Manji the searching moral critic
Manji says she wants to revive the idea of ‘ijtihad’, of self-criticism and reformation, from the Islamic tradition. She probably got the idea from Ziauddin Sardar’s May 2002 article in the New Internationalist, which she cites (27) . Sardar writes:
“For well over a century, Muslim scholars and thinkers have been arguing that Islam is in need of urgent reform. Or to use the technical terms, Muslims need to undertake ijtihad, literally ‘reasoned struggle’, to rethink and reformulate Islam. It was the Iranian reformist Jamaluddin Afghani, who with the then Mufti of Egypt, Muhammad Abduh, first argued for ijtihad at the end of the 19th century.”
Sardar presents various reasons why Muslims need to rediscover ‘reasoned struggle’, and why rigid doctrines prevent people from using their reason and moral sense to act in the world. Unlike Manji, Sardar also presents a historical context:
“The modernist leaders who took over from the departing colonial powers maintained their hold on Muslim societies with excessive use of force and by ruthlessly persecuting the traditional leadership and abusing and ridiculing traditional thought and everything associated with it. The economic and development policies they pursued often ended in spectacular failure and concentrated national wealth in the hands of the few. Globalization has further marginalized traditional cultures, creating a siege mentality in historic communities. These factors have contributed to the emergence throughout the Muslim world of a new form of militant traditionalism.
“Thus the Muslim world finds itself caught in an intense struggle between the combined forces of an aggressively secular modernity and globalization pitted against an equally aggressive traditionalism. This struggle is quite evident in countries like Indonesia, Algeria and Bangladesh where internal battles between modernists and traditionalists have raged for well over two decades.
“To this complex, we must add another dimension. Both traditionalists and modernists now share the belief that the fate of their societies is actually determined by decisions taken elsewhere. This is why so much energy in the Muslim world is now spent in criticizing the actions and consequences of the centres of power: the nexus of Western government, economy, industry and popular culture where globalization is manufactured and exported to its recipients in the Muslim World. The widespread feeling of dispossession and total powerlessness in Muslim societies is a product of this. Hence the sense of rage that now envelops both modernists and traditionalists alike.”
Indeed, the sense of powerlessness brought by globalization and displacement have helped empower fundamentalists and fundamentalist movements throughout the world. Muslims have no monopoly on this. A quick look at the Hindu right movements in India, of the Jewish settler movements in Israel, or of George Bush’s own Christian fundamentalist constituency in the United States show this.
Arundhati Roy wrote about this after the Gujarat Pogrom of February 2002 in India:
“Over the past fifty years, ordinary citizens’ modest hopes for lives of dignity, security and relief from abject poverty have been systematically snuffed out. Every ‘democratic’ institution in this country has shown itself to be unaccountable, inaccessible to the ordinary citizen, and either unwilling, or incapable of acting, in the interests of genuine social justice. Every strategy for real social change-land reform, education, public health, the equitable distribution of natural resources, the implementation of positive discrimination-has been cleverly, cunningly and consistently scuttled and rendered ineffectual by those castes and that class of people who have a stranglehold on the political process. And now corporate globalisation is being relentlessly and arbitrarily imposed on an essentially feudal society, tearing through its complex, tiered, social fabric, ripping it apart culturally and economically.
“There is very real grievance here. And the fascists didn’t create it. But they have seized upon it, upturned it and forged from it a hideous, bogus sense of pride. They have mobilised human beings using the lowest common denominator-religion. People who have lost control over their lives, people who have been uprooted from their homes and communities who have lost their culture and their language, are being made to feel proud of something. Not something they have striven for and achieved, not something they can count as a personal accomplishment, but something they just happen to be. Or, more accurately, something they happen not to be. And the falseness, the emptiness of that pride, is fuelling a gladiatorial anger that is then directed towards a simulated target that has been wheeled into the amphitheatre.” (28)
All of this is described and analyzed in a book that actually does what Irshad Manji says she is trying to do: Tariq Ali’s ‘Clash of Fundamentalisms’ (29) Manji cites his book several times, but does not present his argument or analysis in her book (30) . Ali argues that the Muslim world needs to go through the kind of reformation the Christian world went through, the reformation – influenced, incidentally, by Muslim and Jewish scholarship and learning — that led the Christian world out of medieval theocracy. He argues that this reformation is all the more urgent because the world is increasingly in the grip of another kind of fundamentalism – that of neoliberal economics and militarism. Unlike Manji, Ali looks at modern history and finds ways that one fundamentalism helped to create the other. The Taliban, the Mujahaddin, and indeed Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda grew out of the jehadis funded, trained, and armed by the United States to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Saudi regime and the other repressive monarchies of the Middle East are propped up by the West in exchange for oil and the suppression of their own people’s desires for self-determination. Independent nationalism, secularism, and leftist movements in that region were savagely and repeatedly attacked by the US, sometimes using the religious groups. Ali does not bring this history up in order to exonerate Muslims of their responsibilities, but to help understanding of the context. All Manji would have had to do was read the rest of the book she cites numerous times. Ali’s book implicitly argues for a world free of any fundamentalisms, in which people use their own reason and their own moral sense and solidarity to guide them.
