Rushdie may lose an eye if he survives, but the rest of us cannot shut our eyes to the everyday barbarism called Islamist violence
Exactly 33 years and six months after Valentine’s Day of 1989, on which Iran’s religious figurehead Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie for his The Satanic Verses, a young man has honoured his decree with the author’s blood.
Hadi Matar, who repeatedly stabbed Rushdie in New York on Friday, was born to Lebanese parents nine years after the fatwa was issued. He was from far away from Middle East’s Islamist hotbed in the nursery of the liberal world, California.
And yet, he wrote laudatory posts on Iran’s religiously inspired military unit Revolutionary Guards and agonised over Israel’s treatment of Palestine. But more importantly, he grew up feeling compelled to complete the Ayatollah’s proclamation made even before his birth.
That is how Islam works. Like a timeless code of certain proscribed causes and their violent effect. A code held over Constitutions, humanitarian consensus, and every contract of the civilised world.
As Rushdie’s friend and one of the finest Western minds of modern times, Christopher Hitchens, once wrote:
Why, then, should we be commanded to “respect” those who insist that they alone know something that is both unknowable and unfalsifiable? Something, furthermore, that can turn in an instant into a license for murder and rape? As one who has occasionally challenged Islamic propaganda in public and been told that I have thereby “insulted 1.5 billion Muslims,” I can say what I suspect—which is that there is an unmistakable note of menace behind that claim. No, I do not think for a moment that Mohammed took a “night journey” to Jerusalem on a winged horse. And I do not care if 10 billion people intone the contrary. Nor should I have to. But the plain fact is that the believable threat of violence undergirds the Muslim demand for “respect.”
Why does the world treat Islam with such exception, as if handling a violent and unpredictable special child?
Why does the scrutiny accorded to every other religion not applied to it?
How does it get away with murder after murder? In 2021, a site called www.thereligionofpeace.com tracked from media reports 2,272 Islamist attacks in 54 countries, in which 11,208 people were killed and 9,591 injured.
Why then a student in America’s Pace University arrested for dumping the Quran, or the India’s Supreme Court judges accuse Nupur Sharma of “a loose tongue” that caused violent protests and a spate of beheadings after she angrily but accurately quoted on air from the Hadiths about Prophet Mohammed’s marriage with Aisha? Why are European governments feel pressure to take back ISIS jihadis or cover up the dark works of Islamist grooming gangs?
Why does the civilised world contort itself into a paralysis to accommodate the most violent instincts of Islam?
Islam must not be exempted from the critical scrutiny that applies to all other religions. Islam must go through an enlightenment process by questioning inhuman, unequal, unscientific & irrational aspects of the religion. #FreeSpeech
— taslima nasreen (@taslimanasreen) August 13, 2022
Fear of violent consequences
By offending no other religion do you stand to lose your life or limb. So, offending Islam is fraught. It takes almost impractical courage to take on its orthodoxy, forget criticising a 6th century Arab merchant it deems its Prophet.
More than 60 people had been killed by mobs or individuals simply for their association with The Satanic Verses. Dozens of innocent were killed in waves of attacks over the Charlie Hebdo controversy. The Danish cartoons of Mohammed brought alive another capillary of violence across the planet.
Which is why media persons and intellectuals tend to rehearse their intellectual courage on every religion other than Islam.
American Muslim scholar Moosa Richardson now argues that the credo, “Whoever insults a prophet, kill him”, is a fabricated Hadith falsely attributed to Mohammed. But we may have to wait very long for the Ummah to come to a consensus on that. After all, the smouldering prospect of violence at any real or imagined insult is what keeps the mullahs in power.
No reforms from within
Every religion has gone through reforms. The Old Testament, for instance, has verses as problematic as the Quran. But the story of Jesus and events like Enlightenment, Galileo Galilei’s discoveries, or Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution progressively softened, reformed and changed Christianity.
Hindu Dharma had its own set of reformers from Buddha to Mahavir, Nanak to Rammohan Roy, Dayanand Saraswati to Swami Vivekananda.
But Islam — despite its golden period of Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, Al Farabi and others in 10th-12th Century when its experimented with philosophy, maths, sciences and logic — has regressed back to a cloistered, unchanging state.
