Book or no book?

Ed Husain takes Ayaan Hirsi Ali to task.

Just as Wahhabites and Islamists bypass scholarship, context, and history in the name of “returning to the book”, Hirsi Ali and others such as Robert Spencer and Ibn Warraq commit exactly the same error…Let’s take the question of apostasy. At an Evening Standard debate the other night, Rod Liddle had no qualms in declaring Islam, with a barrage of other baseless abuse, “a fascistic ideology”. Why? Because the Qur’an commands the killing of those who abandon it…[T]here is no verse in the Qur’an that calls for the killing of apostates…There is no stronger argument against religious fanatics than to illustrate the scriptural weaknesses of their case.

Well, maybe so, when you’re dealing with religious fanatics, but that still leaves you with the problem of having to argue over what’s in a 1400-year-old book – it still leaves you with the problem of worrying about what ‘scripture’ says instead of about what is best for human beings in the light of current knowledge and accumulated understanding and moral insight.

When ex-Muslims such as Hirsi Ali ignore the nuances, complexities, and plurality inherent within Islam…then she plays into the hands of extremists and allows their discourse to dominate one of the great faiths of our world. Worse, it creates a public space in which attacking all Muslims and Islam becomes acceptable, even fashionable.

Attacking Islam is and should be acceptable, and even fashionable. Attacking all Muslims of course should not, but attacking Islam (and any other religion) should. Attacking people is bad, attacking ideas and beliefs is not.

Timothy Garton Ash is also pondering the issue.

When a Muslim letter-writer in yesterday’s Guardian tells us, with the aid of Qur’anic references, that Islam, properly understood, supports “the vital principle of freedom of speech”, what possible interest have we non-Muslim liberals in arguing against him?

None in arguing against his support of free speech, certainly…but there are risks in basing that support on claims that the Koran is really liberal after all, because there are always going to be plenty of people who will offer up different Koranic references to support the claim that it’s not.

Nick Cohen disputes Garton Ash’s view.

Garton Ash met Hirsi Ali at an electric meeting in London on Wednesday. Unlike Buruma he had the good sense and good grace to think again and he gave her a public apology. Nevertheless, he stuck to the argument that there was no point in liberals treating her as a heroine because her abandonment of Islam and embrace of atheism meant her arguments carried no weight with Muslims. Instead he told us to encourage those Muslims who reject the stoning of women because they dispute its scriptural authority. Religious debates about whether the Prophet Muhammad really approved of stoning may be ‘gobbledegook’, but, he cried, ‘We must support gobbledegook that is compatible with liberal democracy.’

Well there’s a stirring call. There are risks either way, so I’m not attracted to the ‘support bullshit’ version.

I’m not sure how he can be certain that Hirsi Ali has no influence. How does he know what seeds she is planting in the minds of Muslim women? I know one former jihadi who thought again after reading Salman Rushdie…Ayaan Hirsi listened to Garton Ash and had two questions. If liberal secularists, like my heckler, didn’t have pride and confidence in their principles, why should they expect anyone else to take them seriously? And if, like Garton Ash, they turned away from democrats and insisted on treating European Muslims as children who can only be spoken to in the baby language of gobbledegook, what right did they have to be surprised if European Muslims reacted with childish petulance rather than the broad-mindedness of full adult citizens?

Two damn good questions, if you ask me.

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