I listened recently on NPR to a discussion about Empowerment of Women In Islam. The two guests were Sakena Yacoobi, an Afghan who for many years lived in the United States and is now back in Afghanistan, and Isobel Coleman, who after years in business (mainly as a McKinsey consultant), began to take an interest in the subject of “women and foreign policy” and now directs a program with that title at the Council on Foreign Relations.
You couldn’t fault either one for having their hearts in the right place. They both know that women are mistreated terribly in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world. But they insisted on talking about the “Greater Middle East,” which, listeners were to gather, extended all the way from Egypt to Afghanistan. The only reason for such a curious, and untraditional, way of referring to such a wide swath of the world is to avoid the identifying marker of “Islam.” So what really connects such countries as Egypt and Iraq and Afghanistan is not that they are part of some new construct, “the Greater Middle East,” but that they are part of the world of Islam.
But it is Islam, and the possibilities for change within Islam, that is nonetheless the topic that both women were addressing. And they seemed to think, in slightly different ways, that to identify Islam as the problem is itself a problem. Or perhaps we should avoid the word “problem” altogether, because such a word, to many Americans, implies that there exists a solution. But in this case there is no solution to the mistreatment of women in Islam, only here and there some amelioration, with the permanent threat of backsliding into the full-fledged Holy Law of Islam, or Shari’a, which is never good for women. The word that one might prefer to “solution” is that the texts and tenets of Islam explain, that is, constitute not a problem to be solved but rather the explanation for the mistreatment of Muslim women by Muslim men according to the ideal Muslim Holy Law, that is, the Shari’a, and the man-made laws that ideally try to approximate it or take as their guide.
I had heard Isobel Coleman previously on NPR (“Fresh Air,” January 25, 2010) and remembered how she had recognized that things were very bad for women in Muslim countries but that she also was offering the hope that within Islam itself there was room for hope and change because, you see, of its variousness (impliedly “so un-monolithic”), with its four schools of Sunni jurisprudence, and ample welcoming room for differing interpretations of things. Why, it sounded as if Islam could simply be turned this way and that, that it was a big tent, and one could make of it what one wished. She said that there was “room for selective interpretation” – I was glad that the word “selective” was in there, but unhappy that she did not explain why she deliberately included that modifier, and did not explain in what ways those four schools of Sunni jurisprudence mattered when it came to the treatment of women. For if she had done so, her listeners would have understood just how little difference there is between those “four schools” of Sunni jurisprudence, and would have seen just how little room there was for “selective interpretation” when it came to the treatment of, the rights of, women.
And she also said that the situation was “fluid and evolving.” But what did this mean? Did it mean that Islam itself was “fluid” and “evolving”? If so, it is doing so in a way that none, I think, of the celebrated apostates – Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Nonie Darwish, Ibn Warraq, Magdi Allam – that is, those who were born into and raised within Islam, and having come to the West and enjoyed a sufficient degree of mental freedom, and freedom from physical fear, as to have decided to leave Islam altogether – have publicly or privately recognized. They think, they steadily and sturdily maintain, that the problems and failures and miseries of the Muslim states and peoples are a direct result of Islam itself. And they do not see that situation within Islam that is “fluid” and “evolving” that Isobel Coleman referred to when she spoke to Terry Gross back in late January.
But let’s get back to the program I listened to on NPR the other day. Sakena Yacoobi was on. She was describing the problems of women in Afghanistan. She has found that women who learn to read can then read the Qur’an in their own language, and once they do that, she says, they are able to find the texts that support the “empowerment” – the word wasn’t used, but the meaning was that associated with that rebarbative word – of women. Of course there are verses that are more and verses that are less hostile to women in the Qur’an. But Sakeena Yacoobi, and Isobel Coleman too, seem to think that women, reading the Qur’an, selecting out the verses that they think can be made to support a more decent treatment of them, are not going against the texts. Yet one of the things they did not mention is that the earlier, milder verses are, whenever they seem to be contradicted by later, harsher verses (some call these the Meccan and Medinan verses), it is the earlier verses that, according to the doctrine of naskh, or abrogation, must give way.
