdie’s novel became a key part of that conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia made the initial running, funding the campaign against the novel. The fatwa was an attempt by Iran to wrestle back the initiative.  The campaign against The Satanic Verses was not a noble attempt to defend the dignity of Muslims, nor even a theological campaign to protect religious values. It was part of a sordid political battle to promote particular sectarian interests.

The second myth is that most Muslims were offended by the novel. They weren’t. Until the fatwa, the campaign against The Satanic Verses was largely confined to the subcontinent and Britain. Aside from the involvement of Saudi Arabia, there was little enthusiasm for a campaign against the novel in the Arab world or in Turkey, or among Muslim communities in France or Germany. When Saudi Arabia tried at the end of 1988 to get the novel banned in Muslim countries few responded – not even Iran. It was that fatwa, imposed for political reasons, that transformed the controversy and the confrontation.

The biggest myth of the Rushdie affair is the belief that best way to prevent such confrontations is by restricting what people are able to say to or about each other. In the battle over The Satanic Verses, many intellectuals and politicians sympathized with Muslim anger, blaming Rushdie himself for his plight. ‘There is no law in life or nature’,  the novelist John Le Carré insisted, ‘that that says great religions may be insulted with impunity’. ‘We have known in our own religion people doing things which are deeply offensive to some of us’, Margaret Thatcher observed. ‘And this is what has happened to Islam’. After riots in Islamabad, the American embassy there expressed its ‘wish to emphasize that the US government in no way associates itself with any activity that is any sense offensive or insulting to Islam or any other religion’. It became accepted in the post-Rushdie world that it is morally wrong to give offence to other cultures and that in a plural society speech must necessarily be less free.

These myths about the Rushdie affair have shaped responses to every similar conflict since. Every one is being reproduced in the current debate about Innocence of Muslims: the belief that violence is being driven by religious sensibilities, that all Muslims are incensed, and that Muslim anger is reason for new restrictions on free speech.

It is true that Innocence of Muslims is a risibly crude, bigoted diatribe against Islam. But the idea that this obscure film that barely anyone had seen till this month is the source of worldwide violence is equally risible. As in the Rushdie affair, what we are seeing is a political power struggle cloaked in religious garb. In Libya, Egypt and elsewhere, the crisis is being fostered by hardline Islamists in an attempt to gain the political initiative. In recent elections hardline Islamists lost out to more mainstream factions. Just as the Ayatollah Khomeini tried to use the fatwa to turn the tables on his opponents, so the hardliners are today trying to do the same by orchestrating the violence over Innocence of Muslims, tapping into the deep well of anti-Western sentiment that exists in many of these countries. The film is almost incidental to this.

The insurrections that have transformed much the Arab world over the past year have certainly created a new terrain. They have undermined old security structures, created a greater sense of social fragmentation, and opened up new spaces for Islamist politics. What has really changed, however, is that over the past decade political rage has become far more inchoate and increasingly shorn of political content. To be ‘anti-Western’ used to mean to take a political stand against Western policy.  Now, it simply expresses an unformed sense of fury, leading to a random, frenzied outpouring of anger.  The nihilistic character of anti-Western sentiment today means that it can attach itself to the most arbitrary of causes. Even an obscure YouTube video can seemingly launch worldwide protests.

While the hardline Islamists have managed to bring out thousands of people on to the streets in violent protest, there is little to suggest that the majority of Muslims, even in Egypt, Libya or Pakistan support them. Indeed, hardliners are only forced into organizing such demonstrations because of their lack of popular support. Those who do not support the Islamists do not take to the streets, so are generally ignored in the West. The reactionaries come to be seen as the true voice of Muslim communities. At the same time the perception that the violent mobs are representative of Muslim feeling has lent support to calls for offensive works such as The Innocence of Muslims to be made illegal and, in this case, for the film maker to be arrested.

At the height of the battle against The Satanic Verses Shabbir Akhtar, the Muslim philosopher who acted as a spokesman for the anti-Rushdie campaign, mocked the equivocations of Western liberals. ‘Vulnerability’, he wrote, ‘is never the best proof of strength’. The more you cave in to those who would censor, the more they wish to censor.  And the more you seek to appease the hardliners, and view them as the ‘real’ Muslims, the more you marginalise progressive movements in the Muslim world. The myths enshrouding the Rushdie affair have ensured that the lessons we have drawn from the battle over The Satanic Verses are the very opposite of the ones we should have learnt.

.

A version of this essay was published in the Swedish newspaper Expressen.


For a full discussion of the Rushdie Affair, its roots and its consequences, see my book From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy.

‘Gripping… The Rushdie affair has shaped all our lives. This book shows us how.’
Hanif Kureishi

‘An important intervention in the current debate on freedom of expression’
Monica Ali

‘A riveting political history… Impeccably researched, brimming with detail, yet razor-sharp in its argument.’
Lisa Appignanesi, Independent

‘Few writers have untangled the paradoxes and unintended consequences of political Islam as deftly as Malik does here.’
Maureen Freely, Washington Post

About these ads

58 comments

  1. Well said! But there is more to the story than “the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for supremacy in the Islamic world”, isn’t it? “The satanic verses” was banned in India before the fatwa.

    Also, how much did Muslims in the West know (or care) about the struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia? I’m thinking of things like the studio audience in a British TV programme who all raised their hands when they were asked if Rushdie deserved to die. It seems to me that the fatwa must have resonated deeply with people, otherwise we would not have seen such emotional response in the West.

    • I mention in the essay the fact that the battle over The Satanic Verses began in India, the details of which are in From Fatwa to Jihad. The Iranian Revolution had huge resonance among Muslims in the West (and not just Muslims). The struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for the hearts and minds of Muslims had already had significant impact, and not just in the Muslim world. It was one of the factors, for instance, that led the Saudis to fund the jihadi struggle against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan (and for America to covertly fund some of those groups). It was out of that struggle, of course, that the Taliban emerged, and Osama bin Laden forged his reputation.

      • Thanks for your reply! I hope I didn’t come across as too critical.
        You are one of the few calm, clear and intelligent writers on this
        subject. I’m glad that Expressen commissions articles from you – a
        voice like yours is sorely needed in Sweden.

        I regularly read you online and your book “From fatwa to jihad” is on
        my reading list, as well as “Strange fruit”.

      • No problem. I did not take your comment as particularly critical. Not that I mind critical comment – it is what drives the development of ideas and arguments.

