Chapter 4 : Reply To Some Questions And Criticisms
Chapter Four - Reply to Some Questions and Criticisms
After the publication of first edition of this book, and of articles containing some of its ideas, I have received some comments to which I will reply here.
4.1 Both Sides of the Story
“You have been too much influenced by these Hindus among whom you lived in Benares and Delhi. You haven’t heard the other side of the story.”
“The other side of the story” is not at all unknown to me: it has been the object of my rather lengthy criticism all through this essay. It is the people who have been taken in by the rosy picture of Islam, who know only one side of the story. When they get to hear this side as well, it turns out that they just don’t want to hear it. After all, the prospect of having to deal with an increasingly numerous and increasingly aggressive community under the spell of Islam is a bit frightening. We would all prefer to live in a world without the threat of Islamic fanaticism, but we should not delude ourselves that we are already living in such a tolerant and danger-free world.
Have I started seeing this side of the story because I was “influenced”? As a matter of fact, I have spent my first season in India in Benaras, the centre of Hindu orthodoxy, withoug hearing the “Hindu fundamentalist” viewpoint at all. Many people who would later be very forthcoming with inside information and with strong opinions, were at first careful not to annoy this foreigner with viewpoints which they thought he would not understand. It is only when I had discovered the Hindu viewpoint for myself, and edpressed my general sympathy with it, that my spokesmen at Benaras Hindu University would lay their cards on the table. The “secularist” viewpoint is (was) so dominant that cultured people did not want Westerners to associate them with the Hindu cause.
It is a somewhat misdirected criticism, to argue that somneone says something because he has been influenced by someone else. Imputing motives or “influences” are an ad hominen argument which can never replace an ad rem criticism; it is always done precisely to compensate for the absence of such proper criticism. I refer to Arun Shourie’s book “Individuals, Institutions, Processes”, for a discussion of the bad habit of giving people a label (“that Naxalite”, “that RSS man”, to name a few which he himself has carried) and then acting as if their views have been refuted by the label. This labelling is mental laziness. Ideas should be judged by merit, not by caste provenance.
A similar attempt to dismiss my conclusions without dealing with them, can be found in Sarvapalli Gopal’s introduction to his book about the Ayodhy issue, “Anatomy of a Confrontation”. His entire book does not contain any reply to the main arguments give in my book “Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid”, arguments which have also been brought up by Indian participants in various instances of the Ayodhya debate. Instead, Prof. Gopal thinks he can clinch the issue by calling me “a Catholic practitioner of polemics” who “fights the Crusades all over again on Indian soil”. For Communists, swearwords are ten a penny, so I grant the august practitioner of swearology this comparatively mild exercise in his worn-out old game.
More interesting is his comment, apparently meant to justify his ignoring my arguments, that “it is difficult to take serious an athor who draws his historical ecidence from newspaper reports and speaks of the centuries when there were Muslim rulers in India as a bloodsoaked catastrophe“. For a scientist, the place where findings are published, or the name of the author, or any other social circumstances of their publication, are of absolutely no consequence to the correctness of their contents. Only for party-line historians like those of JNU,, who count more on power positions than on facts to convince people, the argument of authority is all-important. So, if in my book I have chosen to analyze at length (and partly repeat) the arguments given in the course of a debate conducted on the opinion page of the Indian Express, this does not in any way diminish the value of these arguments. I cannot help it that a number of the documents, facts and insights presented by people like Prof. A.R. Khan, Prof. Harsh Narain and Mr. A.K. Chatterjee, have been ignored in nicely published books by prestigious authors like the JNU historians, Prof. R.S. Sharma and Mr. A.A. Engineer. So I prefer genuine facts published to cheap paper to the distortions on the shiny paper of Prof. Gopal’s own book.
Is it hard to take seriously someone who considers the “Muslim period” a blood-soaked catastrophe? That depends solely on whether the Muslim period was indeed a blood-soaked catastrophe. European negationists applaud Hitler’s reign and deny its horrors. Indian negationists eulogize Islamic rule and deny its millionfold murders and the catastrophe it wrought in Indian cultural, political and religious life. In both cases, the authentic records tell a different story. That is no doubt why the negationists refuse to “take seriously” the numerous authentic records of the massive destruction wrought by Islam.
