On the Muslim Question by Anne Norton – review

Anne Norton rejects the ‘clash of civilisations’ view of Islam and the west, but offers little to replace it. Lawrence Rosen is the author of Varieties of Muslim Experience and The Culture of Islam offers the review of Anne Norton’s new publication On the Muslim Question.

 

Anne Norton thinks that the “Muslim question” is, if anything, a question about non-Muslims. She is straightforward in denying the claim that Islam and the west are involved in a “clash of civilisations”; castigating writers of various political persuasions who have, blatantly or inferentially, put forward this view. She thus criticises writers such as John Rawls (as well as those, such as Michael Walzer and Michael Ignatieff, who “have urged them on”) for saying that Muslims constantly seek empire and territory, for stereotyping Muslims’ political orientation as the antithesis of liberalism, and for promoting a false history that conceals liberalism’s own failings. In an effort to find more common ground, she underwrites Derrida’s assertion that Islam is “the other of democracy” because Muslim states could retain their distinctiveness while recognising Israel and promoting democratic values. And she surprisingly lauds Sayyid Qutb, the Islamic theorist executed by Nasser in Egypt, because “even this intolerant, fanatic man has something to teach us about human rights, human dignity, and equality”, given his support for private property and women in the workplace.

 

In a series of chapters on sexuality, freedom of speech and democracy, Norton recognises that valid differences of orientation exist. But she does not always help her own case by making assertions that are variously vague, trivial or wrong. For example, she says that terrorism is the precursor to democracy (as if the course of the Arab spring was inevitable), that randomness is “terrifying” (so much for evolutionists), that “Germany has no neo-Nazis” (when they number upwards of 5,000), that the publishers of the Danish cartoons “intended to provoke” (and not just insult) Muslims, that the veil is “profoundly erotic” (for elderly women?), or that calling your sports team the Redskins “honours an old enemy” (tell that to Native Americans).

 

But if the clash-of-civilisations approach is false, what options exist for addressing the differences presented by a Muslim minority in a western country? Having dismissed many of the arguments of western intellectuals about Islam, Norton indicates that neither outright assimilation nor distant toleration is to be preferred: rather she chooses the third option, moving “us” closer to “them”. Indeed, she seems to regard this as already having happened. True, some issues may be resolving themselves internally: many Muslim women have found common sartorial ground, older ones having given up the full veil, younger ones the miniskirt, both adopting a simple head scarf. And once we eliminate the clash-of-civilisations notion from our vocabulary, the mutual accommodations that already exist at the local level may only increase. But a common meeting ground is not always easily achieved.

 

Such a position may, however, come at the price of not really attending to the distinctiveness of the “other”. Norton knows little about Muslims: she gets her few references to Arabic wrong and never discusses the scholarship on Islam and Muslim cultures. In the absence of any understanding of Muslims in their own terms, moving closer to them risks being yet another exercise in self-congratulation: it yields few insights about us and none about them, and thus lacks both genuine understanding and real moral bite.

 

Muslims, like every minority, appreciate the need for camouflage in the face of muted suspicion, even if that need has diminished somewhat in the years since 9/11 and 7/7. But living as a chameleon may be harder now that we all notice each other noticing each other. Under such circumstances, anonymity, for many Muslims, may stifle their sense of valid difference and deprive non-Muslims of really seeing their neighbours. If that happens, we may avoid the “clash”, but it may come at the cost of an arrangement neither community should be eager to call “civilisation”.

 

Swedish artist attacked at university lecture

The controversial Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who’s been threatened and attacked several times since he drew “Muhammad as a Roundabout dog” a couple of year ago, was attacked during a lecture at Uppsala University Tuesday, May 11. Vilks had been invited to Uppsala University to talk about “Art and the freedom of speech.” About ten minutes in to his lecture he showed the video “Allah hu Gaybar” by Iranian artist Sooreh Hera.

In the video naked men appears in Muhammad-masks. This was too much for a young man in the audience who rushed forth and reportedly gave Vilks a “head butt” before he was overpowered by body guards and police. Some teens in the audience began fighting, while others were shouting “Allahu Akbar.” One policeman is said to have been injured. Three men between 16 and 18 years old were arrested.

There are also reports of Muslims expressing anger against the attackers, trying to stop them from interrupting Vilks. Muslim bloggers and spokespersons have expressed their disappointment with the young men behind the attack.

Two days later someone hacked Vilks homepage and left a message where he promised to kill the artist. Earlier this year a group in the UK – amongst them an American woman called Jihad Jane – was revealed by police planning to kill Vilks.

Two new British film comedies dare to poke fun at religion

Two British films are coming out in April and May, both of which dare to approach religion with a comic touch. They will, of course, be castigated by the uncompromisingly religious, the usual suspects who believe that faith can never be a laughing matter and revel in demonstrating their beliefs through the medium of a violent punch up.

The first film, David Baddiel’s new offering, The Infidel, tells the story of a middle-aged Muslim family man who discovers he was actually born a Jew. To try and make sense of this sudden identity crisis, Mahmud, played by Iranian-born comic Omid Djalili, seeks out his neighbor, a drunken Jewish cabdriver called Lenny. The hilarity that ensues is largely based around the Muslim and Jewish communities’ deep misunderstanding of each other and how two flawed but instantly lovable characters learn to respect each other and their faiths.

The second film follows an even more controversial line. Four Lions is Christ Morris’s much anticipated movie debut and revolves around five wannabe jihadists from Sheffield who plan a series of coordinated suicide bombs in London. Their stupidity and haplessness is matched by the police, who are as incompetent and ill-informed as the people they are trying to catch.