I noticed that at no time did Sakeena Yacoobi, or Isobel Coleman, offer a single verse from the Qur’an, or story recording the words and acts of Muhammad from any of the authoritative collections of Hadith, of the sort that could be used to transform – we’re all in the business of “transformative” change these days, aren’t we? – the role and status of women in Islam. There are many verses in the Qur’an, and many stories in the Hadith, that support what non-Muslims would regard as the mistreatment of women. In those countries where the Shari’a is most closely followed – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, and now Somalia — women are most limited. They are subject to the strictest dress codes (and punishments for violating those codes are meted out by the religious police and the Islamic courts). They are required to be accompanied by a male relative, and in Saudi Arabia, the country with a legal code closest to the Shari’a, women cannot even drive.
But Sakeena Yacoobi is seemingly unaware that her entire effort depends on the existence of a powerful Infidel army that protects her. She thinks that she is transforming the Islamic world because here and there, with foreign money and foreign support, she is able to convince humble Afghan women that yes, the Qur’an is – here and there, in her highly selective reading – on their side, and manages to convince men that in some cases it is okay, for example, for women to work. It may not be hard to convince them that the Qur’an and Hadith sanction this because of Muhammad’s first wife, famously a businesswoman (and always invoked by those who want to defend Islam from charges that it limits the possibilities for women), given that Afghan men no doubt would like women to provide that extra income.
The problem is that so much depends on the continued presence of the American and NATO troops, because in the end, the textual authority remains what it has been for 1350 years, that is, promoting a view of women that does not permit them anything like equality. Even though the legal equality that women now enjoy in the West was not always observed, even though it has been fashioned over the past two hundred years, there was always in posse, and in social understandings, a much greater role for, and higher status for, and better treatment of, women in the Western world than in Islamic societies. And the textual authority that supported the mistreatment of women in the West was never like what it is in Islam. You can simply go to www.faithfreedom.org to find a list of Qur’anic passages and Hadith from Bukhari and Muslim that support the unequal treatment of women, clearly and unambiguously, while those who, like Sakena Yacoobi, attempt to convince Muslim women in Afghanistan that there is textual authority for “re-thinking” the role of women in Islam are working against the texts, against the grain, and have to every day exercise their skills, the Muslim equivalent of Jesuitical casuistry, in order to convince Muslim women and, especially, their menfolk, that such and such is sanctioned by Islam.
Sakeena Yacoobi made some remarkable statements, statements that reflect not a truth about Islam but rather, the wishful thinking of someone who is convinced that the only way to change the fate of Muslim women is to convince them that the authority for freer, less constrained, less onerous lives, already exists within Islam itself and, over the past 1350 years, has simply not been paid sufficient attention, presumably because “the men” have done all the interpreting. I both read the transcript and listened to the tape, because I thought that Sakena Yacoobi’s very voice, its modulation, its loudness, would reveal something. I do not think I am wrong in suggesting that there is an underlying insistence, at times almost subdued hysteria, when she insists, so very strongly, that there is nothing wrong with Islam, that Islam is just fine, that the only problem is in getting the right interpretation accepted as if, over a very long period, and especially in the first decades of the twentieth century, there was not such a push. Here, for example, is what Sakena Yacoobi, who refuses to admit that there might just be a very big problem with Islam that is not to be overcome, is heard saying at one point:
“…and as Isobel said, we are not just telling them to read Quran. We teach them how to read Quran then interpretation and to understand that. And what does Quran says? Quran is all about right, about democracy, about justice, about equality, about advancement. That is the way that Quran teaches us if we really understand that. If we don’t understand and we read in Arabic, we will not be accomplishing anything and we just, like, follow whatever they said to us. And when they want to abuse us and submissive women in Afghanistan, the way that they abuse them so they listen in whatever they say, they listen to them and that was the way it went.”