And while we are dealing with the negationist reaction to my first book about the Islam problem in India, there was also a review in The Telegraph by Manini Chatterjee. She thought that my “very bad book” was marred by miserably tentative terminology, like “maybe” and “possibly”. In the case of party-line history-writing, that would indeed be a grave shortcoming. Once the party has decided on what history should look like, a historian is no longer supposed to confront conflicting testimonies, to calculate probablities, to make allowance for the uncertainties inherent in most historical research. That is why the Marxist participants in the Ayodhya debate have always been so cocksure in their statements: for them there can be no doubt whatsoever, and no amount of inconvenient testimony is going to shake them out of the absolute certainly of their foregone conslusions.
Incidentally, Mrs. Chatterjee finds my writing “suspiciously similar” in style and contents to that to the essayists in the first volume of “Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them”. Never mind, the is not the first one who suspects that I don’t exist and that Koenraad Elst is only a pen-name for some “Hindu communalist” writer. Let me take this opportunity to confirm that I exist. Mrs. Chatterjee should know that it is indeed quite possible for a non-Hindu to independently arrive at the same conclusions as accomplished Hindu intellectuals like Harsh Narain, Ram Swarup, Sitaram Goel, Jay Dubashi and Arun Shourie. If the information flow from India to the outside world was not so completely in negationist hands, many more Western scholars would have come out with similar views.
This is not the place for repeating the Ayodhya debate, so for the full presentation of evidence for the Ayodhya temple, submitted by the VHP scholars by me have been incorporated), I refer to the Voice of India publication “History vs. Casuistry”. The “evidence” submitted by the BMAC will be harder to come by, as it was not exactly fit for publication.
A last word about this “influence” allegation, which was also levelled against me by a collegue when I didn’t display any knee-jerk reaction of indignation after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. My position, that a Hindu sacred place should simply be left to the Hindus, will be shared any unbiased person: it is a natural insight not needing any “influencing”, to approve a community’s right to its own traditional sacred places. That is merely the simple view, which a child can understand. The opposite is true of the “secularist” view, viz. that the Hindus had no right to transform the architecture at their own sacred place, and that the Muslims do have rights over the Ram Janmabhoomi which they would never concede (nor be asked to concede) to anyone in the case of, say, Mecca. That view is based on double standards which are only acceptable to people who have undergone some “re-education”, some ideological conditioning or “influencing”.
4.2 Muslims vs. Islam
“But I know some Muslims, and they are not fanatical at all.”
And: “But I’ve been to Turkey, and people there are very friendly and hospitable, and they have nothing to do with fundamentalism. You confuse the mass of Muslims with the small minority of fanatics.” And: “But in indonesia, Islam is very different. You confuse the war-hungry mentality of West Asia with the essence of Islam, which is very open.”
Me too, I know some Muslims who are not fanatical at all. And I have had quite a good time in Muslim countries, starting with Pakistan. But this has not convinced me that Islam is a benevolent and tolerant religion.
We need not travel to Islamic countries to see how decent people whose membership of the Muslim community offends no one, can suddenly turn fanatical when Islam is at stake. All these Islamic demonstrators in our streets, who demanded Rushdie’s death, and who told interviewers in so many words: “He must die, we will kill this Satan”, were mostly very nice people when you talk to them in their coffee-houses. When the Japanese Rushdie translator was killed (summer 1991), spokesmen of the Japanese Muslim community said: “Whoever has killed him, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, at any rate it was his deserved punishment ordained by Allah.” (Japanese public opinion has reacted very sharply against this statement of moral, if not actual, complicity in the murder) Yet, I had never heard of Japanese Muslims behaving in a less civic manner than their compatriots. Very nice people can turn vicious once a strong belief is at stake, especially the self-righteous belief fostered by Islam.
It is obviously true that many people in Muslim countries have good qualities. In countries yet unspoiled by consumerism, it is normal for people to be friendly and hospitable, they don’t need Islam for that. For nomadic peoples, like the Turks until a few centuries ago, hospitality was a vital necessity, and this tradition has remained even after conversion to Islam. In fact, as nomadic traditions were strongly present in Mohammed’s own cultural surroundings, hospitality is indeed highly valued in Islam: not because Allah decreed it, but because Mohammed had never known otherwise. Friendliness and hospitality owe nothing to Islam, but are human values cherished by most cultures.
