Thursday, March 18, 2010

Andrew Bostom responds to Tarek Fatah's identity dance

If you have missed the little brouhaha here in Canada caused by "moderate Muslim" Tarek Fatah's attack on ex-Muslim, Dr. Wafa Sultan, you might pick up the story here.

I would then invite you to listen to Fatah in a couple of clips from the Michael Coren show where he responded to the critics of his attack on Sultan. I am particularly miffed by comments he makes at 5.16-6.00 of the following video, which strike me as dissimulating. I believe him when he says the Saudi Korans that are widely distributed in the West liberally use the word "Jew" as the English translation for less specific epithets in the original Arabic. But he says this with the apparent desire to avoid the question of whether there are not passages in the Arabic Koran that are explicitly anti-Jewish. And this is what Andrew Bostom is calling Fatah to account for, as quoted below.

Also see Fatah's vague interpretation of why the prophet Mohammed's wife Aisha was not a little girl upon marriage, here (this is actually the first of the two videos):

And here is Andrew Bostom's rebuttal: Pajamas Media » Silencing the Jews. Let me quote a little of it:
A front-page New York Times story published on January 10, 2009, included extracts from the Friday sermon (of the day before) at Al-Azhar mosque pronounced by Egyptian-government appointed cleric Sheik Eid Abdel Hamid Youssef. Referencing well-established anti-Semitic motifs from the Koran, Sheikh Youssef intoned:
Muslim brothers, God has inflicted the Muslim nation with a people whom God has become angry at [Koran 1:7] and whom he cursed [Koran 5:78] so he made monkeys and pigs [Koran 5:60] out of them. They killed prophets and messengers [Koran 2:61 / 3:112] and sowed corruption on Earth. [Koran 5:33 / 5:64] They are the most evil on Earth. [5:62 /63]
At present, the continual, monotonous invocation by Al-Azhar clerics of anti-Semitic motifs from the Koran (and other foundational Muslim texts) is entirely consistent with the published writings and statements of Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi — Grand Imam of this preeminent Islamic religious institution from 1996 until his recent passing. Tantawi’s academic magnum opus, Jews in the Koran and the Traditions, a 700-page treatise, elucidates the classical, mainstream theology of Islamic Jew-hatred:
[The] Koran describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e. killing the prophets of Allah [Koran 2:61/ 3:112], corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people’s wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their deep-rooted lasciviousness … only a minority of the Jews keep their word. … [A]ll Jews are not the same. The good ones become Muslims [Koran 3:113], the bad ones do not.
Tarek Fatah, other so-called Muslim moderates of his ilk, and their non-Muslim promoters must be compelled to answer the following question: is it "Islamophobia” to quote such statements — rife with Koranic Jew-hatred, and made by authoritative Muslim clerics representing the Vatican of Sunni Islam — or are Mr. Fatah’s reactions, ignoring the existence of these commonplace, normative Islamic proclamations, and vilifying those who bring them to public attention, especially pernicious forms of taqiyya (religiously sanctioned Islamic dissimulation) and Islamic Jew-hatred?

Elaborating on the depth of Muslim hatred for the Jews in his era, Maimonides (in ~ 1172 C.E.) made this profound observation regarding the Jewish predilection for denial, a feature that he insists will hasten their destruction:
We have acquiesced, both old and young, to inure ourselves to humiliation. … All this notwithstanding, we do not escape this continued maltreatment [by Muslims] which well nigh crushes us. No matter how much we suffer and elect to remain at peace with them, they stir up strife and sedition.
The Jews and their communal leaders like Maimonides living under Islamic rule in the Middle Ages — vanquished by jihad, isolated, and well-nigh defenseless under the repressive system of dhimmitude — can be excused for their silent, submissive denial. There is no such excuse in our era for silently submitting to the threats of disingenuous, hateful Muslim bullies like Tarek Fatah, given the existence of an autonomous Jewish state of Israel and a thriving Western Jewish diaspora, particularly here in the United States, living under the blanket of hard-won protections for their religious freedom, physical security, and dignity.

