Rushdie & Our Permanent Fatwa Culture
Sorry to have been absent these past two days. On the journey back from Cyprus, I left my laptop on the plane, and was only able to retrieve it yesterday at the Vienna airport. It is not possible to overstate my anxiety between the time I discovered the laptop was missing, and picking it up yesterday afternoon. Reminder: back everything up to the cloud!
On the train ride back to Vienna from the airport, I struck up a conversation with a young Muslim couple, immigrants to Canada, who were headed home from a trip to Turkey. They had to overnight in Vienna to catch their plane, and wanted to go into the city to have a look around. I really enjoyed their company. The husband works in IT; he talked Kingsnorthishly about the cultural crisis we are in. I asked him if he thought the Islamic world would be able to withstand the gender-ideology insanity.
He shook his head and said, "Brother, we are all in this together. We are all up against The Machine." He went on to explain the power of a culture driven by technology, and how sooner or later, everyone around the world is going to have to face it. "They want us all to care about nothing but satisfying our desires," the Muslim man said. "They want us to forget about the past, about our religion, and our traditions. This is how they make us into the perfect consumers."
I said, "It sounds like you have arrived at this conclusion from personal experience." He just looked at me across the aisle of the train car, and smiled.
In the city, I led them to the St. Stephen's cathedral, which is the heart of the city, and thanked them for the conversation. It was good to remember that there are good Muslims who are allies to morally sane Christians and Jews fighting the machine. Good to remember, because the attempted murder of Salman Rushdie by a fanatical young Muslim is very much on my mind. We have to balance the goodness of individual Muslims with the unpleasant fact that no small number of them sympathize with fanatical hatred.
Why do I say "no small number"? Check out this essay in The European Conservative by Laszlo Veszpremy, a Hungarian historian of the Holocaust who argues that Holocaust denial is rampant in Europe's Islamic communities. Excerpts:
The Western European elite today has no trouble posting messages of remembrance of the Holocaust on social media, but they struggle to recognize that the very immigration policies they tend to favor actually contribute to anti-Semitism in Europe. Honestly discussing the controversial topic of Islamic anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial is unfortunately taboo.
The problem of Western Islamic Holocaust denial was not caused by the 2015 Migrant crisis, as according to a 2009 study by the Civitas Social Research Institute in London, a few years earlier only 34% of British Muslims explicitly agreed with the claim that the Holocaust had indeed happened. Let me re-frame the point: this means that 66%, two-thirds, of British Muslims were unwilling to admit to pollsters that the Holocaust had occurred. Mehdi Hasan, editor of the left-wing British Huffington Post, wrote an article in 2012 entitled “I am Shamed by Muslim Attitudes to the Holocaust.” According to his article, denial of and disinterest in the Holocaust was “rampant” in Muslim communities, from the Iranian president through Cairo taxi drivers to “British Muslims.”
Hasan knew what he was speaking about. According to a 2017 survey by the British Institute for Jewish Policy Research, the idea that “the Holocaust is just a myth” was five times more popular among religious Muslims (10%) than among the general population (2%). In January 2019, an exhibition in England showcasing the history of Albanian Muslims rescuing Jews during the Holocaust had to be shown in a secret location due to attacks and threats from British Muslims. The case was described by British writer Douglas Murray, who is strongly critical of mass immigration, as “alarm bells” that should call our attention to the darker aspects of immigration.
Veszpremy reports that this is not really a matter of doing more education. Some schools in Europe than have tried to do this have run into big problems. More:
The international press has picked up allegations that several British schools have stopped teaching Holocaust history altogether to spare the nerves of Muslim students and avoid the possibility of contentious discussions. While a 2007 report by the British Historical Association clarified that only one school in the UK had indeed decided to act this way, even one such case is alarming.
The Dutch situation seems to be even more dire. A 2011 study by the late Dutch-Israeli scholar of anti-Semitism Manfred Gerstenfeld cites particularly controversial things regarding the relationship between immigrant communities and Holocaust education. In 2002, two Dutch journalists, Margalith Kleijwegt and Max van Weezel, revealed that pictures of Osama bin Laden and swastikas had been raised by immigrant students at an Amsterdam school. In 2003, the Dutch-Jewish anti-Semitism watchdog group CIDI published an analysis quoting the then Amsterdam alderman in charge of education, Rob Oudkerk, who told a newspaper that “several teachers had informed him that the subject of the Holocaust had become almost impossible to teach”, not only because it creates a hostile atmosphere, but also since teachers have been threatened because of attempting to foster discussion of the issue.
