Hugh Fitzgerald: Professor Kishwar Rizvi and “Misinformation About Islam”
“There has been much misinformation about Islam. Reports in Western media tend to perpetuate stereotypes that Islam is a violent religion and Muslim women are oppressed.” — Professor Kishwar Rizvi, in Salon
Apparently for Ms. Rizvi, a professor at Yale of Islamic Art and Architecture, it is “misinformation” about Islam that leads to the “stereotypes” (that is, views) that Islam “is a violent religion” and that ‘Muslim women are oppressed.” And if it’s a “stereotype,” it must, in Rizvi’s view, be false. It’s not quite as simple as that. Just because something has become a “stereotype” doesn’t mean that it should be dismissed rather than discussed; stereotypes are not plucked at random from the air, but can reflect, to a greater or lesser degree, an observable truth. The question is: how much evidence exists to support these particular “stereotypes”?
Is there any reason to think that Islam is a “violent religion”? Where shall we start? What about with the 109 Jihad verses that call for war against the Unbelievers for the sake of establishing Muslim rule? Here’s just a tiny sample, to refresh Professor Rizvi’s memory:
Quran (2:191-193) – “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [sedition or unrest, connected to disbelief] is worse than killing… but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [unrest, and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone.
Quran (2:216) – “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.”
Quran (3:151) – “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority”.
Quran (4:76) – “Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah…”
Quran (5:33) – “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement”
Quran (8:15) – “O ye who believe! When ye meet those who disbelieve in battle, turn not your backs to them. Whoso on that day turneth his back to them, unless maneuvering for battle or intent to join a company, he truly hath incurred wrath from Allah, and his habitation will be hell, a hapless journey’s end.”
Quran (9:5) – “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.”
Quran (9:29) – “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
We might have continued filling pages with another 100 verses from the Qur’an, and hundreds of stories about what Muhammad said and did from the Hadith and Sira, texts which also bristle with tales of his violence. But the point has surely been made: Whatever else may be said about the Qur’an and the other main Islamic texts, they are not “non-violent.”
But perhaps, Ms. Rizvi might insist, these texts should not be taken so seriously; she might claim that Muslims have taught themselves to ignore those Qur’anic passages. Is that true? Does the observable behavior of Muslims all over the world exhibit indifference to these texts, and a deep-seated preference for “non-violence”?
Well, let’s see. What does Ms. Rizvi make of the more than 30,000 Muslim terrorist attacks all over the world since 9/11/2001? She can find a complete list here. One hopes that she will feel compelled to take a look. It might prove instructive.
The evidence compiled there is not a fiction, not the mere imaginings of Westerners in thrall to “stereotypes,” nor the fantasies of Islamophobes. It lists laconically, without editorializing, attacks by Muslims, for reasons of religion, against non-Muslims, a category which also includes those Muslims who are deemed not to be “real” Muslims, either because of their sect (many Sunnis view both the Shi’a and Ahmadi Muslims as Infidels) or, even if Sunni, because they are deemed insufficiently Islamic in their beliefs and behavior. This gigantic body of evidence for the “violence” of Islam is difficult to dismiss.
And if Ms. Rizvi cared to look at the political upheavals recently in the Muslim lands, she would find violence everywhere she looked. In Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, the mobs came out to denounce Mubarak and in support of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood; when Morsi took over, other crowds (and soldiers) came out to protest against him and the Muslim Brotherhood; when Al-Sisi took over, and Morsi was arrested, there was still more intra-Muslim violence, between the Morsi supporters and those of al-Sisi, and there are still today, in Egypt, attacks from terrorists in the Sinai on Egyptian forces, violent reprisals by Al-Sisi’s forces, and in Upper Egypt, attacks by fanatical Muslims on the innocuous Christian Copts, which the government seems unable to prevent. Violence, everywhere you look.