    • I think there was a very personal reason for banning (customs ban) Satanic Verses in India. Rajiv Gandhi the Prime Minister was approached by Shahabuddin an ex-socialist Muslim MP with request to ban it. Shahabuddin never read the novel, admittedly. Nor did Rajiv Gandhi read it. Only his attention was drawn to certain sections of it dealing with Satanic Verses, But prior to that Indira Gandhi, former PM and Rajiv’s mother, was involved in a bitter personal dispute with Rushdie, who demonized her role in his ‘Midnight’s Children’ suggesting that she was responsible for the death of her husband, etc. She even sued him for defamation and won the case also. It seems the paragraphs defamatory to her were expunged by Court orders. This was enough for Rajiv Gandhi to immediately act and impose a customs ban (that it could not be imported to). But to this day there is no ban on merits against Satanic Verses in India. If some ingenuous and bold enterpreneur comes forward and with Rushdie’s permission prints the book in India, he is not barred since there is no pre-censorship of books or newspapers in India.

  2. Hazza

    Excellent article, as always. And @Hakan Lindgren, Kenan addresses these other issues you talk about in other articles on here, and in his book, From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy. It is such a huge topic, and as he says at the start, it was for a newspaper and to just pull together the Rushdie Affair and the uproar over this movie. He couldn’t write a book on it, since he already has ^^

  3. Joe

    I think you are correct to point out the role of Islamist hardliners in leveraging the film in order to foment violence for a political end. Just as you are correct to note that only a small number of Muslims have responded to the film in a violent way. However, despite these insights, I think you are still missing the point in your interpretation of what has been characterized as “Muslim rage”.

    To me, at least, the phrase “Muslim rage” does not deny the existence of broader political actors and aims behind the violence. Rather, it is based upon bewilderment at the fact that a D-list film can be leveraged to produce that violence in the first place; that Muslims appear to be susceptible to being moved to violence by something as simple as a book or film that disparages the prophet. Regardless of who may have been “pulling the strings” and for what reasons, the fact that those strings can even be pulled in the first place has become a tragically predictable aspect of modern Islam. I would contend that religious sensibilities are firmly at the center of this situation. The anger is hardly artificial.

    • Joe, thanks for this. I am not suggesting that the anger is artificial. What I am suggesting is that is inchoate and nihilistic. There are two developments that are important to understand here. The first is a change in the nature of politics, the second in the nature of religious faith.

      The political sphere has in recent decades become hollowed out and ideological divides have been all but erased. As the politics of ideology has given way to the politics of identity, so social solidarity has come increasingly to be defined not in political terms – as collective action in pursuit of certain political ideals – but in terms of culture. And increasingly, as the political has eroded, so faith has come to be an anchor for cultural identity. Sociologists such as Olivier Roy, Gilles Keppel and Faisal Devji have clearly how contemporary Islamist and jihadist movements have been shaped by of all this.

      One expression of the erosion of the political has been the collapse of traditional Third World liberation movements. Traditionally, liberation movements expressed their anti-Western or anti-imperialist sentiment in terms of specific goals, through the demand for national self-determination. Today anti-Western sentiment has become an end in itself, and so has become formless, inchoate, nihilistic.

      At the same time as the political has become transformed, so has religion. Religions, as the philosopher Charles Taylor observes, have become disembedded from their historical cultures, and reconstituted instead as part of the culture of ‘expressive individualism’, forms of spirituality grounded in the primacy of individual experience and rooted in the social values of what Tom Wolfe once called the ‘me generation’. Religion has, ironically, become secularised, driven less by a search for piety and holiness than for identity and belongingness. Faith has transformed itself into the religious wing of identity politics.

      As broader political, cultural and national identities have eroded, and as traditional social networks, institutions of authority and moral codes have weakened, so the resultant atomisation of society has created both an intensely individual relationship to the world and a yearning for the restoration of strong identities and moral lines. What Islam, and Islamism in particular, has managed to do most successfully is to give vent to the widespread, formless anger, accommodate to a narcissistic individualism while addressing the desire for a fixed identity and inflexible moral code, and at the same time to wrap all this within a sense of the global in the ummah. Islam is, therefore, important in understanding what is going on – but not in the way that you, or most people, suggest.

  4. Ian

    This piece makes one crucial error that completely mitigates any point you are trying to make. There is inherently no distinction between the religious and the political, every religious confrontation is at its heart a political confrontation. By suggesting that these confrontations are political rather than religious he completely misunderstands the nature of religion and therefore undermines the expertise he purports to have.

    • So how do you explain the fact that some Muslims are fascists, some conservatives, some liberals, some communists? That some support women’s rights and others oppose it? That some believe in democracy and others in theocracy? That some believe in the separation of faith and state and others reject that? And that the same is true of Christians, Jews, Hindus and every other group of believers? It is one thing to say that certain religious beliefs have political consequences. It is quite another to assert that there is no distinction between the religious and the political.

      • imshreyas

        It can be explained by dividing Muslims (Or any other faith) in following categories

        1. Namesake Muslims (Who are born Muslims but are part of Global Society)
        2. Dormant Muslims (Identifies themselves as Muslims nothing more)
        3. Passive Muslims (Believers. This is widest range starting from believe only in Allah to Believe in Allah, Rasul, Sunnah, Quran & Hadiths but take liberty as and when required)
        4. Active Muslims (Mullahs, Evangelists, Jihadis)

        Same can be said about any faith. It’s which group has more command over the community will determine the outlook of the community.

        In Islam type 1 and 2 are likely to be called Qafirs and their suggestions to be Ignored while type 4 have python grip over the community.

      • Imshreyas, this is a somewhat crude typology, but nevertheless it makes my point for me: that ‘politics’ and ‘religion’ are not interchangeable terms, that religious views do not neatly map on to political ones, and that there are a variety of political views within any faith group. It is often the case that the way that believers interpret religious claims is shaped by their politics, rather than the other way round. Religion, in other words, is often a means to prop up a political stance.

  5. Prof Robert Davis

    This is a classic ‘secularist’ view of Islamism, which ignores its doctrinal and Koranic roots and strives vainly to translate religious rage into cultural and political protest, the inflections of which the liberal, postcolonial mind can more effectively manage. It is a gross misreading of the Rushdie affair, at variance with the words of Muslims themselves (see the excellent Radio 4 Archive on 4 episode from 2009 where Muslim protestors themselves speak) and the long genealogy of Islamic censorship and fatwa. It pays no attention whatsoever to Islamic constructions of blasphemy and simply effaces Muslim veneration of the person of the Prophet. We get absolutely nowhere when we try to evacuate the ‘religious’ from religious anger––a lesson Brits ought to have learned from the failed attempts to displace the doctrinal strife of Catholics and Protestants from an understanding of Northern Ireland.