In the same year, CIDI issued another report, which quoted a history teacher that immigrant students had drawn a swastika on the board in the classroom. “Jews we have to kill” sang a Moroccan youngster subsequently. Ten minutes later a Turkish boy in the same class sang “Jews are to be killed.”
A couple of weeks ago, the Internet had its knickers knotted over Viktor Orban's having said that Europe must not become "mixed-race" -- by which he meant that Europe must stop allowing mass migration from the Islamic world. None of the bien-pensants of the media, the academy, and among political leaders want to deal with the blunt reality that mass Islamic migration means inevitably that a non-trivial number of violent fanatics will exist within any society that accepts large numbers of Muslims.
Fifteen or so years ago, I was at a conference about media in the Arab Muslim world, and found myself having coffee with an Egyptian woman who lived and worked in London. She was telling me that we Westerners should not be naive and think that the opening up of the Arab Muslim world to a wider variety of media would be an unambiguously good thing. She told me that back in Cairo, her younger siblings had become radicalized by exposure to hardcore fundamentalist Islam that came into their home via satellite TV. She lamented that she and her husband did not want their daughters in London to be subjected to the moral grossness of secular British schools, but the only Muslim school around was one that taught a hardline form of Islam, of the same kind that had captured the minds of her siblings.
Around that same time, in Dallas, where I was then living and working, immigrant Yasir Said murdered his two teenage daughters in a so-called "honor killing" -- this, because he disapproved of the way they dressed. Said lived underground for a dozen years before cops finally caught up with him. Last week he was convicted of the murders. I was working at the Dallas Morning News at the time, and remember riding in the elevator back to the newsroom with the reporter who had covered the murdered girls' funeral at Dallas Central Mosque. The reporter was visibly shaken. She said that in his funeral oration, the imam told the congregation that the lesson here is that parents need to control their daughters more.
For whatever reason, that detail did not appear in her story in the next day's paper -- and based on how upset she was in the elevator, I very much doubt that was how the reporter wanted it. In fact, the Dallas Morning News had done great work exposing the terrorist fundraising front Holy Land Foundation in the early 2000s. It was an organization of the radical Muslim Brotherhood (called in Arabic the "Ikhwan"). The FBI's investigation turned up a 1991 planning document in which the Brotherhood outlined its plans to take over institutions of American Islam, and radicalize them. The document said:
The process of settlement [of Islam in the United States] is a “Civilization-Jihadist” process with all the word means. The Ikhwan must understand that all their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” their miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all religions. Without this level of understanding, we are not up to this challenge and have not prepared ourselves for Jihad yet. It is a Muslim’s destiny to perform Jihad and work wherever he is and wherever he lands until the final hour comes, and there is no escape from that destiny except for those who choose to slack.
It sounds like something from the lurid imagination of a far-right fanatic -- but the document was real. The defendants in the trial did not dispute its authenticity, but only said that it was outdated. Lest you think the Ikhwan is a fringe group, it is the parent organization of leading Islamic organizations in the US, including Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Muslim American Society (MAS).
You could be forgiven if this is the first you've heard about the memo. As I detailed in this essay from a while back, its existence was largely ignored by the mainstream media. Here's a lengthy excerpt from the essay:
Why? Short answer: fear of the charge of Islamophobia. Let me elaborate from my own experience as a journalist working in the mainstream media. It starts for me in early October of 2001, a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks. I was sitting at my desk at the New York Post, watching a very special episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show called “Islam 101.”Oprah set out to educate Americans about Islam.
She clearly wanted to ease tensions in those awful days, and I think most fair-minded people would have welcomed someone of her stature reminding a mass audience that not all Muslims are terrorists. But the program was truly shocking. It so candy-coated Islam—especially those parts of the faith, its practice, and its holy book that encourage violence and the subjugation of women—that it amounted to nothing more than propaganda. It was an exercise not in education, but in therapy. In my opinion, Oprah’s therapeutic approach is typical of the general attitude the US media has had to covering Islam in America.
