Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It Has Happened Here: Islamist Censorship in America

BECK: And everybody is crying out, where are those Muslim voices? You and people like you are in so much danger. How much -- how much does fear play a role in silencing the voices of Islam?

MANJI: Huge. And fear of many things. Fear not just of being ostracized in your community, but obviously fear of violence, as well.

You know, Glenn, I speak at university campuses right across not just North America, but around the world. And invariably, young Muslims come up to me afterwards to whisper thank you in my ear. And when I ask them, why are you whispering? They say to me, "Irshad, you know, you have the luxury of being able to walk away from this campus two hours from now. I don`t, and I don`t want to be stalked for supporting your views." And if they`re women, a lot of them say, "I don`t want to be raped for supporting your views."

So this is happening in America,
and I don`t want to suggest, Glenn. Let me just be clear. I don`t want to suggest that every Muslim feels this kind of fear. But every Muslim does know that, if you take on the most mangled aspects of our faith today, you will be subject to such a vitriolic smear campaign that it will bring shame and dishonor upon your family. So there is huge pressure to say nothing.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Irshad Manji, Interviewed on the Glenn Beck Show, CNN Headline News, February 9, 2007.

In a September 13 post, liberal blogger and author Glenn Greenwald mocked the concerns expressed by many over violent Islamist censorship:

Mark Steyn wrote a best-selling book warning that Europe was being destroyed by primitive, fast-breeding Muslims. Robert Spencer has now written at least six books attacking Islam, with titles such as "The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion," "Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest-Growing Faith," and "Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West." Steyn and Spencer are anything but in seclusion. And I missed the news reports about the bombings of bookstores carrying those tracts.

Countless politicians have devoted their public careers to crusades against the Islamic world. Rick Santorum's new mission in life is to convince Americans that "Islamic fascism" is the greatest threat ever. David Horowitz declared October 22-26 "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week." Ann Coulter calls Muslims "ragheads" and threatens them with violence.

In Greenwald's view, concern over Islamist censorship is merely a pretext for hysterical warmongering and anti-Muslim bigotry. It is only his woeful ignorance of Islamism and its history that allows him to make this argument.

The main point that Greenwald overlooks in his rush to obliterate whole barns worth of straw men is the fact that violent Islamist censorship has already occurred in America. It is ironic that he would speak derisively of the "bombings of bookstores" when in 1989 two Berkeley, California bookstores were firebombed for carrying Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. As recently as last year, Borders and Waldenbooks refused to stock a magazine that featured the Danish Mohammed cartoons. (They later carried an issue of Harper's that published the cartoons.) The threat of Islamists bombing bookstores may seem imaginary to Greenwald, but the management of Borders thought it was worth taking seriously.

Greenwald mentions Robert Spencer and notes that he is "anything but in seclusion.". This is true. However, Spencer has received a number of death threats from Islamists, as he has fully documented on his blog Jihad Watch. He is not the only anti-Islamist American writer confronting this danger. Investigative journalist Steven Emerson received numerous death threats following the release of his documentary Jihad in America.

Still, though, Greenwald has a valid point: for the most part, Americans who say critical or harsh things about Islam can usually do so without fear of violence. Thankfully, there has yet to be a Theo Van Gogh type incident, where a non-Muslim was murdered for what he or she said about Islam, here in the U.S.

Unfortunately, this does not apply to Muslim dissidents and freethinkers who live in America. While not quite as endangered as those in Europe or the Middle East, Muslim "apostates" in the United States are indeed subject to intimidation and violence. Sadly, this has even extended to murder.

In January 1990, an Egyptian born Muslim named Rashid Khalifa was murdered in Tucson, Arizona. Khalifa was the founder of a highly unorthodox interpretation of Islam, and a group of Saudi clerics had declared him an apostate the previous year, thus sanctioning his killing. The murder is believed to have been committed by radical Islamists possibly tied to al Qaeda.

In 2001, a Pakistani-American scholar named Khalid Duran wrote an introductory book about Islam called Children of Abraham. After the pro-Islamist Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) condemned Duran's book as anti-Muslim (without having seen it), an Islamist leader in Jordan named Sheikh ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Abu Zant proclaimed Duran an apostate. In an article for the Winter 2002 Middle East Quarterly, Duran bluntly described his predicament:

The inflammatory language used by Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director, to vilify my book, was bound to incite reactions like that of Abu Zant. Put differently, the accusations and the language used by CAIR in its statements, especially those in Arabic, could not but result in calls for violence against me. And so I find myself, the author of a book written to promote a wider understanding of Islam, under a death threat and in need of protection. CAIR has put my life in peril. Its actions are the culmination of a campaign meant to intimidate and silence not only me, but any Muslim in America who would speak out in favor of freedom, tolerance, and dialogue.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Thankfully, the threats against Khalid Duran have never been acted on. However, considering the fate of Rashid Khalifa, they must be taken seriously. This also applies to the threats received by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. An October 4 New York Times article confirms that she has received "credible death threats in the United States" since moving here in 2006. In May of this year, the Imam of a mosque in Johnstown Pennsylvania was forced to resign after saying that Hirsi Ali deserved to be killed for her harsh criticisms of Islam.

Unfortunately, death threats against relatively well-known individuals are merely symptomatic of a broader climate of intimidation directed at those American Muslims who would speak out against Islamists. In May, copies of two Urdu-language newspapers based in New York were systematically destroyed and editors of both papers threatened after they ran articles that referenced Israel and/or were written by Jews. Late last year, a Muslim in Tulsa, Oklahoma named Jamal Miftah was expelled from his mosque after writing an op-ed piece condemning al Qaeda and Islamist extremism. After the story produced a public outcry, Miftah was invited back. Finally, as the Irshad Manji quote at the top of this post illustrates, even in the U.S. many young Muslims who would like to express reformist views stay silent out of fear.

Glenn Greenwald might choose to dismiss concerns over Islamist censorship as hysterical exaggeration of "imaginary threats". Unfortunately, to American Muslim freethinkers and reformers, there is nothing imaginary about it.


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