Notes and Comment Blog

Rod Liddle on Rushdiephobia

Jun 22nd, 2007 11:59 am | By

Gorgeous. Someone gets it.

The decision to knight the author Salman Rushdie has brought together, in angry concordat, almost the entire world…Rushdie is loathed — and not just by the mediaevally minded bigots of Islamabad, Tehran and the Finsbury Park mosque. He seems to be loathed by everyone else, too. No sooner had his knighthood been announced than the British Right waded into attack….We give him expensive police protection when the mad mullahs order his death and he repays us by continuing to speak his mind. Beneath all this is the usually unspoken intimation of racism: Salman — well, he’s a darkie, isn’t he? A chippy little wog. Comes from Bombay or Mumbai or somewhere ghastly like that…The British Left hates him, if anything, even more. It has long carried a torch for Islam, despite the misogyny, homophobia and authoritarian impulses of the ideology.

And the death penalty for ‘apostasy’ and the slight huffiness about blasphemy and a few other not obviously left-wing details. It’s the great central mystery of our time, as far as I’m concerned, this inexplicable torch carried for Islam. Stalin, Islam – gee, parts of the left just don’t seem to have very good taste, do they.

Like most haggard and tired former commies, I have little time for the honours system; it’s an infantile, reflexive thing on my part, I suppose. Certainly I will be the first to show up with my bucket of ordure when some tenth-rate, brain-dead pop star or footballer or soap actor has a medal pinned on him out of the government’s desire to kowtow to public sensibilities.

Or, now you mention it, some tenth-rate head of a certain Council who gave it as his opinion that death was too good for Rushdie.

But if we are to have the honours, I find it difficult to think of anyone more deserving of a knighthood than Sir Salman Rushdie. While the rest of us were still worrying about the Cold War, Rushdie was warning us about the war yet to come. He addressed the Islamic revolution with sophistication, philosophical elegance and great literary inventiveness. And he did so with enormous courage and candour. He is perhaps Britain’s only writer who has successfully examined the soul of Islam and, in so doing, examined the soul of the West too…He has witnessed the most wretched of little political weasels, the likes of Keith Vaz, marching through the streets at the head of a throng of howling Muslim maniacs, demanding his book be burned.

Yes but – but – but – but he caused offence to the Muslim community! Don’t you understand, Mr Liddle? He caused offence. He caused the ‘spiritual leader’ of Iran to call for his murder – don’t you see how wicked that was? Are you blind? Are you an Orientalist? Or what are you altogether?

You’re one of the few people writing in the mainstream rags who gets it, that’s what. Have a chocolate; you deserve it.

Sympathy for the community

Jun 21st, 2007 5:37 pm | By

More sinister crap.

Jack Straw today sympathised with the hurt feelings of the Muslim community over the knighthood awarded to the author Salman Rushdie – and disclosed that he too is no fan of Sir Salman’s writing.

Ah – he too. He too like…? He too like Ijaz ul-Haq who thinks strapping on a bomb is the right response to novels one is not a fan of? He too like Khomeini who thought novelists who write novels unworthy of fandom should be murdered forthwith? Is that what Straw meant? If not, what did he mean? Well, maybe nothing, since maybe it was the reporter who put it that way. But why say it at all? An effort to throw a bone to a dog? ‘Well, dear members of the community, I can’t quite promise to snatch back the gong, or extradite Rushdie to Iran, or have him arrested and executed, but hey, at least I am no fan of his novels, so is that any help? Please say it is – I do so sympathize with the hurt feelings of the Muslim community over the knighthood awarded to Rushdie, and I do so long to cuddle the Muslim community until it stops crying.’

Why does he sympathize with the hurt feelings of the Muslim community over the knighthood awarded to Rushdie? No, really; why? What business do they have having hurt feelings about it at all? Why don’t they instead have abashed embarrassed exasperated feelings over 1) the attempts to get Rushdie killed and 2) the grossly disproportionate reaction to one passage in one novel? Well, some of them probably do, but you’d never know it to listen to all the moaning about hurt feelings and outrage and hoof huffff foomp waha.

Mr Straw…condemned the idea that Rushdie should be the subject of a revived fatwa, or Islamic death sentence, for the offence he caused to Muslims in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. But, questioned by MPs about concern in the Muslim community and asked how the knighthood came to be bestowed, Mr Straw said that he found Rushdie’s books heavy going.

So the Times can’t get it right either. The Times too says Rushdie caused offence to Muslims. Can no one over there get it right? Is there not one journalist in the UK who can manage to mention Rushdie without saying he caused the offence and the fatwa and global warming? (Yes, Johann Hari; any more?) Is there not one journalist in the UK who can dredge up a little skepticism about ‘concern in the Muslim community’? Concern about what, they don’t ask sharply – so let us ask it. Concern about what? About the fact that someone once wrote a novel that said something about the prophet that they don’t like, and to this day that someone has not been murdered or executed and now he even has a K? Is that what the concern is about? But given how obvious the stupidity of such concern is, why are MPs asking questions about it? Why aren’t they instead making statements about how footling it is, and then moving briskly on to other business?

