On Thursday I posted, with comments, an article by a moderate Muslim named Mike Ghouse (of the Foundation for Pluralism and World Muslim Congress) discussing the Secular Islam Summit. He has written a lengthy reply, which I linked to my original post in an Update but had not intended to comment upon further; however, because of a comment Mr. Ghouse has written here, I have changed my mind. Mr. Ghouse's new article and comment point up many of the difficulties of dialogue with Muslim moderates today, and I think it may be instructive to show just why and how that is so.
First, the article, "Muslim-bashing feeding frenzy - II," which appears here. Longtime Jihad Watch readers will recognize many common tactics. The first is a tone of condescension and an attempt to claim the moral high ground and victim status, pleading to put insults and name-calling aside and have an honest dialogue -- followed by insults and name-calling. Ghouse does this with particular aplomb:
We need an honest dialogue with the intent of working together. I hope they understand Islam-bashing is not the way. We are all one family and we have to work together....
He follows this a few lines down with:
One of the remarkable things about neo-cons is their temerity to claim a lock on the truth. I wrote a column called, “A Muslim-bashing feeding frenzy” published at www.ReligionandSpirituality.com. True to its heading, the feeding frenzy has begun.
Robert Spencer made several interesting comments in his response, most of them based on the premise that the St. Petersburg declaration was ignored. A lot of questions emanated from that posit, I was not even asked if I had seen the declaration, and the whole commentary was built on the reckless assumption that I ignored the declaration, which was followed by the feeding frenzy of comments. I read the declaration after I had submitted the column for publication.
So he says let's have an honest dialogue without Muslim-bashing. Then he starts talking about "neo-cons" who have the "temerity" to "claim a lock on the truth," claims to have been the victim of a "Muslim-bashing feeding frenzy," and accuses me of making a "reckless assumption." We're all one family and all that, but apparently the prohibition on insults goes only one way. And now he tells us that he hadn't seen the St. Petersburg Declaration before he wrote his article attacking the Summit, although the Declaration was issued on March 5 and Mr. Ghouse's column appeared on March 14. Even if he wrote his piece before the Declaration was issued, he had nine days to revise it in light of what was the central product of the Summit. But instead he scolds me for assuming he saw the Declaration. I apologize for thinking he might have looked into something before attacking it.
Mr. Spencer suggests “So affirmation of human rights and freedom of conscience is "Islam-bashing"? No Sir, it is not. Absolutely not. Islam bashing is loudly telling the American public "You cannot be American and Muslim at the same time,” The intent is evil, and is to turn the average American against fellow Americans, terrorizing average Ali’s around the nation. That is not acceptable from a forum that calls its “Secular Islam Summit.”
Of course, "average Ali's around the nation" are not being terrorized, and the Secular Islam Summit did not call for them to be terrorized by any remote stretch of the imagination. This is yet another example of the familiar tactic of trying to claim victim status for Muslims, which has the effect of deflecting attention from violence committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. CAIR and other unsavory groups have mastered this, and don't hesitate to trump-up anti-Muslim hate crimes.
Mr. Spencer, “Then lead it yourself… along with a few Muslim reformists, because people like you have not been and are not doing it. Instead of carping, you should be showing that you as a Muslim can do the job even better.” We appreciate that, we are all in it together and we need to work together. We have to adopt an approach that works. The bashing-approach of the Secular Islam Summit, the one you are defending, is counter-productive at best...
As I showed in my post about Mr. Ghouse's earlier article, the Summit had no "bashing-approach." The St. Petersburg Declaration "bashes" no one. And he cannot claim not to have read it now.
...which can be easily verified by the impression and reaction of the broader Muslim community in USA that is tolerant, peaceful and moderate....
This assertion is comforting. I invite Mr. Ghouse and anyone else who is interested to download the pdf of the Center for Religious Freedom's report, "Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Invade American Mosques," and explain what efforts he has undertaken to combat that hate ideology within American mosques.
Muslim community in North America has been publicly and categorically condemning extremism, violence and tyranny.
Really? I have seen CAIR and a Shi'ite leader refuse to condemn Hamas and Hizballah as terrorist groups. I have seen the Fiqh Council of North America condemn attacks on "innocent lives" and "civilians," without ever explaining who they consider innocent civilians.
Why does this matter? Because while non-Muslim Westerners may assume that they know what is meant by “terrorism,” “innocent lives,” and “civilians,” these are in fact hotly-debated terms in the Islamic world. Anjem Choudhury of Omar Bakri’s jihadist group in Britain told an interviewer that the victims of the July 7, 2005 bombings in London were not innocent, because they were not Muslims: “When we say innocent people, we mean Muslims. As far as non-Muslims are concerned, they have not accepted Islam. As far we are concerned, that is a crime against God…As far as Muslims are concerned, you’re innocent if you are a Muslim. Then you are innocent in the eyes of God. If you are non-Muslim, then you are guilty of not believing in God.”