Two Octobers later, I had learned a lot more about Islam than I had known on 9/11. I was by then living in Dallas and working as an editorial writer and columnist at the Dallas Morning News. One day, I saw that Sayyid Syeed, then-head of the Islamic Society of North America, was coming to the newspaper for an editorial board meeting. I did a good deal of research on the organization in preparation for the meeting. The board heard a rather laborious presentation by Dr. Syeed, who went on and on about how we journalists needed to partner with ISNA to promote peace and tolerance. He particularly stressed that we could help ISNA fight Christian bigots like Jerry Falwell, whose name was anathema to most journalists. I was impressed, but not happily so, by how well Dr. Syeed understood how to play to his media audience and its biases.
When I had the opportunity to ask a question, I told Dr. Syeed that his sentiments were laudable, but if ISNA really stood for peace and tolerance, why did it have on its board …and then I rattled off a list of board members and their direct connections to Islamic extremism. Dr. Syeed had been polite and professorial to that point, but at that point, he dropped his mask. He literally shook his fist at me, said this inquisition was worthy of Nazi Germany, and that I would one day “repent.” I told him mine was a fair question, and that I would appreciate an answer. I didn’t get one. But I had learned an important lesson about how groups like his operate: by evading legitimate queries, and browbeating journalists into retreat by calling them bigots and persecutors.
After I wrote a Morning News column about the Syeed encounter, I found myself identified on a local Islamic blog as” The New Face of Hate.” It turned out that the north Texas Muslim community had been engaged in a running battle with the Dallas Morning News since a series of investigative articles in the early part of the decade had uncovered alleged connections between the Holy Land Foundation charity and Hamas. The News’ reporter on the Holy Land story, Steve McGonigle, had had to be guarded for a while after threats, and the newspaper was picketed by local Muslims. Before I arrived, the newspaper had been making outreach efforts to the Dallas Islamic community in the wake of the Holy Land stories and indictments. And now I had come to town and spoiled things.
On a lark, I joined the Islamic blog’s listserv, to which several leading Dallas Muslims subscribed. I used my own name, which got me booted after a day or so upon discovery. Fortunately, in the short time I was on the site I printed out e-mails in which participants deliberated a plan to quietly approach unwitting business and religious leaders in the city and enlist them in a campaign to force the News’ publisher to fire me because of the threat I posed to the safety of Muslims.
“Dreher needs to be ruined,” one message said. Another suggested that “a campaign must be planned and carefully executed to expose this hate-monger and render him a joke.” I made all this public on the editorial board’s blog and sent copies to the newspaper’s lawyer. My guess is that aborted the whispering campaign before it could launch. But again, it was useful to see what journalists are up against.
Between my editorial assignments, I kept looking into the Dallas Muslim community. The leading local imam, Yusuf Kavakci, has a reputation in Dallas as an avuncular ecumenist, aided by positive press coverage over the years. He leads the Dallas Central Mosque, the largest mosque in Texas, and involves himself in the large and active broader religious community in the city. But I found on his website praise for the radical Muslim Brotherhood ideologues Hasan al-Turabi, who gave Osama bin Laden refuge in Sudan when Turabi ran the country, and Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader. Dr. Kavakci cited them as the kinds of Islamic leaders American Muslims need to guide them on the straight path.
I blogged about these inconvenient truths, and thanks to the unwavering support of my editor—who caught hell from Muslim readers—I got into the editorial pages the news that the Dallas Central Mosque in 2004 had hosted a quiz contest for Muslim youth in which teenagers were tested on their knowledge of Said Qutb’s Milestones—a sort of Mein Kampf of jihadism. Qutb, of course, was the brilliant Muslim Brotherhood ideologue who preached worldwide violent jihad to bring the whole world under the boot of radical Islam. The quiz contest was sponsored jointly by the Muslim American Society and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)—two organizations closely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. So the largest mosque in Texas is, or was until a short time ago, educating its youth in radical Islam.