    • There is a lot of assertion here, but little in the way of evidence. Which part of my narrative is a ‘gross misreading of the Rushdie affair’? That the campaign against The Satanic Verses began in India as part of a political attempt by Islamist groups to win concessions from politicians nervous about an upcoming general election? That the novel became a weapon in the struggle between the Saudis and the Iranians for the hearts and minds of Muslims? That the fatwa was imposed largely for political reasons? That until the fatwa the vast majority of Muslims did not care about The Satanic Verses? That when in 1988 the Saudis tried to organize a Muslim boycott of the novel few Muslim countries responded? That the novel was openly available in Iran prior to the fatwa and reviewed in leading journals such as Kayhan Farangi? That there is a distinction between the views of Islamists and those of the majority of Muslims?

      As for Northern Ireland, there are few conflicts that better reveal how a political struggle can become wrapped in religious garb, and how a campaign driven initially by nationalism and a desire for equal rights can descend into sectarian strife.

  6. Kutta

    Unfortunately muslims have been rioting since Mohammed’s time ….we can come up with many different reasons why they do it and keep over analysing the situation….

    In 1924 in the North West Frontier province of Kohat, riots brokeout and about 155 people mostly hindus were killed. The cause of the riots was a book Rangeela Rasool (Playboy Mohamed) written and published by a hindu which was blasphemous for the muslims. Muslims got offended and did what they continue to do today….

    http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/ambedkar_partition/307c.html

    • Muslims are hardly the only group to have been rioting since Mohammed’s time, and often for reasons that on the surface seem quite trivial. Nor are riots unknown in the non-Muslim world today. The reason we need to analyse ‘why they do it’ is so that we can root our judgments in facts rather than prejudices.

      • Kutta

        “Muslims are hardly the only group to have been rioting since Mohammed’s time”

        The point is not that Muslims are the only group that are rioting off course most groups especially religious and nationalist are inherently insane and are prone to rioting. But muslims are unique in the sense that they riot more than any other group when their prophets or doctrine are criticized.

        The flaw in your thinking is you are attributing peripheral reasons for this behaviour and not looking at the history of islamic behaviour which are well documented.

      • ‘Most groups especially religious and nationalist are inherently insane and are prone to rioting’

        As I wrote in response to another comment, it is ironic how certain kinds of anti-theists give vent to the same sorts of blanket assertions and bigoted attitudes that so affront them when they come out of the mouths of believers.

        The point I was making in my original response was that all sorts of people riot for all sorts of reasons. The claim that historically Muslims have been particularly prone to religious violence, or are unique in violently defending their religion, is simply not true. You just have to look at the religious wars that ripped apart Europe in the wake of the Reformation. It is true that the kind of violence we have seen from in recent years in response to the supposed giving of offence to Islam is different and distinct. That is precisely why we need to understand the dynamics behind such violence and not simply stick to blind assertions.

  7. Krishan Bhattacharya

    Mr. Malik,

    I can’t entirely agree with your position, if I have it correct, that the riots/attacks on embassies etc. that have happened over the film, are just political disputes voiced in religious terms. The problem with this argument is that, even if cynical politicians were fanning the flames for sectarian aims, it wouldn’t work if there weren’t any fuel to burn. Politicians might be pulling levers, but the levers wouldn’t work if people in the Muslim world didn’t have certain beliefs.

    – Krishan Bhattacharya

    • This is similar to the argument raised by Joe above. And my response is the same as it was to him: yes, Islam is important in understanding what is going on – but not in the way that most people, suggest.

  8. This is a somewhat tangential point but I think that an important distinction needs to be made between The Innocence of Muslims and the Danish cartoons on the one hand and serious works of art and comment like Rushdie’s Satanic Verses on the other.

    One of the things I find difficult about the so-called new atheist position is that many seem to conflate having a right to do something with it being morally permissable to do it. This seems to lead to all sorts of gratuitous and malicious rudeness that has no other motive behind it other than the desire to offend the feelings of others. This is not authentic comment or criticism but just cruelty and childish name-calling. The fact is we have to rub along in a plural society and while I agree that no one has the right to be protected from being offended (and certainly not a legal right) we need to have rules of civility in an open society whereby people do not hurt each other’s feelings without good cause. For that reason I would argue that the Danish cartoons and the Innocence of Muslims should not have been published but that having been published there should be no legal redress against them. If you have to legislate for good manners in a society then you are in a bad way! Of course the corollary of this is that those who are offended have recourse to public denunciation and even demonstration but not to violence.

    If by chance some archeologists came across what they believed to be early images of Mohammed (perhaps created by some early break-away sect) and published these as serious academic research then, while the publication might offend many Moslems, I would argue causing offense in this context would be permissible. The motive in this case is the desire to extend historical knowledge and not simply to cause offense. The offense is a by-product of a serious enterprise and so, I would argue, unfortunate but permissable.

    I would argue that the distinction between the gratuituously offensive and serious art and comment is not hard to make, but I reiterate, this is not a matter for law but of etiquette.

    • I agree that civility is important and that the gratuitous giving of offence is not helpful. But the idea that certain things should not be published because they do not constitute ‘authentic comment or criticism’ is to tread on dangerous ground. That’s precisely the argument that many used to suggest that The Satanic Verses should not have been published. As the philosopher, and anti-Rushdie campaigner, Shabbir Akhtar put it at the height of the controversy over novel, there is a distinction to be drawn between ‘sound historical criticism’ and ‘scurrilously imaginative writing’. And as far as he was concerned The Satanic Verses fell on the wrong side of the line. The real debate, he insisted, was not about ‘freedom of speech versus censorship’ but about ‘legitimate criticism versus obscenity and slander’. Exactly the same point has been made by every opponent of offensive talk: by those, for instance, who shut down the play Behzti, or Jerry Springer: The Opera, or Seven Jewish Children .

      But the question is, who decides what is ‘legitimate criticism’ and what is ‘obscenity and slander’? Who decides what constitutes, in your words, ‘good cause’ to be offensive? Where you would draw the line would be different from where Sabbir Akhtar would have drawn the line. On what basis do we accept your line and not his?

      You say that because ‘we have to rub along in a plural society’ so ‘we need to have rules of civility in an open society whereby people do not hurt each other’s feelings without good cause’. My view, for which I have argued many, many times, is that it is precisely because we do live in a plural society that the giving of offence is both inevitable and necessary:

      Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. Almost by definition such clashes express what it is to live in a diverse society. And so they should be resolved openly, not suppressed in the name of ‘respect’ or ‘tolerance’.

