After my prepared speech in the India Ideas Conclave session on Tolerance & Terrorism (20 Dec. 2014, 17h25, with Sultan Shahin and Norwegian bishop Gunnar Stalsett, moderated by Sadanand Dhume), the other panelists gave their response, then the public spoke its mind, and the following days some printed and digital media also ventilated their opinions. Below are my responses to the more substantive responses. Articles I will refer to include:
Shashi Shekhar: “Koenraad Elst’s angst”, Niti Central, 31 Dec. 2014 (http://www.niticentral.com/2014/12/31/koenraad-elsts-angst-musings-mark-end-2014-293984.html
“Iranian General: Obama, EU Leaders Should Convert to Islam For Peace,” TheTower, 29 Dec. 2014, http://www.thetower.org/1453-iranian-general-obama-eu-leaders-should-convert-to-islam-for-peace/
Zeeshan Shaikh: “Row over Indologist’s anti-Islam remarks”, Indian Express, 21 Dec. 2014, (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/row-over-indologists-anti-islam-remarks/)
Tavleen Singh: “Fifth column: Either, or”, Indian Express, 28 Dec. 2014, (http://indianexpress.com/profile/columnist/tavleen-singh/
“Belgian Indologist sparks row after making 'disparaging' comments about Islam”, Daily Mail, 21 Dec. 2014 (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2882121/Belgian-Indologist-sparks-row-making-disparaging-comments-Islam.html)
“Indologist Koenraad Elst says ‘…make it uncool to be Muslims’ at the Goa conclave of the Hindutva Right, draws flak”, Nasheman News, December 23, 2014 (http://nasheman.in/indologist-koenraad-elst-says-make-it-uncool-to-be-muslims-at-the-goa-conclave-of-the-hindutva-right-draws-flak/)
Conclave participant Valery Novoselsky, a self-described Christian, protested on his own website against my talk, as well as with a letter in Pressenza:
An article that was sent to me but that I have not been able to find back through the search engine, is Joseph Gathia: “Moving in Right Direction. A Brief Report on India Ideas Conclave, Goa (19-21 December 2014)”
Media version of what happened
According to the UK paper Daily Mail, “Belgian Indologist Koenraad Elst made disparaging references to Islam (…) There was tumult at the India Ideas Conclave (…) after Belgian Indologist Koenraad Elst made disparaging references to Islam. (…) The high-profile event (…) caused deep embarrassment. Elst’s blast on Islam left everyone rattled. Speaking on how 1.2 billion Muslims should be freed of their ideology, he left the organisers red-faced.” But what exactly I said that caused such embarrassment, the readers are not allowed to know: “Elst (…) said many unacceptable things about Islam which cannot be reproduced here.”
A little spice is added by an unimportant aside: “Incidentally, the nationalist conclave has replaced rape-accused Tarun Tejpal’s Thinkfest at the same venue.” Hearty thanks to the secularists who, in spite of themselves, made room for us.
According to Zeeshan Shaikh in Indian Express, “Belgian Indologist Dr Koenraad Elst’s anti-Islam remarks created a flutter at a Goa conclave Saturday, prompting at least one foreign delegate to walk out while another lodged a complaint with organiser India Foundation.”
Here as well as in the Urdu paper Nasheman, my message is summed up thus: “On the whole, you should make it uncool to be Muslims. That will help them. You do not forcefully need to convert them. Through this, they will themselves outgrow Islam.” I must say that the media, while not rendering my exact arguments, are rather fair and truthful in rendering my over-all position. Thus, I would not have been surprised if they had given a foaming misrepresentation of my position, pretending that I was giving ideological support to Hindu communal rioters or Western armed intervention in Muslim countries, quod non.
And on my position regarding the Ghar Wapasi (reconversion of Islamized or Christianized Indians to Hinduism) campaign: “The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is coming under criticism for the one thing that they are doing very well, which is ghar wapsi. We need to liberate Muslims from Islam. Every Muslim is an abductee and must be brought back.” Exactly. Rama went to liberate his abducted wife Sita, and we should emulate him by bringing back all Islam’s abductees.
Shaikh and Nasheman also quote former Jordanian prime minister Abdelsalam al-Majali: “I am appalled at what I heard from the platform about insulting Islam and insulting the Prophet. One can criticize this, that and the other but don’t insult. To try to destroy the whole faith is wrong. We came here to understand each other and try to be peaceful. It is very sad to be at such a conference to hear insults on a religion which is followed by over one billion people.” Gunnar Stalsett, Bishop Emeritus of Oslo, and others are likewise cited as questioning the “demonization” of an entire faith.
While the debate about my speech was raging, a general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), declared that US President Barack Obama and the leaders of the European Union should convert to Islam in order to establish peace between Iran and the West. It merely illustrates how normal calls for conversion are. Hindus are so used to calls for conversion as well as to demonizations of their religion, without anyone dramatizing this or apologizing for it. Muslim-haters, however, assume that Muslims are inferior beings unable to stand this strain and inclined to explode upon hearing any criticism of their religion. Therefore, they profess indignation when they hear a candid talk about some reasons for leaving Islam, such as my intervention in Goa.
Organizers create controversy
At the end of my session, on behalf of the organizers, Swapan Dasgupta apologized because some things I had said were not to the liking of a small section of the invitees. Yet, the organizers themselves had included this session, and had assigned me the duty to be part of it. And rightly so. The session’s topic itself was hardly avoidable, for this terrorism is a fact of life and has killed numerous Indians and others. It hampers economic life and chases investors away, so even Indians interested only in development will have to deal with it. Some Conclave participants would clearly have preferred a cosy get-together where unpleasant realities such as terrorism would be temporarily locked out, but the organizers chose otherwise. After all, if you don’t want to deal with terrorism, then terrorism may well come to deal with you.
The other chosen participants would and did advocate the common and trivial claim that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, that it is all just part of the chaotic soup of human badness. With me, at least, the organizers appealed to someone sure to explore a genuine and specific explanation, with an identifiable cause for the frequently observed phenomenon of terrorism. As appropriate at an “ideas conclave”, I strictly stuck to the logic of the facts discussed, without particularly trying to please (“appease”) or offend anyone. To be sure, people in the audience are free to take offence to logical conclusions that go against their beliefs, but that should not hamper the logic expounded on stage. Maybe at a diplomatic summit meeting, but not at an ideas conference that means business, that seeks not sweet-talk but an actual solution for a pressing problem.
The organizers then spoiled the Conclave by telling me, an invited speaker, that according to their information, I had better go for my own safety, while lying to some participants that my departure was merely as per schedule, and lying to others and to some media that I had been “sent away”. Though having written repeatedly on the culture of duplicity and mendacity in the Sangh Parivar since 1997, I had not really expected to be targeted by it myself. I have demanded an explanation from the India Foundation, Ram Madhav and Swapan Dasgupta, but three weeks after the incident I haven’t received any answer yet. They owe me a public apology without ifs, buts or irony.
Defence of Islam
In my whole career as a critic of Islam, I’ve had to deal with numerous responses defending Muslims, but rarely a real defence of Islam. Thus, in 1992, the Belgian writer Lucas Catherine supposedly answered my critique of a number of hate-mongering and violence-inciting verses from the Quran. It was not longer than one sentence: “But the Quran is already an old book.” Well, if he dares, he can go and repeat that in a mosque.
If the Quran is merely a document of its age and circumstances, I wouldn’t mind it. If it only describes the delusions and misbehaviour of some 7th-century Arab businessman, then it would simply be a piece of history, not worth losing any sleep over. It is a pity that he ordered the rape, enslavement or execution of people he did not like, but he and his victims are long dead now. Mankind’s chronicles and literature are full of cruelty, so all this is not really exceptional. And yet, we are not allowed to put it aside, because some people have decided that this is God’s own word, and that the example of this businessman-turned-Prophet should be emulated. To different extents, Islamic institutions and individuals do indeed emulate his words and deeds, from individual killers with the “sudden jihad syndrome” to the Pakistani and many other states, culminating in terror outfits like the Taliban, Boko Haram and the Islamic State. So, we are not confronted with a private belief of a 7th-century Arab, but with a living belief system acting worldwide through some of its more zealous adherents.