Later, the Dallas Morning News’ editorial pages were also the only place in print that readers in Dallas would learn that an area Shiite mosque held a “Tribute to the Great Islamic Visionary, the Ayatollah Khomeini,” and that the headline speaker was a Muslim hothead from Washington, DC, who was so radical and anti-Semitic that the Saudi-sponsored mosque there kicked him out. Top Dallas Muslim leaders, including Dr. Kavakci, attended and spoke to the conference. But most of the local news media had no interest in reporting it. Only our editorial page and one TV station gave it any attention.
Two years ago, the editor-in-chief of my newspaper, a very fair-minded man, put together a working lunch in which Mohamed Elmougy, for years the leader of CAIR in Dallas, and I could meet to discuss our differences. Mr. Elmougy, who is no longer with CAIR but who had been for some time the leading public voice of Dallas-area Muslims, brought with him two associates. The editor-in-chief and the editorial page editor of the News accompanied me. Mr. Elmougy and I did most of the talking. It was a long meeting, but a cordial one. As we waited for the check, Mr. Elmougy said he didn’t understand why I considered Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular satellite TV evangelist and spiritual advisor of the Muslim Brotherhood, to be violent. I responded by pointing out that Qaradawi has advocated executing homosexuals, and that he gave advice on his website about how a Muslim man can beat his wife in an Islamically correct way.
“That’s violent,” I told Mr. Elmougy. He slammed his hand on the table and said he agreed with the Shaykh, and that he wouldn’t apologize for it. He went on to tell a story about an adulteress who came to the Prophet asking for release from her sins. The Prophet ordered her stoned to death, said Mr. Elmougy, and declared that he could see her rejoicing in paradise. Mr. Elmougy finished his account by saying that things we Westerners consider to be unacceptable violence are considered by Muslims like him to be pro-family “deterrence.”
I thanked him for his candor, for admitting that he favors executing gays, wife-beating, stoning adulteresses, and chopping the hands off of thieves. I could tell, though, that my colleagues from the paper were shocked by what they had heard. American journalists simply aren’t used to hearing Islamic leaders in this country talk like that. And Islamic leaders in this country, I’d wager, are not used to being questioned sharply about their views. It’s also the case that Mr. Elmougy fits no Westerner’s idea of what a radical Muslim looks like. He is smart, well-dressed, professional, and to all appearances, Westernized. You simply don’t expect to be sitting in a fancy steakhouse and to hear a man who looks like the manager of a luxury hotel—which is what he was at the time—advocating medieval tortures. The cognitive dissonance can be overwhelming.
My next meeting with Mr. Elmougy came a year later, in the late autumn of 2006, when he led a delegation of local Muslim leaders in to the paper to meet with the editorial board, mostly to complain about, well, me, and to clear up misunderstandings that my supposedly biased rantings might have caused among my colleagues. The meeting was on the record, and I openly recorded it, later transcribing the session and posting it to the editorial board blog of the News. That transcript exposes how at least some Muslim leaders deal with media inquiries: through obfuscation, misdirection, and defensive accusations of bigotry. Allow me to dwell on this transcript to give you a flavor of how this sort of session goes. You can find the transcript archived at http://dallasmorningviews.beloblog.com/archives/2006/12/muslim_meeting.html [Note: the link is now dead -- RD]. Mr. Elmougy began the meeting by stating that his goal was to help journalists “find out how could we live in harmony …as opposed to pointing the finger.” He added that he wanted “to create some kind of comfort level,” and to end journalistic suspicion of Islam and Muslims. “We need to figure out a way [to] help you get rid of that.”
Notice what he’s doing here. He’s framing everyday journalistic practice—asking critical, skeptical questions—as an antisocial, even bigoted, act. He begins by trying to put his media audience on the defensive, as if they, the journalists, should be ashamed of themselves for their inquiries.