Of course I understand the concerns and sensitivity in the community. That said there can be no justification whatever for suggestions that as a result of this a further fatwa should be placed on the life of Mr Rushdie.

Well you shouldn’t, Mr Straw – you shouldn’t understand the concerns and sensitivity in the community. They’re bad concerns, they’re not worth understanding, they have to be resisted and disputed, not understood. They’re wrong. They’re coercive, and dangerous, and wrong, and the more people understand them and sympathize with them and weep salt tears over them, the more coercive and dangerous they will become.

The Satanic Verses was condemned across the Islamic world on its publication and led to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issuing a fatwa, encouraging Muslims to kill the author.

The Satanic Verses was condemned across the Islamic world without having been read by most of that Islamic world, and it did not ‘lead to’ Khomeini issuing a fatwa, Khomeini did that of his own volition. (Either that or a buttefly made him do it; anyway it wasn’t Rushdie.)

Isn’t it kind of common knowledge to everyone who’s ever had or met a toddler, that you don’t make a big sympathetic fuss over every single whimper if you don’t want to end up with the Spoiled Monster From Hell who weighs 800 pounds and won’t leave? I’d have thought it was. So why is everyone falling over each other in the rush to treat ‘the Muslim community’ like the most demanding petulant screaming toddler that ever was on land or sea? I leave it to your wisdom to determine.

Rushdie has time to reconsider, BBC points out

Jun 20th, 2007 1:55 pm | By

This is the worst yet. Tendentious manipulative hostile language in every line. It defies belief. The damn BBC seems to be convinced that Rushdie committed a crime.

Salman Rushdie’s knighthood has provoked protests around the Islamic world and a diplomatic row. So how was the decision made, and why did no-one appear to consider the consequences?

See? There it is again – the knighthood ‘provoked’ protests. No it fucking didn’t – some mindless zealots and some political thugs keen to distract attention from their own real malfeasance decided to make a fuss; Salman Rushdie’s knighthood didn’t provoke anything. And what does ‘consider the consequences’ mean? Predict that mindless zealots would blow their tops again and that therefore an otherwise reasonable and desirable act should not be performed, because it’s always good to do what mindless zealots demand? What a stupid question. Why didn’t the BBC consider the consequences of publishing this horrible article?

The lengthy process involved makes it all the more surprising to critics that little consideration was given to a likely backlash.

Somebody should get a damn good thrashing, yes? The critics are quite right, yes?

[I]n Sir Salman’s case it looks as if his cheerleaders were the English branch of Pen, an international writers’ group.

Cheerleaders. Girly, overexcited, useless – not sober adults who seriously think Rushdie is at least as deserving of a K as Iqbal Sacranie, who said death was too good for him, was.

His book, The Satanic Verses, was seen as so offensive to Muslims that he was forced into hiding, under threat of death.

Seen by whom? Forced by whom? Threat of death from whom? What’s with all the passive voice and the anonymity? The mealy-mouthed belly-up excusing of a dictator putting out a hit on a citizen of a foreign country? I don’t suppose the BBC talked about Pinochet in this hyper-tactful way; why does it talk about Khomeni this way?

And then we get to Conservative MP Stewart Jackson.

“Salman Rushdie was subjected to one of the most famous death sentences in the 20th Century. If the senior officers of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were not able to use their knowledge of the Islamic world to consider the likely ramifications of this decision, then I’m extremely concerned.”

It wasn’t a death sentence, because Khomeini had no jurisdiction over Salman Rushdie; it was a contract, a hit, an incitement to murder. It’s staggering to see a Tory MP dressing up a mob hit in that way.

His objections to Sir Salman’s knighthood do not stop there. “He’s only semi-resident in this country and his books are rubbish, tedious and without literary merit. There’s no question that we can rescind the award, it would make us look weak and it’s not for Britain to kow-tow to extremists but perhaps it would be appropriate for Salman Rushdie to make the decision not to accept this award,” said Mr Jackson. That seems unlikely given Sir Salman’s initial reaction that was he “thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour”. He does, however, have time to reconsider since he is unlikely to be formally presented with the award by the Queen until the end of the year.

Thus Jenny Percival makes it clear that she thinks he should damn well step up to the plate.

Foul stuff.

More lefthand dreck

Jun 20th, 2007 11:19 am | By

Next round of sinister crap. (Who is this Michael White? Why have I never heard of him before? Why have none of you pointed him out to me before? He certainly seems obvious enough.)

So who is to blame for the latest blow to the fragile relations between Britain and two key Muslim states 19 years after The Satanic Verses earned its author that fatwa from Iran?

Isn’t that cute? Isn’t that just adorable? Someone is to blame for Rushdie’s gong; it is blow to the fragile relations between Britain and two key Muslim states; Rushdie’s novel earned its author that fatwa. That’s a lot of nasty stuff for one sentence.


Jun 20th, 2007 11:05 am | By

Man, there’s a lot of sinister crap out there today. From Bunglawala for instance, on his way to disavowing book-burning.

The Thatcher government had banned Peter Wright’s Spycatcher and had gone to court to prevent its distribution. Surely, Rushdie’s novel, which had caused such offence to hundreds of millions of believers, deserved a similar fate?