For this reason, we have to analyze this ideology and the thralldom in which it holds more than a billion of our fellow human beings. Some of these become veritable instruments of this ideology, many more are only nominal Muslims, and a sizable number are something in between. All of them, however, have been born simply as human beings, and Islam has been imposed upon them from the outside. They are not identical to this imposed ideology. Any observations or claims about them do not warrant conclusions about the ideology, nor vice-versa. That is the difference between Islam and Muslims. My talk was about Islam, but all the objectors only talk about Muslims.
The other defence of Islam addressed to me was by Ayub Khan (see my book The Problem with Secularism, p.160-1), who said that the story of Mohammed’s massacre of the Jewish tribe Banu Quraiza has been “debunked”, eventhough it is related in detail in the orthodox biography of the Prophet by Ibn Ishaq. Alright, as a historian I welcome the questioning of the text’s genuineness. Moreover, it would be good news if a massacre that we thought had happened, turns out not to have happened. Hundreds of people saved, isn’t that good news? But we won’t indulge in special pleading: if a critical principle applies to one passage, it applies to the whole text corpus. Indeed, Islam calls itself a “seamless garment”: pull out one string and the whole fabric comes apart. If one passage from Islam’s source texts can be considered mistaken, everything in Islam’s basic documents becomes suspect. So Muslims can forget about Islam as all commandments and prohibitions are uncertain anyway. The whole of Islam is on shaky foundations, just imaginative literature. Does Khan dare to repeat that in a mosque?
The nature of the Conclave
According to Shashi Shekhar, “Elst’s comments that made news in Goa were out of place given the active presence of Ministers of the present government at the Conclave”.
No, my comments were not out of place at all. The topic was a pressing problem that this government, like so many others, just has to deal with. In the relaxed atmosphere of a Goan holiday resort, many people would have preferred to remain in their comfort zone and make it a feel-good event. You can of course spend your money (and God knows the organizers did) on a useless talking-shop, but some of us thought the situation is too serious for that.
Maybe he means that the non-appeasing nature of my conclusions would offend some of these Ministers? Well, the organizers know better than me whom they invite. It is possible that some Ministers consider it better for their field of operations if everyone is kept happy, and I have nothing against that consideration. Politics has its laws, the intellectual sphere has others. In caste terms: Brahmin and Kshatriya have their own Swadharma. So, maybe the organizers were being duplicitous when they called this an “ideas conclave” when in fact they had a diplomatic conference in mind, or even just a publicitary exercise to show off their VIP contacts? That was at any rate the impression I got when I arrived at the conference. And therefore, I proposed to read a different paper about a less heady topic, viz. the Hindu agenda and how it fares under Narendra Modi’s regime. But the session moderator insisted I talk about Islam, so that is what I did.
And why not? Maybe confronting the summer people present with a piece of harsh reality was just what they needed? The organizers in their infinite wisdom seem to have thought so.
Making room for a serious analysis of terrorism, tracing its causes rather than feeding the audience the usual sop-story, was especially useful for Ministers and other administrators who feel responsible for their nation. After all, superficial answers lead to superficial policies that leave the causes of the problem untouched and therefore perpetuate it. Gentle surgeons make stinking wounds. Decades of Nehruvian superficiality have brought India and Hindu society endless problems, now finally we can get serious about them. Responsible politicians don’t want to let them fester, leaving them for future generations to confront, at great cost. Leaders “on Modi time” want to really solve it. This, in turn, takes a proper understanding, and that is what I have tried to provide. If anything was “misplaced”, if anything was devoid of “ideas”, it was the usual conformistic pap, the fact-free litany of external causes for Islamic terrorism that leaves Islam untouched.
The economy as a secular vote-catcher?
Some background: the Conclave was an attempt to unite different tendencies within the ruling party. Principally these are the cultural nationalists, with whom the party as a whole is traditionally identified, and the so-called economic rightists. It is somewhat like the US Republican Party, where economic libertarians and Christian conservatives form the two poles.
To be sure, these economic rightists are not very extreme. India hardly has any hard-core libertarians, just sensible people who see what damage socialism has done, and therefore want to remove the endless state controls. They want air to breathe while taking corporate initiatives, a freer and more dynamic economy. But usually this economic liberalism is constrained by other considerations, principally nationalism. Thus, libertarian hard-liners in India and especially abroad had hoped that Narendra Modi would put all the national economic assets up for sale, and then end up selling them for a song to the best-placed bidder (like Boris Yeltsin did in Russia), but he refused.
Their emphasis on the economy does, however, give them an orientation often at variance with the BJP’s traditional backbone of cultural nationalists. They tend to present “Hindutva” as obscurantist and outdated. As mostly university graduates, they tend to talk down to the shabby rustic Hindutvawadis. They look to the sky in desperation whenever a Cabinet member or another leader so much as raises any Hindu issue. They also bank on the long-standing Hindu tendency to hide Hindu concerns underneath secular demands, particularly economic, in order to be on the safe side of hegemonic secularism. Even now that they are in office, they keep on looking up to the secularists for approval. Though the supposedly Hindu party is now supposedly in power, this premium on secularism can still be felt, even at the Conclave.
Thus, in Joseph Gathia’s list of things to do, we find all the usual Congressite talking-points of development, fighting poverty etc., which are the present ruling party’s priorities as well. The only mention of religion is the worn-out Gandhian slogan (which numerous Hindus wrongly believe to be “Vedic”) Sarva-Dharma-Samabhava, more or less “equal respect for all religions”, moreover usually misinterpreted as “equal truth of all religions”. However, while this wording obviously means to avoid any specifically Hindu agenda, the slogan itself, analyzed beyond its conspicuous superficiality, does reintroduce some Hindu desiderata. Thus, whatever the slogan really means, it speaks of some kind of religious equality. Nothing about it points to the anti-majority discrimination inherent in the Nehruvian interpretation of Art. 30 (inviolabilty of minority schools) or in Art. 370 (special status of Kashmir) of the Constitution, let alone the existence separate of Civil Codes, one reformed by the secular Parliament (Hindu Code) but the others the preserve of the respective religious establishments. That is why Hindu activists have wanted to abolish or change the relevant laws. These are perfectly sensible and genuinely secular demands, but the BJP secularists avoid them because they are still in thrall to the ideological hegemony of the Nehruvians.
These BJP secularists also overestimate their own quantitative importance, furnishing only a minority of the landslide electoral result of Narendra Modi in the spring of 2014. They are the ones who assert that the BJP should betray the Hindu core of its programme as “people have voted for development and therefore shouldn’t be bothered with bygone religious concerns”. In their despotic mindset, they don’t care if this means offending the RSS workers and other Hindu activists who did all the legwork that put the BJP in power. But the ground reality is that this was a very Hindu electoral result. Modi as an economic miracle-worker surely helped, but Modi as the man who has survived an unparallelled twelve-years-long onslaught by the secularists, that is what made him the Emperor of the Hindu Heart (Hindu Hrdaya Samrat).
The numerical factor that made all the difference was that many more Hindus turned up to cast their votes than usual, and this was because finally they had a really Hindu candidate for Prime Minister. Baba Ramdev was only the most famous among the millions of Hindus who said that they had voted for Modi, not for the BJP. Whatever Modi or his campaigners said, he was stuck with a hard-line Hindu public image, and this is what reaped him votes. Indeed, the secularist propaganda identifying Modi with militant Hinduism has only earned him more grassroots support.