If you read the transcript, you will see that I tried repeatedly to get Mr. Elmougy and his cohorts to answer a simple, basic question: Are you for imposing sharia as the law of the land in the United States? Mr. Elmougy was indignant at the question itself, and ate up a considerable amount of our limited time in that session protesting the inquiry. Later, members of the delegation criticized me for pointing out in print that Dr. Kavakci, the head of the Dallas Central Mosque, had praised notorious radical Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood members as ideal leaders, and had allowed MAS and ICNA, two Brotherhood-affiliated organizations, to organize a youth quiz at his mosque. A CAIR spokeswoman at the table accused me of failing to seek the imam’s side of the story. I replied that our staff had tried several times, by phone and by e-mail, to reach Dr. Kavakci, but he refused to respond.
“Do you blame him?”Mr. Elmougy said, incredulously.
There is no way for the journalist to win this exchange. First they accuse us of not reaching out to them for their side of the story. When we can show that we did, in fact, reach out, and were refused an interview, we are faulted for being the kind of people to whom no self-respecting imam would give an interview. You see the psychological strategy here: always, always put the media on the defensive, and treat their inquiries as illegitimate.
In this same session, the subject came up of my criticizing the Dallas Central Mosque for teaching the work of Said Qutb to teenagers. Mr. Elmougy called him an “obscure Egyptian writer” and said that he, Mr. Elmougy, had never read his work before I’d made an issue of it. (He called me “obsessed” with Qutb’s book Milestones.) Now, it’s risible to think that a man born and raised in Egypt, who believes in sharia, has barely any knowledge of Said Qutb. (In fact, a few minutes later in this same session, one of Mr. Elmougy’s colleagues, a Syrian, said that Qutb’s work has been at the center of Mideast political conversations for decades). Mr. Elmougy went on to describe Qutb’s work as being geared toward unifying the Muslim community and helping clean up its morals. “It didn’t bother me in the least,” he said. What’s instructive about this pose—and I’m convinced absolutely that that’s what it was—is that Mr. Elmougy was apparently counting on all the other journalists in the room being ignorant about Said Qutb, his work and his influence.
It was a smart call, too. Most American journalists don’t know about Qutb and as a general rule are ill-informed about religion in general. Mr. Elmougy tried to paint me as a wild-eyed obsessive finding a devil in a supposedly benign book that no one purportedly had ever heard of. Fortunately there was in the room a News reporter, recently returned from our London bureau, who spoke up and said that Said Qutb’s work was exactly the kind of material that young British Muslims were reading, and becoming radicalized by. So it wasn’t just that right-wing Dreher guy from New York—traumatized by 9/11, alas for him—asking these questions. They had no come- back to that, actually. It’s amazing how undone these Muslim leaders become when informed journalists, refusing to be intimidated into embarrassed silence, confront them with the facts.
Later, after I blogged about the meeting, the group’s leader fired off an e-mail to me and my supervisors accusing me of single-handedly “burning every bridge” built between the Dallas Muslim community and the newspaper. I would genuinely hate for that to be the case, but the point of journalism is not to build bridges; it’s to ask important questions and to get credible answers. No journalist can afford to yield to this kind of intimidation. In Dallas, at least, it would seem that as far as the leadership of the Muslim community is concerned, there is only one way for journalists to cover the Muslim community: uncritically and unquestioningly.
Unfortunately, I found that a number of my newsroom colleagues in Dallas had adopted a see-no-evil incuriosity about Islamic radicalism. It was as if they were more concerned with managing the narrative rather than reporting the news. Anything that was likely to confirm anti-Muslim prejudices of north Texas Bubbas was not going to find its way into the paper, no matter how newsworthy. I felt back then that most people knew that they were being massaged by the liberal media on the topic of Islam -- that the media were not playing straight with them. I knew for a fact that there were local Muslims who hated the Ikhwan; a Jewish leader told me that some of his best sources in the Muslim community were such people, but they couldn't speak out because they had a legitimate fear of violence being done to them and their families. The media's strategy of running interference for Muslim bad guys out of fear of being "Islamophobic" did nothing for these good Muslims who had been intimidated into silence.
Here we are today, with the attack on Salman Rushdie. As Ben Sixsmith pointed out in The Critic, far too many liberals and progressives have been silent in the wake of his attempted murder by a Muslim fanatic, or have qualified their criticism to avoid saying the I-word or the M-word. Here, for example, is "The Wire" creator David Simon:
Because, you know, it could have just as easily been a Bible church fundagelical from the Texas Panhandle.
