Thursday, May 06, 2004

Two great tastes that taste great together

One of my favorite commentators interviews another.

[Irshad Manji] is frustrated that more moderate Muslims do not fight. "At all of the public events I've done to promote this book, not once have I seen a moderate Muslim stand up and look an extremist in the eye and say, 'I'm Muslim too. I disagree with your perspective. Now let's hash it out publicly.' Yes, after the event people tip-toe up to me and say, 'Thank you for what you are doing.' And there are times when I really want to say, 'Where was your support when it mattered? Not for my ego. But to show the extremists that they are not going to walk away with the show.'"

"It's insane that I get sometimes accused of 'Islamophobia', or offering comfort to people who hate Islam," she quickly adds, anticipating my next question. "I like to respond to that by talking about Matthew Shepherd [a young gay man who was recent crucified and burned to death in Texas (sic)]. I say to my good-hearted liberal friends, would you have let these yahoos get away with insisting that gay-bashing is part of their culture and as a result they deserve immunity from scrutiny on that front? Well, why is misogyny and homophobia in Saudi Arabia any different? No, it's up to us Muslims in the West to drop reactionary charges of racism against the whistleblowers of Islam - people like me and your heroic colleague Yasmin Alibhai-Brown - and lead the charge for change."
Irshad knows that she is dragging into the open an argument many Western Muslims have confined to their own minds for a very long time. She is critical of the "reflexive identification some Muslims in the West unthinkingly offer to groups like Hamas or the Taliban. I met one person [like that] at Oxford University last night. I asked, 'Do these women realise that the very groups and individuals whom they are defending are the very people who, if they were in power here, would frankly their daughters particularly of their right to be at Oxford at all?'"
Irshad is needlingly, constantly aware that she could not even begin to enjoy the freedom she currently enjoys in any Muslim society. Her family were refugees from Idi Amin's West African tyranny, and the family washed up in Canada when Irshad was four years old. "I am also aware it wasn't Islam that fostered my belief in the dignity of every individual. It was the democratic environment to which I and my family migrated. In this part of the world, as a Muslim woman, I have the freedom to express myself without fear of being maimed or tortured or raped or murdered at the hands of the state. You know, as corny as this may sound, as a refugee to the West, I wake up every day, thanking God that I wound up here."
Sitting with Irshad in a London boardroom, it would be hard for anybody to guess that she is the star attraction on jihadist death-lists. She has the small, slender body of a ballet-dancer, and a Concorde-speed Canadian voice that makes her sound more like a character in a Woody Allen movie than an enemy of Osama Bin Laden's.
Whoa, down boy! You do realize that you're both gay, don't you, Johann?

Irshad Manji has been linked under Esoterica & Eclectica and Johann Hari under News Sources
Johann Hari also contributes to Harry's Place, which can likewise be found under Current Affairs

UPDATE: As Joel of Far Outliers points out, Matthew Shepard was killed in Wyoming, rather than Texas. I e-mailed Johann Hari about this already but neglected to add the "(sic)" until Joel commented. Thanks Joel.