As for Islam being all about “equality” – what in god’s name can she be talking about? Equality of men and women, when a man can marry four women but a woman only one man? When a man can triple-talaq his way out of any marriage, even apparently being able to fax home his triple-talaq message for it to be valid? When male heirs inherit more than female ones? Where the blood-money payable for a murder is twice as large for a male victim than for a female? When the Qur’an itself gives instructions on how, and how hard, to beat a wife? When the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man? When, where there is accusation of rape, a woman must have four male witnesses? Where, when a woman is raped, or perhaps even just looked at, her family – in order to protect the honor of the menfolk — it is she who is in danger of being killed by her own father, or brothers, or uncles, or all of them put together?
Or is Sakena Yacoobi perhaps referring to the “equality” between Muslims and non-Muslims, which of course does not exist, for in Muslim societies non-Muslims generally lead lives of constant humiliation, degradation, and physical insecurity, whether or not the Jizyah is formally exacted? Just look at the Copts in Egypt, or the Chaldeans and Assyrians in Iraq, or even the once-powerful Christians in Lebanon, still trying to hold on, or the Christians in Syria who owe their reasonable treatment, such as it is, not to any benevolence on the part of hostile Sunni Muslims, but to the protection that an Alawite dictatorship offers them, out of calculations of self-interest. And while the Christians also suffer in Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and Indonesia and Malaysia, so too do the Hindus, the Buddhists, and the Confucians who may exist in one or more of those countries. The only Muslim-dominated countries where there is something approaching “equality” in the legal sense is in some of the former Central Asian republics, where during Soviet rule Islam was subject to the same anti-religion campaign as was seen elsewhere, and it had its effect in weakening the hold of Islam on the minds of men. And there is one more country where there is legal equality for non-Muslims, but where they are still made to feel, and ever more so, that they exist as non-Muslims not by right but by sufferance, and that is Turkey. And the reason that non-Muslims, and Muslim women, have it better in Turkey, have a kind of equality, is due entirely to the war made on Islam, undeclared but clear, that was waged in the 1920s and 1930s by Ataturk.
I won’t go into the rest of the absurd claims made for Islam by Sakina Yacoobi. We all understand her situation and sympathize, and wish her well. But that sympathy and well-wishing must not become acceptance of her own misrepresentations of Islam, and still worse would be any parroting of them to others. She may be fighting for women’s rights, but she herself has been affected by Islam, and apparently never permitted herself the mental freedom that Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Wafa Sultan and Nonie Darwish took advantage of, to arrive at their unsparing analysis of Islam and its effects on its adherents. Or perhaps, since she spends so much of her time trying to convince Afghan women and their menfolk that the Qur’an actually is a great defender and promoter of women’s rights, she has come to partly believe her own presentation. On NPR the other day she forgot that she was now addressing an audience that did not have to have Islam described, falsely, as the Afghan women (and men) she works with do. She forgot she was now addressing an audience that did not have to be, for laudable goals, misled with such statements as “Qur’an is all about right, about democracy, about justice, about equality, about advancement.”
And the same kind of thing, I’m afraid, can be found in the work – to judge by what she has said on NPR and the prÃ©cis of her latest book at her website — of Isobel Coleman. Once a McKinsey consultant and then, for two years, the CEO of a health-services company, Isobel Coleman somehow gave that up to become a student of women in Islam. No doubt her highly presentable soignÃ©e appearance worked its customary magic, and the right degrees (Princeton, then a Marshall Scholar), and the self-assurance that sometimes comes just a bit too easily with them, allowed her to end up at the Council of Foreign Relations as head of their “Women and Foreign Policy” program. Much in evidence in her list of interests are things having their day in the sun: microcredit, the “empowering” of Muslim women, that sort of thing. Nothing wrong with those interests. We’d all like, I suppose, to disburse microcredit hither and possibly yon, and also to “empower” (forgive the quotation marks; I can’t stand the word, so I’m using it but insisting that I’ve never laid eyes on that word in my life) Muslim women if, in so doing, we improve the chances for non-Muslims in Muslim countries, and for that matter, for non-Muslims in non-Muslim countries.