By contrast, the BJP’s colourless image downplaying any Hindu associations had shown its electoral potential in the defeats of 2004 (at the height of India’s economic growth) and 2009. In 2004, AB Vajpayee’s Government treated Hindu activism as an outdated concern and focused on its economic successes, expecting that the modern middle class would reward it, but the BJP-led alliance unexpectedly lost. It spurned the deliberately Hindu vote and so the Hindu voter stayed home. Yet, Swapan Dasgupta and Tavleen Singh advocate a repeat of the folly that only earned AB Vajpayee’s party a resounding defeat.
The contempt in which the economywallahs hold the Hindutva wing, is understandable though, and partly justified. The Hindutva organizations have never invested anything at all in developing their ideology and instilling it in their workers. The result is that now you have some members of Parliament and even of Government who make inconsiderate statements raising Hindu demands as if they are shooting cheap opinions on an internet discussion forum. These statements are not necessarily stupid, they may raise legitimate Hindu concerns. But instead of setting to work to realize them, they merely do the Hindu routine and get vocally emotional about them. It is normal that among serious politicians and mediacrats, this rustic behaviour is held in contempt.
This lack of understanding and sophistication also translates into a glaring misstatement of even correct Hindu concerns. Thus, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat justifies Ghar Wapasi this way: “We have a right to take back what is ours”, meaning that we Hindus have a right to take back the souls stolen from us by conversion through force or allurement. This bragging misconstructs the issue, apart from being smug and repelling. No, Ghar Wapasi has a very different rationale: when the delusions that constitute the basis of Islam or Christianity are no longer backed up by power and fall away, what remains will automatically revert to its general human condition and reintegrate into its Hindu surroundings.
But it doesn’t follow that these concerns deserve to be swept under the carpet, as the economywallahs would prefer. Yes, these ideological issues interfere with their more tangible money-making schemes, but that is what is good about them: man does not live by bread alone.
The one topic that now has become the symbol of all cultural concerns is Ghar Wapasi, the “homecoming” of non-Hindus to Hindu society. Those who care about India’s future identity know that this is the only way to maintain a Hindu majority. On present trends of accelerating Islamic demographic gains and large-scale conversions to Christianity, India will turn Hindu-minority in just decades. The secular “development” wing takes on airs of being enlightened but is very short-sighted: it pooh-poohs any look into the distant future and doesn’t even look across the border into Pakistan to see what it is like to be a Hindu minority. Others, however, take the well-being of Hindus as Hindus to heart and occasionally reconvert Muslim or Christian individuals, families or communities.
The Ghar Wapasi movement pioneered by the VHP is manned by the same people, or the same kind of people, on whom the economywallahs look down, but to whom they owe their present power positions. Some polite respect would be in order.
It is said that Ghar Wapasi is divisive, and that India cannot have that now. Well, the missionary campaigns targeting Hindus for conversion to other faiths are just as divisive; they have been with us for centuries and are being condoned. Indeed, if any Hindu activist draws attention to this phenomenon (e.g. to Pope John-Paul II’s statement in favour of the missionary project, Delhi 1999), he is only denounced or ridiculed. Those who oppose Ghar Wapasi apply the same double standards that the secularists have been notorious for since decades. Whereas during the Ayodhya agitation we had an opposition between the BJP and the secularists, we now see this same opposition reproduced as one between the pro-Hindu and the “development”-oriented secular wing of the BJP.
My own intervention at the Ideas Conclave tied in with the Ghar Wapasi movement. To be sure, I work at a different level. I analyze the reasons why Muslims would do well to liberate themselves from Islam, a concern for intellectuals only distantly of interest to Ghar Wapasi workers on the ground. They themselves speak the proper language of the masses, they know how to approach really existing communities, they have an effectiveness that I in my ivory tower can only dream of. But on the rare occasions where the elite tries to argue against Ghar Wapasi, my insights may make a difference, and ultimately some of them may percolate to the mass level. At any rate, though among Hindus it ought to have been a trivial thing to say, I need to emphasize that my position is one of support to Ghar Wapasi.
Muslims in our midst
Though a few secularists in the audience dissented from my stated views, the controversy in my session was started in earnest by two Muslims who accused me of “Islamophobia” and of “insulting the Prophet”. Who were they?
Like Salman Rushdie and many others earmarked for execution, or like the Charlie Hebdo editors and cartoonists effectively killed, I was accused of “insulting the Prophet”, this time by Dr. Abdelsalam al-Majali. He was Jordanian Prime Minister in 1993-95 and 1997-98, and later went on to chair the Islamic World Academy of Sciences. I frankly haven’t followed his work. I have been sent some troubling information about the proceedings of the Jordanian Parliament, e.g. one that made it to the top 10 of attacks on Jews in 2014: "Next on the list is the decision of the Jordanian parliament to hold a moment of silence for the Palestinian murderers of four worshippers and a Druze policeman one day after their November 19 attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood. ‘I ask God to envelop them with mercy and to grant you with patience, comfort and recovery from your grief…’, wrote Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour to the families of the terrorists." (http://www.wiesenthal.com/atf/cf/%7B54d385e6-f1b9-4e9f-8e94-890c3e6dd277%7D/TOP-TEN-2014.PDF")
But I don’t follow Jordanian politics and have no idea what Dr. Majali’s role was in these unmistakably pro-terrorist gestures, except that during his own tenure as Prime Minister he even signed a peace treaty with Israel. I am therefore ready to give him the benefit of the doubt. Any scornful remarks I may have made privately about him stand annulled. However, that doesn’t mean he had a meaningful place at our Ideas Conclave. What has he ever contributed to the system of thought informing the present Government? To put it crudely: what was he doing there?
One thing his mere presence did achieve, was to make the organizers walk on their toes not to offend Muslim sentiments and to deplore the free flow of ideas wherever they could cause such offence. The Muslim community is effectively given a veto power over what non-Hindus are allowed to debate. Hindus are used to remaining silent whenever Islam (or Christianity or secularism) imposes “respect”. Theirs is an underground society. That, incidentally, is also why I received such rousing applause: I merely vocalized out loud what most Hindus think in silence or merely whisper to those whom they trust.
The other Muslim was Dr. Ekmelleddin Ihsanoglu. He has been President of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), comprising 57 states deemed Islamic, from 2004 to 2014. I know of nothing objectionable in his personal career, and little in the talk he gave about the separation of Religion and State in Turkey. However, he did obscure the fact that this laik (secular) separation was not effected by or because of Islam, as a legitimate interpretation of Islamic political doctrine, but by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a way of curbing and combating the influence of Islam. Indeed, Atatürk was outspokenly anti-Islamic, calling Islam “a rotting corpse that prevents our progress”. Among grown-ups it is normal to tolerate such language, though in my case even a more sophisticated argument was reason for holy indignation. If Atatürk had spoken at this conference, the organizers would have apologized for his utterances and spirited him away.
The OIC he has represented until very recently, however, and the reason for his importance and hence for his invitation, is less palatable. The positions it has most prominently taken, were really very out of place at an India Ideas Conclave. In its founding conference in 1969, this pan-Islamic body rejected India’s membership bid under Pakistani pressure, pleading that India was not a Muslim-majority country (but sincerely hopes that it will satisfy this criterion soon enough). The OIC’s main claim to fame was the 1990 Cairo Declaration, passed unanimously (i.e. not a single Muslim-majority country dissented), that the Shari’a takes precedence over any human legislation including the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
This flies in the face of the stated demand of the BJP (and already of its predecessor, Bharatiya Jan Sangh, since 1952) that India enact a Common Civil Code (CCC), eliminating the presently valid applicability of the Shari’a for Indians classified as Muslim. And this is not just a BJP demand, but a requirement of India’s Constitution: in its Directive Principles, it enjoins the Indian state to enact a CCC. In 2005, the Supreme Court has consequently demanded from the Government information on what steps it was taking to enact a CCC. India wants national integration, including unity of all citizens regardless of religion, under a uniform legislation. By contrast, the OIC stands for Shari’a and Muslim separateness.