      But more than this: the giving of offence is not just inevitable, it is also important. Any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities. Or to put it another way: ‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged. To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged.

      A final point: You write ‘If by chance some archeologists came across what they believed to be early images of Mohammed (perhaps created by some early break-away sect)…’, as if only an early break-away sect would have depicted Muhammad. In fact, it was common to portray him until comparatively recently. The prohibition against such depictions only emerged in the 17th century. Even over the past 400 years, a number of Islamic, especially Shiite, traditions have accepted the pictorial representation of Muhammad. Numerous museums in Europe, America and in the Middle East hold hundreds of Persian, Ottoman and Afghan manuscripts depicting the Prophet. His face can be seen in many mosques too – even in Iran. A 17th-century mural on the Iman Zahdah Chah Zaid Mosque in the Iranian town of Isfahan, for instance, shows a Mohammed whose facial features are clearly visible. There is no universal prohibition on the depiction of Muhammad. It has become an issue for political reasons.

  9. arlene

    Everyone has an opionon and a different view point. If only they did not take offence (or pretend) and use it to manipulate others, all would be well. That includes the whole human race.

  10. Zaki Asaad

    The Article and The comments are very interesting. In Islam, religion and politics are ONE. Muslims do not debate. It could be out of ignorance, insecurity and or The Best Way to defend is to Attack. It shows the more violence they get the more they gain, (some ground ). Sadly , in fact, they loose more than their gaining. It shows THE WORLD their Dark Side. Democracy does not coexist with Islamic Teachings ( Shariah ). The Symbol of Islam Is ( THE Sword & The Koran ). So far, The West are missing that point. Fanatic Muslims are interpreting the peaceful approach of (The west ) as WEAKNESS. I see that the policy of ( The Carrot & Stick ) is the way to deal with fanatics of any Group.

    • Certainly some traditions, such as various strands of Islamism, insist that in Islam religion and politics are one. Other traditions dispute that. Muslims, like Christians, Jews, Hindus and adherents to just about every faith, interpret their holy scriptures according to their wider philosophies and inclinations. Some Christians read the Bible and think that gays should be executed. Others read the same Bible and are happy for gays to be ordained. Similarly, some Muslims read the Qu’ran and the hadith and insist that there can be no separation between faith and state. Others read the same texts and think that they sanctify liberal democratic constitutions. Muslims, as Olivier Roy has put it, ‘continually disagree on what the Qu’ran says, while all stressing that the Qu’ran is unambiguous and clearcut’. The trouble is that in the West many have come to accept that the Islamists are the real voice of Islam. That has served only to marginalize the more progressive movements within Muslim communities.

  11. Simon

    This article is bullshit. You can claim all sorts of crap if you like but the fact is Muslims are using this film and their religion as an excuse for violence and murder as they have done so much in recent history.
    Whether it actually is about religion is almost an aside, the religion is the excuse, so the author is partially right but misses the mark in their analysis by a long way.
    All religions can say of things that have been carried out in their name “it’s not in our religion it’s extremists” think the Crusades, 911 or whatever. Religion doesn’t actually exist without followers do if the followers carry something out in the name of the religion then it IS the religion

    • It’s ironic, isn’t it, that so many of those who claim to be the toughest opponents of religion, and of Islamism, express the same ‘I don’t care about reasoned analysis or discussion, I’m just going stay in my bunker with my prejudices, and if anybody questions them, I’ll just say they’re talking bullshit and crap’ argument for which they supposedly despise religion?

      • Ben

        Anyone remember how bent out of shape America got about flag burning in the 90s? Many still do. Not everyone ever did. It’s often been used by political factions as a rallying issue. Very similar.

      • Simon

        I guess you don’t watch, listen to or read the international news then. Whether the Koran says anything about killing people because they posted a picture on Facebook or not is irrelevant.
        If the followers of a religion use it as an excuse for violence then the religion and its leaders is at fault

  12. Kutta

    “While the hardline Islamists have managed to bring out thousands of people on to the streets in violent protest, there is little to suggest that the majority of Muslims, even in Egypt, Libya or Pakistan support them.”

    How did you come to this conclusion? And who according to you are the hardliners?

    In Pakistan and most other Islamic county, there is a blasphemy law and many have been killed using these very laws. If the people of this state are not islamist then why are they having such laws? Why don’t they do away with these laws?

    Every Islamic country has these retrograde laws and kafirs are routinely killed. Why do such laws exist in these countries if the people of the state are not Islamists and don’t follow the islamists agenda?

    “The second myth is that most muslims were offended by the novel”

    Are you saying that before Rushdie’s fiasco, you could criticise Islam in a muslim country and there would have been no consequences?

    • ‘In Pakistan and most other Islamic county, there is a blasphemy law and many have been killed using these very laws. If the people of this state are not islamist then why are they having such laws? Why don’t they do away with these laws?’

      Are you suggesting that only countries where most people are Islamist have blasphemy laws? Currently Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Holland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, to mention just a few, all have laws prohibiting various forms of religious insult – blasphemy or blasphemous libel or insult to religion or vilification of religion or outraging religious feelings, etc. Are these all majority Islamist nations? You ask, ‘Why do such laws exist in these countries if the people of the state are not Islamists and don’t follow the Islamists agenda?’ Good question. Perhaps you should ask the good Islamists of Austria or Canada or Italy.

      I am not suggesting, by the way, that the role or importance of blasphemy laws, or the way they are used, or the role of religion in people’s lives, is the same Pakistan it is in Austria or Canada or Italy. I’m just pointing out that it’s absurd an argument to suggest that because Pakistan has blasphemy laws, so the people must all be Islamists.

      In any case, the point I was making in the article was that in countries such as Egypt and Libya there is a power struggle among Islamists in which the hardline Islamists have ceded ground in recent months to more mainstream factions. That is one reason for the hardliners flexing their muscle. And yes, I know, the terms ‘hardliners’ and ‘mainstream’ are relative: what I am calling ‘mainstream’ Islamists would be anything but mainstream or moderate in most countries. However, in the context of political struggles in places like Egypt and Libya (and indeed Pakistan) such categories are worth making.

      ‘Are you saying that before Rushdie’s fiasco, you could criticise Islam in a muslim country and there would have been no consequences?’

      No, I am saying that, before the fatwa, most Muslims did not care about The Satanic Verses, that most Muslim countries refused to join the Saudi campaign, that most refused to ban the novel, that Muslim communities in places like Germany or France did organize against the novel, that it was freely available to be read and reviewed even in Iran.

