Strident Shmident

Well, we’re doomed anyway. There are Pakistan’s nukes, and Iran’s potential nukes, and, Karl tells me, Saudi Arabia’s potential nukes – my head hurts. And that’s not to mention North Korea whose nukes are probably pointed directly at my desk. And never even mind all that because with that Siberian peat bog the size of Germany and France combined melting and releasing billions of tons of methane – warming will be drastically speeded up and there is nothing we can do about it. Floods, droughts, crop failures, famines, migrations of peoples, food wars…(And there’s that pandemic lurking, don’t forget that.)

So maybe it would make sense to just shrug and start eating a lot of ice cream while awaiting the end. Maybe it would. But – but who knows, maybe there will be a Miracle and the human species will turn some sort of corner and start acting as if it has a shred of sense. So maybe it’s worthwhile to keep trying to help direct traffic. Anyway it’s less boring than waiting.

Right, so what’s the first thing I heard when I turned on the radio this morning? (I wonder if I’m always going to wake up at 4 a.m. on Thursdays now. I happened to do that five weeks ago, and got such a shock when I turned on the radio that it probably imprinted a little atomic clock in my brain.) I’ll tell you what it was – a piece on the World Service about Salman Rushdie’s article in the Times about the need for a reform movement in Islam. The religion correspondent Jane Little called it ‘strident’ and then without pausing to draw breath, rushed to say ‘But we have to put it in context’ and then rushed on to explain what she meant by ‘in context’: Rushdie is ‘hardly a respected figure in the Muslim world,’ so Muslims won’t be much impressed by what he has to say, they’ll just say he’s just showing his liberal secular values.

In other words, it was disgusting, contemptible, anti-rational, hostile, slavish garbage. What does she mean ‘strident’? Read the article – what’s ‘strident’ about it? Unless you just start from the default position that religious fundamentalism is a fine thing and any kind of rational questioning of it is bad and ‘strident.’ But what is a BBC journalist doing starting from a default position like that?

And then there was the edge of contempt in her voice and choice of words – ‘Rushdie is hardly a respected figure in the Muslim world’. Meaning – what? Therefore he should shut up about ‘the Muslim world’? Because – ? Because one branch of it wants to kill him? Therefore he has no business voicing criticism of it? It’s hard not to think that’s what she’s saying. But that’s imbecilic – and submissive. Rushdie is more entitled and qualified than most people to criticise Islam, precisely because one branch of it wants to kill him – wants to (and does) shut up people who criticise it. That’s a dead giveaway that there is something badly wrong with it, and that it needs all the criticism it can get, all the more so from people with direct knowledge of its intimidation techniques. Yet Jane Little’s tone and choice of words conveyed the exact opposite. And then note the assumption that the entire ‘Muslim world’ is as obscurantist as the pro-fatwa crowd – which is pretty insulting.

Strident. Let’s hear some stridency.

However, this is the same Sacranie who, in 1989, said that “Death is perhaps too easy” for the author of “The Satanic Verses.” Tony Blair’s decision to knight him and treat him as the acceptable face of “moderate,” “traditional” Islam is either a sign of his government’s penchant for religious appeasement or a demonstration of how limited Blair’s options really are…Two weeks later his organization boycotted a Holocaust remembrance ceremony in London commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz 60 years ago. If Sir Iqbal Sacranie is the best Blair can offer in the way of a good Muslim, we have a problem.

So has Jane Little called Sacranie strident, I wonder? If not, why not? Which of the two is actually strident?

The Sacranie case illustrates the weakness of the Blair government’s strategy of relying on traditional, essentially orthodox Muslims to help eradicate Islamist radicalism. Traditional Islam is a broad church that certainly includes millions of tolerant, civilized men and women but also encompasses many whose views on women’s rights are antediluvian, who think of homosexuality as ungodly, who have little time for real freedom of expression, who routinely express anti-Semitic views and who, in the case of the Muslim diaspora, are — it has to be said — in many ways at odds with the Christian, Hindu, non-believing or Jewish cultures among which they live…What is needed is a move beyond tradition — nothing less than a reform movement to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadist ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows to let in much-needed fresh air…It is high time, for starters, that Muslims were able to study the revelation of their religion as an event inside history, not supernaturally above it.

No no. Naughty. That’s strident. Saying the revelation of their religion is supernaturally above it is just perfectly normal, average, steady-state, but saying it isn’t – that’s strident.

However, few Muslims have been permitted to study their religious book in this way. The insistence that the Koranic text is the infallible, uncreated word of God renders analytical, scholarly discourse all but impossible.

That’s exactly what Irshad Manji argues, and has been saying on the BBC among other places lately. Is she strident? If she is, why does Radio 4 keep phoning her up and asking her opinion? If she’s not, why is Rushdie?

The traditionalists’ refusal of history plays right into the hands of the literalist Islamofascists, allowing them to imprison Islam in their iron certainties and unchanging absolutes. If, however, the Koran were seen as a historical document, then it would be legitimate to reinterpret it to suit the new conditions of successive new ages…Will Sir Iqbal Sacranie and his ilk agree that Islam must be modernized? That would make them part of the solution. Otherwise, they’re just the “traditional” part of the problem.

Strident, nothing. Jane Little and the World Service could do with some modernization themselves.

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