So, the India Foundation owes us all an explanation. Does it want national integration rather than communal separateness? If the former, does it want a CCC, like the Constitution and the BJP? And if so, has it cared to inform its OIC guest that the OIC position was radically rejected by everything the India Ideas Conclave stood for, and by 99% of its participants? Indeed, why was a retiring OIC President being invited, if not to ask him to publicly repudiate the policies that he has represented for 10 years, until a few months ago? Or should these conflicts, a natural object of scrutiny at an “Ideas Conclave”, be swept under the carpet for the sake of Hindu niceness?
Further, the OIC has popularized the concept “Islamophobe”, a term that can apparently be traced back to Ayatollah Khomeini. It was a rousing success, being adopted overnight by the UN, the EU and every trendy politician and media hack. But nonetheless, it was and is a nonsense term, a pollution of language. Firstly, while literally pointing to a “fear” of Islam, it is used as meaning “hate” of Islam. Secondly, the term is meant to fit in the psychiatric jargon, like “claustrophobia” (exaggerated, irrational fear of closed spaces) or “arachnophobia” (irrational fear of spiders), implying that fear/hate of Islam is a disease, warranting a medical treatment instead of a debate. It is meant to stifle scrutiny of Islam, an application in new circumstances of the old Islamic prohibition on scrutiny of Islam by non-Muslims. Ihsanoglu called me an “Islamophobe”.
By contrast, my own term “Islamophile” is not borrowed from psychiatric jargon. Just as “Francophile” simply means “outspoken lover of everything French”, an “Islamophile” is an outspoken lover of Islam. It is simply a descriptive term of pro-Islamic behaviour, esp. in circumstances where a more critical attitude of Islam would have been warranted. Thus, after the three thousand deaths of 11 September 2001 (and on numerous other similar occasions), loads of politicians showed their solidarity not with the victims but with the community of the perpetrators, esp. by visiting mosques. (Strictly speaking, they only aired their solidarity with Muslims while saying nothing about Islam, but typically they don’t make any distinction between the two.) The event would have warranted scrutiny of whether Islam had anything to do with it, but instead they made it a point to air their uninformed opinion that this had nothing to do with Islam. They proved themselves Islamophiles.
We all know self-described “moderate Muslims”. Yes, they exist. They plead that the Islamic terrorist attacks are not really Islamic, or (more truthfully) that the religion which they themselves practise, has nothing to do with terrorism.
Alright, they may well not practise terrorism. They may even recoil in horror when they get to see the bloodied and maimed victims of terrorism – as any normal human being would. These are the fruits of them being born as human beings, not of them being raised as Muslims. It proves nothing about Islam, it only proves that they have moral reflexes that are outside Islam, either inborn as an inheritance of the acquired moral sensitivity of the human species, or acquired as the gift from one of the many influences to which human beings are subject apart from the religion imparted to them.
All the same, I really feel for them. I realize that with the present wave of terrorism exposing the true face of Islam, they are facing a dilemma. Either they have to betray their inborn or acquired moral sensitivity, or they have to betray the religion which they venerate as the religion of their parents and teachers, viz. Islam. But I also know the way out of their plight. They can follow their conscience, decide in favour of their heartfelt revulsion at this Islamic terrorism, and choose to distance themselves from the Prophet who inspired these crimes.
I make a strict distinction between Islam and Muslims. This greatly irritates the Islam apologists, who persistently try to blur, ignore, deny or (when used by Islam critics) blacken this distinction. Well, it is strongly rooted in Islamic theology and much older than their usual modern scapegoats supposed to have “triggered” the crimes of Islam: colonialism, American imperialism, Zionism, Hindutva or the European discrimination of immigrant Muslim minorities. Islam as a religion, as a set of divine messages and commandments, counts as eternal and unchanging, above human flaws. By contrast, the Muslim community consists of fallible human beings, very divergent in their effective allegiance to Islam, part of the world of change and decay, and subject to the Final Judgment. The distinction has also been made by John Locke, one of the founding fathers of the Enlightenment, in his speculations about religious tolerance: there is a radical logical difference between a religion and its adherents. So, this distinction has very good credentials, which the Islamophiles in their effort to blur the debate cannot match.
In this scheme, “moderate Muslims” clearly take a middling position: they are true to Islam, but only partly. They can take heart from the fact that in a few cases, they really have a point when they say that “radicals violate true Islam”. Or at least, they are not obviously lying when saying so. There is a grey area in Islamic law where different opinions co-exist, and where it can meaningfully be argued that one competing school misunderstands the Prophet and hence real Islam. Thus, female genital mutilation is an obligation in some Muslim countries and fiercely justified by the clerics and jurisconsults there, yet unknown in other countries just as Islamic. Here, those who advocate a more liberal view, viz. the non-legitimacy of female circumcision, might have a winnable point. For another example, the murder of more than a hundred schoolchildren in an army cantonment in Peshawar by the Taliban is justified by the perpetrators, but its Islamic credentials are dubious: killing Muslim children entrusted to the school by the soldiers of an Islamic republic might not accord with Mohammed’s precedent after all.
On the other hand, most Islamic commandments are not a matter of doubt at all. The Islamic prescription about punishing an insult to the Prophet is beyond discussion, all the relevant evidence from Mohammed’s life, supplemented by a very long list of legal authorities since, points to the death penalty. Here, the position of moderate Muslims is more difficult. Either they truthfully say that their religion supports the killing of the Arya Samajis who criticized the Prophet, the irreverent Danish and French cartoonists, Salmon Rushdie and his translators, Nobel winner Naguib Mahfouz and other offenders (and then get attacked by other Muslims for breaking ranks); or they mendaciously claim that Islam allows these “insults” to the Prophet (as those who make headlines usually do).
Among those who violate the truth by denying the purely Islamic reason of these Islamic crimes (or of slavery, robbery, rape, iconoclasm etc.), we have to distinguish between two types. One is the common Muslim who has an idealized picture of his religion and Prophet without exactly knowing what they have historically stood for. They mean it when they say that “this terrorism cannot be my religion”. The other type is the educated Muslim who knows he is lying through his teeth when he delinks Islam and Mohammed from the murder of critics. They do so with a good conscience, for Islam allows them to tell lies for the good of their religion. They deliberately exploit the gullibility of the non-Muslims, and manage to pass as “moderate Muslims”.
The situation of moderate Muslims can be compared to that of people who have received a closed box with poison inside. They don’t open the box but pass it on to their children, who pass it on to theirs, etc. This goes well, until one generation, some adventurous son opens the box and tastes the poison. It is he who joins the Taliban, the Lashkar-i-Toiba or the Islamic State. Indeed, most Muslim radicals descend from moderate Muslims. Given the history of Islamic expansion, it could hardly be otherwise. Most conversions to Islam took place under pressure, and while some people justify this conversion to themselves by getting extra fanatical, most people merely go through the rituals and settle for the status of “moderate Muslim”.
I know from experience that this comparison makes Islam apologists flare up in anger. Well, they should realize that it becomes less dramatical when you shed your holy moralism and give up seeing everything through the prism of good and evil. People often do things that are objectively evil without meaning evil, through ignorance (as Socrates observed). Innocently passing on something of which you don’t realize all the consequences occurs frequently, we should not make more of it than necessary. But of course, once you realize it, you should get out of your habits, out of your comfort zone, and do the needful to change this pattern. In this case, you should break the generational chain of Islam.
But then there will be other problems? Sure enough, Islam is by no means mankind’s only problem. Islam apologists often say or imply that “Islamophobes attribute all problems to Islam”. This is a convenient straw man, for such an “Islamophobe” has never been pointed out in reality. Some Islamic activists may say that Islam is the solution for all problems, but no one outside the Islamophile imagination thinks that it is the cause of all problems.
Tavleen Singh makes herself the spokesperson of the secular section of the BJP support base, the one that ridicules all Hindu concerns, by dismissing my observations as “ugly”. This is a word she frequently uses, and at the same time a familiar word in secularspeak summing up the secular distaste for anything to do with religion. She doesn’t let her readers know just what I have said that is ugly, nor what it is that makes my positions ugly.