In Tunisia, which launched the “Arab spring,” demonstrations brought down the regime of Ben Ali, and while Tunisia is often held up as a model of a peaceful transition, there has been violence against foreigners, with 21 killed in an attack on the Bardo Museum, and dozens of British tourists murdered on a beach, the murders of secular labor leaders, and against the new regime for being too secular for some, as in the attack at the border town with Libya, where 45 Tunisians were killed last year by “extremists.”
In Libya, what began as a violent revolt against Qaddafi soon metamorphosed into a many-sided conflict, pitting local militias identified with particular cities – Benghazi and Zintan and Misrata and Tripoli — against each other, jockeying for power, while the Islamic State established a foothold at Sirte, and held on to it until just this month. There is no unified Libyan state: as of now, the Government of National Accord in Tripoli claims rather unconvincingly to be the legitimate government, while those different militias, based either on the city of their members’ origin, or on the degree of fanaticism their members exhibit, are all fighting each other for power. Where does this incessant violence come from, if not from Islam?
We could do a quick tour d’horizon of the other Muslim lands in the neighborhood to see if Ms. Rizvi’s charge that linking Islam to violence is simply a “stereotype.” There is the Sudan, with the decades of war fought by Muslim Arabs in northern Sudan against both Christian and pagan black Africans in the southern Sudan, and against black African Muslims in Darfur. Then there is Yemen, with the incessant warfare of Sunni and Shi’a, a conflict that has now been enlarged still further by the Saudi bombing of Shi’a civilians, a campaign that has no foreseeable end. There is little Bahrain, where Pakistani Sunni mercenaries help a Sunni ruler suppress an uprising by the majority Shi’a.
How about the six-year civil war in Syria? As noted above, there are so many different groups in that fissiparous land, each warring against each, or making only the most temporary of alliances. There is the Syrian army, Alawite-officered, which fights for the corrupt regime of Bashar al-Assad who, despite his crimes, is also the surest protector of the country’s Christians and the most relentless foe of the Islamic State in Syria. There are several different rebel groups that consider themselves comparatively “secular” and “democratic” and who fight in what is called the Free Syrian Army; there are others that are determinedly “Islamic” in outlook, including the Al-Nusra Front, which is the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State, which is another Islamist group, even more fanatical and ruthless than the Al-Nusra Front. Both Al-Nusra and the Islamic State separately fight both Assad’s Army and the Free Syrian Army, but most importantly, they fight each other. The Syrian war has been going on for six years, and there is no apparent end in sight. Every attempt at compromise has failed. Ceasefires are constantly broken. “Violence” appears to be inherent in Islam, and it is only when one side has suffered a complete and utter defeat – leaving only Victor and Vanquished — that there is any chance for a settlement. Compromise is un-Islamic. So far, obtaining such a victory in Syria has proven elusive.
In Iraq, for the moment the main battles are taking place between the Shi’a-led Iraqi army and Shi’a militias, on one side, against the hyper-Sunnis of the Islamic State in Mosul on the other. But the Islamic State is not the only enemy. Sunnis unconnected to the Islamic State have for years been conducting a campaign of terror against the Shi’a, for Iraqi Sunnis feel keenly their loss of power to the majority Shi’a, and would like to keep the Shi’a off-balance in the hope of somehow forcing the Shi’a to relinquish some of their new-found power. That’s what explains those bombs exploding in Shi’a neighborhoods of Baghdad, and in the midst of Shi’a religious processions, and at Shi’a shrines, and inside Shi’a mosques. And in the last few years, there have been many more reprisal raids – kidnappings and mass executions of Sunnis, bombings in Sunni marketplaces – by the Shi’a militias that have also taken to bombing Sunni mosques.