Isobel Coleman does not repeat the nonsense that Sakina Yacoobi offered, but she has come to the same conclusion that perhaps explains Sakina Yacoobi’s statements. That is, she thinks it is simply impossible to make progress in improving the lot of women except within the religious framework, that is, by accepting Islam, by doing nothing to undercut Islam, and by playing some variant on the game of Let’s Pretend that Sakina Yacoobi plays, where we are all expected to believe that Islam is now, at long last, after 1350 years, going to change. We must pretend this at a time when Muslim states have been the recipients (since 1973 alone) of some thirteen trillion dollars in oil wealth, and are prepared to pocket, in the next decade or two, another thirteen trillion. We must pretend this at a time when millions of Muslims have been allowed to settle deep within the countries of Western Europe, to claim every benefit – free medical care, free education, free or heavily subsidized housing. And at the same time they conduct in every one of these countries aggressive campaigns of Da’wa, often targeting the psychically and economically marginal (as prisoners, who often belong to both categories), and making demands for changes in the social arrangements and understandings, and in the legal and political institutions, of the countries they live in, deep behind what they themselves are taught to regard as enemy lines. The time when the “reformers” of Islam or, more exactly, those who within the Islamic world wished to constrain Islam, actually had influence was in the early twentieth century, when Muslims were obviously backward, obviously weak. But now that backwardness is not so obvious, because of the torrents of trillions of dollars that keep on flowing, not because of any effort on the part of any Muslims, not because they have at long last managed to create modern economies (the richest oil states have still not been able to do that, and there is no sign that they will be able), but because of an accident of geology. But that money can buy a lot, can provide the veneer of an advanced state, can allow people to pretend that Islam is not an economic failure (because of the hatred of bid’a, or innovation, and the inshallah-fatalism that discourages great and sustained effort).
Isobel Coleman mentioned to the NPR interviewer, more than once, the word “Ijtihad.” That word refers to the “interpretation” of the Qur’an and Hadith. In the case of the hadith, the labor of the muhaddithin was devoted to collecting, and then assigning, based on a study of the chain of transmission or isnad-chain, the likely level of “authenticity” of each Hadith recorded. There are several authoritative collections, and the two most respected muhaddithin are Bukhari and Muslim. This work had to be done by Qur’anic commentators and jurisconsults in the early centuries of Islam, for there had to be a clear shared understanding of what the Qur’an’s passages meant, and what the work as a whole meant. One way to do this was to use the Sunnah – consisting of the Hadith and Sira – as a kind of gloss to the Qur’an. Of course many of the Hadith must surely have been spun from the contents of the Qur’an, so there was a certain circularity to this. And where there were passages in the Qur’an that contradicted other passages, a principle of interpretation – abrogation or naskh – required that the earlier passage be ignored, as having been overruled by the later, and always harsher one.
In order to find out a bit more than was on the NPR program about Coleman’s new book, I went to her website. And I saw that book has received three endorsements from people whose names you might well recognize, famous people, therefore people whose praise may carry weight with a certain audience. But I’ll come back to those endorsements later.
Here is what I found at her website, that describes her just-published book:
Over the centuries and throughout the world, women have struggled for equality and basic rights. Their challenge in the Middle East has been intensified by the rise of a political Islam that too often condemns women’s empowerment as Western cultural imperialism or, worse, anti-Islamic. In Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Isobel Coleman shows how Muslim women and men are fighting back with progressive interpretations of Islam to support women’s rights in a growing movement of Islamic feminism.
In this timely book, Coleman journeys through the strategic crescent of the greater Middle East–Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan–to reveal how activists are working within the tenets of Islam to create economic, political, and educational opportunities for women. Coleman argues that these efforts are critical to bridging the conflict between those championing reform and those seeking to oppress women in the name of religious tradition. Success will bring greater stability and prosperity to the Middle East and stands to transform the region.
Coleman highlights a number of Muslim men and women who are among the most influential Islamic feminist thinkers, and brilliantly illuminates the on-the-ground experiences of women who are driving change: Sakena Yacoobi, an Afghan educator, runs more than forty women’s centers across Afghanistan, providing hundreds of thousands of women with literacy and health classes and teaching them about their rights within Islam. Madawi al-Hassoon, a successful businesswoman, is challenging conservative conventions to break new ground for Saudi professional women. Salama al-Khafaji, a devout dentist-turned-politician, relies on moderate interpretations of Islam to promote opportunities for women in Iraq’s religiously charged environment. These quiet revolutionaries are using Islamic feminism to change the terms of religious debate, to fight for women’s rights within Islam instead of against it.