But Ali’s critique comes from a position of solidarity. He is aware of the need for a reformation, he is against fundamentalism, but he is also aware of and concerned about the atrocities that are being perpetrated against Muslims. He has empathy for what is happening to Palestinians in the territories. He has empathy for the people of Iraq, who have been the victim of wars, sanctions, and now invasion and occupation that have killed hundreds of thousands of their number. And he has integrity enough to present those (like the women of RAWA) who resist fundamentalisms, to give them a voice in his books and speeches.
Without that kind of solidarity, Manji’s book is exposed for the posturing that it is. Claiming to be a letter to Muslims, the book is set to be published in Canada, the US, Australia, the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Germany. She explicitly tells people in these countries to not fear being racist: “My question for non-Muslims is equally basic: Will you succumb to the intimidation of being called “racists,” or will you finally challenge us Muslims to take responsibility for our role in what ails Islam?”
On the reaction in the West to Muslim communities after 9/11, Manji finds nothing but remarkable tolerance, tolerance her whole book suggests is undeserved. “In North America, decency has erupted in spades.” (pg. 225) She cites a private email from a reporter who says “the Homeland Security measures and mass arrests and deportations and so on did have the effect of singling out entire ethnic cultures in the U.S. and criminalizing them en masse. Interestingly, I don’t think this has turned into a popular villainization of Muslim Americans, the way the internment of the Japanese was accompanied by a real racist backlash against Asians in the general population.” (31)
‘The security measures’ made it into her footnotes, but the prison at Guantanamo did not. The International Herald Tribune recently reported:
“Since January 2002, about 660 prisoners have been transferred at first to Camp X-Ray and then Camp Delta at GuantÃ¡namo Bay. The number included children between the ages of 13 and 16 as well as the very elderly. Virtually all the prisoners are foot soldiers of the Taliban. By a blanket presidential decree, all the prisoners have been denied prisoner-of-war status.
“How prisoners at GuantÃ¡namo Bay have been treated we do not know. But what we do know is not reassuring. At Camp Delta the minute cells measure 1.8 meters by 2.4 meters (6 feet by 8 feet). Detainees are held in these cells for up to 24 hours a day. Photographs of prisoners being returned to their cells on stretchers after interrogation have been published. The Red Cross described the camp as principally a center of interrogation rather than detention.
“The purpose of holding the prisoners at GuantÃ¡namo Bay was and is to put them beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts, and at the mercy of the victors. The procedural rules do not prohibit the use of force to coerce prisoners to confess. On the contrary, the rules expressly provide that statements made by a prisoner under physical and mental duress are admissible “if the evidence would have value to a reasonable person,” i.e. military officers trying enemy soldiers.” (32)
If Manji wants to “Thank God for the West” (the name of her Chapter 9), it is not necessarily because she supports civil liberties. Praising Egypt’s policies of ‘pre-emptive’ arrest and detention (33) , while regretting that it has been “exploited for corrupt ends”, Manji cites a terrible crime committed against a brilliant Egyptian novelist, Najib Mahfuz, by “young religious ruffians” who attacked him for his writing. Manji says: “Excuse me, but if that’s a reason to maim (and possibly kill), it’s equally a reason for security forces to crack down on the thugs. Bring on the Emergency Law.” (pg. 128) The long struggle for civil liberties in Manji’s beloved West, the argument that ‘thugs’ can be ‘cracked down on’ without establishing a police state, are all erased with Manji’s simple statement: “Bring on the Emergency Law”. There is no such explicit cheerleading for the Guantanamo prison camp (it is simply left out), but Manji would probably argue to “bring it on”, as well, while simultaneously praising the “decency” and civil liberties of the West.