The Sunnis are unreconciled to their loss of power, which followed upon the removal of Saddam Hussein; the Shi’a, of course, have no intention of yielding the power to which they believe themselves entitled, both because of their numbers (the Shia Arabs are 60% of the population) and because of their horrific treatment at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime. Alongside this Sunni-Shia strife, there is also ongoing violence in both Syria and Iraq, by Muslims against Christians (many of whom have now fled both Syria and Iraq), by Arabs against Kurds, and most gruesome of all, by the Islamic State against everyone else, well-versed in fiendish torture, burning people alive, mass decapitations, gang rapes, including among its victims the tiny, helpless Yazidi people in Iraq. In the midst of all this cruel killing, some of it by small children trained and encouraged by the adults to execute others or to become suicide bombers, Ms. Rizvi assures us that Islam is not “a violent religion.”
The Kurds, many of whom have tasted autonomy ever since the American Air Force enforced a “no-fly” zone on Saddam Hussein’s planes, are determined to keep it and are ready to fight for it. The Peshmerga have shown themselves to be among the most formidable foes of the Islamic State. What will come of these Kurdish demands for much greater autonomy, or what might happen if, sensing that the regimes in Baghdad and Damascus have been sufficiently weakened, the Kurds try to create an independent Kurdistan, cannot be known, but violence, and not pacific negotiation, is likely to decide the issue. The Kurds remember, after all, that when Saddam Hussein was in power, his Arabs killed 182,000 Kurds in Operation Anfal.
Violence, or the threat of violence, is everywhere you look in Iraq. As in Syria, it’s everyone against everyone: Shi’a against Sunnis and Sunnis against Shi’a, Arabs against Kurds, Muslims against Christians (but never Christians attacking Muslims), which is what happens in many Muslim lands, when a despot is suddenly removed and no one takes his place to impose his iron-fisted will. Then come attacks, reprisals, more attacks, more reprisals, in a continuous loop. Could this be one of the places that give rise to Ms. Rizvi’s “stereotypes”?
Syria and Iraq are currently the most violent of the Muslim Arab lands. But for years, Algeria was just as violent a center of internecine Muslim warfare. Even though a period of comparative calm now reigns in Algeria, the killing during the war of its Islamist groups against the ruling FLN party was unusual for its violence. The civil strife began in 1991, when it looked as if the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) would defeat the ruling FLN Party, that had held power since independence, in the coming elections; the FLN then cancelled the elections, and a civil war broke out, with several different groups fighting the FLN. The two main armed groups, that separately battled the FLN government, were the Armed Islamic Movement, or MIA, based mainly in the mountains, and the Islamist Armed Group, or GIA, based mainly in the towns. The GIA has been the more ferocious of those two groups: it has wiped out whole villages of civilians in campaigns of terror; its stock-in-trade was not combat on the battlefield, but assassinations, bombings, massacres of civilians, aircraft hijackings.
Only slightly less violent was the MIA, but like the GIA, and indeed like the FLN government itself, it has been guilty of mass atrocities against civilians. When the FLN finally declared victory, 200,000 people (the figure comes from Prof. Fouad Ajami), most of them civilians, had been killed, often in gruesome ways, and many hundreds of thousands wounded. And while some claim that “peace” of a kind has finally come to Algeria, it has hardly become the Peaceable Kingdom. There is still intermittent low-level violence, with strikes at, and counter-strikes by, the FLN-ruled government against the remnants of Islamist groups. Al-Qaeda has set up a branch in Algeria, known as AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), started by some veterans of the GIA. AQIM still stages its intermittent attacks in the vast Algerian south, including cross-border raids into Mali, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast. Algeria’s nonstop violence continues, with both AQIM and the FLN government playing their ruthless opposing roles.
Let’s take a closer look at the Sudan, where from 1983 to 2005 a civil war raged, with attacks by Muslim Arabs from the north on black African Christians and animists in the southern Sudan. Two million people died as a result.
The conflict was characterized by mass killings in the south and the enslavement of blacks by the Arabs. And in addition to this conflict, the Muslim Arabs of the Janjaweed (armed Arab militias) went on raids pillaging and raping black Africans – even though they were Muslims — in Darfur. The Janjaweed are still there, though now that South Sudan has been declared an independent country, and much of the fighting in that area has consequently died down, the Western media is paying far less attention not just to the South Sudan, but to Darfur in the Sudan, where violence has not gone away. Last September, for example, a chemical attack killed 250 black African villagers in Darfur. The government of the Sudan, together with the Janjaweed militias, still appears determined to kill or drive out all non-Arabs from Darfur. But don’t you dare connect “violence” to Islam. That would be trading in “stereotypes.”