Civilians? One Palestinian Arab jihadist ruled out that category also, for at least some of the victims of Islamic jihad terrorism: “There are no civilians in Israel. All the Israelis are military, all of them,” he insisted. “They are all military and they all have weapons and guns, and the moment they are called up they are going to be using their weapons against me.” The Tunisian jihadist Rashid al-Ghannushi has issued a fatwa to the same effect, declaring: “There are no civilians in Israel. The population — males, females, and children — are the army reserve soldiers, and thus can be killed.”
The internationally influential Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who was won praise from Islamic scholar John Esposito for engaging in a “reformist interpretation of Islam and its relationship to democracy, pluralism and human rights,” agrees, saying of jihadist suicide bombings in Israel: “It’s not suicide, it is martyrdom in the name of God, Islamic theologians and jurisprudents have debated this issue. Referring to it as a form of jihad, under the title of jeopardising the life of the mujahideen. It is allowed to jeopardise your soul and cross the path of the enemy and be killed.” And what if the “enemy” is comprised of noncombatants? “Israeli women are not like women in our society because Israeli women are militarised. Secondly, I consider this type of martyrdom operation as indication of justice of Allah almighty. Allah is just. Through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak what the strong do not possess and that is the ability to turn their bodies into bombs like the Palestinians do.”
In light of all this, it is completely inadequate for the Fiqh Council of North America to condemn attacks on innocent civilians without saying who those innocent civilians are. Jihad terrorists can respond to the Fiqh Council's fatwa that they aren't killing innocents, they're just killing Americans and Israelis. I invite Mr. Ghouse to produce a more effective condemnation of jihad terrorism from any Muslim group in America.
What you do not understand about the psychology of reform is “telling the Christians the day after the documentary Lost Tomb is shown, to accept that Jesus was married”. That is not how reform works.
Absurd. If he is referring to what I think he is referring to, The Lost Tomb documentary has been criticized as forced in its conclusions and riddled with inaccuracies by numerous historians. For anyone to demand that Christians accept its conclusions would be tantamount to asking them to accept that Jesus was actually a space alien who flew in from Mars. But note the context in which Mr. Ghouse makes this comparison: he is equating the Secular Islam Summit and the St. Petersburg Declaration with the idea that Jesus was married. So asking Muslims to accept the equality of dignity of all people and condemnations of things like female circumcision is apparently to Mr. Ghouse like asking them to accept half-baked conclusions based on insufficient evidence.
Condemnatory criticism does not work with you, me or any soul on this earth, no matter how rational you are. I am sure you found my direct response unpalatable, and you should expect that from every human being.
I find your response disingenuous, that much is certain.
The way reform works is to be with the group, to have the willingness to start from step 1, then two and three. You have to learn to climb the stairs one step at a time. If you want results NOW, then please don’t waste your time on it and blame every one for not willing. If you and I have the attitude to accept the change with grace, then we should preach every one to change at once. Many of us moderates are working on it; to be effective, one must practice patience and give room to the masses to accept and eventually own the reform.
Oh, pardon me for being impatient. Five and half years after 9/11, and we're still waiting for a Muslim group to pronounce takfir on Osama bin Laden -- that is, declare that he is not a true Muslim. Five and a half years after 9/11, and we're still waiting for a Muslim group to renounce the ideology of violent jihad and Islamic supremacism that fuels terrorism worldwide today. We're still waiting for a Muslim group even to admit what is plain to anyone who looks into the matter: that bin Laden and Zawahri and the late Zarqawi and Mukhlas Imron and so many other jihadists routinely justify their violence by reference to passages of the Qur'an and the words and deeds of Muhammad. Five and a half years after 9/11 we're still waiting for Muslim groups to acknowledge this and formulate new and non-literalist ways of understanding this material, so that it will not continue to be used to incite violence. And Mr. Ghouse tells us to be patient. Great. I'll be patient. I just hope there will be anything left by the time Mr. Ghouse and his Muslim moderate friends get around to confronting the jihadists in any meaningful way.
The summit was blow and go. Most of the Americans heard it a few weeks in advance. Had you given the time and sincerely made the effort to really make the summit effective, you would have included many, and the reason I chose not to go was the parade of Islam-bashers coming to reform Islam from the first announcement. It is like asking the fox to guard the hen.
I have responded to this in my earlier post. If Mr. Ghouse dislikes the people who were there, let him issue his own statement calling for Islamic reform. Instead, he is just shying bricks at the people who actually did what he and his friends should have done years ago.
All those who care about such reforms should join hands in fostering and facilitating it. Attacking or vilifying Islam and/or stereotyping Muslims with a broad-brush by primarily Islam bashers can’t accomplish this.
As I have noted before, the Summit didn't do this. But evidently Mr. Ghouse would really, really like us to believe it did. And why is that?
If by “moderate”, it is meant uncritical obeisance to our short-sighted policies and interests, then there might not be many moderates. However, if it means decent people who care about themselves, their families and communities and at the same time respect the life, honor and property of other human beings, irrespective of their background, the vast majority of Muslims in America and everywhere else are moderate. They are so because of the principled positions and values of Islam. Engaging that vast majority of Muslims is not possible through such Islam-bashing summit, but through mutually respectful dialog.
