Saturday, December 08, 2007

Lyin' Ayaan and the Moderate Muslims

On the New York Times' Op-Ed page of Dec. 7, 2007 Ayaan Hirsi Ali asks "where are the moderate Muslims?" accusing us of silence in the face of various atrocities committed in the name of our religion. My answer to Ayaan:

(and yes, a short version of this was sent to their letters page!)


There are, in fact, many Muslim individuals (myself and many friends included) and organizations (CAIR, Muslims for Progressive Values, Al-Fatiha GLBT Muslims, etc....) who stand up against such travesties as Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes. We are not silent; we are ignored. The press loves to build up sensationalist stories, and neo-con hacks like Ayaan are promoted well-funded and highly organized "think-tanks."


While Ayaan is describing real crimes that do take place, these do not reflect attitudes or laws that are universal throughout Islam. Like many American "recovering Catholics" she has taken her own personal experiences from one terrible milieu and generalized that erroneously to the entire religion.


Her Qur'anic quote is taken out of context. Following the terrifying 24:2, ayah 24:4 sets a very high standard of evidence and a nearly equal punishment for those who bring accusations without four eye witnesses to the act of adultury. Then 24:5 offers clemency for all who repent and correct the situation. In Islam divorce and re-marriage are very easy. By these standards, someone really has to want a beating to get one!

In effect a much harsher pre-Islamic patriarchal society in 7th C. Arabia was being told that yes, adultery is terrible, but careless accusations are as bad, and there is plenty of room for mercy to absolve the adulterer.

God and Islam are merciful. Would that more Muslims paid more attention as they invoked "God who is all compassion and mercy."


Unfortunately, when we look at "Muslim" governments today we are looking at repressive feudal societies or military dictatorships propped up by petro-dollars or American aid (plus a very few radical regimes reacting against western exploitation) These repressive regimes invoke the Qur'an selectively with harsh punishments, but ignore the context and the mercy that fuller readings make obvious. Lacking any legitimacy they claim religious authority, but this is an old trick that "Christian" governments in the West pulled for centuries. These are not "Muslim" governments so much as they are neo-colonial dictatorships. Economics, militarism, and corruption are much more in evidence than any practice of Islam. But --uh-oh -- admitting that in the Western press would implicate the US, UK, and French governments (among other Western political and commercial powers) in propping up these self-described "Islamic" regimes.

As with most religions, the problem is not the religion itself, but self-styled leaders who abuse it to justify their own quest for power and wealth. As the Islamic world consists largely of once-colonized nations now under neo-colonial regimes, it is too easy to avoid issues of economic and social justice by blaming the religion.


A careful reading of the Qur'an and an understanding of Muslim culture and thinking through history shows that we have the capacity to solve these problems within our religion, our cultures, and history.

Denying the potential that Muslims have to heal our own problems serves to legitimize foreign intervention, but intervention and colonialism are the source of many problems in the Muslim world, they are certainly not solutions to anything.
There are moderates and progressives, faithful Muslims working within the Muslim community, using our faith as a key to the many problems that plague our community. People like Mike Ghouse, Pamela Taylor, El-Farouk Khaki, Omid Safi, Ani Zonnenveld, and Faisal Alam are speaking up, and addressing the same issues that we are taken to task for ignoring. But they are not ignoring the issues; they are ignored. Ayaan makes a dramatic and polarizing figure, very mediagenic to be sure, but a distraction from the answer to the question she asks: Where are the moderate muslims? We are everywhere. If reporters would look past neo-con press releases and go looking for the real story we are easily found.