Two news bulletins from the Low Countries:
First, Ehsan Jami, a Dutch local authority councilor for the Labour party, of Iranian origin, announced a few months ago that he was creating a Committee for Ex-Muslims. Since then has been beaten up by islamist thugs and has received dozens of threatening phone calls. His life has been threatened, Islamic prayers have been screamed down his phone line as well as many an 'Allahu Akbar.'
Second, Geert Wilders, Chair of the Dutch party PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid - Party for Liberty) wants to have the Quran banned in the Netherlands. His reasons are that the Quran calls for the death of those guilty of apostasy, blasphemy, homosexuality and pre-marital or extra-marital sex, condones slavery, supports the subordination of women, and asserts the superiority of Islam over any other religion and accordingly assigns greater rights to Muslims than to non-Muslims.
There are times that losing my Dutch passport because I voluntarily took on another nationality is distinctly less bothersome. The day I read these two news items was one of those days.Mr Wilders and the thugs that beat up and persecute Ehsan Jami deserve each other. It is clearly of the utmost importance that those who treasury liberty and an open society be aware of just what they are up against when confronted with Islamic fundamentalism and islamist fanatics.
Apostasy in Islam (the rejection of Islam in word or deed by a person who has been a Muslim) is, according to Sharia law, punishable by death. All five major schools of Islamic jurisprudence agree that a sane male apostate must be executed. The fatwahs targeting Salman Rushdie were therefore fully consistent with the prevailing interpretations of Sharia law. A female apostate should be put to death, according to some schools, or imprisoned, according to others. Whether this contrasting treatment of the female and the male is good news or bad news, I leave as an exercise for the reader. (For that matter, proseletyzing targeted at Muslims is likewise forbidden by Sharia law; punishments vary according to the legal and cultural traditions but can include death for the would-be missionaries.)
Blasphemy, according to Sharia law, is also punishable by death or exile: "... execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;”[Surah Al-Maidah 5:33]). The assassination of the Dutch cineast Theo van Gogh by an islamist fanatic was justfified on the grounds of van Gogh's blasphemous work, including his film Submission.
The Islamic view of apostasy is clearly incompatible with western views of human rights and religious freedom. No compromise is possible. People must have the right to change their religion as often as they change their underwear. To observe any religion or none is a fundamental human right. End of story.
Blasphemy laws still survive in various forms in some western countries, although the penalties fall short of what Sharia law demands. All blasphemy laws should be relegated to the scrap heap of history, together with any lèse majesté laws that may survive.
Homosexuality is a sin according to Islam; according to fundamentalist Islam, it is punishable by death. Extra-marital and pre-marital sex can be punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment or death. This intolerant barbarism is not acceptable and must be fought. Of course, the same intolerant views can be found in the Christian bible and in the Hebrew Scriptures.
It is true that the Quran condones slavery and supports and mandates the subordination of women. So do the Bible and the Hebrew Scriptures. A very clear statement of the common roots of female subordination in Judaism, Christianity and Islam by the Egyptian feminist Dr. Nawal Saadawi (1990) : "the most restrictive elements towards women can be found first in Judaism in the Old Testament then in Christianity and then in the Quran",..., "all religions are patriarchal because they stem from patriarchal societies" and "veiling of women is not a specifically Islamic practice but an ancient cultural heritage with analogies in sister religions".
It is not the Quran, or the Bible or the Hebrew Scriptures that are dangerous and should be banned. The danger comes from a fundamentalist, literalist reading of selected passages of these bewildering, complex and contradictory writings. Most modern Christians and Jews (and many modern Muslims) recognise that the time and place of their holy books' creation deeply influenced, constrained and at times distorted the manner in which these books' authors or chroniclers expressed themselves. The message needs to be constantly adapted and adjusted to remain relevant to changing times and circumstances, and indeed to remain true. Believers also tend to subscribe to the view that there is a deep core of the divine message that is unvarying - permanent. But that essence need not even be expressed in any of the exact words or phrases found in the holy books.
Fundamentalism is a curse, no matter which religion it infects. Fortunately, Christian fundamentalism and Judaic fundamentalism are less of a political force today than they used to be in days gone by. They are not completely irrelevant, unfortunately. Christian fundamentalism has poisoned the Republican Party in the US and polarised US political life at home and abroad since the days of Reagan. Jewish fundamentalism has a destructive influence quite disproportionate to its small numbers in the state of Israel.No doubt Islam will evolve, given enough time, towards a less fundamentalist interpretation of the faith and its core writings - the Quran and the Hadith. God gave the same brains to Muslims, Christians and Jews; it just so happened that Islam emerged more than six centuries after Christianity and some 29 centuries after Judaism; one might therefore expect Islam to still need a few more centuries to work out some of the teething problems of becoming a religion fit for an emancipated, educated humanity. Actually, six centuries ago, Christianity was in its Ferdinand and Isabella phase - something much closer in spirit, practice and level of violence to the role of religion held by today's islamist fanatics, and inferior in most ways to the enlightened Islam of El Andalus and the Ottoman Empire. The scientific, scholarly, indeed secular approach to sacred texts like the Quran was pioneered in the 12th century by the great Arab philosopher - physician - mathematician - scientist Ibn Rushd, known as Averroes. It's been a long road downhill from Ibn Rushd, and even today it is hard to see the shoots of an intellectual, cultural and enlightened religious revival in the Islamic world. The struggle against fanaticism, intolerance, fear, hate, the worship of suicide, the glorification of mass-murder and the underlying cult of nihilism, death and destruction has only just begun. I doubt even my teenage children will live to see the end of it, even if they achieve their Biblical entitlement of three score and ten. But banning the Quran? What a stupid, destructive, trust-destroying publicity stunt to even suggest it. Why not ban the Bible as well. And the Gita. And Harry Potter.