The Thatcher government didn’t ban Spycatcher because it ’caused such offence’ to anyone. That’s not to say it had good reasons, it’s just to say it had different ones. Much more to the point, what on earth does he mean, ’caused such offence to hundreds of millions of believers’? ‘Such’ as what, exactly? What ‘such’ does he have in mind? He must know perfectly well that the hundreds of millions of believers (if that many were offended; I’m not sure anyone made an actual count) didn’t all read the book, that in fact it’s probably a very small percentage that did. So what kind of ‘offence’ are we talking about exactly? What is it about that kind of offence that deserves the honorific intensifier ‘such’? In what way, exactly, does Bunglawala take the hundreds of millions of believers to have been offended? They were told that Badman Rushdie had written something blasphemous about the Prophet – is that the kind of offended he means? Well, if so, it’s a tad remote and third-hand and abstract, and it’s also highly dubious to say that Rushdie’s novel caused that. Rushdie didn’t go on a book tour beseeching imams to tell ‘believers’ that his book was blasphemous – did he? Not that I recall! And surely it would have come out if he had.

No, what Bunglawala is doing there is basically just a trick. A form of persuasion. He’s claiming that Rushdie’s novel caused ‘such offence’ to hundreds of millions of believers, in a bid for sympathy and respect and solidarity and concern, even though his claim is fundamentally flawed and manipulative. He sees the point of free speech now, good, but he’s still determined to revile Rushdie.

I remember being rather puzzled as to why Rushdie’s defenders were so vigorous in arguing for the right to offend Muslims. Muslims were not writing books making fun of Christ and other revered religious figures. It seemed to be a deliberate attempt to mock deeply held beliefs.

Did anyone argue anything so stupid? I don’t think so. I think Rushdie’s defenders argued for the right to offend anyone, including religious believers, including Muslims – I don’t think anyone argued for the right to offend Muslims in particular. But Bunglawala gets to plant his nasty little barb.

So on February 14 1989, when the Iranian Islamic leader, Imam Khomeini delivered his fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s death, I was truly elated. It was a very welcome reminder that British Muslims did not have to regard themselves just as a small, vulnerable minority; they were part of a truly global and powerful movement. If we were not treated with respect then we were capable of forcing others to respect us.

That’s not respect, Mr Bunglawala, that’s contempt. All you wretched deluded fools have succeeded in doing is forcing others to have contempt for you. The attitude of reasonable people toward a cleric who demands the murder of a citizen of a distant country (or his own for that matter) for writing a novel is profound, astonished, repelled contempt.

Rushdie sparked calls for his own execution – right?

Jun 19th, 2007 4:51 pm | By

The flattering descriptions continue. The BBC says Rushdie’s book ‘sparked worldwide protests’. The Guardian says ‘The Satanic Verses provoked the ire of many Muslims and led to the issuing of a fatwa,’ and still talks of a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s ‘execution,’ still says the book was ‘immediately condemned by the Islamic world’ (it’s hard to know what that last phrase even means – it sounds quite surreal). On BBC World News last night a reporter said Rushdie ‘affronted Muslim values’ by writing the book. Horrible, toadying stuff.

Lisa Appignanesi gives Priyamvada Gopal one in the eye though.

During the dark years of the Fatwa, Rushdie lent his fame to help less well-known writers around the world who suffered similar fates or found themselves persecuted either by states or religious hierarchies for their work. As a vice-president of English Pen, the world association of writers, and for some years president of American Pen, he worked indefatigably for the cause of free expression, joining with us here to combat the worst excesses of the government’s “religious hatred” legislation. Perhaps in awarding him this honour, the government has also come to recognise the crucial importance of a freedom which underpins so many others. Rushdie’s “services to literature” also extend to a singular generosity in helping young, and particularly Asian, writers make their way in what is often a difficult literary marketplace.

Universal values, universal liberal values, not western, not European, not white. Universal. Think about it, Priyamvada Gopal.

Haram or halal?

Jun 19th, 2007 4:28 pm | By

A terrible moment in Shiv Malik’s Prospect article on Siddique Khan. He’s talking to Khan’s brother, as he has several times before.

For some reason, I translated my usual question of whether he thought what his brother had done was “good” or “bad”—he had said that it was a terrible thing several times—and instead asked him whether he thought 7/7 was halal (permitted) or haram (forbidden) in Islam. Only when a look of stunned surprise come over Gultasab’s face did I realise that I must have been asking him an entirely different question. After a brief pause, he replied. “No comment.”

Here, it seemed, was the perfect example of the division between two worldviews—secular ethics and an embattled Islamic faith. How long had Gultasab managed to function with these two conflicting positions fighting within him? Everyday morality told him that his brother had committed a cold-blooded act of terror, while his own Islamic theology told him that there was no clear answer and maybe his brother was a hero. How many thousands of young British Muslims are similarly conflicted?