      The trouble with debates such as this is that if I say ‘Everything is not black’, people immediate assume that I am therefore saying ‘Everything is white’. The world does not work like that.

      • Kutta

        Thank you for your response and appreciate you allowing me to comment on your article.

        You said….

        “While the hardline Islamists have managed to bring out thousands of people on to the streets in violent protest, there is little to suggest that the majority of Muslims, even in Egypt, Libya or Pakistan support them.”

        I questioned how you came to this conclusion? And responded why I have come to completely opposite conclusion based on the bigoted laws of islamic countries

        I said…..

        “In Pakistan and most other Islamic county, there is a blasphemy law and many have been killed using these very laws. If the people of this state are not islamist then why are they having such laws? Why don’t they do away with these laws?”

        You said….

        “Are you suggesting that only countries where most people are Islamist have blasphemy laws?…..” (You see it is a tangential response to your previous assertions)

        Essentially saying Non-Muslim blasphemy law == Muslim blasphemy law, without realising that one is used to ensure law and order is maintained and is implemented based on universal values and other is used to routinely beat up kafirs and make them fall in line under Islamic values.

        Off course after doing the equal between the blasphemy law you went on to say that they are implemented differently in the countries which doesn’t mean much.

        FYI…example of Islamic law in Pakistan is below, and these have been formulated by the English speaking “secular” elites of Pakistan. (May be I should have called them Islamic law rather than blaspheme law)

        “In accordance with evidentiary requirements, while Muslims can give evidence against non-Muslims, non-Muslims are barred from giving evidence against an accused who happens to be a Muslim.”

        “if a Muslim murders a non-Muslim, he is eligible to pay compensation to the victim’s family, but not vice versa; a non-Muslim is barred from paying blood money and must face either a prison sentence or the death penalty.”

        http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,,COUNTRYPROF,PAK,,4954ce652,0.html

      • Kutta

        The outcome I see in the democratically elected islamic countries is going to be competitive islam. Who is purer? the less pure mainstream will be competing with the pure islamist. One of the reason why this happens is that this actually is played out within the family unit to begin with where the purer are encouraged and rewarded.

        This gives rise to status qo wrt regressive islamic laws and behaviours.

      • ’Essentially saying Non-Muslim blasphemy law == Muslim blasphemy law, without realising that one is used to ensure law and order is maintained and is implemented based on universal values and other is used to routinely beat up kafirs and make them fall in line under Islamic values.’

        What I actually wrote (as you half acknowledge, but dismiss) was this:

        I am not suggesting, by the way, that the role or importance of blasphemy laws, or the way they are used, or the role of religion in people’s lives, is the same Pakistan it is in Austria or Canada or Italy. I’m just pointing out that it’s absurd an argument to suggest that because Pakistan has blasphemy laws, so the people must all be Islamists.

        That point still stands. You originally argued that because the people of Pakistan ‘don’t… do away with [blasphemy] laws’, so they must mostly be Islamists. I was pointing out that it’s an argument that makes no sense.

        Now your argument seems to be that Pakistan is not a liberal democracy and the rule of law is not applied as it is in Western nations with blasphemy laws. I agree with you. I agree, too, that Pakistan has instituted unconscionable laws based on Islam and these laws are used to persecute and oppress non-Muslims and many Muslims too. But that is not the same as saying that the majority of people in Pakistan are Islamists, which was your original claim. We can agree that Islamic states are repressive and objectionable. But you cannot infer from that the kinds of broad assertions that you are making.

        ‘these have been formulated by the English speaking “secular” elites of Pakistan.

        Quite. That just adds weight to my argument that these kinds of struggles are as much about political power as religious belief. Blasphemy laws, whether in Muslim countries or in the West, have, as I suggested in a talk earlier this year, never been ‘simply about theology and religion, but also about politics and power… The outlawing of blasphemy [is] less about defending the dignity of the divine than of protecting the sanctity of the state.’

      • Kenan Malik is certainly wrong. There is no blasphemy law in India. Blasphemy is defined as an offence by the very non-acceptance and criticism of the tenets of a religion. India has Sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code in this context, the latter introduced through an amendment subsequent to what is known as Rangeela Rasool case judgment by Lahore Court in 1927. Both require that writings or speeches insulting a religion and causing enmity between different religious groups be treated as offences and punished with imprisonment up to 3 years or fine or both. That is more like a secular type of sanction on any offence to any religious group resulting in enmity and disturbances or likelihood of the same and is always interpreted as not to abridge the freedom of speech in criticizing the tenets of the religions. But blasphemy law is something more and horrific. Even if a Muslim discusses whether Mohammed is the last prophet or some other doomsday prophet is going to come (some say Mehdi or so) that can be treated as blasphemy. And the Pakistanis amended the same 295A of the IPC to 295C PPC which runs as follows: “295C: Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet:
        Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
        So if a rationalist Muslim says Mohammed cannot be taken as the last prophet or goes further and says he is a charlatan, he can be sentenced to death.This is irrespective of any other religious community being drawn into the vortex or any law and order problem created due to his writing. This is how Rimsha (a child-Christian mentally retarded girl) came to be charged with blasphemy and jailed for those maliciously fabricated charges and recently ordered to be released on ‘bail’ for sureties of astronomical sums! Perhaps this is under another notorious amendment 295B which awards up to life imprisonment for Defiling, etc. of Holy Quran.
        Again if somebody criticises that Mohammed did a wrong in marrying Ayesha in her childhood and cohabiting with her when only 8-9 years of age, that will also amount to blasphemy punishable with death.

        So, you see in the so-called ‘Islamic’ Republic of Pakistan only sayings against the Prophet and Islam are made punishable. If somebody tears down and insults Bhagavad Gita, a holy book of Hindus, in a Hindu locality in Karachi or Lahore, that will not be ‘blasphemy’! At any rate, it has to come under the rider of creating enmity and disturbances between religious groups for milder punishment.

        So you see Blasphemy laws prohibit basic free speech and criticism of and research and inquiry into religions and establish a sort of apartheid as against people of other religions inhabiting the country. Certainly no Hindu or Christian will agree to the proposition that Mohammed is a messenger of God or at least that he is the last prophet. So potentially every Hindu or Christian in Pakistan is a blasphemer! It may be noted here that founder of Pakistan, Mr. Jinnah, was himself not happy even at the introduction of 295A following the controversial Rangeela Rasool case judgment in 1927 and specifically remarked that any amendment to existing law should not curb the right to honest criticism of a religion.

