Every course on Islam and Human Rights should begin with a close reading of Reza Afshari’s book on the matter. There is not a single important item in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that is not contradicted by traditional Islamic teachings — beginning with the right of the free exercise of religion, and the right of individual conscience (to change one’s religion for another, or for unbelief). Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi is not the object of great admiration among Iranians in exile, except among the “soft” apologists who cannot quite make the full break with Islam. See, for example, the biting comments on her at the website run by Iranian exiles, at www.faithfreedom.com. No doubt Ebadi, who has chosen to take her stand on the treatment of women, cannot admit to herself what the real tenets of Islam are. She is illogical, and ignores the reality of Islam. What does she have to say about the treatment of non-Muslims under Islam? That, surely, is the key. Does she abjure the claims to world-dominance and the expansion of dar al-Islam at the expense of dar al-harb? What does she make of the validity of treaties between Infidel states and Muslim ones? Anything? Nothing?
She is not exactly a phony, but she is limited, intellectually and otherwise. Though she is feted in the West, there are plenty of Iranian exiles who have come to the same conclusion as has Ali Sina and Ibn Warraq: “There are moderate Muslims. Islam itself is not moderate.” Ebadi was never the brave independent thinker she has been offered up to the West as. In a sense, she is useful as presenting the “human” and “tolerant” face of Islam, and in this sense, she is even useful to the current regime in Iran. She deflects a real challenge to the basis for its rule (Islam) — in the same way that Shahpour Bakhtiar, Mehdi Bazargan, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, and a host of others in the leftist Mossadegh line proved so naively useful to Khomeini and his reactionaries.
It would be nice to hear Ebadi at least admit that Islam has a serious problem — even if she then goes on to say, a la Irshad Manji, that of course “it can be fixed.” (It can’t). It would also be nice to hear a hint in her public pronouncements that there is something to be said for pre-Islamic Persian civilization, and for Zoroastrianism, and for pluralism (because Persian nationalism is the only force, at this point, that can constraint, perhaps for a long time, the force of Islam). But Ebadi won’t and can’t do this. She is like a number of other Islamic “feminists,” who make much of their brave fight against the mistreatment of women but ignore all the other grievous problems with the tenets of Islam. Many of them have found comfortable lives in that West even as they deplore it — while continuing to serve as “soft” apologists for Islam. One of their most effective rhetorical tricks is to tell Infidel audiences about how, at one point, they were even tempted to convert to Christianity but pulled back, and remained within the fold of Islam.
This has the intended effect on non-Muslims, who then think, wow, what a truth-teller, she admits to having had her own doubts about Islam, but in the end she stayed with it, didn’t she — stayed to fight bravely on. This becomes a kind of confirmation to these innocents both of the speaker’s remarkable candor, and of the essential decency of Islam. For a good example of this, see how the “Muslim feminist” Leila Ahmed — so nicely ensconced at Harvard Divinity School, where she charmingly and soothingly offers a version of Islam that accords so well with all those in the Interfaith Racket — frequently makes use of this device.
Ebadi is in many ways a phony. Many Iranian exiles who have become thoroughly disenchanted with Khomeini (and not a few with Islam) know this perfectly well. They saw through her at once.
But non-Muslims seem to have an infinite capacity to avoid the evidence of their senses. They have a long learning curve. They just do not understand how to distinguish the truth-tellers from those who, out of embarrassment, filial piety, intellectual or moral confusion, cannot quite see, or if they see, admit to, the deep and inherent contradictions between traditional Islam and human rights.
Nor is the problem limited to the Ebadis and Ahmeds and other soft apologists. Within the universities, even those where the Espositos and the Saids are now properly despised and discarded, a new breed of apologists for Islam has arisen. These consist of Muslims and non-Muslims who talk a good game about “reform” and make sure that they attack Saudi Arabia, or tell us that “Shi’a Islam” or “Sufi Islam” are fine — thus earning themselves certifiable credentials as “brave truth-tellers” about Islam. This is quite useful for one’s career, and for getting tenure. But in fact they are simply the latest version of apologists, practicing a soft taqiyya, a kinder, gentler kitman. These young thrusting young academics of the Khaled Abou El Fadl or Noah Feldman variety are self-presented as “experts on Islam” and taken as such by uncritical colleagues who, if the field were not Islam but, say, American Constitutional Law, or Torts, would have no difficulty in judging them appropriately. But knowing little or nothing of Islam, or even what the phrase “Islamic Law” may mean, they are inclined to lazily accept what they take to be the outward and visible signs of truth-telling (attacking Wahhabi Islam, or suggesting that “Islam needs reform” goes a long way in winning points from the credulous). When Abou El Fadl can contrive to have someone in the Muslim world seem to attack him, or, as in the case of Feldman, one can point to one’s participation in the task of “writing a new constitution for Iraq,” why, most colleagues will roll over at once. And so, within the universities and the law schools, where the Ibn Warraqs and Ali Sinas are not asked to teach, and the Bat Ye”ors scarcely read — the nonsense continues. And it is not infrequently supported by subventions from the American government. All of this simply increases the number of tenure-protected apologists.
Note to universities: really, the Administrations of these schools must realize that Islam, and related subjects, are often taught by agents or fellow-travellers of the Jihad. You must, yourselves, study the matter, beginning perhaps with the scholarly literature easily available through the CD-Rom of the Index Islamicus. Do not think, as D”Souza apparently does, that reading this or that recent production by Bernard Lewis discharges your responsibility to learn fully about Jihad and dhimmitude. It doesn’t. Right understanding of Islam, and right policies, depend upon intellectual preparation and vigilance, not so much about the openly hostile, but about the apologists of the Shirin Ebadi variety.
Again, in order to see exactly how preposterous Ebadi is, one must turn to the articles and books of such piercing students — Reza Afshari, Ali Sina, Ibn Warraq, and others who, born like Ebadi into Islam, have proved willing to analyze it as a belief-system, and to lay bare, not disguise, its faults and the dangers it presents, not least to its own adherents. But no Nobel will be awarded to Ibn Warraq. No one will admit that Bat Ye’or’s scholarship, far from being unduly “polemical,” has in fact been remarkably meticulous, and is a guide to the current predicament.
Instead of Ebadi, it is the ex-Muslims, those who have made a clean break with what, through no fault of their own, they were born into, who are the most valuable witnesses for non-Muslims. During the Cold War, it was the ex-Communists who testified so forcefully about the real nature and intentions of Communism. People who would not have listened to Dean Acheson or Dulles, did listen to Alberto Moravia, Arthur Koestler, R. H. Crossman, and others, when they collectively published The God That Failed. It was ex-Communists who saw through all the propaganda, the peace festivals in Helsinki, and suchlike. They had been there, done that. They knew about the Trest, the Comintern, Willi Munzenberg, and all the rest. Similarly, it is those who, like Ibn Warraq, have actually attended a madrasa, who have endured the khutbas, who have even had siblings who became terrorists — one thinks of Ms. Labidi — who can help us to understand how Islam makes its appeal, or disguises its supremacist intentions, for presentation to non-Muslims.
Western governments, one suspects, will never hold a similar conference of ex-Muslims who can publicly testify as to what the faith really teaches, or why they left Islam. Committed to pluralism, and to believing Islam is merely a religion and not, in the main, a geopolitical entity, those governments remain inhibited by people who are indeed terrified of offending the adherents of that belief-system. We are endlessly told, instead of the truth, that this belief-system reveres “tolerance” and “peace.” Perhaps after the next bombs go off, the moment will be seized, and the real education of the public will no longer be limited to websites and whispers.