There are no easy solutions to be found here. The simple fact is that Islam, as it is understood by most Muslims, is profoundly intolerant of disrespect. That does not mean most Muslims support violence, of course, but it means enough Muslims support it that violence takes place. It will take a theological and cultural sea change for this to be untrue.
What we can choose is whether to accommodate or oppose aggression. I think any self-respecting person should support the latter. That means scorning people who appease murderousness, like Keith Vaz, the long-serving Labour MP, who apparently told Rushdie that he would support him before joining a protest against his book, or Sean O’Grady, an idiotic Independent columnist, who said in 2019 that Rushdie’s “silly, childish book” should have been banned. People who take more offence at controversial books than at a widespread violent response have excluded themselves from civilised discourse.
Certainly, there are complex debates to be had around freedom of expression. I don’t think we should blaspheme for the sake of blaspheming, because being boorish is being boorish whatever the context. But even if that were true of The Satanic Verses — and it is not — it would be less than relevant when people are trying to kill its author. As it happens, I have deep literary and political disagreements with Mr Rushdie. But, again, that is irrelevant when people are trying to kill him.
Sometimes, societal issues really are this simple: you are either with the novelist or the people trying to kill him. I know that sounds crude and unsophisticated, but if you found a young man trying to stab an old man in the street would you think hang on, maybe the old man said something offensive, or perhaps the young man has valid grievances? Only if you have the brain and heart of a mollusc.
Like Ben Sixsmith, I have political disagreements with Salman Rushdie, but under no circumstances can any decent person do anything but take his side here. The attack on Rushdie is an attack on all people who value civilization. But Kenan Malik has an inarguable point here:
This is true in publishing, and true in the media, to a degree that it simply was not back when Rushdie was first condemned by the ayatollahs. We know that today, our media will not tell the entire truth -- the bad as well as the good -- about racial and sexual minorities, or any group the Left deems as "marginalized" or "oppressed." Nor will academia, or any other institution in this society. They will introduce Orwellian terms like "gender confirmation surgery" to describe severing breasts and uteruses from a healthy female body. Everybody fears the fatwas from the progressive Machine. The Canadian Muslim friend I made on the train yesterday in Vienna said, "I don't understand why people won't stand up" to gender ideology, coming for children. I said to him, "Would you stand up, knowing that your job would be at risk? It would, wouldn't it, given that you work in tech?" He thought for a second, then said, "You're right. I wouldn't say anything. I would be fired."
We are all living under fatwa culture, though only poor Rushdie had to face actual death because of what those barbaric Muslim religious leaders said. The only redeeming aspect of that vile Camp Of The Saints novel is its acidic, contemptuous depiction of the self-abasing cowardice of European leaders (political, cultural, and religious) in the face of the coming invasion. They hate themselves and their own civilization so much that they welcome its annihilation. This is where we are now with our own Left. Prof. Stuart Ritchie has a great, infuriating piece about all the UK academics who defended a disgusting academic paper in which a grad student wrote about what he learned by reading Japanese child pornography comic books, and masturbating to it. I'll write about that scandal separately, but Ritchie makes one point highly relevant here: that there are left-wing academics so far gone into the far reaches of space that they will even defend pedophilic scholarship because a Tory politician criticized it.
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Here's the question that torments me as I watch our civilization tumble into the gutter under the leadership of moral idiots: at what point do people like me come to hate what the West has become so much that we become indifferent to its defense? As much as I tell myself that I should stop trying to "shore up the imperium" -- and I do mean it to a certain extent -- the fact that I am still capable of getting fighting mad over the attack on a liberal writer by an Islamic fanatic tells me that I have not given up yet. The fact that I have lived this summer in one of the great capitals of Europe, and cherished its beautiful old buildings, its churches, and its culture, and would like to see them defended, tells me that it's not over yet. It might never be over, because what kind of man remains indifferent while his mother and father are bullied, beat up, and murdered by thieves and criminals?
Last word: you can get as mad as you want to about Viktor Orban's attitude toward migration, but what you cannot deny is that no Jews, liberal novelists, or any other people hated by Muslim fanatics have to fear for their lives in Hungary. The media won't tell you why that is. I just did.
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