      • I wrote that India was one of many countries that ‘have laws prohibiting various forms of religious insult – blasphemy or blasphemous libel or insult to religion or vilification of religion or outraging religious feelings, etc.’ Section 295A of the Indian penal code outlaws, as you yourself acknowledge, ‘Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’. Why this means that ‘Kenan Malik is certainly wrong’ I don’t know.

        It is true that Pakistan outlaws specifically insults to the Prophet Muhammad, and to Islam, and that it imposes this prohibition in a most vicious, and often deadly, manner. In India, as in most European nations too, what is outlawed is a much broader conception of insulting all religions. That does not mean, however, that the latter is not a form of blasphemy law; it is just a different kind of blasphemy law.

        Take, for instance, the current case in India of Sanal Edamaruku. The head of the Indian Rationalist Association, Sanal is facing imprisonment on charges of ‘deliberately hurting religious feelings’ over his exposure of a supposed miracle at a Catholic church in Mumbai. He was been forced to flee the country. It is splitting hairs to suggest that Section 295A is not being used here as a form of blasphemy law. It is true that Article 19 (a) of the Indian constitution specifically protects free speech. But that has never prevented constant and continual bannings and prohibitions of speech and writings deemed objectionable. It is absurd to suggest that the law in india ‘is always interpreted as not to abridge the freedom of speech in criticizing the tenets of the religions.’ Tell that to Sanal Edamaruku. Or, indeed, to Salman Rushdie.

  13. Johannes

    Several times you say in your responses something like: ‘Islam is important in understanding what is going on – but not in the way that most people, suggest.’

    This rather implies that you have not articulated what you think are the main reasons, and that to approach this properly you will perforce finding yourself giving offence perhaps even to your co-religionists, because it is all bound up in the the personalities of those who adhere to religious beliefs.

    Let me suggest why this might be. The classical ‘peoples of the book’ are Jews, Christians and Muslims. Judaism is a religion based on the notion of victimhood: fail to adhere to the tenets of your God and you will be punished, e.g. the two captivities, occupation by the Greeks and the Romans etc. God is a god of punishment. Christianity is based on a notion of followers maximising empathy to each other, and indeed to everyone. As such it is the natural antidote to fascism, which can be defined as ‘the politics of the bully’. You cannot empathise with your victims and manage to bully them at the same time – it doesn’t work. God is a God of Love and a revision of the original punishment-favouring Father. Islam is based on struggle, struggle for success, and its presence on the World stage is very much about it being coincidentally successful in its early wars which mostly involved two decaying and ancient empires, the Romans and the Persians. The contemporary idea was that if you were successful in battle then it was because God favoured your religious ideas. God is a god who demanded uncritical submission, just as a soldier is required to be, and in return protected his worshippers, but only if they were genuine in their belief. In the process Islam inherited the revealed truth tradition of Judaism and Christianity as recorded in books and added their own, latest, revisionist addition to that series. Without that it would have no core to rely on. Equally these books contained the best versions of the story of mankind as framed in their contemporary period.

    Arguably each religion sought to provide a cultural core appropriate for the times they were in, so provided a different role and indeed a different philosophy. For example Islam explicitly rejected Christianity on the basis that, with the trinity, it was back-sliding from the concept of the unitary nature of God. Christianity was designed as a empathy bomb to destroy the fascism of the Roman Empire which so oppressed the Jews in the 1st century (and which succeeded some 270 years later). You could say ‘well, how many Christians believe in maximising their empathy to their fellow man?’ and it’s a good point. But that’s what they sign up to when they claim to be Christian. And what about Islam? Well, here we have a problem because struggle requires enemies to struggle against and you cannot empathise with your enemies any more than a bully can empathise with his victim. Islam might attract many who claim it to be a religion of peace. Well, maybe it is, but on whose terms? The real problem is that it attracts far too many of a fascist bent and gives them an outlet for that most primitive of tribalist feelings.

    You would be right to say that all religions have such people as adherents, and history will bear you out, but it is crude tribalism, forged in the hunter-gatherer societies of the past 100,000 years and more, which attracts them and makes them shed all sense and reason, not the actuality of religious belief. Describing Islam as merely the last is hilarious because it is already 1400 years ago and the contemporary story of mankind has been utterly transformed by modern knowledge, and it does not concur with what the holy books say it is. The problem in the modern world is that stubborn tribalists hold out against the modern story and its modern truths, even as they benefit from its fruits in terms of modern medicine, infrastructure and communication. True, some of those truths are pretty uncomfortable and some are pretty incomprehensible to the public at large. The tribalists are there to be manipulated by cynical leaders – as you say – who deny them the education to evaluate the World for themselves, principally because it is in their vested interests to do so.

    It isn’t the religion that is the problem as the hierarchy who promote it.

  14. Pascal

    Thank you everyone for all comments above. The article was very interesting, but the discussions made it great!

    • I agree ☺. Pandaemonium has always been about engaging in debate. My thanks to all those who have responded. I might disagree with most of the comments, but the debate is valuable.

  15. Laura

    Obama and Clinton did the diplomatic thing and tried to appease the hardliners by talking about how offensive the movie was, but the protests only got more out of hand. So maybe that’s the wrong approach – maybe they should have stood up and said “You have nothing to be offended about. Get on with your lives”. Or said nothing at all?

  16. mayank

    Scurrilous mischief cloaked as religious outrage for poltical gain has long bedeviled mankind – even Jesus & Prophet Mohammed were not spared. Part of being human is to also be spiteful, hateful and vengeful. The lunatic and the deranged will unfortunately continue to profane religious artifacts because they simply know not what they do. The greater tragedy is when supposedly sane people incite hate & violence at will to establish their cred in the streets. Tried & true tactics abound: tear out & strew pages from the koran or the bible in the streets, leave a pig’s ear at a mosque, leave a cow’s tail at a hindu temple. Intense mob violence guaranteed. When you incite & harness simple minded fools, they are mesmerized by the most fiery arsonist. And then the terrorists get an opportunity to avenge the drone strikes that have decimated their ranks. We’re confusing existential outrage of terrorists for religious outrage.

  17. JN Williams

    It is always fascinating to learn of “real” motivation for historical events, thanks for the article.

    Religion and the State have been mixed up ever since Egyptian times. One might muse on the identification of the leader/king as a god-in-human-shape or child/inheritor-of-the-god, with whomever happens to be in political power, and its application to our times – be it a Pharaoh, a Caesar, or a follower of Muhammad, Atatürk, any American president, Nazarbaeyev, Lenin, the Caesars, Hitler, etc. etc.

    It seems to me that once political posturing and argument is about a person with the promised or apparent ability to bless/save the populace (claimed in just about any major election campaign…) rather than just to work to that end as any human could, semi-divine capabilities are being attributed to that person and this is idolatry.

