Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Reviewing Mohammedanism

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch Member of Parliament who is also a Muslim and a woman, who is forced to live in secret and have bodyguards 24/7 shows again why she is a force to be reckoned with. Her article in the August issue of UK's Prospect magazine is tough, hard-hitting and takes on the most sacred cow of Islam, the Prophet Mohammed himself. The Mohammedans (the 19th century English term - which, in light of Ali's article, is probably more appropriate than 'Muslims') are beside themselves with rage.

Her piece is particularly powerful as she starkly contrasts the differences between Western core values and shari'a beliefs and offers an eloquent defense of the West.

After the carnage of the terrorist bombings in London, Tony Blair defined the situation as a battle of values. “Our values will long outlast theirs,” ...“Whatever [the terrorists] do, it is our determination that they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear in this country and in other civilised nations throughout the world.”

But which values are we fighting for? Those who love freedom know that the open society relies on a few key shared concepts. They believe that all humans are born free, are endowed with reason and have inalienable rights. Governments are checked by the rule of law, so that civil liberties are protected. They ensure freedom of conscience and of expression, and ensure that men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals, are treated equally under the law...

The terrorists, and the Shari'a-based societies to which they aspire, have an entirely different philosophy. Humans are born to serve Allah through a series of obligations that are prescribed in an ancient body of writings. These edicts vary from rituals of birth and funeral rites to the most intimate details of human life... Muslims, according to this philosophy, must kill those among them who leave the faith, and are required to be hostile to people of other religions and ways of life. This hostility requires them to murder innocent people and makes no distinction between civilians and the military. In Shari'a societies, women are made subordinate to men. They must be confined to their houses, beaten if found disobedient, forced into marriage and hidden behind the veil. The hands of thieves are cut off and capital punishment is performed in crowded public squares in front of cheering crowds. The terrorists seek to impose this way of life not only on Islamic countries, but, as Blair said, on western societies too.

At the core of this fundamental challenge to the west lies a pre-medieval figure to whom the London terrorists—along with all faithful Muslims in our modern world—look for guidance: Muhammad. All faithful Muslims believe that they must emulate this man, in principle and practical matters, under all circumstances. When trying to understand Islamic terrorism, most politicians and other commentators have avoided the core issue, which is Muhammad’s example. The west, before embarking on a battle of ideas, must attempt to understand this figure, and his presence in the daily lives and homes of faithful Muslims today.

It is apparent on reading the Koran and the traditional writings that Muhammad’s life not only provides rules for the daily lives of Muslims; it also demonstrates the means by which his values can be imposed. Muhammad himself constructed the House of Islam using military tactics that included mass killing, torture, targeted assassination, lying and the indiscriminate destruction of productive goods. This may be embarrassing to moderate Muslims, but the propaganda produced by modern terrorists constantly quotes Muhammad’s deeds and edicts to justify their actions and to call on other Muslims to support their cause.

Muslims in Europe and across the world may be divided into roughly three groups. Firstly, there are the terrorists, who resort to violence (and their allies, the fundamentalists, who do not kill or maim, but provide terrorists with material and immaterial assistance). The second group, the reformers, are the polar opposite of the terrorists and may one day provide an intellectual counterweight to them. This group of people—although tiny, it is growing—may be characterised by its questioning of the relevance and moral soundness of Muhammad’s example. I, who was born and bred a Muslim, count myself among them. We in this group have embraced the open society as a true alternative to a society based on the laws of Muhammad—a better way to build a framework for human life.

The terrorists have far more power and resources than the reformers, but both groups vie to influence the thinking of the third group—the vast majority of Muslims. The reformers use only non-violent means to draw attention to debates over core values and the example of Muhammad. The terrorists and fundamentalists, however, use force, the threat of force, appeals to pity (“look at what the west is doing to Islam and Muslims”) and ad hominem smears. Their unwitting allies in the west defend so-called victims of Islamophobia; meanwhile, the reformers are shunned by their families and communities, and may even live under the fear of assassination. In short, the core of the debate is made taboo, and the fundamentalists attain a near-monopoly on the hearts and minds of the largest group of Muslims, the undecided.

Who are these "undecided" Muslims? They are the group to which Tony Blair refers when he says “The vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims here and abroad are decent and law-abiding people.” They live in Edgware Road and Bradford, and in Amsterdam and Saint Denis; they are not fervent observers of every ritual of Islam but they count themselves as believers. They are immigrants and second-generation youths who have come to the west to enjoy the benefits of the open society, in which they have a vested interest. But they do not question the infallibility of Muhammad and the soundness of his moral example. They know that Muhammad calls for the slaughter of infidels; they know that the open society rightly condemns the slaughter of innocents. They are caught in a mental cramp of cognitive dissonance and it is up to the west to support the reformers in trying to ease them out of that painful contradiction. They must be engaged in a process of clear thinking on how to evaluate the moral guidance of the man whose compass they follow.

It should not be offensive, or hurtful, to Muslims to call for clear thought on such an important question. This process should provide an alternative to the utopia promised by terrorists—the open society, and it gives Muslims, like Christians and Jews, an opportunity to liberate themselves from the ever-present menace of hell, which is the single most effective threat the fundamentalists employ. And yet suggestions like this cause many people in the west to flinch. Many hold that questioning, or criticising, a holy figure is not polite behaviour, somehow not done. This cultural relativism betrays the basic values on which our open society is constructed. We should never self-censor.

The western cultural relativists, who flinch from criticising Muhammad for fear of offending Muslims, rob Muslims of an opportunity to review their own moral values. The first victims of Muhammad are the minds of Muslims themselves. Moreover, this attitude betrays Muslim reformers who desperately require the support—and even the physical protection—of their natural allies in the west.

Muslims must reform their approach to Muhammad’s teachings if we are all to coexist peacefully. Terrorists and fundamentalists should not be permitted to dictate to us the rules of the game. Core western values must be maintained, and proclaimed. Our struggle should focus on persuading the large middle group of Muslims that they need not give up their religious beliefs if they engage in a process of clear and honest thinking about the need for Islamic reform.



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