There is no mistaking that women and women’s issues are very much on the front lines of a war that is taking place between advocates of innovation, tolerance, and plurality and those who use violence to reject modernity in Muslim communities around the world. Ultimately, Paradise Beneath Her Feet offers a message of hope: Change is happening–and more often than not, it is being led by women.
Just look at what Coleman offers. She shows us “how Muslim women and men are fighting back with progressive interpretations of Islam to support women’s rights.” What “progressive interpretation” is that? Based on what passages in the Qur’an, and which Hadith, and ignoring how many other passages in the Qur’an, and how many other Hadith? Does Coleman really think that in Egypt, where women now lack the easygoing and relaxed ways that they enjoyed even under Nasser, and certainly under the ancient regime and before that under Lord Cromer’s dispensation, a “progressive interpretation of Islam” is winning? Does she think that it is “winning” anywhere in North Africa? What about the Sudan? How about Saudi Arabia? Is a “progressive interpretation” of Islam what made Kemalism able to constrain Islam in Turkey? And in any case, is there not now in Turkey obvious backsliding, away from Kemalism and the constraints on Islam, right back to what Erdogan rightly says is Islam, not a non-existent “moderate Islam” that is a figment of Western imaginations? In Iraq, are women now freer, or less free, than they were under Saddam Hussein? Saddam Hussein sensed rightly that his worst enemies were in the Shi’a mosques, and so used the shallow “secularism” of Ba’athism to disguise what had always been a Sunni despotism, but this one offering possibilities for Shia, and Kurds, and even Christians, though in tiny numbers, if they adhered formally to Ba’athism and thus helped participate in that disguise.
But the book seems to suggest that great and wonderful things are happening everywhere. It’s one of those books that no doubt, in the fashion of Tom Friedman or the equally execrable Nicholas Kristof, provides little vignettes – possibly a chapter each — to a handful of women “transforming the Greater Middle East.” She travels through that “strategic crescent” of lands and shows “how activists are working within the tenets of Islam to create economic, political, and educational opportunities for women.” Well, you may think it unfair of me because I have not read the book, and am relying on her appearances on NPR, and what I have picked up at her own website, where the detailed description of the book is to be found. But I don’t have to read it. It is not possible to “work within the tents of Islam” to “create economic, political and educational opportunities for women,” because for 1350 years there have been people in Islam trying to do that, and it is not conceivable that all of a sudden, a few brave thinkers have come along and figured out exactly what can be teased out of the Qur’an and Hadith and the example of Muhammad in the Sira. What has changed is simply that the Muslims are now so threatening and so disturbing, that the Western world is engaging in wishful thinking instead of clearly and soberly analyzing the threat, instead of listening to any of the many articulate apostates (Ibn Warraq, Magdi Allam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Nonie Darwish and others who may not be as famous or even wish to be named), instead of consulting the great Western scholars of Islam, including Joseph Schacht and C. Snouck Hurgronje and Henri Lammens and Samuel Zwemer, and St. Clair Tisdall and many others. All of them wrote about a subject, Islam, that has not changed, so their work remains as relevant and piercing and useful as ever. They all wrote before the Age of the Great Inhibition set in, which means they do not offer the usual apologetics we have come to expect from both non-Muslims – those assorted espositos and armstrongs – and Brave Young Reformers of Islam who are nothing of the kind – the assorted khaled-el-fadls or reza-aslans – but merely slightly more plausible and smooth apologists.
Coleman is described in this as arguing that “these efforts [of these Muslim women working within Islam] are critical to bridging the conflict between those championing reform and those seeking to oppress women in the name of religious tradition. Success will bring greater stability and prosperity to the Middle East and stands to transform the region.”