We could go even further afield to Iran, where the Revolutionary Guards keep the theocratic despotism in power, in cruelty and violence far outdoing the Shah’s hated Savak. There is Chechnya, where nonstop armed violence by his army keeps Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s ferocious quasi-puppet, in power. There is Afghanistan, where the Taliban continues to fight the government that, despite all the American military help it has received over 15 years, still manages to control only 63% of the total land area, and where the Taliban continues to harbor hopes both of taking over the country, and of again destroying the Shi’a Hazara, regarded by the Taliban as Infidels. “Hazaras are not Muslims, you can kill them,” was the famous remark by the Taliban commander Maulawi Mohammed Hanif in the mid-1990s. The American invasion put a stop to those Taliban attacks, but with the Americans largely gone, abductions, extortion, killings of the Hazara have started again, this time committed mainly by Al-Qaeda’s branch in Afghanistan and by a new contributor to the cauldron of violence, the forces of ISIS. Meanwhile, ISIS and the Taliban, after fighting each other for a year, declared a shaky truce in July 2016. Fifteen years after the American forces entered Afghanistan to bring peace, the picture is of many-sided violence. “Stereotypes”?
In Pakistan, Sunni terror groups have not let up in their attacks on Ahmadis and Shi’a. The Ahmadis are not allowed to identify themselves as Muslims on official documents in Pakistan. While the Shi’a can do so, many Sunnis agree with the extremist organisations Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah e Sahaba — that in 2011 from the city of Quetta declared that “All Shias are worthy of killing and the intention is to make Pakistan their graveyard.” Again, the violence in Pakistan is many-sided and apparently unstoppable. If only those pesky Pakistanis could stop imitating their “stereotypes.”
There is Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, which won its independence only after a bloody war in 1971, fought by Bengalis both against the army of West Pakistan and against various local Islamist groups, including Jamaat-e-Islami and the paramilitary “Razakars” – who accepted the view that the independence movement in East Pakistan was really “an attack on Islam” because it would weaken the Pakistani state. In Bangladesh, as in Pakistan, and in Malaysia and Indonesia, you will find examples of ongoing violence against non-Muslims, whether Christians or Hindus, or even Buddhists (in their last redoubt in a Muslim country, the Chittagong Hills in Bangladesh). Why, given all this evidence, is it unreasonable to connect Islam with violence?
While the link given above to more than 30,000 terrorist attacks by Muslims ought to convince anyone of the link between Islam and violence, not only in the Muslim lands (Sunni against Shi’a, Shi’a against Sunni, Arab against non-Arab, Muslim against Christian, Muslim Against Hindu, Muslim against Buddhist), but also in the lands of Dar al-Harb, where Muslims do not yet dominate, it might be useful to list the places where the most spectacular attacks have taken place, and that contribute to the view that violence and Islam are indelibly connected. Professor Rizvi may finally be able to see things from an Infidel’s perspective as she reads the latest Jihad News. Here are a few of the places where major Islamic attacks were spectacularly bloody or cruel or insensate: New York, Washington, Boston, Amsterdam, Madrid, Brussels, Paris (Charlie Hebdo, Hyper Cacher, Bataclan, Nice, Toulouse), London, Moscow, Beslan, Mumbai, Orlando, San Bernardino, Fort Hood.