The "neocon" label above, along with this, indicate that Mr. Ghouse is unaware that I don't support the Iraqi democracy project, but in any case, this statement of what it means to be a "moderate" is not enough. Muslim overlords in the past respected the lives, honor, and property of the dhimmis, as long as the dhimmis knew their place and stayed in line.
And "mutually respectful," as I noted above, apparently means that Mr. Ghouse is free to insult me as he wishes, but I am not free to examine in detail the meaning of his statements.
Anyway, Ghouse then comments on the St. Petersburg Declaration itself. I don't have anything to say about his quibbles over wording and the like, but here are some comments on some points he makes. In this, the words of the Declaration are followed by Mr. Ghouse's comments in parentheses:
5. We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called “Islamophobia” in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights. (The phrase ‘Muslim practices’ would be appropriate as opposed to Islamic practices – please remember, people make mistakes, not the religion)
Does that mean that Mr. Ghouse has no problem with wife-beating (Qur'an 4:34)? Warfare against and subjugation of Jews and Christians (Qur'an 9:29)? The mutilation of those who are perceived as waging war against Allah and Muhammad (Qur'an 5:33)? The devaluation of a woman's testimony in court (Qur'an 2:282)? Since these verses and others are used today to justify actions that are at variance with human rights norms, it is perfectly legitimate to discuss them, and to ask Muslim moderates to formulate some way to blunt their negative impact. But these are not twistings or hijackings of Islam. These and other problems are rooted within Islam.
a. reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostasy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights; (I would substitute the phrase review Sharia instead of reject Sharia – it amounts to telling Mr. Spencer “I hate the way you smile, reject your style.” There has to be a process for the change to sustain, we cannot play with the lives of people stripping what has become the part of their lives, as the example of the Lost Tomb above. The word reject make you hold on to it very dearly, that is the case with the followers of every faith, not just Muslims. We have to understand the process of reform, if we want to embark on it, so that we don’t ruin it).
"Review"? Not even reform? Even in light of the Sharia's rejection of the freedom of conscience and institutionalization of discrimination against women and religious minorities? Is "review" really enough? Of course we have to "understand the process of reform," but that is not the same thing as sitting back and having no reform at all.
b) eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women; [note: incidentally, not only none of these are Islamic practices, especially in a forced context, but also these are against Islam.]
This flat assertion unfortunately ignores that all those practices are justified by Islamic clerics. Why, just recently a scholar at Al-Azhar, Muhammad Al-Mussayar, said on Al-Arabiya TV: "All the jurisprudents, since the advent of Islam and for 14 centuries or more, are in consensus that female circumcision is permitted by Islam....there are reliable hadiths in Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim which support female circumcision..." Wouldn't a genuine Muslim reformer say, "Some Islamic scholars justify such practices, but Muslims must reject them because..." instead of just claiming that "these are against Islam"? Or is Mr. Ghouse just trying to convince gullible non-Muslim Westerners that the situation is not as bad as it is, instead of trying to convince his fellow Muslims to give up such practices?
Mr. Ghouse's disingenuousness is underscored by his comment here. The National Journal item to which he is responding says, "Islamic writings say that Muslims follow the straight path, Jews have earned Allah's anger, and Christians have been led astray, says Robert Spencer." Mr. Ghouse responds that the words "Jew" and "Christian" do not appear in the Fatiha, the first sura of the Qur'an.
But of course, I didn't say they did. I said, "Islamic writings," not the Qur'an. The traditional Islamic understanding of the Fatiha is that when it speaks of the “straight path,” that path is Islam -- cf. Saudi-funded John Esposito’s book "Islam: The Straight Path." The prayer also speaks about those who have earned Allah’s anger and those who have gone astray. The classic Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir explains that “the two paths He described here are both misguided,” and that those “two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. The path of the believers is knowledge of the truth and abiding by it. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why ‘anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as ‘led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians.”
Ibn Kathir’s understanding of this passage is not a lone “extremist” interpretation. In fact, most Muslim commentators believe that the Jews are those who have earned Allah’s wrath and the Christians are those who have gone astray. This is the view of Tabari, Zamakhshari, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, and Ibn Arabi, as well as Ibn Kathir. One contrasting, but not majority view, is that of Nisaburi, who says that “those who have incurred Allah’s wrath are the people of negligence, and those who have gone astray are the people of immoderation.”
Wahhabis drew criticism a few years back for adding “such as the Jews” and “such as the Christians” into parenthetical glosses on this passage in Qur’ans printed in Saudi Arabia. Some Western commentators imagined that the Saudis originated this interpretation, when in fact it is venerable and mainstream in Islamic theology.
A sincere Muslim reformer would have acknowledged all that, and explained why he favored the view of Nisaburi or some other, and showed how he was working against the mainstream interpretation in the Muslim community. Instead, Mike Ghouse just tells us it's not in the Qur'an and relies on the probability that no one reading will have any familiarity with the Qur'anic commentators.
And that brings me back to the purpose of this post: many times I have been accused of not supporting moderate Muslims. I am all for genuine Muslim reformers, but I am not for condescension and disingenuousness about the very need for that reform and the content of the Islamic texts. A real reformer will not deny the very existence of the material that needs reforming. And in this, like so many others, Mike Ghouse has been found wanting.