“You will sooner or later pay for your pack of lies,” read one threatening message last week. It went to the author of a just-released book in Canada titled The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change. In it, Irshad Manji, 34, explores such usually-taboo themes as antisemitism, slavery, and the inferior treatment of women with what she calls an “utmost honesty.” “Grow up!” she scolds Muslims. “And take responsibility for our role in what ails Islam.”
Although a television journalist and personality, Manji – a practicing Muslim – brings real insight to her subject. “I appreciate that every faith has its share of literalists. Christians have their Evangelicals. Jews have the ultra-Orthodox. For God’s sake, even Buddhists have fundamentalists. But what this book hammers home is that only in Islam is literalism mainstream.”
For her efforts, Manji has been called “self-hating,” “irrelevant,” “a Muslim sellout” and a “blasphemer.” She is accused of both “denigrating Islam” and dehumanizing Muslims. This outpouring of hostility prompted Manji to hire a guard and install bullet-proof glass in her house. The Toronto police acknowledge “a very high level of awareness” about her security.
Manji’s predicament is unfortunately all-too-typical of what courageous, moderate, modern Muslims face when they speak out against the scourge of militant Islam. Her experience echoes the threats against the lives of such writers as Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen.
And non-Muslims wonder why anti-Islamist Muslims in western Europe and North America are so quiet?
Anti-Islamist Muslims – who wish to live modern lives, unencumbered by burqas, fatwas, and jihad – are on the defensive and atomized. However eloquent, their individual voices cannot compete with the roar of militant Islam’s determination, money, and violence. As a result, militant Islam, with its West-phobia and goal of world hegemony, dominates Islam in the West and appears to many to be the only kind of Islam.
But anti-Islamist Muslims not only exist; in the two years since 9/11, they have increasingly found their voice. They are a varied lot who share neither a single approach nor one agenda. Some are pious, some not, and others are freethinkers or atheists. Some are conservative, others liberal. They share only a hostility to the Wahhabi, Khomeini, and other forms of militant Islam.
They are starting to produce books that challenge the Islamists’ totalitarian vision. Abdelwahab Meddeb of the Sorbonne wrote the evocatively titled Malady of Islam in which he compares militant Islam to Nazism. Akbar Ahmed of American University wrote Islam Under Siege, calling for Muslims to respect non-Muslims.
Other outspoken academics include Saadollah Ghaussy formerly of Sophia University in Tokyo, Husain Haqqani of the Brookings Institution, Salim Mansur of the University of Western Ontario, and Khaleel Mohammad of San Diego State University.
Journalists such as Tashbih Sayyid of Pakistan Today and Stephen Schwartz of The Weekly Standard are on the front lines against militant Islam in the United States, as is the writer Khalid Dur├?┬ín. Tahir Aslam Gora has the same role in Canada. The ex-Muslim who goes by the pseudonym Ibn Warraq has written a series of books intended to embolden Muslims to question their faith.
A number of organizations are anti-Islamist, including the Islamic Supreme Council of America, the Council for Democracy and Tolerance, the American Islamic Congress, and Shi’ite organizations, such the Society for Humanity and Islam in America. A number of Turkish organizations have a determinedly secular cast, including the Atat├?┬╝rk Society and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations.
Some anti-Islamists have acquired public roles. Ayaan Hirsi Ali in Holland, who has called Islam a “backward” religion, is a member of the Dutch parliament. Naser Khader in Denmark is also a member of parliament and a secularist who calls for full Muslim integration with the Danes.
The weak standing of anti-Islamist Muslims has two major implications.
Promoting anti-Islamists and weakening Islamists is crucial if a moderate and modern form of Islam is to emerge in the West.