Many young voices of dissent are slowly emerging from the Islamic world like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Masih Alinejad, but it has still not reached critical mass. The consequence of apostasy makes it impossible for any reformer to stay in their nation of origin and work. Most dissenters from Islamic countries take asylum in the West.
Communism’s global ally
Communism needed a global ally to take on America’s idea of Western liberal democracy. It found one in Islam.
Islam’s rabid anti-Americanism and anti-openness, coupled with its global spread, gives Communism what it lacks: masses spread out worldwide. Since the poor worldwide have rejected Communism, millions of underprivileged Muslims give young Communists on posh campuses a reason to wage their little revolutions over wine from the Rhine.
Communists wield disproportionate influence on media and academia globally. They shield Islam’s egregious excesses with deft academic chicanery everywhere. It is a formidable alliance at many levels.
But wherever Communism and Islam come face-to-face in the same geography, they are at their throats. Take China and Uighurs. Or the Soviet Union and Muslims in Chechnya. Or Bosnian massacre under socialist Slobodan Milosevic.
Or find a Communist party worth its salt in Muslim countries. Indonesia provided some ground for a Leftist leader like Tan Malaka in the 1920s, but only for a short while.
Islam and Communism are incompatible. One kills in the name of God; the other for the cause of godlessness. One champions the rule of the divine; the other of the dispossessed. One shuns pork like a pandemic; the other loves it in its largest home turf.
They only meet where they never physically meet: in the ideological battlefield, fighting a common enemy.
West’s misdirected guilt trip
Winning World War II gave the Western world the conscience and confidence to introspect on its dark past. Imperialism and racism stared at it from the mirror.
But the necessity of introspection quickly turned into the indulgence of guilt. Buoyed by prosperity and prodded by an almost narcissistic magnanimity, it started blaming itself even for imagined injustice it meted around the world, as if there was a shortage of genuine misdeeds.
It started overlooking Islamic imperialism and cultural takeover by telling itself that it was compensating for centuries of racism. It even gave the rapid Islamist takeover of its cities and towns a fancy name: “multiculturalism”.
Soon, pretty much every appalling practice from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Central Asia, Middle East or Africa would be imported under the label of multiculturalism.
This variety of guilt stopped the German press from reporting the 2015-16 New Year Eve mass sexual assault outside Cologne station, for instance. Or the otherwise hound-like English press from going full force after the Islamist grooming gangs of Birmingham.
Western notions of secularism
The starting point of Western secularism is that all religions are equal and must be treated — or shunned by the state — equally.
But they are not. Religions like Hindu dharma or Zoroastrianism do not have in-built mechanisms of conversions, unlike Abrahamic faiths. Islam stands out from all other religions by the sheer power of othering. Its main villain is the kafir or kuffar, over whom the Quran obsesses across at least 250 instances (some say the cognates of the word appear about 420 times).
How can a faith that teaches universalism and one that violently others non-believers be treated as equal? How can a faith whose keepers show so little concern for human rights and values enjoy the same personal freedoms as others?
This is one of the deepest reasons for Islam getting away with such barbarism. The first instinct of liberal democracies, including India, is to think that if Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Parsis or Jains are not being pulled up, why should Muslims be? Or inversely, if Muslims are committing terrible crimes, maybe we should create a false equivalence and blame the other communities as well.
In the process, Islam’s exceptional orthodoxies get shielded.
Muslims viewed as underdog
Except for the oil wealth in Middle Eastern nations, large swathes of the global Muslim population remain poor because of high population growth and relatively low literacy. Also, there is constant migration from war-torn Islamic regions.
This makes the community a sitting duck for liberal sympathy. They are perennially the dispossessed, persecuted minority in liberals’ eyes. The classic underdog.
(Never mind the 2-billion-plus Ummah, politics of both victimhood and intimidation, and the weaponising of feather-touch insults.)
The stabbing of Salman Rushdie shows us again that by not holding Islam to minimum standards of civilised behaviour, the liberal world is crushing voices of dissent and reforms within the community and emboldening tyrants. Rushdie may lose an eye if he survives, but the rest of us cannot shut our eyes to the everyday barbarism called Islamist violence.
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