Well, I suppose columns are not a medium fit for going into such trivial details. Alright then, let us confront our positions in a more appropriate forum: a debate. She doesn’t like it when I said that the Prophet condoned rape? That the Prophet owned, took and sold slaves? That the Prophet had critical writers murdered in the still of the night or, once he had the power, formally executed? That the Prophet’s own words and deeds count as legally valid precedent in Islamic Courts? That the atrocities with which the Islamic State has made headlines, are but an emulation of the Prophet’s precedent? She considers all these positions of mine “ugly”?
In that case, she can easily convince the public of her position. Indeed, I myself, being very open-minded, am ready to be persuaded by her. All she has to do, is to prove (not just assert, of course, but prove from the source texts) that the Prophet forbade his men to rape their hostages. That he abolished slavery (as some propagandists for Islam have actually claimed). That he stopped his more zealous followers from killing Abu Afak, Asmâ bint Marwan and other critical poets. That Islamic Courts have surprised friend and foe by decreeing: “The Prophet was wrong. Don’t follow the Prophet!” If she can prove all this, the Islamic State’s atrocities will indeed start looking alien to the Prophet’s precedent. But until then, she stands exposed as Islam’s failed PR agent.
Oh, and before she comes to trouble you or me with her pontifications about “true Islam”, she can go and convince the Taliban or other experts in Islamic law. It doesn’t require any skill to convince an ignorant audience eager to be convinced that they don’t have to get up from their seats since Islam poses no problem at all. Reassurance about Islam is in great demand. The public badly wants to believe, against its own impression to the contrary, that Islam is nothing to be afraid of, so it will gulp down any sop-story that serves this purpose. But it is more difficult to convince seasoned practitioners of Islamic law like Caliph al-Baghdadi or the Taliban. They know very well that the Islamic atrocities that make the news, are true to Mohammed’s precedent.
Thus, when Salman Rushdie was sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet, everyone who mattered suddenly assumed expertise on Islam and decided that this defence of the Prophet’s reputation had nothing to do with Islam. However, none of them dared to confront Maulana Mohsin Usmani Nadwi who wrote an Urdu book, Ahânat-i-Rasûl kî Sazâ (“The punishment for insulting the Prophet”, Delhi 1989), in which he summed up the legal position: of course the punishment for insulting the Prophet, crystal-clear since the beginning of Islam, is the death penalty. I agree with him, but in my case, Tavleen Singh calls this unassailable case “ugly”. Will she go and convince the Maulana that his position is “ugly”?
Or, when the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas, all the talking heads on TV decided that this could never be true Islam, but the Taliban knew of the legally valid precedents of iconoclasm by the Prophet himself (chiefly of the 360 icons in the Kaaba) and by other worthies in Islamic history. Is Tavleen Singh ready to leave the comforts of her parlour to go and talk the Taliban out of their “ugly” application of Mohammed’s precedent? If we see newspaper headlines: “Taliban sorry for Bamiyan destruction”, with the news: “Enlightened by an Indian secularist journalist, moreover a woman, the Taliban admitted they had been wrong all along”, we will finally concede that Tavleen Singh is a real authority on Islam. In that event, we might defer to her opinion. Until then, however, she is just another ignorant secularist, expert only at willful superficiality in matters of religion.
“India is different”
A secularist in the audience said that Indian Muslims are different from their Arab counterparts. I don’t know the man, and on second thought he could just as well be an RSS activist, for RSS discourse is mostly about “nationalism” and “Indianizing the minorities”, rather than about “Hinduism” and “Hinduizing the minorities”. The European Heathens were mostly baptized by Christian missionaries drawn from their own or adjoining nations, ethnicity had little to do with the struggle between the true religion and the false gods; by contrast, the RSS says it doesn’t mind Christianity or Islam as long as they are Indian. They don’t mind beung converted, as long as it is by a fellow-countryman. Anyway, let’s consider the truth or otherwise of what he was saying.
He named two examples. The first one was the former President of India, physicist APJ Abdul Kalam. He was selected for office by the Vajpayee Government and was the fulfilment of the Hindutva dream of a “Mohammedi Hindu”. Indeed, the BJP’s soft-liners don’t think of converting the minorities anymore, only of redefining them. They should think of themselves as “Christi Hindus” or “Mohammedi Hindus”, and then they are welcome to their Jihad and other anti-Hindu commandments of their religion. But no need to fear for those in the case of Abdul Kalam: he really was a “Mohammedi Hindu”, nominally a Muslim but culturally very much a Hindu.
At that point I said something that was true in that context, but when pulled out of context and put in isolated cold print, it might be misinterpreted: that Abdul Kalam was the only “Mohammedi Hindu”. This could now be construed as a statement about every other Indian Muslim. It is the only statement I made in Goa that I would slightly amend now. So let me clarify that it referred to the Muslim VIPs always enumerated by Congress people as exemplary “secular Muslims”: among them, he was the only “cultural Hindu”, or what the RSS would call “Indian”. A celibate vegetarian, his lifestyle satisfied a Hindu ideal but was at variance with the Islamic lifestyle. As for the millions of ordinary Muslims, however, there may well be more “Mohammedi Hindus” among them, I have done no research in this matter but it is most probable.
In Congress discourse, some other names are routinely mentioned but don’t fit the bill at all. In this case, the only one mentioned was the Congressites’ prime example, Jawaharlal Nehru’s first Education Minister, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad. He was called a “nationalist Muslim” because he opposed the Partition of India, in contrast with the Muslim League (the “separatist Muslims”). This much is true, but then consider the reason why. In centuries past, Muslims were a far smaller minority then today, yet they dominated India. A modern lawyer like Muslim League leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah completely thought inside the modern democratic framework where numbers are important. But to an obscurantist like Azad, this didn’t matter: democracy was only a temporary circumstance that need not stand in the way of turning a united India into a Muslim empire. Moreover, Muslims could convert Hindus, and through their superiority in demographic growth (from 19% to 24% in the sixty years before Independence), they would eventually become the majority. Moreover, Azad seized upon Mahatma Gandhi’s proposal to form an all-Muslim Cabinet as the ultimate “compromise” (i.e. surrender) to avert Partition. So, he dreamed of Islamizing all of India rather than only the Pakistani part of it.
Moreover, now that the Caliphate has been declared, we do well to remember the Caliphate (Khilafat) movement of 1920 in India. What was Azad’s position then? He gave out a fatwa, a juridical advice, declaring India a Dar-al-Harb, a country under Pagan rule, and calling on all Muslims to either take up arms and wage jihad against the British, or emigrate. Thousands of Muslims went to Afghanistan, only to find that they were not welcome and had no means of lielihood, so they came back in desperation. It seems Azad hated Muslims so much that he ruined the lives of thousands along them. I would never do so, but he did, the very man who was lionized by an Islam apologist in my audience.
Bishop Stalsett emphasized that this debate should be seen against the over-arching need for “diversity”. India has always been diverse, but in post-Christian Europe, ethnic and religious diversity is fairly new. Those who favour Islam like to promote its demands under the guise of “diversity”.
Well, long live diversity. However, one thing that these do-gooders don’t understand, is that Islam is by no means sympathetic to diversity. It will use diversity as long as it is in a minority position, but when it accedes to power, diversity will be whittled down. Look at the sorry position of the Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh, or even in Kashmir, and of the minorities in other Muslim countries. They are not being terrorized in every case, but they are always subject to some discrimination or other. Islam is not comfortable with diversity.
Indeed, in this respect too, the Islamic behaviour pattern was set by Mohammed, not always emulated yet still the recognized model for all Muslims. His career and life’s work can be summed up in one sentence: the Prophet transformed an existing diverse and multicultural society into a monolithic Islamic dictatorship.