Note that phrase: “seeking to oppress women in the name of religious tradition.” That’s a strange phrase. They do not “seek to oppress women” in Muslim lands, following not “a religious tradition” which is a diluting, or a distancing, way of describing the texts and tenets of Islam. For a “tradition” is something that can be changed, or dropped. But Islam is a belief-system that takes as the immutable and uncreated and literal word of God what is in the Qur’an. It will not, dares not, tamper with the Hadith, either with their contents or with their assigned rank as to “authenticity.” It certainly cannot at this stage start fiddling with the details of the life of Muhammad – the Perfect Man, al-insan al-kamil. There is no possibility, among the vast and primitive masses of Muslims, to change their understanding at Islam.
Isobel Coleman’s Holding-Out-Hope-Through-Jesuitical-Casuistry is no doubt practiced, with results not quite as impressive, and the meaning of which are not quite understood, by that handful of brave Muslim women such as Sakena Yacoobi who constitute the “examples” of hope and change that Isobel Coleman writes about. But it is actually worrisome, in a way many good, nice, kind people, including Isobel Coleman and Sakena Yacoobi, may not understand. For it is a false promise that one can rely on finding – like W. C. Fields who when asked why he was reading the Bible said he was “looking for loopholes” – a phrase here, or a detail there, in the Qur’an, Hadith, Sira, and somehow persuade more than a handful of women eager to be persuaded. And they are even able to conduct this effort in “redefining Islam” only so long as the American army remains to protect those who, like Sakena Yacoobi, are engaged in this mission.
The people we must worry about, care about, help to inform, help to properly alarm, about the instruments of Jihad – the Money Weapon, campaigns of Da’wa, demographic conquest – are ourselves, the non-Muslims of this world, and especially the imperiled peoples of Western Europe. For it is these people, the advanced non-Muslims, who have so much to lose. Think of a Europe becoming steadily Islamized, steadily yielding to demands to change its legal and political institutions, its educational system, its social arrangements and understandings, its practice of art and science, its solicitude for the individual and distrust of collectivism, its natural revulsion toward the Total Belief-System of Islam. The losses will be general to the Western world.
In Iraq the messianic sentimentalism of the Bush Administration led to folly, the folly of believing that one could bring “freedom” to “ordinary moms and dads” in the Middle East. It is now understood that Bush and his policy advisers had no real understanding of Islam, and certainly no grasp of the sectarian and ethnic fissures that exist in Iraq and can be exploited not to make the Middle East “a better place” but, rather, to divide and demoralize the Camp of Islam, and not only in Iraq but in countries where, for example, the Sunnis and the Shi’a may be affected by conflicts between their co-religionists inside Iraq.
In Afghanistan, I’m afraid, it is these “empowerers” of women who offer a different kind of not-quite-so-messianic sentimentalism. They believe that somehow, on a large scale, they will be able to persuade men to change their understanding of Islam. But the American army stands there to guard these efforts. And Afghan women have a non-Arab identity that does help work against, rather than reinforce, as the Arab identity does, the level of unswerving and unquestioning attachment to Islam. The same is true, though at the moment the Islamic regime makes that hard to descry, in Iran. But in the Middle East and North Africa (save for the Berbers), the appeal to a “different” Islam that others have suddenly discovered, have teased out through Jesuitical casuistry, will not work. Muslim clerics have a highly developed system, and they know, everyone knows, the texts. They are not going to be pushovers for the likes of Sakena Yacoobi, and will not give the time of day to a non-Muslim like Isobel Coleman who helps to promote such efforts not so much through her intellectual grasp of Islam and the problem of Islam but, I suspect, because she is charming, attractive, soignÃ©e. That’s not nearly enough.