This merely proves the obvious: that human beings continue to be human even after conversion to Islam. People continue to cherish certain values regardless of the doctrines taught by the religion in which they find themselves. On top of that, the Islamic doctrine itself has adopted certain positive pre-Islamic values, and continues to instil them in its young generations. This is not a comparative merit vis-a-vis other religious and ethical systems, but it may be valuable in comparison with the moral disorientation which befalls ever more youngsters in the big cities. That is why American policy-makers have some appreciation for the role of islam in inner-city Black communities. In the modern world, the alternative for the parental religion is mostly not another religion, but nihilism and morel anarchy. Any religion will do to give a new sense of direction to lost souls, provided its elementary moral code is emphasized, rather than its sterile and divisive points of theology.
On the negative side too, Islam is not foreign to human nature. The negative values which Islam explicitly promote: (self-righteousness, narrow-mindedness, greed for booty, disrespect for others people’s artistic and religious treasures), are all defects which may emerge in any human being. Muslims may believe that Islam was brought from heaven, but I am convinced that it was produced by a human being, and that all its positive and negative qualities are expressions of human nature. The point is that Islam gives certain negative tendencies systematic support whenever they are practised in relation to non-muslim people, institutions or values. The evil present in general human nature is sharpened and legitimized by Islam, and directed against the unbelievers in Mohammed’s claims at prophethood. This legitimation of evil tendencies is an original contribution of Islam (even if it drew some inspiration from the Biblical Yahweh). It cannot be ascribed to Mohammed’s pre-Islamic cultural milieu.
Most religions, regardless of their metaphysical and ritual differences, agree on a number of ethical values: self-control, harmony with our fellow-men, truthfulness, etc. Islam has adopted some elements of this universal heritage. Ordinary Muslims will point to these universal virtues when defending the claim that Islam stands for important ethical values. But Islam has also elevated to the rank of religious duty a number of attitudes and behaviour patterns which are the very opposite of this world-wide ehtical consensus.
Whatever our judgement of the the Islamic doctrine, it should be clearly distinguished from our attitude towards Muslim people. I guess most Muslims will not be too happy when you say: “I have nothing against you, I only object to your religion.” Yet, even if it is psychologically rather delicate to take this position, it is nonetheles the correct position. People cannot help it that they have been born into the community that pledges allegiance to Islam. They cannot help it that they have been made to develop an emotional attachment to that arch-fanatical book the Quran, and to its author Mohammed. Moreover, many of them have followed their more humane feelings, and retained from their religious indocrtrination only some universal ethical rules and some common life wisdom, quietly putting the more fanatical parts of Islamic teaching aside. Their effective religion is strictly not Islam, but a selection of the saner and more humane elements which Mohammed’s followers had preserved or adopted from universal religion.
But whatever the human qualities of the people in Turkey, it is undeniable that a substantial number of these common Muslims (both Turkish and Kurdish) has taken part in terroizing the Christians (in Kurdistan also Yezidi) minorities. Even when the secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk accorded protection to the Christians (and restored some historical churches to them), the common people kept on harassing the minorities.
Before World War I, Christians formed a substantial percentage of the population of what is now called Turkey (if my information is correct, they even formed the majority in the capital city Istambul). In 1915-18, the Armenians were massacred. In 1922, when Greece had tried to liberate the territories with Greek populations on Turkey’s West Coast, all the Greeks were killed or driven out. Since then, the pressure on not only the remaining Armenians and Greek-Orthodox, but alo on the Chaldaean and Assyrian Christians in the South-East, has continued. Ethnic clashes between Muslim Kurds and Muslims Turks have often ended in a massacre of the religious minorities. By now, the Christians form less than 1% of Turkey’s population. Many thousands have fled to European countries, and those remaining in Turkey have moved to the relative safety of the metropolis Istambul. When questioned, they are often too ashamed or too afraid to tell their story. But ultimately, the truth comes out, and the conclusion is: “We had no choice but to go away.”