Letter from a Roma
A Roma speaker published this statement on his website, the Roma Virtual Network:
“My response to blatant anti-Islamic rhetoric pronounced by one professor during India Ideas Conclave in Goa on 20 December 2014
“Dr. Koenraad Elst from Belgium happened to be a panelist on a session entitled "Religion - Tolerance & Terror" and he shocked the audience with his blatant anti-Islamic rhetoric. There were too many voices of protest against what he said ... Moderator could not let everyone to voice the protest. I had to find the way to tell my own opinion in defense of this Faith, even so I am not a Muslim.
“So, I found the solution in addressing blatant hate speech of that professor in the very beginning of my presentation on Indian roots of Roma on a next session entitled ‘Culture & Nation’. Here is what I said:
"Many of us this evening were unpleasantly shocked by the blatant hate speech of someone against Islam. We all know that there are different people in each religion and the people with wrong motivations may interpret the same Holy Scriptures in the way they want. But why the ones who criticize Islam are blind and do not see the positive aspects of this religion.
“I myself am a Christian, from Romani, Jewish and Chinese background, who lives in Israel for 20 years. And during this period three times in my life Muslim people with good knowledge of Quran appeared in very critical moments and helped me a lot to pass through the periods of depression, hopelessness and cry. They did not even care about my ethno-religious background. Thanks to these good willing people I am safe, sound and healthy now and stand in front of you to deliver the speech on Indian roots of Roma.
“PLEASE think about many positive features of Islam before you dare to criticize this religion!"
“My words had sensible support of audience!
“Mr. Valery Novoselsky,
Executive Editor, Roma Virtual Network.”
Executive Editor, Roma Virtual Network.”
Like every single response to my talk, the letter contains no attempt whatsoever to prove me wrong. It only makes its assertion, and the rest is the usual dirt and emotional blackmail: “blatant”, “shocked”, “unpleasant”, “hate speech”.
One thing totally untrue is his calculation of the audience’s position. The “many voices of protest” were only a few, though they made a lot of noise. Contrary to what Mr. Novoselsky claims, those “critical” (meaning conformist) voices were a small minority. On the other hand, my talk was only interrupted by applause and encouragements, and I have never been greeted by so many congratulations and embraces as after this performance. The audience consisted mostly of Hindu activists (were the foreign invitees not informed of this?) who shared my outlook, not Novoselsky’s. Not that this has any importance, and I realize that the roles would have been reversed before a different audience. But those few voices of protest were indeed the more consequential ones: on the one hand the organizers, who realized that my criticism of Islam had been filmed and would be used to embarrass them and, through them, the Modi government; and on the other the few Muslim VIPs present.
As for the positive features of Islam: before he tries to convince me of those, I suggest he tries his luck among the next of kin of the numerous Indian or Israeli victims of Islamic terrorism. Those terrorists in their farewell letters or videos say again and again that they did it for Islam’s sake, so let him please go and explain to their victims how positive Islam really is.
Anyway, the topic of my talk was not the positive features of Islam (whose defenders invariably blur the debate by changing the topic), but the explanatory factors in Islam for the tangible and very large phenomenon of Islamic terrorism – which, after all, was the reason for holding the session in the first place. But this is the usual rhetorical trick of the Islamophiles: changing the subject while hoping that no one notices.
On topic would be a refutation of the points I had made. Thus, he could have shown that the Caliphate’s conduct is contrary to the Prophet’s precedent, e.g. because the Prophet abolished slavery or at least refrained from its practice; that he forbade his men to rape their hostages; that he invited his critics for a frank debate rather than having them killed; or that Islamic Courts reject and condemn the Prophet’s conduct. That would at least show me the courtesy of actually addressing the specifics of my speech, rather than being drowned in a hazy common denominator of what “Islamophobes” are assumed to think.
To come to the main point: he accuses me of “blatant hate speech against Islam” and argues that my depiction of Islam is way too negative because contradicted by his experience with a few helpful Muslims. These are the usual objections by Islamophiles.
To start with the “good Muslims” point: of course every single Islam critic knows that there exist good people who happen to be Muslims. Mr. Novoselsky is not able to muster a single counter-example, certainly not me. Every Islam critic knows perfectly well that many Muslims are fine human beings. The Islam critic who does not know this (and against whom Novoselsky’s testimony was logically addressed) is merely a figment of the Islamophiles’ imagination, a part of the enemy-image constructed to mobilize their hatred. As I said during the session, and as I had already written many times (but all to no avail, for Islamophiles don’t listen), the reason is that nominal Muslims are simply human beings and have interiorized their Islamic indoctrination to various extents. Experiences with Muslims (in this case even in statistically insignificant numbers) imply nothing at all about the Islamic doctrine. The question is what the people who do act on Islamic doctrine will do.
And we know what they will do, for they themselves tell us. Not one terrorist has said: “What I do has nothing to do with Islam.” Instead, those who speak out, all say they do it for Islam and in accordance with Islamic law. But the problem is that the smug Islamophiles don’t respect these Muslims, treat them all as liars, overrule their testimony and replace it with their own explanation. Islam critics, by contrast, respect these Muslims and take their self-testimony seriously. When the newly founded Caliphate takes as its emblem the Islamic creed, valid for all Muslims worldwide, we conclude that it has everything to do with Islam.
From his own good experiences with a few Muslims, Novoselsky deduces “many positive features” of Islam. OK, let’s see what good the votaries of another doctrine did. The young Wehrmacht soldier Karl-Heinz Rosch saved two Dutch children at the cost of his own life in Goirle in 1944, and has now finally been honoured with a statue. That is even more virtuous and heroic than spending some time to help a troubled soul through depression. The “good Nazi” John Rabe used his standing with the Japanese to save numerous Chinese during the Rape of Nanjing in 1937; by the same logic, they could all testify in favour of Nazism. So, for these good deeds by a few Nazi individuals, Novoselsky is willing to conclude to “many positive features” of Nazism. He is even prepared to speak out in defence of Nazism if a previous speaker dares to criticize Nazism.
But the truth is that human beings cannot be reduced to a doctrine which happens to be in a powerful position in their lives, and to which they may swear allegiance. Nominal Muslims are not intrinsically Islamic. Morality already germs among the higher mammals, and fully existed among troglodytes. If human beings act morally, if they show helpfulness and fellow-feeling, it simply proves that they are human beings, it doesn’t prove that their religious doctrine is the key to morality.
As for the allegation of “hate”, this is an absolute classic: when confronted with a fact-based and logical argument against Islamic doctrine, Islamophiles will invariably change the subject and attack ad hominem. They will impute to the speaker a motive of seeking to spread hatred against the community of believers.
According to Shaikh, former OIC president Ihsanoglu protested with these words: “We are hearing a speech of hatred. You cannot use your freedom of speech to hurt others. I was very happy being here until I heard this speech of hatred.” And I can testify that this is exactly what he said. For now; we forego an in-depth discussion of his claim that freedom of speech does not imply the right to hurt others, a claim also heard among unimaginative Hindus who try to get anti-Hindu books or films banned. Only this: if free speech doesn’t mean the right to say unpalatable things, it doesn’t mean much.
For another example, at the session, a Swiss do-gooder in the audience spoke in the same vein: my critique of Islam amounted to insulting a billion-something Muslims and spreading hate against them. (He also objected to my smiling throughout the commotion; yes, I remained relaxed because I allowed the evidence to speak for itself, whereas he with his cramped face and rolling eyes had to mobilize all his indignation to somehow neutralize the weight of the evidence. If there was a face of hate in that audience, it was he.)
Generally, I observe that this allegation is always uttered automatically, knee-jerk fashion, and that it always comes without any attempt at proof. After all, why should the Islamophiles trouble themselves with evidence? They have the opinion forum all to themselves, they are supported by the powers that be and by the dominant media (who can’t escape reporting some unpleasant facts about Islam but always take care to minimize them and put a whitewashing spin on them). Islam critics have nothing but the truth in their favour, so they make sure to back up their claims with appropriate references to the authoritative texts of Islam. Islamophiles, by contrast, merely have to make assertions and then lean back to feel satisfied at how capably they have silenced the evil Islamophobes.
