EMAIL PAGE NINE
COLUMN SIXTY-SEVEN, JANUARY 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz)
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SAYS ISLAM SHOULDN't FEAR MODERNITY
Salman Rushdie: Yes, This Is About Islam
Date: Fri, 2 Nov 2001 19:22:07 -0800 (PST)
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This Is About Islam
-- "This isn't about Islam." The world's leaders have been repeating
this mantra for weeks, partly in the virtuous hope of deterring reprisal attacks
on innocent Muslims living in the West, partly because if the United States is
to maintain its coalition against terror it can't afford to suggest that Islam
and terrorism are in any way related.
trouble with this necessary disclaimer is that it isn't true. If this isn't
about Islam, why the worldwide Muslim demonstrations in support of Osama bin
the routine anti-Semitism of the much-repeated Islamic slander that "the
Jews" arranged the hits on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, with
the oddly self-deprecating explanation offered by the Taliban leadership, among
others, that Muslims could not have the technological know-how or organizational
sophistication to pull off such a feat? Why does Imran Khan, the Pakistani
ex-sports star turned politician, demand to be shown the evidence of Al Qaeda's
guilt while apparently turning a deaf ear to the self-incriminating statements
of Al Qaeda's own spokesmen (there will be a rain of aircraft from the skies,
course this is "about Islam." The question is, what exactly does that
mean? After all, most religious belief isn't very theological. Most Muslims are
not profound Koranic analysts. For a vast number of "believing" Muslim
men, "Islam" stands, in a jumbled, half-examined way, not only for the
fear of God'the fear more than the love, one suspects?but also for a
cluster of customs, opinions and prejudices that include their dietary
practices; the sequestration or near-sequestration of "their" women;
the sermons delivered by their mullahs of choice; a loathing of modern society
in general, riddled as it is with music, godlessness and sex; and a more
particularized loathing (and fear) of the prospect that their own immediate
surroundings could be taken over---"Westoxicated"?--by the liberal
Western-style way of life.
motivated organizations of Muslim men (oh, for the voices of Muslim women to be
heard!) have been engaged over the last 30 years or so in growing radical
political movements out of this mulch of "belief." These Islamists?--we
must get used to this word, "Islamists," meaning those who are engaged
upon such political projects, and learn to distinguish it from the more general
and politically neutral "Muslim"--?include the Muslim Brotherhood in
Egypt, the blood-soaked combatants of the Islamic Salvation Front and Armed
Islamic Group in Algeria, the Shiite revolutionaries of Iran, and the Taliban.
Poverty is their great helper, and the fruit of their efforts is paranoia. This
paranoid Islam, which blames outsiders, "infidels," for all the ills
of Muslim societies, and whose proposed remedy is the closing of those societies
to the rival project of modernity, is presently the fastest growing version of
Islam in the world.
is not wholly to go along with Samuel Huntington's thesis about the clash of
civilizations, for the simple reason that the Islamists' project is turned not
only against the West and "the Jews," but also against their fellow
Islamists. Whatever the public rhetoric, there's little love lost between the
Taliban and Iranian regimes. Dissensions between Muslim nations run at least as
deep, if not deeper, than those nations' resentment of the West. Nevertheless,
it would be absurd to deny that this self-exculpatory, paranoiac Islam is an
ideology with widespread appeal.
years ago, when I was writing a novel about power struggles in a fictionalized
Pakistan, it was already de rigueur in the Muslim world to blame all its
troubles on the West and, in particular, the United States. Then as now, some of
these criticisms were well-founded; no room here to rehearse the geopolitics of
the cold war and America's frequently damaging foreign policy "tilts,"
to use the Kissinger term, toward (or away from) this or that temporarily useful
(or disapproved-of) nation-state, or America's role in the installation and
deposition of sundry unsavory leaders and regimes. But I wanted then to ask a
question that is no less important now: Suppose we say that the ills of our
societies are not primarily America's fault, that we are to blame for our own
failings? How would we understand them then? Might we not, by accepting our own
responsibility for our problems, begin to learn to solve them for ourselves?
Muslims, as well as secularist analysts with roots in the Muslim world, are
beginning to ask such questions now. In recent weeks Muslim voices have
everywhere been raised against the obscurantist hijacking of their religion.
Yesterday's hotheads (among them Yusuf Islam, a k a Cat Stevens) are improbably
repackaging themselves as today's pussycats.
Iraqi writer quotes an earlier Iraqi satirist: "The disease that is in us,
is from us." A British Muslim writes, "Islam has become its own
enemy." A Lebanese friend, returning from Beirut, tells me that in the
aftermath of the attacks on Sept. 11, public criticism of Islamism has become
much more outspoken. Many commentators have spoken of the need for a Reformation
in the Muslim world.
reminded of the way noncommunist socialists used to distance themselves from the
tyrannical socialism of the Soviets; nevertheless, the first stirrings of this
counterproject are of great significance. If Islam is to be reconciled with
modernity, these voices must be encouraged until they swell into a roar. Many of
them speak of another Islam, their personal, private faith.
restoration of religion to the sphere of the personal, its depoliticization, is
the nettle that all Muslim societies must grasp in order to become modern.
only aspect of modernity interesting to the terrorists is technology, which they
see as a weapon that can be turned on its makers. If terrorism is to be
defeated, the world of Islam must take on board the secularist-humanist
principles on which the modern is based, and without which Muslim countries'
freedom will remain a distant dream.
[Salman Rushdie is the author, most recently, of "Fury: A Novel."] ##
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