    To this must be added the connection which is too often made between “being successful” (or being rich, powerful…) and “having-a-god-on-your-side”, which reinforces this attribution of divinity.

    In short, I think there _is_ a matter of faith being shown in all cases, but a two-pronged contradictory one: on the one hand, that human nature can of itself transcend normal boundaries, while on the other hand attributing divine intervention or approval as a pre-requisite for this and supporting this with _a posteriori_ arguments as proof. Since the proof is impossible to maintain in rational argument, defence of the position must be unreasoning and deadly.

    What really saddens me is that those who seek political power neither deny this claim to extraordinary ability, nor reject the idolatry of their supporters, but reinforce it… human nature wants to be divine, no doubt!

  18. Again Kenan Malik is wrong. I only countered him saying there is no blasphemy law in India and said that even Jinnah was not happy at the introduction of 295A IPC and so I am also not happy at that. I am not saying India is a perfect place for democracy nor US is. I am only saying in trying to mitigate the horrific dimensions of intolerance and suppression in Pakistan and the Muslim world, Kenan Malik is trying to exaggerate the position in India in this regard. Again Sanal Edamaruku case is not by or for the majority community. It is due to manipulations of a reactionary coterie in the minority community and in the name of secular democracy a part of the Indian State bows to it (unjustly). Sanal has legal remedies, he could file a writ in High Court or Supreme Court or can try and get anticipatory bail and ultimately come in flying colours. Several civil libertarians would rush to his rescue in and out of Courts – not just from his community but from the majority community primarily. As regards Salman Rushdie it was executive excess which imposed ‘customs ban’ on his book and he never tried or somebody in his behalf never tried to challenge it in any superior court and to this day there is no ban on merits on his book. And his failure to attend Jaipur Mela, he himself admitted that he was tricked into not attending it. And later he did attend and spoke at a conference or meeting in Delhi.

    • Why do I get the feeling that were I to write that ‘New Delhi is the capital of India’ you would find reason to respond with a comment that began ‘Kenan Malik is wrong’? ☺

      Much of what you say here is right. It is also irrelevant to my points first, that Section 295A of the Indian penal code acts in effect as a blasphemy law outlawing as it does, ‘Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’; and, second, that it is simply wrong to suggest that the law in India ‘is always interpreted as not to abridge the freedom of speech in criticizing the tenets of the religions.’ India has a deep and depressing history of censorship. The fact that Pakistan is a repressive and regressive state is no reason to whitewash the situation in India.

      • UN Resolution A/RES/60/150 – “Deplores the use of the print, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet, and any other means to incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination against Islam or any other religion;” just one para for instance –
        UN Resoluton A/RES/61/164 – Combating Defamation of Religions – “Noting with concern that defamation of religions is among the causes of social disharmony and leads to violations of human rights,
        ……………………………………………………………………………………….
        Noting with deep concern the increasing trend in recent years of statements attacking religions, Islam and Muslims in particular, especially in human rights forums,
        1. Expresses its deep concern about the negative stereotyping of religions and manifestations of intolerance and discrimination in matters of religion or belief still in evidence in some regions of the world;
        ………………………………………………………………………………………………….
        3. Notes with deep concern the intensification of the campaign of defamation of religions and the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001;
        4. Expresses its deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism;
        5. Also expresses its deep concern about programmes and agendas pursued by extremist organizations and groups aimed at the defamation of religions, in particular when supported by Governments;
        …………………………………………………………………………………………………
        8. Stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions, Islam and Muslims in particular, especially in human rights forums;
        9. Emphasizes that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations as provided by law and necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs;
        ………………………………………………………………………………” etc.

        Does Kenan Malik take these also instances of blasphemy law or direction to make blasphemy law? Just because certain forms of religious insult, etc. are subject to certain punishments in view of maintaining general peace, law and order, and communal harmony, can those ‘reasonable restrictions’ on freedom of speech be equated to blasphemy law?

        What Kenan Malik does is that by equating the stubborn, intolerant, inhuman blasphemy laws and practices of certain Islamic countries with the ‘reasonable restrictions’ laws of countries like India etc. he in fact lends credence and strength to the suppression of freedom of speech and religious criticism by the Islamic fundamentalist countries. That aspect only I deplore.
        And it should not be forgotten that the Pakistan Govt officially denounced the film “Innocence of Muslims” and called for protest demonstrations which turned quite violent as expected. This represents the general opinion among a majority of Muslims there who tend to be fundamentalist. The assassination of a Governor for opposing blasphemy laws and the wide support official and non-official for the assassin and the very blasphemy laws themselves are a pointer to the rogue state nature of Pakistan and likewise several Islamic countries. Those should not be equated with other non-Islamic countries imposing certain restrictions by law that too mainly at the instance of and to protect religious minorities, which, in his confusion, Kenan Malik seems to be doing.

      • Does Kenan Malik take these also instances of blasphemy law or direction to make blasphemy law?

        Yes he does.

        Just because certain forms of religious insult, etc. are subject to certain punishments in view of maintaining general peace, law and order, and communal harmony, can those ‘reasonable restrictions’ on freedom of speech be equated to blasphemy law?

        Yes they can. There is nothing ‘reasonable’ about such restrictions. The UN resolution is outrageous and should be robustly opposed.

  19. Suleiman

    I truly enjoyed the article and the commentaries that have followed. And for whatever ot might be worth, I recommended to a leading daily (Daily Trust) here in Nigeria, a country where such global events could easily turn into local inter-communal violence. I am glad to report that they have published it in both their online and offline editions of Tuesday, 2nd October. Unfortunately, the last three papragraphs were omitted in the offline edition, perhaps for want of space. Though of course, both the author and Pandaemonium were duly acknowledged, so I hope the reproduction is okay.

    • Suleiman, many thanks both for recommending the piece to the Daily Trust and for letting me know about its publication (though I would have thought, and expected, that the Daily Trust itself would have contacted me before publishing anything). It is also a pity about the abrupt ending to the piece. I have posted a comment about it on the website. Whether that will be published or not, I do not know. I am, however, really pleased that the essay and the arguments are getting an airing in Nigeria. Do let me know if there is any debate around it. Wasn’t the Daily Trust one of the papers that Boko Haram threatened to attack? My thanks again for your support.

  20. rod

    it is not only our duty as rational people to point out the absolute ridiculousness of all the fictional works of the brain washing religious cults based on absolutely nothing but desire to control and influence people but to stop the spread of these cults and the brainwashing of children, the poor,the stupid and the gullible. Not only should we attack all religions but we should remove this blight of brainwashing cults which hold back the entire human race with their dogmatic belief system based on fairy-tale’s….

