Ophelia Benson has already dealt with this in fine style, but the article she criticises is so relentless in its stupidity that I just cannot help from joining in.
Reading AC Grayling’s latest article and listening to the protestations of the Council of Ex-Muslims, you would think that the death penalty is being gratuitously and frequently applied to those who renounce Islam or harbour thoughts of apostasy.
It takes a second for the full force of Malik’s idiocy to sink in here. Most people on the Guardian are against the death penalty even for crimes such as murder or child abuse. But Malik appears to believe in an acceptable level of incidences where the death penalty can be used; not for committing violent crimes, but for leaving your religion.
So… if you listen to the militant atheists, you’d think that people were being killed for apostasy all over the place, right? Whereas, in reality, people are being killed, but not ‘gratituously or frequently’. So that’s all right then.
I have several friends and family members who are non-believers and apart from some efforts to return them to the straight and narrow or at least go through the motions of religious observance, they have not come into any physical danger.
As Ophelia says, this is nice but tells us jack shit. Richard Littlejohn could make the following argument: ‘I don’t know anyone who has been a victim of racism – therefore racism does not exist.’ It’s never worked for him and it doesn’t work for Malik now.
And what does ‘efforts to return them to the straight and narrow’ entail, exactly?
Oh but hang on – Muslim scholars have ‘differences of opinion’ regarding the death penalty:
Although the Council of Ex-Muslims and AC Grayling depict the threat to life and limb as an indisputable fact, in reality there are differences of opinion among Muslim scholars (ostensibly the hard core of the religion) regarding the death penalty for apostates.
Well this, too, is nice, and I’m sure is a great comfort to those people threatened with death for what amounts to a change of heart.
And anyway, even if people are killed for leaving their religion, this is not for religious reasons:
This is not to say that Muslim governments – and Arab ones in particular – have a tolerant view of apostasy but the death threat is invoked only rarely and more for political reasons rather than religion ones: to set an example or to save face as a proxy punishment for challenging the social or political status quo.
Nothing to do with us, mate: the killers have ‘misinterpreted’ or ‘perverted’ the peaceful holy scripture.
Then Malik’s silliness causes her to shoot herself in the foot:
Nawal el Sadaawi, a prominent Egyptian writer and social activist, has clashed several times with religious authorities and has even dismissed some of the rituals of the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) as pagan, but I do not believe she lives in any fear for her life.
Now, Dr Nawal el Sadaawi is an Egyptian feminist and campaigner against genital mutiliation. She’s been dismissed from jobs, received death threats and even been imprisoned for her writings. From an interview with el Sadaawi in 1999:
After you taught at Duke University you went back to Egypt. Are you again in exile now?
No, I am in Egypt now. I live in Egypt. Even when I was at Duke I did not consider myself in exile. I hated the word. The media said that. I said, well, I am in danger for my life in Egypt, and I have to leave, because I have to protect my life. And Duke offered me a post, so I came, you know.
She goes on to say this:
In my country if a girl loses her virginity, it’s a scandal. If she’s pregnant outside marriage, outside wedlock, it’s a scandal. Her name may be put on the death list, as happened with me, if she attacks, or is critical of religion or mainstream beliefs.
Emphasis is, naturally, mine.
The charitable interpretation is that Malik simply isn’t familiar with el Sadaawi and doesn’t realise that she does, contrary to Malik, have reason to fear for her life. And Malik does say that ‘It is easy to appear churlish or insensitive when disputing the assertions of people who claim their lives are in danger’. But – and there is always a but:
[W]e must also consider the possibility that some will annex the emotive power of ‘death for apostasy’ to serve their own ends, be they personal or political. Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-born ex-Muslim who has lived in the US for almost 20 years, became a hero of the neocons after claiming that some casually dismissive words from a cleric in a TV debate amounted to ‘a fatwa’. In due course, Time Magazine listed her as one of 100 influential people ‘whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world’.
Note the Uncle Tom subtext here: ‘a hero of the neocons… ex-Muslim who has lived in the US for twenty years.’
Like el-Sadaawi, Wafa Sultan is an ex-Muslim and critic of religion who received death threats after her appearance on a televised debate with a conservative cleric:
One message said: ‘Oh, you are still alive? Wait and see.’ She received an e-mail message the other day, in Arabic, that said, ‘If someone were to kill you, it would be me.’
Presumably – though she doesn’t have the guts to say so - Malik thinks that either Sultan is lying about the death threats, or deliberately provoked them just so that she could be on the cover of Time.
Sultan’s words prompted this satirical post from the blogger ‘Eerie’ on ‘How to be a Muslim reformer,’ a sardonic step-by-step guide with headings like ’Become a Western media darling’ and ‘Remind people that you are constantly under siege’. Here’s Step 6 (emphasis mine):
6. Rake in the cash
Watch as speaking invitations roll in from hardline right-wing Israeli and US organizations. No, it’s not a Jewish conspiracy, but for some odd reason they are in full agreement with your views on Islamic reform. You’re definitely on the way to winning Muslim hearts and minds if they’re supporting you!
I’ve always said that bad satire says more about its originator than its target, and the above tells us all we need to know about this blogger’s worldview. Still, Malik liked the blog enough to link to it in her article.
I used to get outraged about people like Nesrine Malik. Here we have an independent woman working in finance in secular London, telling women in the developing world that theocracy really isn’t so bad as they make out. Isn’t this an imperialist attitude?
But in the end, the appropriate response isn’t outrage: it’s a dark and riotous laughter at the arrant stupidity of it all.