How’s that for a crystal-clear illustration of why secularism is essential? On the one hand, everyday morality: murdering a lot of random people and injuring a lot of others is a bad thing to do; on the other hand, Islamic theology: hmmmmmmmaybe not so bad. That other hand won’t do. That other hand has got to go. If Islamic theology says maybe maybe maybe mass murder is halal – then Islamic theology is dead wrong and must not be obeyed. It’s only if everyone accepts secularism – believers as well as non-believers, theists as well as atheists – that that principle can hold. If people reject secularism, then ‘theology’ can be permitted to trump both law and morality – and welcome to hell on earth.

There’s a choice bit in Siddique Khan’s horrible video that is another crystal-clear illustration.

Part two, which makes up three quarters of Khan’s speech, is addressed to Muslims in Britain. Here is an excerpt: “Our so-called scholars today are content with their Toyotas and semi-detached houses. They seem to think that their responsibilities lie in pleasing the kufr instead of Allah. So they tell us ludicrous things, like you must obey the law of the land. Praise be God! How did we ever conquer lands in the past if we were to obey this law?”

There’s another unpleasant example from Stop Honour Killings:

A man who raped a Muslim woman because she showed an interest in Christianity has been jailed for at least five years by a Sydney court…Al-Shawany’s trial was told that he visited the woman, an acquaintance, at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre with another man. The woman had been reading the Bible and Al-Shawany noted her contact with Christians. The men told her they were “infidel people” and if she went with them, her killing “would be halal” – meaning her killer would go to heaven.

Oh yes, and where would she go?

Not a good way to think. Stupid, of course, but also dangerous, ruthless, murderous, immoral – just no good. A kufr thing to say, but there you go.

How dare you knight the man we want killed?

Jun 18th, 2007 4:01 pm | By

I felt very close to losing my temper when reading this.

Also today, Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said many Muslims would regard the knighthood as the final insult from Tony Blair before he leaves office next week. “Salman Rushdie earned notoriety amongst Muslims for the highly insulting and blasphemous manner in which he portrayed early Islamic figures,” Dr Bari said. “The granting of a knighthood to him can only do harm to the image of our country in the eyes of hundreds of millions of Muslims across the world. Many will interpret the knighthood as a final contemptuous parting gift from Tony Blair to the Muslim world.”

Insult is it. Rushdie earned notoriety is it. Harm to our image is it. Contemptuous is it. What about the serious and dedicated effort to get the novelist murdered merely for writing a story about ‘early Islamic figures’ you contemptible apologist for theocratic tyranny? What about that? Eh? Eh? Why are you so worried about an award given to a novelist and so unworried by murder and attempted murder? Why do you have such a pathetic, ludicrous, immoral, twisted sense of priorities? What is the matter with you?

The Guardian does the vocabulary thing, of course. ‘The comments follow other condemnation of the award for Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses provoked worldwide protests over allegations that it insulted Islam.’ The novel ‘provoked’ protests. Bad novel, naughty Rushdie, provoking and insulting dear kind caring Dr Bari and his hundreds of millions of friends.

What they’ve assented to

Jun 18th, 2007 3:20 pm | By


Sir Salman, on the other hand, is partly the creation of the fatwa…The Sir Salman recognised for his services to literature is certainly no neocon but is iconic of a more pernicous trend: liberal literati who have assented to the notion that humane values, tolerance and freedom are fundamentally western ideas that have to be defended as such.

No he isn’t, no he doesn’t, no they haven’t. That’s crap. What they’ve assented to (the liberal ones – if they haven’t they’re not liberal) is the opposite: that humane values, tolerance and freedom are universal ideas that have to be defended as such, and that claiming they are a monopoly of any one region or nation or ethnic group is highly illiberal as well as dangerous.

Straw phrase? Broken-backed emollient?

Jun 17th, 2007 9:33 am | By

You know those phrases that are notoriously unconvincing and self-serving – so much so that they form a category, which people recognize? Phrases that are meant to reassure but don’t because they are so transparent? You know the ones I mean. The one I’ve been pondering is ‘It’s not personal’ – used about an obvious, blatant insult or rejection or exclusion or other bit of invidious treatment. The others I’ve been able to think of are ‘The check is in the mail.’ ‘Don’t worry, I’ll pull out in time.’ ‘It’s okay, I’ve had a vasectomy.’ ‘The donation in no way influences my vote.’ ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’

Does that genre have a name? And what are some others? There must be others, but I don’t seem to know of any.

Who offended whom?

Jun 17th, 2007 9:12 am | By

The BBC keeps doing things like this.

Iran has criticised the British government for its decision to give a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie. His book The Satanic Verses offended Muslims worldwide and led to Iran issuing a fatwa in 1989, ordering Sir Salman’s execution.

It’s terribly misleading to say that Rushdie’s novel ‘offended Muslims worldwide’ without qualification. There’s an enormous amount wrong with that offhand statement. One, many and probably most people who were ‘offended’ by Rushdie’s novel never read it, so the simple and active phrasing there – his book offended Muslims – is just inaccurate. An accurate version would be something more like ‘some Muslims were offended by what they heard or were told about Rushdie’s novel and by the fact that he had written it.’ Yes but they don’t have the space to say that in the second sentence. Okay, but if they don’t have the space, they shouldn’t say anything – they shouldn’t say something grossly and tendentiously misleading instead, especially not about someone who is under a standing death threat for doing the very thing they described so ineptly and inaccurately. What they do by phrasing it that way is half-endorse the attitude of the people who issued the fatwa, and they really ought not to do that on the basis of bad sloppy inaccurate phrasing.