Perhaps it is because this does not fit the picture of the West (or of Muslims) Manji is trying to paint that she also denies Queer Muslims a voice, even Queer Muslims from her very own Toronto. Salaam describes itself as follows. “Salaam: Queer Muslim community is a Muslim Identified Organization dedicated to social justice, peace and human dignity through its work to bring all closer to a world that is free from injustice, including prejudice, discrimination, racism, misogyny, sexism and homophobia.” (34) The activists of Salaam link from their website to Project Threadbare, a coalition of justice groups that tried to fight the detention and deportation of 21 Indian and Pakistani Muslim men based on virtually no credible evidence. A group of queer activists well aware of discrimination and homophobia in the Muslim community, Salaam recognizes that the struggle for social justice means struggling against all injustice. It is no wonder that they, like RAWA, or so many courageous Israelis, Palestinians, and Muslims, have no place in Manji’s book.
Manji the humourist
Manji is best when she is flippantly dismissing critics who exhibit homophobia, sexism, or ignorance of one kind or another. Indeed, she devotes a substantial portion of her site and 10 minutes of her public talk to show herself answering such critics. Her point, perhaps, is that humour can help even in serious situations.
She might be right. In one of her notes (35) she describes the treatment of an intolerant Muslim cleric by a queer rights group: “In response to Sheikh Omar, two gay-rights groups, the Lesbian Avengers and Outrage, issued a ‘Queer Fatwa’ against him. The fatwa reportedly read: ‘Omar Bakri Mohammad is hereby sentenced to 1000 years of relentless sodomitical torture.’ Pity his torturer.”
Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT Palestine) showed that they, too, have a sense of humour, with their recent actions in Berkeley. QUIT Palestine is fully consistent, recognizing the oppression of gays in Palestinian society (36) . Their most recent campaign was on ‘Estee Slaughter’:
“The queer group who first settled Starbucks launched a new marketing campaign today, introducing shoppers at Macy’s Union Square in San Francisco to its new line of killer products from Estee Slaughter.
“About 20 activists from Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism descended on the downtown store today with samples of Village Vanishing Cream, Bloody Hand Cream, Atrocity Cover Up, Defoliant, WhiteRight Ethnic Cleanser and Kill Me Pink Lip Bomb. They gave away 500 samples of the new scent Eau de Occupation to appreciative passersby.
“The promotional leaflet explains that Ronald Lauder, chairman of Estee Lauder International, serves as president of the Jewish National Fund, which was formed in 1901 to establish Jewish settlements by purchasing land from absentee landlords. After the state of Israel was formed, the JNF was made responsible for developing lands expropriated by the government, including 531 villages that were destroyed by a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Jewish terrorists working with the newly formed Israeli “Defense” Forces.” (37)
QUIT Palestine is a very inspiring solidarity group. So is the International Solidarity Movement, the group of Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals with whom I visited Palestine last year. That group organizes and supports Palestinians in non-violent direct action and resistance to the Israeli occupation, and, like those struggling Israeli groups, hopes to help shift the balance of forces in favour of a just peace. One of Manji’s tactics, used several times through her book, is that of the ‘unanswered email’. In her notes, she writes: “In the months following my trip to Israel, I contacted various Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim organizations about sending me on a journalistic mission to the Middle East so that I could appreciate things from a non-Zionist perspective. Not one of them replied to my request.” (38) Let me say publicly that on Nov. 20, 2003, at her public talk at Ryerson university in Toronto, in front of several hundred people who came to listen to her speech, “Defending Israel is Defending Diversity”, I told Irshad Manji that she has a standing invitation to go to the Occupied Territories with the International Solidarity Movement. I gave her my email address and the sites for ISM Canada (www.ismcanada.org) and ISM (www.palsolidarity.org). She has not replied to my invitation.
But for all the humour, the fact is that these are serious issues with very high stakes. They demand serious treatment. Manji’s is not a serious book. Instead, as Tarek Fatah argues in his review: “[h]er book is not addressed to Muslims; it is aimed at making Muslim-haters feel secure in their thinking.” It may have another intention as well: critics of Israel are often smeared as ‘anti-semitic’. Manji’s intention, by presenting Israel as a country that is good on queer rights, is perhaps to present critics of Israel as ‘homophobic’ as well. It is unlikely to work, however, since there are too many queer rights activists who have the honesty and integrity that Manji lacks.
Meanwhile, Manji can sell books, give flippant and arrogant answers to queries, and posture as an ‘intellectual’.
1. Their site is couragetorefuse.org.
2. Anne Brodsky, “With All Our Strength: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan”. Routledge Publishers, New York, 2003.
3. www.rawa.org, and www.afghanwomensmission.org for their supporters
4. Chapter 5, footnote 26
5. Said, “Israel-Palestine: A Third Way”, Le Monde Diplomatique, Sept 1998. I would encourage readers to read the entire article.