An intriguing aspect of the Islamic terror against the Christians in Turkey is that it has not stopped with the state’s secularization. In the khilafat period, Islam was safely in power, and from that position it could show generosity and ensure the “protection” which the Islamic state owes its zimmi minorities (except when the caliph himself declared a jihad against a specified people). But this generosity and protection should not be exaggerated: at least in the Balkan part of the Ottaman empire, Christians lived in constant fear. They were the target of never-ending terror, in the form of abductions of girls and boys and all kinds of harassment. It is such harassment at the local and popular level which has continued in the last decades and reached the farthest corners of the country. This process has also been helped by the fact that increased population pressure and better roads and transport have ended the virtual isolation in which many Christian communities in the mountains used to live. Once the contact with the Muslims became more intense, trouble followed. Protective measures by the secular government failed to control the hostility at the popular level.
It is always easy to blame the state and the men in uniform. But Islamic terror essentially does not emanate from uniforms and state power, but from a belief system which even the ordinary people have been fed. That is why a lot of Islamic terror never gets recorded by human-rights organizations like Amnesty International. A Christian Pakastani friend complained to me that Amnesty had not spoken out against the religious persecutions in his homeland, even when these are a grim and undeniable reality. The fact is that much of this persecution and discrimination is not ordered by the state (the type of culprit with which Amnesty is familiar), but is a spontaneous attituide among sections of the Muslim population, egged on by nothing except the omnipresent Islamic doctrine.
As for Indonesia, let us note first of all that it is a non-secular and non-Islamic state. It requires its citizens to be “monotheists”, but they can choose for themselves whether they worship Allah, Jesus, Ganesha or Buddha, regardless of the very different status which these divine characters have for their respective followers. Many Muslims are unhappy that the majority religion is prevented from making its mark on the polity ( a frustration which many Hindus in India will understand, in spite of the sharp difference which would exist between a pluralist Hindu Rashtra and an oppressive Islamic state). True to type, some Muslims advocate the separation and islamization of their heartland, the island Aceh, while others are working for the islamization of the entire country.
The fact that Islam sits lightly on most Muslims in Indonesia, has not prevented a hard core to display the patented behaviour pattern of Islam. In Irian Jaya (West New Guinea), the Papua tribals are overrun by immigrant Muslims from Java. Many of them have already been converted by force or social pressure. In ex-Portuguese East Timor, which Indonesia has annexed against the United Nations’ will, massacres of Christians or Animist natives by Muslim immigrants and soldiers have happened on a large scale. In Bali, the Hindus are not exactly persecuted, but Muslim immigrants from Java have acquired the positions of power. By the standards which Indian Muslims use to measure “discrimination against the minorities”, the Hindus of Bali could claim that they are discriminated against. Nevertheless, the situation in most of Indonesia still seems to be much better than in Bangladesh (let alone Pakistan), and the communities live together rather peacefully. But it has taken tough rulers to uphold this relatively stable pluralism.
The impact of Islamic doctrine on Muslim populations is not uniform in intensity. Many Muslims ignore the Quranic injunctions to hostility. Some non-Muslims don’t need the Quran for developing self-righteousness and intolerance. But this doesn’t prove that Islam doesn’t make a difference. Some people get drunk and yet drive their cars safely, others don’t drink but are nonetheless a danger on the road; neither of these special cases can disprove the general correlation between drunken driving and traffic accidents.
4.3 Immigrants and Muslims
“But your criticism of Islam will contribute to the increasing animosity in Europe against Muslim immigrants. You play into the hand of xenophobic and racist politicians.”
Of course I have nothing to do with racism and xenophobia, and I have my life-story to prove it. Given the democratic slump in Europe, I am convinced that a measured and carefully monitored immigration is necessary. My hometown is host to people from every country, and I have a lot of foreign friends, mostly Indian and Chinese. So, I am not at all against immigrants, and I have personally helped some to integrate or to get naturalized as citizens of my country. But my criticism of Islam stands: Islam is intrinsically separatist and hostile to neighbour communities.
The position of the “xenophobic and racist politicians” in Europe is just the opposite. They are against immigration, but most of them profess to have nothing against Islam. They say that Islam is quite all right, as long as it remains in Islamic countries. They want Muslims out of Europe, not because they think islam is bad in itself, but because they consider it so foreign to our culture and value system that Muslim people cannot ever be integrated in our society.