How I wish I were their editor. How I wish I could sub their pieces; I would take stuff like that out.

Two, they also shouldn’t say the book offended Muslims in that straightforward way: the offense, like the offense over the Danish cartoons, was not spontaneous or instantaneous, it was worked up; it was decidedly not a matter of Muslims in general taking one look and swelling with outrage. Third, they really shouldn’t say the book ‘led to Iran issuing a fatwa’ as if Rushdie had brought the fatwa on himself and as if Khomeini had no choice in the matter. (Have I quarreled with them for this before? I think so.) And they shouldn’t say ‘execution’ as if Iran had some judicial right to ‘order’ it! The word is murder, not execution.

Frances Harrison did something similar in a World Service report on the same subject – she referred to ‘the Danish cartoons that insulted the prophet’ – as if that were the commonplace and straightforward description of the cartoons. Well it’s not! The cartoons were of the prophet, but they were far from all insulting, in fact none of them were really except possibly the bomb in the turban one, which can also be read as about the hijacking of the prophet by bomb-lovers. Yet there is Harrison reinforcing the outrage by being inaccurate.

They keep, keep, keep doing this. Why? Just sucking up? Just not wanting to piss off Tariq Ramadan any further? Not wanting to seem ‘Islamophobic’? Who knows.

There’s this familiar little bit of icing at the end, too – ‘in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s spiritual leader, issued a fatwa.’ ‘Spiritual leader’ – you mean theocratic dictator. I wish they would stop with that spiritual leader crap. I’m tired of hearing about the ‘spiritual leader’ of Hamas and the ‘spiritual leader’ of Hizbollah and the ‘spiritual leader’ of the Muslim Brotherhood. I’m sick of all this wretched slavish prettying-up. It’s not pretty. Homicidal rage at novels and novelists is not pretty, fatwas ordering murder are not pretty, theocratic thugs are not pretty.

Save poor Denmark

Jun 16th, 2007 1:25 pm | By

So missionaries from the Third World are coming to Europe to convert the heathen to Christianity. Very droll.

Denmark is a wealthy nation of 5.5 million people that always scores near the top of surveys of the world’s happiest nations. To Johansen, the problem is clear: “We’re just too well-off in Europe.”…Johansen’s work takes him all over the world, he said, and he has noticed much stronger religious faith in poorer societies…”We’re basically rich and spoiled.”

So…religious ‘faith’ correlates with poverty and the absence of it correlates with prosperity and happiness – and that’s a problem for the people who are prosperous and happy? I wonder if it occurs to Johansen that one could interpret the correlation in another way – that poor people need the consolations of ‘faith’ more than prosperous and happy people do, and that the absence of ‘faith’ is not in fact a problem at all.

Do me a favour

Jun 14th, 2007 2:23 pm | By

Good old Vatican. Not that there’s anything surprising about it, but good old Vatican all the same. Grown women, who cares; pre-conscious insentient fetuses, all-important. So the woman was raped, so what; she has to have that baby!

A thought experiment. Not the kidney one, a different (though similar) one. A woman is newly pregnant against her will; she doesn’t approve of abortion and isn’t going to have one. She discovers the fetus has a very rare disease which is quickly fatal unless the fetus can be removed and implanted in a compatible host; such hosts are very rare but can be found via a computer search of a medical database. A compatible host is found. Is it murder if she refuses to be an actual host? Not just that – would anyone even think she had a very strong duty to be a host? Would anyone even think she had a weak duty?

I say no. Hardly anyone would think that. (Perhaps I’m underestimating the obsession with the fetus.) So the difference must be that in the usual case, the fetus exists because its mother had sex with a man. Why is that a kind of difference that makes a difference?

Okay put it more charitably, and emotively. The difference is because the fetus belongs to the person whose uterus it is in. But she’s the one who doesn’t want it. The Vatican perhaps thinks she ought to want it. But – is it really the Vatican’s business who loves whom, who wants whom? If the objects of the loving or wanting are not the kind of entities we otherwise think are owed occupancy of our bodies?

Family values

Jun 14th, 2007 10:56 am | By

Brian Whitaker on ‘family values’.

I always find it strange that when President Bush talks about spreading freedom in the Middle East he automatically focuses on authoritarian regimes…Yes, the regimes are a problem but families are the most basic unit of government in the region; at a day-to-day level, they are also the main instrument of tyranny and the biggest obstacle to personal liberty. I have lost count of the times I have sat in cafes – in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus and similar places – listening to complaints about the suffocating influence, not of the government, but of fathers, uncles, brothers and cousins.

Whitaker notes that Bush skips lightly over authoritarian regimes that are US-friendly, though he doesn’t actually spell out the words S-a-u-d-i A-r-a-b-i-a. But anyway, too right about families (not that Bush would ever say so, of course, being a family values kind of guy, as well he might be, since without family connections he would be the affable local drunk, not the most powerful man in the world). Families are indeed the bedrock sources of tyranny and obstacles to freedom, especially (obviously) for women. In many ways, blocking the freedom of women is what families are for.

