Sanaa Nadim: Offended
Last Thursday night when I spoke at SUNY-Stony Brook, the new tactics about which I have written here, here and here were not as much in evidence as they had been at other campuses: students did not try to disrupt my remarks, but the MSA did show up in force, and were ready with hostile and contemptuous questions.
The fireworks began with the first question. Sister Sanaa Nadim, the chaplain of the Stony Brook MSA, stood up to declare how incredibly offended she was by my taking Qur’anic verses out of context in order to portray all Muslims as extremists. She launched into full-bore counter lecture mode (despite requests from me and the student organizers not to try to hijack the lecture during the question period, but to ask a brief question), repeatedly attempted to talk over my answers, and only retreated a bit when I pointed out what a splendid example of courtesy and fair play she was giving to her students.
When I did get a chance to speak again, I listed some of the Islamic authorities who taught that offensive jihad warfare against unbelievers was the final and lasting stage of jihad, including Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Qayyim, Ibn Kathir, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, etc., and asked her to save her offense for those people if she truly opposed this point of view, but not to pretend that I had originated this perspective.
But of course, it is likely that she, like most of her coreligionists in the U.S., has never expressed any outrage toward any of them or their modern exponents, allowing bland condemnations of an undefined “terrorism” to suffice. I think it that the outrage she was directing at me seemed manufactured, perhaps to give gullible audience members the impression that she had never heard before of this interpretation of Islam — as none other than Mahdi Bray once claimed during a Q-and-A after a talk I once gave in Boston.
I also cautioned Sanaa Nadim and the MSA members in attendance that it was dangerous to believe their own propaganda: I had not said that all Muslims were “extremists” during that speech or in any other speech or in anything I had ever written. (In fact, I don’t even generally use the term “extremist.”) Nadim and her MSA students at Stony Brook, like the shrieking self-righteous harpy who descended upon me at Penn State and her allies in the audience there, seem to have memorized a few talking points that have been cooked up somewhere about what I supposedly say, and were working from that rather than dealing with what I actually said.
At the same time, however, the MSA’s furious reaction and eager distortion of my remarks at both Penn State and SUNY Stony Brook highlights the other side of the coin, a point I have also often emphasized: the limited value of the fact that not all Muslims are “extremists.” That not all Muslims are on board with the Islamic supremacist program is simply a fact, but it does not follow from that fact that there is any significant body of Muslims who are actively or seriously opposing the jihadists and Islamic supremacists. There are a few courageous individuals here and there, but as I have pointed out many times using Ibn Warraq’s phrase, while there are moderate Muslims, there is no moderate Islam. And while some people are cultural and nominal Muslims who are ignorant of and/or indifferent to the jihad imperative, it cannot be assumed (as many Western government and law enforcement officials assume) that any given peaceful Muslim opposes the jihad simply by virtue of the fact that he is not actively engaged in violence or participating in plotting in a violent jihad group.
Moreover, when Muslims in America get angrier at me for discussing how other Muslims are using Islam to justify and spread an expansionist, totalitarian, and discriminatory ideology, than they do against those Muslims, it does not inspire confidence. In fact, it should make every non-Muslim who witnesses it wonder at their misplaced priorities, and at just how insincere are their protestations of moderation. I am not saying that Sanaa Nadim and her students in the SUNY Stony Brook MSA are jihadists. But if they really want to show that they accept American Constitutional pluralism, they would do well to start by acknowledging the existence of the Islamic supremacist ideology and repudiating it in specific terms, and backing up that repudiation with deeds (beginning with transparent, honest, inspectable programs teaching against it in mosques and Islamic schools in America), instead of getting angry at anyone who brings it up.
I can illustrate my point here by reference to one of Sanaa Nadim’s own writings. In 2002 she contributed a chapter to the book Women for Afghan Women: Shattering Myths and Claiming the Future, edited by Sunita Mehta. Nadim’s chapter is called “Women and Equality In Islam.” In it, she attempts to show that “the realities that we have seen in recent history regarding the status of women in so-called Muslim countries do not reflect authentic Islam.” Indeed, “extremist Muslims — the West shudders at the phrase — have given all sincere Muslims a bad name.” She declares that “Islam brought true freedom to women.” One may be led to believe from all this that Sanaa Nadim in her essay takes up and refutes some of the reasons that those “extremist Muslims” give for their oppression of women, but no such luck. The most glaring omission is that Nadim, even while discussing some of the Qur’an’s statements about women, never mentions Qur’an 4:34, which declares that “good women are obedient” — and what of those who aren’t? “Beat them.”
She could have argued, as many Islamic apologists in the West have done, that no Muslims take this verse literally (it’s okay for them to assume that Islam is a monolith), or that Muhammad mitigated it in the Hadith. Both of those positions are weak, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, but at least they aren’t pretending that the verse doesn’t exist at all. For Sanaa Nadim to ignore this verse in an essay about the status of women in Islam is extremely strange, and whatever her reasons may have been for doing this, they can’t have had anything to do with genuine reform. Real reform doesn’t happen by ignoring what needs reforming, but by confronting it. I think it’s likely, however, that if during my talk I had mentioned 4:34, and the high incidence of wife abuse in Islamic countries, Sanaa Nadim’s outrage would only have heightened. But the fact that it isn’t turned against those Muslims who invoke 4:34 to justify spousal abuse, and that she passed up a golden opportunity to condemn them and call for reform in her book about women in Afghanistan, is telling.
As was the MSA’s playing of the victim card Friday night in Stony Brook. One MSA member stood up to complain that MSA events at the university were not as well-staffed with campus police as mine was. I refrained from replying that I doubted that MSA events on campus were preceded by the threat that if they went on as planned, there would be “repercussions” — which was a threat that the sponsoring group received in connection with my talk, and which police thoroughly investigated. I didn’t refrain from telling him this out of politeness, but simply because I didn’t think to mention it; I was too busy replying to his complaints about how difficult life had become for Muslims after 9/11.
I told him that I too was often singled out for extra searches in airports, and once while stuck in an airport was working on Jihad Watch when suddenly I found myself surrounded by police, several of whom were holding back hungry-looking police dogs. Someone had seen “jihad” on my screen and reported me, and I was taken away for questioning. I told him I didn’t mind any of this, since I loved America and knew about threat we were all facing, and so didn’t mind putting up with inconvenience for the sake of national security, knowing that if I wasn’t doing anything wrong, it would all come out all right in the end anyway.
But of course if one doesn’t hold in high regard the safety of innocent Americans, and would rather use the alleged mistreatment of Muslims in the war on terror as a means to halt those anti-terror efforts, one would not be interested in putting up with such inconveniences. Is that really the impression that this young man intended to leave with me and with the rest of the audience Thursday night?