Moreover, the really racist elements among them are mostly also anti-Jewish and consequently in sympathy with the Arabs. The leader of the French anti-immigrant party Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had pleaded against French participation in the war against Saddam Hussain, and has on the whole been cultivating good relations with the Arab world. He thinks this is necessary in order to make a civilized deal with the source countries of most French immigrants, to make them take these immigrants back. Finally, hard rightist had always felt more at home with straightforward, regimented Islam than for instance with the “haggling Jewish money-lenders” or the anarchic, unfathomable polytheists in the colonies: in sub-Saharan Africa, the colonial powers used to actively support the spread of Islam.
Other “xenophobic and racist politicians” do speak out against Islam, but they don’t go to the root of the problem. They like to point at some barbaric points of islam (public lashings, amputation, purdah) merely to impress on the public that the Muslim are a barbaric lot with whom it is best not to co-exist. They have a very static view of Islam, by assuming that it is somehow the unalterable “native culture” of the Turkish and North-African populations. In reality, those populations have been lured or forced into Islam, and they may also grow out of it. It is well worth repeating that a distinction must be made between Muslims and Islam, between the doctrine and the people who have been fed the doctrine. Some people in the anti-immigrant lobby have attacked “the Muslims”, but not one among them has attacked Islam as a doctrine.
If we put a criticism of Islam in the context of the modern world’s need to develop ways of co-existence between different communities, and specifically the situation of Muslim immigrants in Europe, let us distinguish first between a few commonly used terms and concepts.
Racism means the belief that there is a qualitative inequality between human beings on the basis of their respective race. This was present in a relatively mild form in the paternalistic theory of the “white man’s burden”, the duty of superior whites to be responsible guardians of the inferior races, who are “half devil and half child” (both expressions are Rudyard Kipling’s). Racism was present in a much more strident form in Nazism, which taught that there were master races, inferior races, and also doomed races which had to be exterminated. This hard racism was a materialistic theory, which tried to reduce the perceived moral and cultural differences between people to biological factors. Thus, the Jews were not defined as a religious community, but as a “race”, and even converting to another religion could not alter your genetic Jewishness. Such race theories are quite marginal in the present European political context. Most political parties which are called “racist” by their opponents do not subscribe to a theory of racial inequality (eventhough citizens who privately cherish such racist convictions usually vote for them).
The present wave of anti-immigrant feelings in Europe should more properly be called xenophobia. Xenophobia is not racism, as it is not based on biological but on cultural differences. It is often understood as “hatred against outsiders”, and in that case Islam itself is an intense case of xenophobia. But in the European context, it is the literal meaning that applies: “fear of outsiders”. The psychology that is catching on in ever wider circles in Europe today, is that the immigrants are a threat to our safety and prosperity, not because of their skin colour but because of their cultural non-assimilation. Anti-immigrant campaigners contend that cultural assimilation become difficult once the immigrants are numerous enough to form islands of foreign culture in our society. Such islands would then constitute a threat to our social fabric. In the case of Muslims, it is suspected that they not only have little motivation to assimilate (as a consequence of their large quantity), but harbour a positive intention not to assimilate.
Muslims are not a race, and much less is Islam a race. A criticism of Islam has nothing to do with anti-Arab racism. Many Arabs are not Muslims. The Christians Arabs are heavily persecuted (as Mgr. Teissier, bishop of Algiers, recently came to testify in Leuven, something which he significantly refrains from doing in writing), and whenever they see no other option than to flee the Muslim world, I think Europe has the duty to welcome these non-Muslim Arabs without reservation (just like India should welcome all Hindu refugees, just like Germany accepts all East-Europen Germans, and just like Israel has welcomed the Jews of Ethoipia and Russia). On the other hand, many fanatical Muslims are not Arabs or Turks or Persians, but Europeans. European converts to Islam like to tell interviewers that “Islam is all about peace and brotherhood”. What this means in practice became clear when one of the most famous converts, singer Cat Stevens alias Yusuf Islam, was asked for his opinion about the Rushdie affair. He said: “If I see Rushdie, I’ll kill him.” Fanaticism is not a racial characteristic, but an ideological position fostered by imbibing the Quran.