Hugh Fitzgerald also took some shots at Fatah's recent comments, here.

But I think the most cutting recent remarks directed at Fatah were penned by David Solway, in the midst of a paean to Geert Wilders:
For what you [Wilders] are really saying is that moderate Muslims cannot be devout Muslims or, in truth, cannot be Muslims at all. What sort of Muslim remains after you have factored out shariah law, effectively compared Muhammed to Hitler, and contended that the Koran should be outlawed, or at least designated as a species of hate literature, as you proposed in your letter to the newspaper De Volkskrant on August 8, 2007?

You now find yourself uncomfortably situated, so to speak, between the devil and the deep Red Sea. Not being a Muslim yourself, you don’t have the option of polemical emphasis that derives from rejecting the faith, becoming an apostate-on-principle or converting to another faith, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, Wafa Sultan and Nonie Darwish, among others—all of whom took the second part of your logic to its inevitable terminus. They understood that one cannot honestly profess Islam without abiding by the decrees of the religion and its holy book, including the oft-repeated summons to kill or enslave the infidel, the structure of gender apartheid, the imposition of shariah, and a host of other draconian laws.

In other words, a “moderate Muslim” would have to live in a state of contradiction, and perhaps many do—as does, for example, freedom loving Tarek Fatah, Canadian author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, who calls himself a “hardened secular Muslim.” What exactly is a secular Muslim, whether hardened or soft? Similarly, what could a “secular Christian” conceivably be other than some sort of mythical chimera? (It is different for Jews, of course; a “secular Jew” remains a Jew because the world persists in regarding him as such. But that is another matter.) Fatah is a good man and an important voice in the ongoing debate concerning Islam, but he cannot extricate himself from a legendary infatuation or acknowledge disagreeable historical and theological facts. One cannot cherry pick the Koran or romanticize Islamic history, as so-called “moderate Muslims” are obliged to do, without falling into incoherence. As a character in Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album says, “our religion isn’t something you can test out, like trying out a suit to see if it fit! You gotta buy the whole outfit!” There is, to put it another way, no such beverage as Islam Lite. One drinks in the real thing or nothing; there is no substitute.

Bangladeshi author and former Muslim Abul Kasem, in a FrontPage Magazine interview, defines the majority of Muslims as believers “in name only.” Kasem is shockingly direct: the existence of a “moderate Muslim” is contingent upon a moderate Koran “since the life force of Islam is the Qu’ran.” But the Koran happens to be an extreme and violent document, and even if it is selectively ignored by practitioners of the faith, its fissile core can be activated at any time. For Kasem, as for the dissidents mentioned above, the term “moderate Muslim” or “secular Muslim” is an oxymoron. The use of the term “moderate Muslim,” he argues, is “truly misplaced” and muddles Western thinking in the attempt to defeat Islamic terror. I’m presuming this is an argument you too would candidly advance if the sociopolitical context were not so precarious, and if your place in Dutch society and as leader of a respectable political party permitted you to do so.

While I don't see great value in arguing that it is impossible to be a "moderate Muslim", as if one cannot be in many respects a Muslim without knowing or wishing to dwell on the violent wording of the Koran (many Muslims don't read the Koran in translation and don't know Arabic), or as if one cannot consciously choose to interpret the Koran and Hadith as documents that must be read in historical context (however heretical that sounds to some), it is obvious today that many Muslims take the Koran all too literally when it comes to the book's frequent cursing of non-believers; and so Solway has much reason to suggest Western thinking is hopelessly muddled by the liberal insistence that (moderate) Islam, in general, not be viewed as a problem.

