Nesrine Malik’s cavalcade of stupidity

October 26, 2008 at 3:47 pm (Feminism, Guardian, Human rights, Islam, Max Dunbar, Middle East, reaction, religion, secularism)

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.

It’s by Nesrine Malik – who we met back in May. This week she’s letting us know that being murdered for apostasy is really no big deal:

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:

Interviewer

After you taught at Duke University you went back to Egypt. Are you again in exile now?

el Sadaawi

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.

15 Comments

  1. KB Player said,

    I’ve got used to The Guardian printing such stuff, but is there no-one on its editorial team that doesn’t find themselves aghast at putting it into their paper? I mean, they don’t publish stuff from the BNP saying, “Contrary to what is put around about us, the BNP doesn’t want to repatriate all non-whites from the UK, only a few, and we have a splinter group who thinks those with two white grandparents should be allowed to stay.”

  2. maxdunbar said,

    Couldn’t agree more.

  3. Jules said,

    “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.”

    Max, which part of “this is in no way acceptable” do you fail to comprehend? It’s quite evident that the purpose of Malik’s article isn’t to excuse or condone the death penalty for apostasy but to challenge the demonisation of Arab and Muslim societies which helps to strengthen such regressive practices.

    You haven’t sought to disprove either of Malik’s arguments that the extent of the apostasy killing has been exaggerated or that a multitude of factors other than Islam play a role in their commission. Instead you’ve simply insinuated from these arguments that Malik is somehow tolerant of the practice even though she states that she isn’t. .

    Really underlying your lack of seriousness is your sarcastic remark “Nothing to do with us, mate: the killers have ‘misinterpreted’ or ‘perverted’ the peaceful holy scripture”. Do you really think that the best argument against apostasy killings is to say that they a correct interpretation of Islamic doctrine when the societies they are practiced in are overwhelmingly muslim? Such idiocy would seem to indicate that what you’re really concerned with is cheap political point scoring and having a pop at muslims.

  4. Sue R said,

    Jules: What are you going to do about them, then? What’s your feeling on ‘muti’ killings in South Africa?

  5. KB Player said,

    A short summing up of Malik’s article would be something like:- “Don’t criticise Islam as that will make it more likely for apostates to be killed.” So don’t criticise evangelical Christians who bomb abortion clinics, as they will just go around and bomb even more abortion clinics.

    ” Max, which part of “this is in no way acceptable” do you fail to comprehend? It’s quite evident that the purpose of Malik’s article isn’t to excuse or condone the death penalty for apostasy but to challenge the demonisation of Arab and Muslim societies which helps to strengthen such regressive practices.”

    By “demonisation of Arab and Muslim societies” I take it that you mean “criticise”? And is there any evidence that criticising the practice of killing apostates leads to more apostates being killed and strengthens the hands of the apostate killers? And should we therefore refrain from criticising the practice and it will then stop all by itself? And not support, when we can, those from within the societies who are in danger of being killed for apostasy (in case that really pisses off those who think that they should be killed).

  6. Andrew Coates said,

    This really is an important post.

    I hope that it gets seen by as many people as possible.

    We will crush these Islamist racists in the end, though.

  7. maxdunbar said,

    Jules

    Max, which part of “this is in no way acceptable” do you fail to comprehend? It’s quite evident that the purpose of Malik’s article isn’t to excuse or condone the death penalty for apostasy but to challenge the demonisation of Arab and Muslim societies which helps to strengthen such regressive practices.

    You really could have fooled me. When Malik says that the death penalty is not used ‘gratituously or frequently’ does that not imply that it can be used ‘sparingly’ or ‘selectively’?

    The only evidence Malik offers to support her assertion that A C Grayling and the Council of Ex Muslims are exaggerating the number of apostasy killings is to say ‘Well I don’t know anyone who has been killed for apostasy.’

    If I said something like:

    1) I don’t know any victims of racism;
    2) Therefore, black people exaggerate the amount of racism in Britain

    What would your reaction be?

    Later on Malik suggests that people like Wafa Sultan exaggerate the number of threats against them for the purpose of politicial gain.

    You haven’t sought to disprove either of Malik’s arguments that the extent of the apostasy killing has been exaggerated or that a multitude of factors other than Islam play a role in their commission. Instead you’ve simply insinuated from these arguments that Malik is somehow tolerant of the practice even though she states that she isn’t. .

    I’m happy to accept that there are more factors than Islam motivating these killings. I’m also happy to have the argument about whether Islamic scripture leads directly to apostasy killings or whether people have simply ‘misinterpreted’ the peaceful holy writ (as keeps on happening).

    Malik’s argument is basically:

    1) This is nothing to do with Islam
    2) The Council of Ex Muslims are just whining and exaggerating
    3) Don’t worry about it!

    The purpose of Malik’s article is not to speak up for people in danger of being killed for apostasy, but to absolve Islam of any association with the crime.

    Do you really think that the best argument against apostasy killings is to say that they a correct interpretation of Islamic doctrine when the societies they are practiced in are overwhelmingly muslim? Such idiocy would seem to indicate that what you’re really concerned with is cheap political point scoring and having a pop at muslims.

    No, I don’t accept that. The majority of figures I quote to support my argument are from Muslim societies.

  8. Sue R said,

    Whether the killings are Islamic or not, she admits that they are ‘proxy punishment’ for challenging the social and political status quo or for slights to honour. What a marvellous religion. Just suited for teh 21st century.

  9. Sue R said,

    What really gets me is that time and time again we are told ‘this is not real Islam, Islam is against genital mutilation, forced marriages, honour killings etc etc. It’s all cultural.’ Well, bloody hell, what’s Islam doing to stop it? Christianity gets a bad press, but it did nitigate some of the crueller practices of the tribes upon which ist was foisted such as female infanticide, human sacrifice etc etc. As a belief system (leaving aside its role in imperialism) it does have a coherent moral core. You could not be a Christian without accepting moral responsibilities towards your neighbour and also that all men are equal. There are variations on the creed, but all are essentially pacific. (I am not a Christian but I do get annoyed when people try to tar Christianity with the same brush as Islam or any of the other religions based on stratification and passivity.).

  10. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Actually for the record, the vast majority of Muslims worldwide do oppose genital mutilation, forced marriages and honour killings. Even many more conservative clerics (with whom I’d obviously have an issue on other questions) have spoken out against all three. Furthermore, I think you’d find that very few Muslims in this country would defend any of those practices.

  11. maxdunbar said,

    VP – yes, exactly. That is the nub of the matter

  12. Jules said,

    Well quite. But I think that’s the point of the article that you found so objectionable was trying to make.

  13. maxdunbar said,

    If it is then why does Malik pour scorn on people from Muslim backgrounds who speak out against apostasy killings.

  14. charliethechulo said,

    I see that the increasingly soft-headed David Edgar continues the theme that Islamism ain’t so bad, and is actually quite compatible with the left:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/29/islam-law-politicism-pluralism

    After all, Bungawala no longer calls for the killing of Salman Rushdie and the MCB no longer denounces Holocaust Day. And, of course the Stop The War “left” has never compromised on such issues as freedom of speech or gay rights as it has allied with Islamists, has it?

    Edgar’s feeble-minded drivel is increasingly beyond a joke. I couldn’t even be bothered to reply on CIF.

  15. maxdunbar said,

    I know, I saw that. It’s lost its power to outrage – you just shake your head in amused sorrow.

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