6. The whole photo essay is at http://www.zmag.org/meastwatch/podur_palphotos1.htm and should be seen in its entirety.
7. The online site, ZNet (www.zmag.org), republishes material from Ha’aretz, especially pieces by Gideon Levy and Amira Hass. Levy’s article is archived here and was published July 5 in Ha’aretz
8. It is archived here: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=22&ItemID=2100
9. Footnote 8, chapter 5
10. Footnote 3, chapter 5
11. Footnotes 10, 11, and 14 of chapter 5. A good book on the Mufti of Jerusalem is Philip Mattar, “The Mufti of Jerusalem”, Columbia University Press, New York, 1992.
12. See footnotes 3, 6, and 15 of chapter 5 and 30 of chapter 4
13. See footnote 31, chapter 3, and footnote 12 of chapter 4, and for a serious account of the outbreak of the second intifada see Tanya Reinhart’s “Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948″, Seven Stories Press, New York, 2002.
14. See footnote 3, chapter 5
15. All quoted from Norman Finkelstein, ‘Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict’, Verso, London, 2003. Introduction to the 2nd edition, pg. xxix
16. Quoted in Finkelstein, ‘Image and Reality’, pg. 86
17. Baruch Kimmerling, ‘Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians’, Verso, London 2003., pp.23-34
18. See Norman Finkelstein, ‘The Holocaust Industry’, Verso, London, 2000, and Tom Segev, “The Seventh Million: the Israelis and the Holocaust”, Hill and Wang, New York, 1994.
19. Tim Wise, ‘Reflections on Zionism from a Dissident Jew’, ZNet September 9, 2001. Archived here:
20. Tarek Fatah, “Don’t paint Muslim people as Nazis”, Globe and Mail November 27, 2003. See also Robert Fisk, “How an Arab and a Jew fought Hitler, then each other, and died as friends.” UK Independent, November 11, 2003. Archived here: http://zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=22&ItemID=4507
21. Since, the first suicide bombing occurred after dozens of Palestinians had been killed and hundreds injured by Israeli attacks, Palestinian “planning” must have been rather lacklustre.
22. Tanya Reinhart, “Mount Temple”, Oct 2, 2000, ZNet. Archived here. http://www.zmag.org/ZSustainers/ZDaily/2000-10/02reinhart.htm
23. Tanya Reinhart, ‘Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948′, Seven Stories Press, NY, 2002.
24. Kimmerling, ‘Politicide’, Verso 2003.
25. Seth Ackerman, ‘The Myth of the Generous Offer: Distorting the Camp David Negotiations’, Extra! July/August 2002. http://fair.org/extra/0207/generous.html
26. Noam Chomsky, ‘Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians’. South End Press, Cambridge 1999
27. Footnote 18, chapter 3
28. Arundhati Roy, “Democracy: Who is she when she’s at home?” Outlook India April 2002. Archived here. http://www.zmag.org/content/SouthAsia/roy-gujarat-democracy.cfm
29. Tariq Ali, ‘Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads, and Modernity’. Verso, London, 2002.
30. Instead, she smears him in a roundabout way. In footnote 8 of chapter 7, she writes: Despite being a Marxist, Tariq Ali acknowledges in The Clash of Fundamentalisms that “from the beginning, [Islam] regarded commerce as the only noble occupation.” She smears Robert Fisk in a similar way, saying (Chapter 5, footnote 7) “Even the most pro-Muslim reporter I can think of, Robert Fisk, does not try to deny” the Turkish genocide against the Armenians. The implication is that Fisk (and Ali) are in the business of denying facts, but the implication is made without evidence – a common thread throughout the book.
31. footnote 7, chapter 9
32. Jonathan Steyn, “Guantanamo: A Monstrous Failure of Justice”, International Herald Tribune November 27, 2003.
33. Amnesty International’s Annual Report on Egypt says the following: “Thousands of suspected supporters of banned Islamist groups, including possible prisoners of conscience, remained in detention without charge or trial; some had been held for years. Others were serving sentences imposed after grossly unfair trials before military courts. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees continued to be systematic. At least 48 people were sentenced to death and at least 17 were executed.” http://web.amnesty.org/report2003/egy-summary-eng
35. Footnote 19, chapter 8
36. See, for example, their statement here: http://www.ektaonline.org/~quitpale/actions/gaymen2.html, and another important case, presented by Israeli activist Neve Gordon, here http://www.counterpunch.org/gordon11272003.html
37. Their site is at http://www.ektaonline.org/~quitpale/index.htm and their Estee Slaughter campaign at: http://www.ektaonline.org/~quitpale/esteeslaughter/estee.html
38. Footnote 34, chapter 3.