But I disagree with Solway that a "secular Christian" cannot exist. I won't rehash my arguments now, but I see Western secularism as quite distinctively an outgrowth of Christianity. A Christian might well see many of the secular political religions as heretical; a Christian might well see many secular values as antithetical to the model of Jesus. Still, as thinkers like Rene Girard argue - a sincere Christian himself - the motivating drives of modern secularism are in many respects characteristically Christian, most notably in their rebellions against the established order that are conducted in the name of one or another sacred victim, or in the name of transcending our culture's need for victims once and for all.

So, long story short, to my mind, a secular Jew is someone who has adapted to the modern world by becoming somewhat more Christian, and somewhat less Jewish, in character. Still, a secular Jew, as long as he is aware of his Jewishness, carries with him many habits and ways of seeing that are characteristically Jewish.

But like Solway, I have asked in the past, in regards to Tarek Fatah, whether one can make any sense of the concept of "secular Muslim". A secular Jew at least remains part of a distinctive national and familial identity that is Jewish. Fatah, on the other hand, is a Pakistani-Canadian. In Fatah's secular identity, just what is residually Islamic, and what Pakistani, and what Western? I don't have a ready answer but it strikes me as a more interesting question that whether he is a "moderate Muslim". That "moderate" debate is overly fixated on the worship of mere words.


Tarek Fatah said...

Dr. Bostom,

I have never denied that the Quran does have unflattering remarks about Jews. No question about it.

This issue never came up in the discussion on the Michael Coren show.

In my upcoming book about Muslim anti-Semitism, I identify the verses where Jews are targetted and dwell on how Muslims should reconcile the Quran with the reality on the ground.

Where we differ is that I am not convinced that Muslims will give p their faith at the switch f a button and because people like Wafa Sultan sneer and mock them. I have chosen to be a Muslim and to fight Islamism at the same time. This may not meet your expectation, but I cannot help that.

Best, Tarek Fatah

truepeers said...

Thanks for your response, Mr. Fatah.

I should have been more aware that with your forthcoming book, you must be talking about these issues. My apologies. I look forward to reading your arguments.

If it matters, I don't have any serious expectations about what you or any Muslims must believe. Unlike many, I am not invested in thinking Islam must be defined as xyz. So a Bostom-type argument has its limits, for me. What matters is how people reconcile the various textual and experiential realities of the world and show, through events no holy book has foreseen, what they really believe. Given current events, i'm not sure that makes me any happier than Bostom however.

But I do care deeply about antisemitism. And so while I am suspicious of Islam for just this reason, I do not think there can be no possible redemption of the religious antisemites. I leave the question open. I would say the same thing about Christianity. I would say that Christianity is, by its very nature as a religion that is rooted in a reaction to the primary history of Jewish monotheism, structurally antisemitic - why else the need for a new testament?

This does not make all Christians Jew haters, nor does it mean I don't also think there is a need in history for new and renewed covenants on the model of Israel. But it does pose for all Christians the challenge that they have to come to terms with the problem of Jewish insistence on remaining Jewish, of insisting that the Jewish idea of G-d remains true; and so CHristians should, it seems to me, struggle to find a way to overcome resentment of Jewish firstness and Jewish refusal to think newer ideas of G-d are fundamentally better. Perhaps then one can recognize that the idea that "the Jews killed Jesus" is a calling to recognize just how universal is the human sin of violence, and also the sin of resentment of those who have taken a historical lead in receiving divine revelation; and so, if God's chosen are not excluded from this universal truth, then the rest of us are all the more sure to be implicated in Jesus' death, and by extension in sins like antisemitism, perhaps then a Christian can find the revelatory meaning of his religion in a way that allows him to embrace the Jewish nation and, among other things, its right to self defense in the midst of an all-too common opinion that Israel is in various respects illegitimate because it too must use violence in the face of implacable enemies.

I am not saying some such understanding will prove impossible in the Islamic world, that Muslims can't reconcile claims that the Koran is the original and complete revelation with the historical fact that it is many respects a response to the historical primacy of Judaism in the field of monotheism. I wait for someone to show it to me, and others, however, and in the meantime keep my guard up.

Thanks again.