The MCB condemned ‘honour’ killing in 2003. It said a couple of, um, interesting things in the process though.

In various countries throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East and parts of South Asia, women who bring dishonor to their families because of sexual indiscretions are forced to pay a terrible price at the hands of male family members.

Note the assumption that women do in fact bring dishonor to their families because of sexual indiscretions; note the assumption that what women do sexually is their families’ business – without any stipulation or limit, so that it applies not just to married women but to all women, so that it could include adult single women living on their own. Note the assumption that, like Islam, a family is something you’re not allowed to opt out of or leave or even be slightly independent of; note the assumption that women belong to their families and that what they do ‘brings’ things to their families. Note the claustrophobia, note the complete absence of freedom and autonomy, note the prison bars.

Islam is clear on its prohibition of sexual relationships outside of marriage. This prohibition does not distinguish between men and women…In order for a case to even be brought before a Muslim court, several strict criteria must be met. The most important is that any accusation of illicit sexual behavior must have been seen by four witnesses; and they must have been witness to the act of sexual intercourse itself.

And that applies to rape too – which of course means that women bound by these laws can’t ever prosecute a rapist. (What rapist would be insane enough ever to allow the number of spectators to swell to four?! They never ever invite more than three people to watch; if one brings along a buddy from work, no use, he can’t stay, no matter how hard he begs.) That’s not such a ‘progressive’ or compassionate rule as the MCB makes it sound.

Inspector Plod

Jun 12th, 2007 10:10 am | By

Oh dear – they messed that up.

Banaz Mahmod made no secret of her belief that her father wanted to kill her. She was in hospital, nursing wounds incurred in an escape from him, when her boyfriend recorded a video of her…Ms Mahmod also told police, four times, that she feared for her life and produced a list of three men she believed would murder her – but all to no avail…It emerged during the trial that a female police officer concluded Ms Mahmod had made up her story to get her boyfriend’s attention.

Oh well, we all make mistakes.

The campaign of intimidation against Ms Mahmod began when she met the man who was to become her boyfriend, Rahmat Sulemani, after fleeing an abusive, two-year arranged marriage, which had been punctuated by beatings and sexual violence…When word of the affair started getting back to Mahmod’s “controlling, powerful” brother Ari that the couple had been seen out together, a family “council of war” was held. But the decision about what to do had apparently already been taken. A day before, Ari telephoned Amir Abbas Ibrahim, an associate in Birmingham, to arrange for the burial of Banaz’s body.

Quick off the mark, aren’t they. ‘Hey look, there’s Banaz with a man – right, we’ll have to kill her; phone Amir to fix the burial.’

Mahmod tried to kill his daughter first on New Year’s Eve 2005, when he lured her to her grandmother’s house and forced her to drink brandy, but she ran away. Afterwards she collapsed and was taken to hospital. She refused to leave the ambulance at first, insisting her father was trying to kill her and, once in hospital, recorded the message. When asked to investigate, PC Cornes was more concerned with a window broken as Ms Mahmod escaped from the house, and wanted to charge her with criminal damage.

Well hey, what’s more important, a woman’s life, or a window?

Ms Mahmod thought she would be safe at home because her mother was there. The next day, when her parents went out, the men were able to come to the family home and murder her…The campaign group the Southall Black Sisters has demanded an investigation by the IPCC…One Metropolitan Police officer said last night the initial handling of the case had set back by 25 years the Met’s efforts to encourage victims of crime to come forward.

Especially if they have the bad luck to break a window when escaping.

All the hornets

Jun 12th, 2007 9:15 am | By

Anthony Grayling considers the squawks of the offended believers.

To the annoyance of many, the alarm of some, and the satisfaction of others, the half dozen books recently published that powerfully set out the case against religion and religious beliefs – books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Michel Onfray – have all sold in large numbers…The appearance of these books shows that the immunity of religion to forthright questioning and challenge is over, and with it its claim to automatic respect, privilege, sensitive handling and a place at the high table of politics and public life….The hard truths spoken about it in these books and the public debate surrounding them are as genies freed from the bottle: they cannot be put back.

I do hope he’s right about that – and it does seem like the kind of thing that’s hard to put back. Once it’s out, well, it’s out. It’s hard to unknow it.

A trawl along the shelves of any major bookstore is enough to reveal the vast output of every conceivable specimen of religious view, though admittedly much of it consists of saccharine would-be uplift merely. There they are in their dozens and score and hundreds, where is the outrage, the condemnation, the complaining about this? Non-religious people simply ignore such books…Yet a mere half dozen anti-religious tomes have stirred up all the hornets in their nests, have offended and outraged the devout, and between them have exposed religious claims and beliefs for what they are.

It is quite funny when you think about it. It’s not as if Dawkins and Dennett and Grayling himself have been pitching huge fits in the Guardian for decades at every single religious book that is published. It’s not as if they’ve been screeching that theists are cowardly and pretentious and jowly and ageing all this time. But six measly anti-theist books, and my god you’d think they were advocating child porn spiced up with a spot of priest-murder. In short, there’s a major double standard in operation here. The books packed full of bullshit get a free pass, the ones pointing out that it’s all bullshit are treated to a chorus of screams and imprecations. Uh – it should be the other way around, you know?