If criticism of Islam is racism, then what about criticism of Christianity? I don’t believe anyone is ready to call Voltaire and other European freethinkers racists. Voltaire criticized Christian doctrine and the power of the Catholic Church, but no one has accused him of racism against the Christian community. It so happens that the same Voltarie was equally critical of Islam, which he considered the fanatical religion par excellence. In “Mahomet ou le fanatisme”, a theatre play written in defence of the value of religious tolerance, he uses Mohammed as model case of relgious fanaticism. Again, no one has accused entertained the idea, he would have had to acknowledge that Voltaire’s explicit admiration for other exotic cultures, like India and especially China, made him immune against any suspicions of “racism” or xenophobia.
The truth is that the cry of “racism” has become a favourite way of orphaned Communists to recapture the initiative and continue their old game of putting people against the wall, for volleys of swearology if not bullets. Thus, in my country there is an “anti-racist forum” called Charta ‘91, in which we find back most Flemist Marxists. The name is obviously modelled on Charta ‘77, the dissident forum in Czechoslovakia against the Communist regime (which forum included the playwright and later president Vaclav Havel). The Charta ‘91 people have the effrontery to try and capitalize on the moral prestige of Charta ‘77, while many of them were personally supporters of the very regime that used to sent Charta ‘77 people to jail. They are the very people who used to cast aspersions on the dissidents, who ridiculed anti-Communist voices in the West, and who led movements of which we now officially know that they were sponsored by Moscow (I remember shrugging off my father’s remarks about Moscow’s involvement in the pro-disarmament demonstration I ws going to; but he was right). For these exposed Gulag collaborators, anti-racism is the only way to remain on the offensive and to pre-empt a critical look into their own record.
As a practised non-racist, I feel free to ignore the insistent self-advertisement of organized “anti-racism”. The racist attacks on foreigners in Europe are a most serious problem, but there is no need for “allying with Stalin to fight Hitler” now: we have to get both out of the way.
Secondly, “anti-racism” and “multiculturalism” (cfr. the Indian creed of “composite culture”) are an easy cover for Islamic propagandists and their fellow-travellers to pre-empt all criticism of Islam. They take heart from some accomplished facts of confusion between racial and relgious issues, such as the following. Recently, a British employer wanted to hire workers but made it clear that he would not employ Muslims, with reference to the plight of Salman Rushdie, whose condemnation to a life underground has been supported by most vocal Muslims in Britain. A pro-Muslim organization filed a plaint charging him with racial discrimination. The judge ruled that excluding Muslims is not a direct act of racism, as Muslims are not a race; but that it was nonetheless an indirect act of racism, as most Muslims are effectively non-European. He thought that a complete acquittal in this case would clear the way for attempts at racial discrimination under the cover of excluding the non-racial category of Muslims, so he imposed a token penalty.
In many European countries racism is an offence punishable by law, so I expect that the allegation of racism will be tried in the near future as a way of prohibiting criticism of Islam. At the level of public debate, there is already strong pressure tending towads an informal prohibition of Islam criticism. But it won’t work.
Europe has built up a strong tradition of free speech and freedom of publication, and Islamic attempts to tamper with that freedom will only sharpen the awareness that no concessions can be made to these new forms of fanaticism and censorship. Moreover, the general public and many political commentators and politicians are vaguely aware of the intrinsic fanaticism of Islam. In the news, the word Islam is more often than not mentioned in a context of terrorism, so the pious claims that islam is tolerant and peaceful at heart are regarded with healthy skepticism.
What really gives Islam an incurably bad name, is its treatment of women. No amount of apologetics can convince modern people that it is right to spend a raped woman to jail if she cannot bring the four male witnesses which the shariat requires, and to sentence her, after a long time in custody, to public flogging for committing adultery or for falsely accusing a good Muslim of rape. The said sentence only comes as a matter of clemency, and sometimes the strict penalty is given: stoning to death. Such things happen in Pakistan (where 60% of the women brought to trial for sex offences are cases of “unproven” plaints of rape, according to a Pakistani lawyer quoted in The Economist) and other Islamic states, and the world knows it. We have seen on television how women in Algeria demonstrated against the attempts to transform the country into an islamic republic, and how they were attacked by fundamentalist counter-demonstrators. No one is fooled if some Islamic apologist explains how Islam has meant a liberation of women. The women’s movement will contribuite a lot to Islam’s undoing.