For my specific case, I am entirely sure of my position and speak with a clear conscience: no, I do not hate Muslim fellow human beings. All those clairvoyants who pretend to an ability to look inside my head and proclaim to the world what my “real” intentions are, have it all wrong. Of course I do not hate Muslims. The Islamophiles are unable to back up such an allegation, they haven’t even tried and I don’t expect them to. On my part, I will go the extra mile and demonstrate my innocence of this alleged “hate”.
In pro-Islamic rhetoric among Muslims, it is commonly assumed that the Western interventions in Muslim countries are linked with and proof of “Islamophobia”, a terrible force that has all the might of the NATO armies at its disposal. Just the opposite is the case. Each one of the interventionist Western war leaders, together responsible for hundreds of thousands of Muslim deaths, has taken care to distance himself from the “Islamophobes” and has spoken out in favour of Islam. Not one of them has soiled his hands on criticism of Islam. On the contrary, John Kerry made himself the champion of the armed defence of “true Islam” against the Islamic State’s “distortion” of Islam by announcing the intervention of NATO bombers, whose job would be to target Muslims. David Cameron called the targeted Muslims “monsters, not Muslims”, but with his total incompetence on Islam, he is not fooling anybody. Under whatever name, it is Muslims his Royal Air Force is killing.
Against this bloodlust among explicit Islamophiles, I have always opposed Western interventions in the greater Middle East, particularly those in Iraq, Libya and the planned intervention in Syria. I don’t count this as special or heroic, indeed, my own government (Belgium) and the neighbouring powers France and Germany boycotted the “allied” invasion of Iraq in 2003. Saddam Hussein was not a nice man to know, but history since then has proven that the Western intervention has unchained many other demons, including the Islamic State. Likewise, the intervention in Libya, largely the brainchild of French Islamophile philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, has chased and murdered a flawed dictator who was a “lesser evil” appropriate for that part of the world, but it created a far worse chaos and civil war. Its ideological value and results are as yet unclear, but its tangible consequence is that hundreds of thousands of Muslims are being killed. That is what I have opposed all along.
For the umpteenth time, I repeat: what the Muslim world needs is a thaw, not the mobilization and polarization which Western interventions cause. People grow in circumstances of stability and a reasonable degree of prosperity, not in endless wars. In my opinion, this thaw will allow them to outgrow Islam; but I am aware that others have different perspectives of what “progress” among Muslims would constitute. Alright, let the clash of ideas decide that. But all our preferred scenarios of how the Muslim world should evolve, presuppose propitious circumstances, not the useless wars and chaos which Western Islamophiles have inflicted on that part of the world.
Hate and the jihad girls
Very recently, a debate has raged in my country about how to deal with the Syria volunteers: young Muslims who go to join the militias fighting in Syria, including the Islamic State. Islamophiles eager to protect their rosy picture of “peaceful” Islam are thereby confronted with real Islam rearing its jihadi head. So, in order to delink the actual jihads, beheadings, rapes and slave-markets from Islam, they have to impute to these young Muslims external motives. Bypassing their stated motive of Islam, the Islamophiles call these Muslims “crazies”, “misfits”, “monsters”. In order to save a doctrine, they spread hate against real-life Muslims.
My answer to this is to defend these Muslims. As young idealists, they are only acting out the religion they have been taught. They are so committed that, whatever the wisdom of the ideology they have embraced, they are staking their lives. That deserves respect. If they have committed war crimes, I do not want to spare them the consequences, but these can be judged under existing laws, there is no need to criminalize their involvement in a radical form of their religion. If anyone is really at fault, it is this religion itself.
Consider a special category among these volunteers: the jihad girls. In a Dutch-language article (http://www.inflandersfields.eu/2014/11/wat-de-doen-met-de-nieuwe-oostfronters.html) of 5 November 2014, I delinked the misguided idealism of the Syria volunteers from the religion that motivates them and that is whitewashed and patronized by our politicians. About the jihad girls, I wrote:
“The jihad girls as well deserve a better press. They are decent girls who make clear through their veils that they keep men at a distance, not sluts as they call their Western sisters. Yet they go to the military frontier in Syria to offer their sexual services to real men: those who without any outside pressure have volunteered for frontline duty, and who are prepared to die for the cause they believe in. Syria fighters who return home can count on support from the Muslim community and receive lots of applause. But applause is cheap: anyone could give it. These girls stake themselves, their bodies and their futures. They don’t offer miserable consolation prizes, they give the main prize: themselves.”
In the Islamic State, the jihad girls are the honourable alternative to raping an Assyrian woman or buying a Yezidi slave-girl. So, rather than slandering them as “crazy”, “confused” and all the hate vocabulary thrown at them by politicians seeking to keep Islam out of the equation, I plead their case. I highlight their youthful idealism and insist on the distinction between their generous involvement and the guilty doctrine that has gripped them. Tell me if this is hatred.
So, in a number of cases, I have defended Muslims as only a understanding friend would. But even and especially my deconstruction of Islam is meant as a boon to our fellow-men. The main point is that liberating them from Islam is the very opposite of hate. Suppose you discover that a close friend of yours still believes in Santa Claus. Would you not, because you are his friend, feel obliged to inform him of the truth?
Islam and the truth
The problem with Islam is not just that it generates an enormous self-righteousness in oppressing and even killing unbelievers. Even if the religion could be cleansed from its intolerant and violent aspects, it still remains untrue.
This need not be a problem, strictly speaking, because in ancient times, the concept of “true religion” didn’t even exist yet. Truth is something that philosophers and scientists deal with, and even they only do so when on the job. Most people are not seriously concerned with truth, and their priests do not cater to a need that hardly exists. They may give their time and money for beauty, for comfort, for reassurance, for altered states of consciousness, but not for truth. Then, in comes Christianity claiming to bring the truth and declaring all the rest to be “false religions”. Next, Islam comes with the claim that Christianity and other preceding religions have been found wanting. Now that it has been revealed, Islam itself is the true religion.
Religion as such is not true or false, it is about devotion, standing in awe before the divine, and temporarily achieving a higher state of mind. It is only when religion takes itself so serious that it claims to be the true religion, and the only true one at that, that we should scrutinize it for truth or untruth. And so, scholars have held Islam against the light and found it to be untrue.
The first claim of the Islamic creed, that there is no deity except for Allah, could still be explained as somehow true. If we didn’t know the Quran or Mohammed’s life, we could interpret it in a Vedic, inclusive sense: Ishwar Allah tere naam, Raam Rahim ek hai (“Your name is both Shiva and Allah”, ”Rama and Rahim [= merciful;Allah] are the same”); indeed, Mahatma Gandhi and many other naïve Hindus have done so. However, its real meaning in Islam is not so inclusive: Shiva is a false god, as well as Jupiter and the rest of them, and only Allah deserves worship. But alright, let us for a moment suspend our judgment here, the divine is way beyond us. The real problem with Islam is not Allah, nor is the pilgrimage to Mecca, the five prayers, or the month of fasting, equivalents to practices which equally exist in Hinduism and other religions.
The real problem is the second part of the Islamic creed: that Mohammed is Allah’s messenger. To the unforewarned reader, nothing about the Quran suggests a divine origin: the text is incoherent, contains historical and scientific mistakes, is annoyingly repetitive, and mentions nothing that could not be known to a 7th-century Arab businessman. So, a different explanation than “divine revelation” is required. Ever more medics and scholars of Islam see through Mohammed’s claim of receiving divine revelations. This was only a delusion, though many people (we call them believing Muslims) still assert that they take this delusion seriously. Mohammed had the typical features of a paranoia patient: a central delusion concerning himself, viz. that he was chosen as the special and definitive messenger of God, nurtured by frequent sensory hallucinations. Before anyone flares up in indignation, let me point out that this is simply applied secularism: understanding a claim of the supernatural as simply a human phenomenon.