What happened to secularism?

Jun 10th, 2007 1:33 pm | By

Sue Blackmore is right.

“Religious faith is not inconsistent with reason.” I nearly choked on my breakfast when I heard this on the Today programme. These words were spoken by Mr Blair, in his inimitably sincere style. He was addressing an Islamic conference in London, on June 4…But religious faith is inconsistent with reason (and much more that we value as well)…Faith is corrosive to the human mind. If someone genuinely believes that it is right to believe things without reason or evidence then they are open to every kind of dogma, whim, coercion, or dangerous infectious idea that’s around. If someone is convinced that it is acceptable to base their beliefs on what is written in an ancient book, or what some teacher tells them they must believe, then they will have no true freedom of thought; they will be trapped by their faith into inconsistency and untruths because they are unable to throw out false ideas when evidence against them comes along.

The usual reply to that (along with a lot of abuse and random insult about aging and fundamentalism and jowls) is that there are plenty of rational people who have religious faith. The reply to that, I think, is ‘Yes, maybe, but only to the extent that they don’t allow the ‘faith’ to transfer to anything other than religion, which condition itself means that faith is not consistent with reason.’ The two have to be kept firmly separated for reason to be reason (and faith to be faith), and that surely means that they’re not compatible, not that they are.

[U]niversities should be teaching people how to think, question, and understand these things, not to have faith in “truths” proclaimed without reason or evidence. Tony Blair pronounces the word “faith” with just that touch of special reverence in his voice, as though it were something to respect, something we should admire in others and grant them licence to believe whatever they want on its account. Indeed he proclaimed that the conference was “an opportunity to listen; to hear Islam’s true voice; to welcome and appreciate them; and in doing so, to join up with all those who believe in a world where religious faith is respected”. How despicable. How creepy. How frightening when we see the dire consequences of faith-based actions all around us…I, for one, do not want to live in a world where religious faith is respected…[O]ur great universities should continue to teach people to think for themselves, to respect the truth, and to take nothing on faith.

Exactly, about that touch of special reverence in the voice. That’s what the word ‘faith’ is for, really: to summon up that creepy tone of voice. The hell with that.

Blair says some very dubious things in that speech.

We have successful Muslims in all areas of our national life – business, sport, media, culture, the professions. We have our first Muslim MPs, first Muslim Members of the House of Lords; hopefully the next election will bring more and hopefully also the first women Muslim MPs.

That’s a bizarre thing to hope. Does he hope the next election will bring more Sikh MPs? More Hindus? More Jains? More Shintoists? Mormons? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Baptists? Mennonites? Dukhobors? Orthodox Jews? Catholics? Christians?

Probably not. But then why more Muslims? Because he’s treating them as a minority group, excuse me a minority community, rather than (or as well as) adherents of a religion. But he shouldn’t do that, because that causes him to say there should be more adherents of a particular religion in Parliament, and that’s an anti-secular suggestion if I ever heard one.

In the face of so much high profile accorded to religious extremism, to schism, and to confrontation, it is important to show that religious faith is not inconsistent with reason, or progress, or the celebration of diversity. Religious faith has much to contribute to the public sphere; is still a thriving part of what makes a cohesive community; is a crucial motivator of millions of citizens around the world; and is an essential if non-governmental way of helping to make society work. To lose that contribution would not just be a pity; it would be a huge backward step.

Another anti-secular suggestion, to put it mildly.

There is also a clear move across the world to assert strongly the moderate and true authority of Islam. In Jordan, in 2004, under the leadership of HM King Abdullah, a statement, the Amman Message was released seeking to declare what Islam is and what it is not, and how it should be manifested. I was deeply impressed when, the next year, the King convened 200 leading scholars from no less than 50 countries, who unanimously – unanimously – issued a Declaration on 3 basic issues: the validity of different Islamic schools of thought and theology; the forbidding of declarations of apostasy between Muslims; and criteria for the issuing of fatwas – religious edicts – to pre-empt the spawning of illegitimate versions.

What does he mean the true authority of Islam? Why is he talking admiringly about the authority of a religion? Why is he impressed by that Declaration? What about declarations of apostasy between Muslims and non-Muslims or ex-Muslims? Why is he validating the idea of fatwas at all, however criteria-bound they are?

Also in 2005, the summit meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference issued a declaration and a 10-year action plan. The summit reaffirmed Islam as a religion of moderation and modernity. It rejected bigotry and extremism. It supported work to establish the values of Islam as those of understanding, tolerance, dialogue and multilateralism.

That’s not all the OIC did in 2005. Furthermore – Blair neglects to mention the little matter of the Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. Well he ought to. The whole damn speech is evasive that way. Flattering, obsequious, and evasive. He ought not to do that.


Jun 9th, 2007 10:35 am | By

A personal note for once. Irony-free; soppy; mawkish, even. A side of me you don’t know. Never mind – this is both public and personal, so I want to go with it.