Most non-specialist observers are broadly aware of the retrograde and barbaric charcter of Islam. Nonetheless, governments waver when they are confronted with Islamic threats and blackmail. Margaret Thatcher has stood by Salman Rushdie, in spite of the latter’s invective against her (both before and after the fatwa). But John Major prohibited a manifestation to “celebrate” Salman Rushdie’s 1,000th day in hiding, in order not to disturb the negotiations over hostages in Lebanon. The organizers of the Books Fair in Frunkfurt had invited the Iranian state publishing-house to participate, just when the Japanese Rushdie translator had been murdered, and it was only after strong protest from the German Writers Association that the invitation was withdrawn.
The French government accepted a compromise on the issue of girls wearing a chador in school, which Muslims claimed as a victory (according to Kalim Siddiqui, speaking at the 6th European Muslim Conference in Genk, April 1992, a veiled woman “carries the flag of Islam: she makes a statement that European civilization is unacceptable to us, that it is a disease, a pestilence on mankind”). In November 1991, it sacked Jean-Claude Barreau, a top civil servant who had writen that Islam has been a destructive and regressive religion. Muslims protested that his book contained “simplistic opinions” about Islam, and obtained that the government destanced itself from his views by sacking him. It is unthinkable that a French government would sack a civil servant for writing against Christianity, but Islam has already wrested the privilege of immunity from criticism. Incidentally, the French government’s behaviour disproves the Indian belief that Muslim appeasement is a consequence of the desire to win over the “Muslim vote bank”: few Muslims in France were voters, and the socialist government’s hand was not forced by vote politics, but by a mentality.
In an interview with the leading French newspaper Le Figaro, Jean-Claude Barreau explains: “This shows to what extent that which I had felt in advance was true: Islam is a taboo which you cannot defy unpunishedly. Today, there is something very disturbing for the foundations of our Republic, viz. for secularism… It is possible for a top civil servant to doubt Christ’s divinity without creating a ripple, but it is impossible for him to speak of Prophet Mohammed… [I have been hit by] not a law, but a collective and almost unanymously observed taboo. This taboo is not typical for the Left… I have found out that there is of course a Leftist pro-Islamism linked with the post-colonial complex, but also a Rightist pro-Islamism… There has been strong pressure from Islamic embassies. That this pressure exists, shows to what extent certain Islamic circles are incapable of listening to criticism. But there are dissidents in the Islamic world whom we are not at all helping with our attitude.”
To the question whether democracy was lacking in aggressiveness, he replied: “Rather, it lacks courage… My book, it is nothing but the right of intellectual intervention. But because it concerns Islam, it is deemed insupportable. There are double standards at work.” He compares with similar topics: “This book is not more scandalous than those which I have published about Christianity, about Israel, or about the art of government. I reaslized I was touching on a taboo, but I didn’t know it was that strong.”
Muslims are already a considerable pressure group, but what really weakens the position of European governments before Islamic arrogance is the pro-Islamic rhetoric of a small but noisy section of media people and leftist political circles. Some of these fellow-travellers of Islam are well-intending but inconsistent softies: they have not renounced their young days’ habit of mocking Christian obscurantist customs and irrational beliefs, and yet they are defending (or asking us to “understand”) similar things in Islam. Some are husbands of Muslim women whose parents, following Muslim law, insisted on their son-in-law’s conversion: like the ancestors of many Muslim fanatics, they think this conversion is a superficial thing without any consequences, but already they feel compelled to defend Islamic causes. Others are Marxists who have shifted their focus from anti-Fascist through anti-racist and pro-immigrant, to pro-Muslim.
The influence of these fellow-travellers will probably be blown away soon. Their grip on the public arena is weak compared to that of india’s secularists, and is totally dependent on the public’s modest sense of incompetence regarding Islam and on its concomitant care not to make rash and unfair judgements. As soon as the facts concerning Islam become more well-known, not as a general feeling but as an authoritative opinion equipped with details of Islamic scripture and history, the game of islam’s public relations offensive will be over. But until then, this vocal section makes it difficual to speak out freely about the nature of Islam, and it puts psychological pressure on governments and police forces, which prevents an effective policy against Islamic arrogance. Today, there are not many intellectuals in Europe who say the truth about Islamic fanaticism, partly out of ignorance, partly for fear of negative press coverage. Those who do, like John Laffin (The Dagger of Islam), are given little publicity, or denounced as prejudiced alarmists.