  21. plv

    Kenan, very interesting piece, thanks.

    My question is re: India being the first to cave in to political pressure to ban (the import of) Satanic Verses.

    Do you think that India is among the more vulnerable democracies in this regard? And that it’s unique brand of secularism (all religions are recognized as special by the government vs., the western notion of none are — I caricature, but at the highest level this captures the difference; there is something very non-universalist in its approach) is one of the important reasons? And given how much longer India has been dealing with diversity of religion using this approach (sarva dharma samabhava — all religions are possible) are we at a fork in India’s path, or has it always had these problems because of its special kind of religious tolerance? Are there occasions when approaches such as India’s are necessary, temporarily perhaps, before a multicultural society can agree on a universal, non-religious framework?

    That is, from the perspective of those like Shabbir Akhtar, has it always not made a show of strength, or is it demonstrating peculiar vulnerabilities now?

  22. The Outernationalist

    Ok, two issues here and before I go into them, I do like your thoughtful writing in general, Kennan:

    1) Nothing quite grabs your attention like a bunch of brown people apparently chanting in some incoherent foreign tongue with burning rubber tyres in the background. I guess if it bleeds it leads right? Everyone knows that imagery plays on your subconscious even before you’ve read a word of the article that follows it. Small caveat: as journalists we’re all guilty of using sensationalist imagery, it ain’t right I know and I don’t have a non-complex answer to this.

    2) In the aftermath of Innocence of Muslims, what you have is the perfect storm of an Arab (and for all intents and purposes, Muslim) world in upheaval and turmoil, along with a bunch of political – and to a certain extent religious – chancers who want a piece of the pie (who wouldn’t want to shape their own nation’s destiny?). Now throw in a crap home video trashing Islam and you’re bound to have some kind of reaction.

    Before I go into more detail, we’re going to have to cover a little ‘Islam 101′ here as this is what is usually missing and is easily dismissed from discourse like this. The lack of it usually leads to further misunderstanding and lack of appreciation for a different approach to life.

    What those who aren’t Muslim need to understand is that Islam codifies every aspect of your life, that means it is part of everything from the way you eat, sleep and drink to the company you keep (because that defines you), to entire political, socio-economic/demographic systems. Simply put, Islam is an entire way of life and yes it has a place in law and governance, ideally speaking, Islam poses no threat to the notion of a ‘separation of church and state’ model because they are one and the same. You’re either fully subscribed to Islam or you’re not, I’m sorry if this comes across as absolutist but I’ve got to come down on one side of the issue or the other, so this is my choice.

    Moreover – and this is important and speaks to the core principle of Islam – anyone calling themselves a Muslim knows this deep down and if they deny it, they’re only fooling themselves and probably you too. The reason? Because they’ve fallen foul of the most basic requirement of Islam: complete and utter submission, submission not to worldy gains, desires or your fellow human, but to ONE God. Nothing more, nothing less because everything else has and will fall into place, I think that’s incredibly Zen in its simplicity!

    If you can’t handle that, well then I guess you just can’t, it is what it is and there’s no point debating about it.

    I used to dabble in fence-sitting when it came to the fundamental issues of the sensitivities of my moral compass, but it’s the constant drum beat of anti-Muslim hatred in the so-called ‘liberal’ media (how liberal can anyone really be when they’re so obsessed with scrutinising and mocking followers of one particular way of life?) not that ‘conservative’ media is any better, that’s effectively forced me to take a side – trust me I wish I didn’t have to, I wish we could all just get along and not be mean-spirited about what makes us all different.

    I guess this is where I should point out that I’m a huge fan of satire – Jon Stewart, in particular, who can and does poke fun at all religions equally (not that it makes it right but I appreciate the candour in his scrutiny), is, for lack of a better term my ‘hero’ for all the other amazing work that he does.

    Don’t worry, I’m not the tyre/flag burning murderous type that we love to portray through copious searches through the Getty Images archive! I’m just trying to give as detailed an opinion on this very subtle issue as possible.

    Coming back to the piece, sure you could argue that the Rushdie fatwa turned into a political and ideological tug of war between the Saudis and Iranians but in a way, the above piece has managed to make that a red herring. Although to your credit, Kenan, you have accurately shown that the reaction to the Satanic Verses and Innocence of Muslims has lead masses of Muslims expressing their “unformed sense of fury”…I guess Muslims still need to work on their err…delivery.

    Sure you could also argue that the lack of a Western colonialist bogeyman to wage a liberation struggle against has led to these “inchoate” directionless violent demonstrations. But I think things are coming to a head within the Muslim world and probably the world at large, the struggle in the Muslim world is between educated intellectuals and those less so (the loud-mouthed shouty kind).

    Unfortunately, from what I’ve witnessed so far from my dealings with these educated types, is that they end up isolating themselves off in their ivory towers of knowledge and wealth and are too easily seduced with the material pleasures of this world instead of being the paragons of virtue that ALL Muslims should strive to be i.e. they end up breaking pretty much every rule there is to break as a Muslim and so lose credibility among their Muslim peers thus helping to drive an even bigger wedge between them and the less educated Muslim masses.

    You could call this class warfare in your parlance but for Muslims it’s an existential matter for this life and the eternal one hereafter.

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

    ——
    Now here are the bits from the above piece that resonate with me the most, it’s a mixed bag because we’re straddling many issues here:

    “Just as the Ayatollah Khomeini tried to use the fatwa to turn the tables on his opponents, so the hardliners are today trying to do the same by orchestrating the violence over Innocence of Muslims, tapping into the deep well of anti-Western sentiment that exists in many of these countries. The film is almost incidental to this.”

    “hardliners are only forced into organizing such demonstrations because of their lack of popular support. Those who do not support the Islamists do not take to the streets, so are generally ignored in the West. The reactionaries come to be seen as the true voice of Muslim communities. At the same time the perception that the violent mobs are representative of Muslim feeling has lent support to calls for offensive works such as The Innocence of Muslims to be made illegal and, in this case, for the film maker to be arrested.”

    “The insurrections that have transformed much the Arab world over the past year have certainly created a new terrain. They have undermined old security structures, created a greater sense of social fragmentation, and opened up new spaces for Islamist politics. What has really changed, however, is that over the past decade political rage has become far more inchoate and increasingly shorn of political content. To be ‘anti-Western’ used to mean to take a political stand against Western policy. Now, it simply expresses an unformed sense of fury, leading to a random, frenzied outpouring of anger.”

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,660 other followers