Bad. Ashes on head department. Sniffing; closing throat; more sniffing; eyes filling; another kleenex gone. Bad, bad, bad news. Horrible news. (I let out such an outraged pained ‘No!’ when I heard it…)

At the Woodland Park Zoo, it was like a death in the family. Plainly distraught, even barely able to speak at times for choking back tears, zoo administrators announced the death of 6 ½-year-old elephant Hansa, who was found dead in her stall Friday, her mother standing by her side.

I watched them on the local news last night, and it’s true: they could barely talk, they kept losing it, I’m losing it in remembering them losing it. Don’t laugh – elephants are like that. Elephants are like that, and as for a six-year-old elephant you saw being born and taking her first steps and going for her first swim – well.

And her mother was standing by her side when the keeper found her. I wondered where Chai was; now I know: standing next to her. [pause to get another kleenex]

The thing is, I know Chai; I used to be one of her keepers, when she was younger than Hansa was yesterday. Chai was one of my babies, so I was very caught up in the whole exciting (and quite dangerous) adventure of her trip to Dickerson Park Zoo in St Louis to breed, and her long gestation, and the birth, and Hansa’s adorable infancy. Elephant breeding is very difficult; we used to discuss it a lot when I was there, when the new facility was being planned; it was very worrying having four cows and not breeding any of them. So Hansa’s birth was a colossal triumph, in all sorts of ways – for conservation, for good zoo practice, for the survival of both Chai and Hansa. So it’s a terrible, heartbreaking, shattering disappointment.

But it’s also just plain personal. Elephants are like that. Elephants are special – that’s not news. They’re complicated, they’re affectionate, they’re tall; you bond with them. Take my word for it. I’ve worked with them – I’ve given them baths, taken them for walks, ridden on their backs, scratched their tongues (they like that), played hide and seek with them. You bond with them.

Chai was a great kid. A bit of a knot-head: she had a habit of bolting when we took her for walks, which was very bad and worrying, because of course it’s terribly dangerous, and if we couldn’t get her out of the habit she wouldn’t be able to leave the yard for walks, and that would not be good. But she was a great kid all the same, and she turned out to be a great adult. Now she’s lost her Hansa. Elephants are very, very devoted. It’s just horrible.

I hate to think of the keepers. I know most of them, and I hate to think of them. I used to creep myself out occasionally, imagining being the first one into the barn in the morning (as I usually was) and finding one of the ‘phants dead. Yesterday one of the keepers had that experience. I keep imagining it. You’d know right away – you never ever ever come in to find any elephants asleep on the floor; not ever; they’re always up and milling around and when you come in they rumble and trumpet. (Rumbling is a sound they make up inside their heads, a little like purring; strangers think it’s growling but it’s not, it’s pleasure and greeting.) To come into the barn and find an elephant lying still on the floor – well there would be little room for doubt.

I heard of a headstone inscription on the radio once: ‘It is a fearful thing to love that which death can touch.’ It is.

Hey, that man made disparaging remarks

Jun 8th, 2007 1:34 pm | By

Is this funny, or alarming? Or is it both?

A Pentecostal teaching assistant who quit her job at a foundation primary school after she was disciplined for refusing to hear a child read a Harry Potter book is seeking compensation for religious discrimination. She claimed that the book glorified witchcraft. Sariya Allen…claims Durand primary school in Stockwell discriminated against her as a born-again Christian and put her at a disadvantage compared with teaching assistants who were not of her faith.

The child needed a more demanding book, she got a Harry Potter out, ‘but Ms Allen refused to listen to her reading it because God had stated in the Bible that witchcraft was “an abomination”.’

She claims that at a subsequent meeting, the first assistant headteacher, Mark McLaughlin, criticised her as “obstructive” for refusing to hear the child read the book. She also claims he “rubbished” her faith and made disparaging remarks about Christian assemblies in schools. “He was saying it’s just my interpretation of the Bible and my view. He said ‘these are your views and you’re a minority because of these’. He thought I was quite extreme because I’m a born-again Christian. I’m a committed Christian,” she said…She is being represented at the tribunal by Andrew Otchie, a barrister who was a candidate for the Christian Peoples Alliance in the 2005 general election. He said her “novel and interesting” case was one of a very few to allege religious discrimination against a Christian since the regulations banning discrimination on faith grounds came into force in 2003.

Well, it’s alarming if it has any traction. If it’s ‘discrimination’ to refuse to take the Bible as a valid and ungainsayable guide to conduct, then that’s alarming. Let’s hope the south London employment tribunal in Croydon has better sense than that.

Barmaid gets Jesus

Jun 8th, 2007 1:16 pm | By

The barmaid is starting to get to Jesus, it seems.

She was talking about the problem of suffering and the existence of an omnipotent and loving God. If God can’t stop the suffering, then he isn’t omnipotent. If he can but doesn’t, he isn’t very loving.

So Jesus gets on the Internet to look for some arguments. He finds Richard Swinburne. He has mixed feelings. He thinks Swinburne’s view is kind of disgusting. I know what he means!

A reader pointed out, giggling gently, that either the barmaid or Jesus has apparently been reading B&W again. Don’t I feel useful.