Psychiatrists know of a phenomenon called folie à deux (“madness with two”), where the partner or other dear one of a mental patient starts to act out or even interiorize the latter’s delusion. We could say that the Islamic world is a billionfold folie à deux. Some really believe Mohammed’s claim; it is healthy and good for them if they shed this delusion. Others are secretly skeptical but feel pressured to play along with the Islamic game; it is beneficial for them if they can finally embrace their skepticism freely and leave Islam behind.
Many people are very attached to the religious life, and to the community life that goes with it. This they can continue, there is just no issue of depriving them of that. Perhaps Communists would want to oppress and abolish this religious dimension, but certainly not Hindu activists. There is nothing wrong with a pilgrimage to the shapeless stone (the linga) in the Kaaba, or with prayer, or with giving alms. Of course, these practices will then evolve naturally rather then being frozen into the patterns laid down by unchanging Islamic law. Thus, these ex-Muslims brought up on the notion of pilgrimage to Mecca may discover the value of Kashi or Ayodhya, or their month of fasting may be transformed by a modern medical understanding of healthier and more effective forms of fasting than to cram themselves after dark just before bedtime. But essentially they may continue being religious: the problem is not Allah but Mohammed.
Mohammed (peace be upon him)
Even in Mohammed, we should distinguish between different aspects. There is the idealized Mohammed of popular Islam, the one they teach to children and that remains the centre of their religion for the rest of their lives. When I first came to India, in 1988, the country still had these Soviet bookshops, where you could buy textbooks for a song. There they had really well-made children’s books with stories and nice pictures featuring Lenin. Mother would start telling her charming stories after being asked by the children: “Mother, tell us about Lenin.” And so, the historical agitator and dictator, hard as nails, was transformed into a legendary benefactor. Similarly, the Mohammed of ordinary Muslims’ imagination is very different from the historical Mohammed. That literary Mohammed is bound to linger for some time as a literary character.
Then there is the historical Mohammed who genuinely deserves our sympathy. Mohammed was an orphan who lost his father before his birth, and his mother at six. The relatives who took him under their wing deprived him of his inheritance. Since they were Pagans, resentment about this experience later went into the argumentative armour of Islam against Paganism: a single case of deceit is contrasted with a supposed honesty intrinsic to Mohammed and thus to Islam. And we have to admit that the Arab Pagans were not saints either. A society has a right to exist even if its members are imperfect, but nevertheless it is good to realize their imperfection. This imperfection was fortunate for Islam, for we see that when Mohammed offered the bait of booty and other perks of being a Muslim, many Arabs walked over to his camp. So, we have to discard the black-and-white picture of “good Muslims vs. evil Pagans”, according to Islam’s apologists, and of “evil Muslims vs. good, broad-minded, Shiva-worshipping Pagans” that you find in some Hindu pamphlets. No, the historical fact is that Mohammed was just a human being, as were his enemies, and of all of them, both positive and negative things can be said.
Thirdly, there is Mohammed in his assumed role of Prophet. That he practised robbery, abduction, rape, enslavement, child marriage, targeted murder and mass murder, is a fact, at least according to the Islamic source texts. (We forego discussion of the theories pioneered by Christoph Luxenberg that Mohammed didn’t exist, assuming that our Muslim guests wouldn’t like those either.) In itself, this need not be important: Genghis Khan and numerous others committed atrocities too, but these are only a footnote in history books without importance for the present. We don’t care if a 7th-century Arab businessman was rather less than perfect.
A problem arises, however, when his words and acts are glorified as the beautiful model today, and taken as legally valid precedent, the basis of Islamic law sanctioned by association with God’s own revelation. Then we get the duty of properly scrutinizing this model behaviour and of pointing out the many instances where this behaviour is contrary to human morality. In those instances, Muslims are presented with a stark choice: either choosing the humanly correct course, or following Mohammed. Will they have the courage to do the right thing and implicitly to say: “Mohammed was wrong”? This is indeed a problem for a Muslim’s conscience, but only for as long as he believes in Mohammed as the chosen messenger of Allah. Become an ex-Muslim and free yourself of this burden.
The benefits of apostasy
Apart from the Islamic prescription that apostates be killed (admittedly a serious hurdle) and its watered-down version of social pressure, there is no real drawback to leaving Islam.
I can say this with some authority, as I know what I am speaking about from experience. I am an apostate from another “true religion” myself. As a child, I was a devout Catholic, even considering a life in the priesthood. Like most friends and acquaintances, I outgrew the faith of my youth, and have gone through all the phases of doubt and compromise. Finally I had to face the certainty that Christianity was fundamentally mistaken and unnecessary, eventhough its morality, arts and everyday worldview had a lot that remains worth preserving. So, I am not asking anything from the Muslims that I haven’t been through myself. I know from experience that there is life after apostasy.
One argument against leaving Islam is particularly relevant to the present-day situation: belonging to a religion is mostly a community affair, as Hindus will certainly understand. Mahatma Gandhi opposed conversion because it would split families and communities. So, does this not apply to Muslims? No matter if their distant ancestors were converted under duress, but today they have an effective community life among fellow Muslims. Hindus may well sympathize with this objection, and indeed, integration into Hinduism has historically concerned whole communities rather than individuals.
But this type of conversion today will not so much concern lone individuals. Like in Europe recently, it could become a wave. Those whom you used to meet in the mosque or in community activities as youngsters, you will continue to meet later on, as they too are subject to the same de-Islamizing developments. This is in tune with the present-day state of information and communications technology. Most Muslims nowadays have, thanks to the creativity of non-Muslims including Hindus, access to the internet, a kind of Sesame Open Thee that gives entry to all available sources of information. They can all read the data on Islam gathered by ex-Muslims and other scholars.
And where formal Hinduization of communities is still the norm, Ghar Wapasi follows this formula: according to my information from VHP contacts, most reconversion ceremonies do affect extended families as a whole. So, some adjustments will be needed in the community life of Muslims and ex-Muslims, but nothing dramatic, especially in a modern society where changes are already impressing themselves on everyone.
The start of our talk was an isight into who the Muslims are: they are a congregation of (people descended from) converts from other religions. Apologists of Islam, including the secularists, have a racialized or essentialized conception of the Muslim community: they think that Muslims have a God-given essence as Muslims, that they are fixed in their Muslim identity the way Blacks are (at present) bound to remain Black. This view is superstitious and unhistorical, it ignores or denies the historical genesis and contingency of the Muslim identity. It happens to agree with the Islamic view that Islam is eternal. But in reality, it has come about at a point in time and is bound to disappear at another point in time.
While this disappearance is ultimately inevitable, today it has also become urgently desirable. Religious terrorism, the topic of my session at the India Ideas Conclave, is now a very intrusive problem which should be remedied at the root. This is a pot we don’t want to keep boiling. As for my opponents, I hope they can face their children and grandchildren, and tell them: “Our generation could have tackled the Islam problem. At the very least, we could have tried. But instead, we have chosen to pass the problem on to you. Go ahead and bear the brunt.”
But this emergency reason for tackling Islam as a problem should only be the negative reason that happens to impose itself. The positive reason, far more important, is that we feel for the human beings who have become Muslim. Hindus who don’t have much experience with active conversion sometimes ask me why Christian missionaries try to convert them. So I tell them: “Because they love you.” Indeed, in their ignorance, the missionaries believe that all human beings have to be saved through Christianity, and since they care about all fellow-men, they feel a pressing need to bring them out of the camp of the doomed into the camp of the saved. So, the thing to do vis-à-vis Islam is a slight improvement upon this same approach. We have to shed the old ignorance, shed the mistaken notion of a “true religion” to which all men have to be brought, but still show the same love. Let Muslims come out of the prison-house of Islam into the freedom of the spirit, and then let their religious nature take its course.