In 1990, a Pakistani living in Holland published a book, De Ondergang van Nederland (“The Downfall of the Netherlands”), about the mistaken Muslim policy of his host country. he stated that Holland was spending its laudable tolerance on the wrong people: it gives all the facilities to a growing Islamic establishment in its immigrant communities. After demonstrating the intolerant behaviour of Muslims worldwide, he predicts that “the naive and mindless Dutch” are feeding a poisonous baby which in a few decades will devour them and replace their tolerant and pluralist society with an Islamic republic. Unfortunately, he too treats “the Muslims” as a static entity, and he idealizes the Europeans instead of seeing that our level of tolerance is the result of a historical process which the Muslims can and should also go through (discarding their Muslim-ness on the way, like Europe largely discarded Christianity). Because he took his own assessment of Islam seriously, and with the Rushdie affair still very much in the air, he did not want to make his name known, so he wrote under the pseudonym Mohammed Rasool.
The reaction of the press was most interesting. The leftist press had nothing but scorn for his message, and concentrated on the more sensational effort of finding out the writer’s identity. At first they were very sure that it had to be some fascist racist Dutchman trying to sound more convincing by adopting an exotic pseudonym. But Mohammed Rasool gave interviews, wearing a mask that showed enough of his face to prove that he was not a native European. Interviewers tried to snatch his foreigners’ passport to find out his name, but he was faster. Finally, after a lot of detective work, they did find out his real name, and made it public. If ever Mohammed Rasool gets killed, these mindless leftist are to blame.
To be sure, he has not been killed yet. He has not criticized the Prophet himself, and the fair name of Mohammed is what Muslims are most particular about. Criticizing the Muslim community or the doctrine of Islam is less dramatic (Rushdie had not criticized Islam, but had mocked the Prophet). As the Persian proverb says: you can make jokes about God, but be careful with Mohammed. Secondly, the Muslim communities in continental Europe keep a low profile, in conformity with their Saudi sponsors’ policy of penetrating Europe gently (as opposed to the Iranian approach). Finally, this Mohammed Rasool was an unknown fellow in a small language-area, not a prize-winning English writer. So there was no fatwa to kill this Dutch-Pakistani warner against the Islamic threat.
But does that prove the opinion expressed by the more sympathetic right-wing commentators, that Rasool may have a point but that he has exaggerated the danger of Islam in Holland? At the moment, Holland has one of the lowest percentages of Muslims in the European Community, and they are not making much trouble (except that they took to the streets to demand Rushdie’s death). But that may change fast: their birth rate is very high, and a continued inpouring from North Africa is just about inevitable. As their numbers go up, the Muslims’ attitude may change too. A keen awareness of power equations may be at work: when they are small and weak, they are wise enough not to be too troublesome, but when they become strong, their demands go on increasing; that at any rate is the Indian experience. Policy-makers should consider more than only the most optimistic prognosis.
It is mathematically certain that Islam will ultimately disappear. An artificial belief system imposed by force can only survive by means of a continued indoctrination. Relax that, and Islam will wither away fast. With the modern media and the unprecedented pace of progress, cultural circumstances can emerge (not by a conspiracy, but by the laws of the market and similar natural developments) that will make Islam look like a strange antiquity even to those brought up as Muslims. So, Islam will certainly go. But the question is what it can still do in the meantime.
In the Soviet Union, several jihads are on the cards. Kazakhstan may soon become an Islamic republic, and it has an advanced nuclear arsenal. The president (chosen in an election from which Russians were excluded) of the Muslim Chechen-Ingoosh republic has declared that in order to obtain independence, his people will use terrorist attacks against Russian targets including nuclear facilities. He has been arming several Muslim separatisms in the northern Caucasus and effectively supporting the separatist violence in Abkhasia. Iran, Iraq and Pakistan are building their nuclear strike capability. More than ever, Pakistan will be the frontline of an impressive block of Islamic states with nuclear teeth. India will no doubt be the prime target, Russia will definitely suffer, but Europe too may be put in trouble by an Islamic upsurge from the inside. We simply cannot perdict what effect an expected international conflict in the name of Islam will have on a European Muslim community that will have become much more numerous and well-organized.