Imagine, if you will, Ataturk, back in the 1920s, when the Ottoman Empire had collapsed and he could use, could exploit, the perilous plight of Turkey to his advantage, could rally those who, like him, could be persuaded to see that the problem in Turkey was Islam itself, and Islam itself had to be constrained. Now imagine that in, say, England or France, there had been those who had wanted to, and had extended, every sort of financial and other assistance to Turkey, to make sure it did not become a “failed state.” And then what would have happened? The Turks would have been saved from the total collapse that gave Ataturk his chance, and they would have continued with an Islam unconstrained and untamed. But it was the systematic constraints that Ataturk put on Islam as a political and social force that allowed Turkey to develop as it has, to create a secular class that has made possible, in Turkey, the creation of an environment, for those who have been able to take advantage of it, that makes some Turks able to inhabit the same mental and moral universe, more or less, as Western non-Muslim man. The problem in Turkey is that only about one-quarter of the population became so secular; the rest did not. And it is those rest who are now, in their support of Erdogan (at least among the Sunni Muslims if not so strongly among the Alevis), allowing the regime to undo the various knots that Ataturk had so carefully tied on the box labeled “Islam.”
Again and again I have suggested that the Western world has to grasp the danger that Islam, and a jihad promoted through the Money Weapon, Da’wa, and demographic conquest, presents deep within Western Europe. Those who promise that they can “reform” Islam, beginning with the “empowerment” of women, may get all kinds of naively enthusiastic attention and support, but they help to distract, and to hold out false hopes for change that is far less impressive, and far more tenuous, than their publicists would have you believe. One cannot change the texts and tenets of Islam, nor the understanding of Islam among the Muslim masses. But one can find ways to weaken, to divide and demoralize, the Camp of Islam. And among the ways to weaken and demoralize that Camp of Islam, along with permitting, instead of preventing, the pre-existing fissures and resentments (ethnic, sectarian, and economic) to develop, is for Westerners to understand, fully, all the ways in which the political, economic, social, intellectual, and moral failures of the peoples and polities of Islam area result of Islam itself, and what it encourages, and what it discourages.
That is the way to do it. I have kept presenting this position, in all sorts and conditions of argufying, for many years. I have yet to hear the welcome echo. But any minute now, I’m sure I will.
Oh, I almost forgot. About those three endorsements of Isobel Coleman’s book, “Paradise Beneath Their Feet,” the ones you can find at her website.
The first comes from Brave Young American Muslim Reformer Reza Aslan, about whom you can find more here. He’s an apologist for Islam, though not necessarily a cunning and evil one. Having grown up in America, in secular surroundings, he may simply be unable to grasp Islam’s hold on the minds of Muslim in societies suffused with Islam. But his shtick, his way of earning a living, is to be that American Muslim Who Explains (and Justifies, and Holds Out Hope For) Islam, and yes, it’s fine, really, you can wait until after the lecture to give me the check.
And the second one comes from Nicholas Kristof, that Times columnist who, always wearing his heart on his sleeve, goes around the world and reports on human misery, and somehow would have us believe that he, Nicholas Kristof, is a particularly good and kind and concerned man. He’s done quite well in this racket, and he’s never shown any interest in, or knowledge of, Islam. For all of his reporting from Darfur, he never once discussed how Islam is, and always has been, a vehicle for Arab supremacism. He’s a reporter who can never make sense of the things he reports, and does not every try to. And his greatest failure is certainly in his reporting from Muslim-dominated lands, where he never touches the subject of Islam.
And the third endorser of Isobel Coleman? Well, the third endorser is not only more intelligent than either Kristof or Aslan, but also more attractive. Still, I suspect that she, in her Josephine-Bakerish collecting of children, and her desire to support do-good “projects” hither and yon, is simply being fashionable. And what could be more fashionable than helping those projects which she has been told help to Empower Woman In Islam, and Isobel Coleman’s book “gives voice” to the women engaged in such projects. But I don’t think – do you? – that among the accomplishments of this particular endorser has been a deep reading and re-reading and thorough assimilation not only of the texts of Islam, but of the history of Islamic conquest and studies of both Islam and those conquests, over 1350 years, by Western historians. But you be the judge. The name of that third enthusiastic blurber for Isobel Coleman’s “Paradise Beneath Their Feet: How Women Are Transforming The Middle East” is that great expert on Islam, someone who can give Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Wafa Sultan and Magdi Allam and Joseph Schacht a run for their money any day: Angelina Jolie.