How many such attacks must there be before Prof. Rizvi finally recognizes that insisting that “Islam is a violent religion” is not an unfair stereotype, but only the terrible truth? If anything, the media in the Western world have tried hard to claim or pretend, after each atrocity, that Islam “had nothing to do with it.” This has required them to ignore the quoting of Qur’anic chapter and verse by the killers themselves. An alternative way to deal with the stark display of Muslim bloodlust is the tu-quoque of “all religions have their crazies,” which does nothing to explain why so many more of those mass-murderers appear to be Muslims than, say, Christians, or Jews, or Buddhists, or Hindus, and why, far from being “crazy,” those Muslim mass killers are eager – and able — to lucidly provide to the world the textual support for their acts. They are killing by the book. That book is the Qur’an. So much for the unfair “stereotype” that Rizvi claims links Islam to violence.
What do you think about Islam, now that you have been exposed to just a few of the “Jihad verses” in the Qur’an? Now that you’ve had a chance to review the recent turbulent history of a dozen Muslim countries? Now that you’ve been given a link to a list of the more than 30,000 Muslim attacks around the world since 9/11/2001? Now that you’ve been given a list – to jog your memory — of the major terrorist attacks by Muslims in the West? Would you agree with Rizvi that reports in Western media “tend to perpetuate stereotypes” because they report on so much violence involving Muslims? Are any of those reports untrue? Are any exaggerated? Far from pushing a “stereotype,” doesn’t the Western media try to downplay the role of Islam in these attacks, sometimes by idiotically claiming that “it had nothing to do with Islam” or suggesting that it was the act of a non-denominational madman? With a few honorable exceptions, the Western media is doing everything it can to persuade us that Islam did not prompt or inspire these acts of terror, even when the perpetrators insist that it did. Yet Ms. Rizvi claims it’s all a matter of stereotyping.
Ms. Rizvi has a second complaint: that the Western media promote the “stereotype” that “Muslim women are oppressed.”
Might we in the West think that Muslim women are oppressed because, according to the Sharia, Muslim women can inherit half as much as men (Qur’an 4:11); their testimony is worth half that of a man (2:282); polygamy is licit (Muhammad, the Perfect Man, allowed himself at least twelve wives) and so are female slaves, “those whom your right hand possesses”; a Muslim man is allowed to beat his disobedient wife, though “lightly”; a Muslim man need only pronounce the triple-talaq to divorce his wife; and women are described in the Qur’an as inferior to men, for “the men are a degree above them” (2:228); and in the Sahih Bukhari (6:301), “[Muhammad] said, “‘Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?’ They replied in the affirmative. He said, ‘This [is because of] the deficiency in her intelligence.‘” And Muslim husbands and fathers have close to absolute control over their wives and daughters, and can punish or even kill them, without fear of long prison sentences, and in some cases have been known to “pardon themselves” for having murdered their own daughters.
And think of how women are treated in Saudi Arabia, that country that adheres most closely to the letter and spirit of Sharia, where women cannot get passports or travel abroad without permission of a male relative, cannot drive a car, must use separate entrances at work and school to avoid contact with men, must limit any interaction with men who are not relatives, must wear at least an abaya and a head-covering and, to satisfy the mutaween (religious police), a niqab, and their social lives are totally controlled by their fathers and husbands. Think of the fifteen Saudi girls who were prevented by the mutaween from leaving a blazing building in Mecca because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, and instead were allowed to burn to death. Where, in what corner of the Muslim world, are women treated as being equal to men, able to make their own decisions, to socialize and dress and work and travel as they like, without men telling them what to do? There is no such place. It is only in the Western world that Muslim women can enjoy equality, protected by un-Islamic laws that flatly contradict the Shari’a.
To most of us, this evidence, both textual and behavioral, convincingly demonstrates that Muslim women are indeed “oppressed.” And as noted above, if we similarly look at the “textual” evidence (what the Qur’an and Hadith inculcate), and at the “behavioral” evidence (how Muslims treat non-Muslims) around the world, it’s impossible not to conclude that Islam is indeed a “violent religion.” Prof. Rizvi, a stalwart Defender of the Faith, clearly has other ideas. One wonders how she sleeps at night.
Frankly, how she sleeps is the least of my concerns. I just want these people gone. They contaminate our society.