Islamic activists trying to have it both ways
Posted byÂ Paul Mulshine
You might be followingÂ the story of Rifqa Bary, the 17-year-old Ohio girl who claims that her father wants to have her killed for converting from Islam to Christianity.
Various Muslim activists – and their liberal supporters – are trying to make the same tired argument here that they make whenever such issues come up.
What they argue is “that Muslims here in America would never do such a thing.” Â Sounds good. But just try and get them to denounce Muslims in other countries who do so.
But they do: Remember Amina and Sarah?
I tried. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks I went and interviewed a local Muslim leader in New Jersey. I spent more than an hour trying to pin him down on the thorny question of whether it is or isn’t okay for Muslims to use physical force against apostates, Christians who proselytize, and so on.
The column ran on Dec. 12, 2001. It was headlined
“Tolerating the intolerant”
I went into my interview with one of the leading spokesmen for New Jersey’s Muslim community with a preconceived notion: I believe that writers should be able to write what they want without threat of physical violence.
I realize this belief is self-serving. I am, after all, a writer. I don’t want to be killed. Nonetheless, I believe virtually all of my fellow writers here in the United States also hold this belief. It may even extend to editors, though I confess I have seen evidence to the contrary.
So I was curious to see whether Yasir El-Menshawy shared this belief. Menshawy is the president of the New Jersey Council of Mosques and Islamic Organizations. There are two branches of Islam in the United States, one that is purely religious and another that maintains that religion and politics are inseparable. Menshawy comes from that second wing, by far the larger of the two, he says.
For this reason I wanted to discuss with him a particularly thorny question of religion and politics: the death sentence issued against Salman Rushdie.
The author of “The Satanic Verses” is not one of my favorites but I will, as the saying goes, defend to the death his right to be longwinded and pretentious.
I was curious whether Menshawy approved of the fatwa against Rushdie. I’m still curious, though we batted the question around for a good 10 minutes.
Menshawy, who was born in Egypt and grew up in Red Bank, has an impressive talent for dodging questions. He guided our discussion of the Rushdie affair through the teachings of the Koran, the theories of John Stuart Mill, the law of libel and slander and several other intriguing areas.
At one point, I asked how many Muslims in America agreed with the fatwa .
“I don’t think we took a poll,” Menshawy said. “I think you’d find a lot of people who would agree and probably a bunch that would disagree.”
As for Menshawy himself, after 20 minutes or so he still hadn’t said. Here is how the discussion of that topic ended:
Me: “But, seriously, you didn’t get to the question. Was it wrong for them to condemn Salman Rushdie to death for a book he wrote?”
El-Menshawy: “I’m not going to answer that question.”
So much for freedom of speech.
I also pressed Menshawy on the question of freedom of religion. I noted that some Muslim countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, outlaw proselytization by Christians. Again, Menshawy steered the conversation down various cul-de-sacs for a good 10 minutes until we eventually reached the following conclusion:
Me: “You’re dodging the question. Can you conceive of circumstances where a government may lock up a person for advocating a religion, yes or no?”
Menshawy: “I’m not going to answer that question.”
Here’s another classic in the genre:
Me: “Do you think there are circumstances under which someone can be locked up legitimately for exercising free speech?”
Menshawy: “I don’t know that there are. But I don’t know that there aren’t.”
You may sense a pattern here. In fact, if you’ve been watching television-news shows in recent months you may have noticed that some other Islamic spokesmen are equally adept at evading questions. For good reason. There is an essential conflict here that they would rather not address. They are using the language of multiculturalism and tolerance to advocate a worldview based on the opposite.
Menshawy, for example, importuned me throughout the interview to try to understand the world through the eyes of those in the Mideast. But he also told me he sees no problem with the imposition of Islamic law in countries with majority Islamic populations, even if the minority objects.
I’m no multiculturalist, but what could be less in keeping with the tenets of that worldview than the imposition of one religion upon all the inhabitants of a nation? More to the point, multiculturalism is supposed to be built on tolerance. But what could be less tolerant than ordering a man killed for his writings, as in the Rushdie case?
This is the problem with tolerance. It’s a wonderful concept, but if you follow it to its logical conclusion, you end up tolerating some things that can’t be tolerated. It was only when I looked back on my notes that I realized that I had been sitting around in New Jersey in the 21st century discussing seriously with a grown man the finer points of whether a person can be sentenced to death for blasphemy.
And that I was also listening to a man using shopping-mall cliches to describe practices straight out of the Middle Ages.
“I’ll have to get back to you on the stoning to death for adultery,” Menshawy said at one point in our discussion of Islamic law. He didn’t get back to me, so I don’t know if he’s for or against that particular practice.
COMMENTS: I realize this is a controversial issue. I’d like those who comment to stick to the narrow issue of whether it is acceptable for Muslims in America to either argue for or stay silent on issues of intolerance among Muslims in other countries. In many such countries, for example, the law bans proseyltization by Christians. Many Muslims support that practice but openly proselytize here in America.
Is that sort of behavior acceptable? That’s what is at issue here.