Navid Akhtar, a film-maker who has specialized in serious documentaries on the nature of British Islam, including the film Young, Angry and Muslim, agrees. “I think after July 7 and the Danish cartoons there were plenty of British Muslims who felt equally concerned as anyone else about the global reaction and the ridiculousness of it all,” he says. “What we’re getting as a result is a more sophisticated and developed Western Islam that gets comedy and understands that it’s OK to poke a little fun at yourself.”

Father of USS Cole victim is allowed to display anti-Islam decal

Jesse Nieto, whose son was killed along with 15 other sailors in the 2000 terrorist attack against the USS Cole, had used to display an anti-Islam decal on his car proclaiming “Islam=Terrorism,” as well as a picture of US flag with the words: “Disgrace My Countries [sic] Flag And I Will [defecate] On Your Quran.” He also displayed a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad as a re-creation of the Danish cartoons that had provoked Muslims. Mr. Nieto is a civilian employee at the Camp Lejeune Marine Base. After seven years of displaying these messages, Mr. Nieto was ordered to remove them. Nieto filed a lawsuit in North Carolina based on his right to freedom of speech. He has now won the case and is allowed to display anti-Islam decals on his car while driving on the base.

Pakistani protest against cartoon publications

The parliament of Pakistan and several Pakistani Muslim organizations protested against the decision of Norway’s Aftenposten to re-publish Kurt Westergaard’s caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in the publication.

Editor in chief Hilde Haugsgjerd says the protests were to be expected.

Norwegian Aftenposten re-publishes the Danish cartoons

After a week of debate Aftenposten decided to re-publish the Danish cartoons Friday 8. The recent attack on cartoonist Kurt Westergaard brings the re-publication of the cartoons up tp date, says aftenpostens editor in chief Hilde Haugsgjerd. -We’ve all the time defended the right to publish the drawings, and we published a facsimile of them in the beginning of the conflict in 2005. When the conflict escalated and turned international in 2006 we refrained from publishing them.

Canadian arrested in foiled Danish newspaper plot

Tahawar Hussain Rana, a former Pakistani cadet and medical student who received Canadian citizenship and since settled in Chicago, is accused of helping mastermind a terrorist plot that he and alleged conspirators dubbed the Mickey Mouse project, with branches stretching from a Toronto office tower to radical groups in Pakistan. Rana’s co-accused, a Pakistani-American who changed his name to David Headley, told the FBI he wanted to kill two Danish journalists in retaliation for their paper’s publication in 2005 of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The alleged conspiracy ended in a dramatic raid October 18, when more than 100 federal agents, some with assault rifles and body armor, descended on Rana’s slaughterhouse in rural Illinois while helicopters and surveillance planes buzzed overhead. Rana admitted he was aware Mr. Headley was affiliated with Pakistani terrorist groups, the FBI said.

Arab League to Face Prosecution for Anti Semitic Cartoon

The Arab European League (AEL) is being prosecuted for insulting Jews by publishing a cartoon suggesting they invented the Holocaust, the Dutch public prosecution office said today.

Last month, Dutch prosecutors ordered the league to remove the cartoon from its website or face prosecution. The cartoon was punishable, they found, “because it offends Jews on the basis of their race and/or religion”, Agence France Press reports in The Peninsula. The public prosecution office said it told the AEL two weeks ago that publishing the cartoon was illegal but that it would drop the case if the group removed the cartoon from its website within two weeks and agreed not to republish it.

According to Reuters reports in SABC News, Abdoulmouthalib Bouzerda, chairman of the Dutch AEL, said the group had published a disclaimer at the time saying it did not support the views of the cartoons it used. Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports that the AEL acquiesced to the request, but then it put the cartoon back on the website claiming that the ruling was an instance of double standards, since the republication of the Danish cartoons of Muhammad was allowed in the Netherlands. It removed cartoon once again on September 2. Finally, DutchNews reports that the cartoon was taken off the AEL’s website three years ago, but the league decided to republish it to highlight the double standards operating in society, as the AEL prosecution comes after a decision not to put politician Geert Wilders on trial for republishing Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad on his website.

No Prosecution for Website Publishing Danish Cartoons

The Dutch Public Prosecution Department has announced that Geert Wilders and TV program Nova will not be prosecuted for publishing controversial Danish cartoons online. The 12 cartoons depicting Mohammad led to worldwide unrest when published in a Danish newspaper in 2006. The department determined that because the reproduced cartoons target Mohammad and not Muslims in general, they “do not insult Muslims nor incite hatred” and their reproduction is not punishable by law.

However the department will prosecute the pro-Arab Arabische Europese Liga unless it removes a cartoon depicting two Jews inventing the holocaust from its website. That cartoon does ‘insult Jews because of their race and/or religion’ because it implies Jews themselves invented the idea that six million were killed during World War II, the department said. Although the website removed the cartoons earlier, they have since republished them, as chairman Abdoulmouthalib Bouzerda claims that the prosecutor’s office is applying double standards. He adds that “given the decision not to interpret the Muhammad cartoon as offensive to Muslims, the decision that the publication of the AEL carton is liable to prosecution is incomprehensible”.

Why did Yale University Press remove images of Mohammed from a book about the Danish cartoons?

The capitulation of Yale University Press to threats that hadn’t even been made yet is the latest and perhaps the worst episode in the steady surrender to religious extremism‹particularly Muslim religious extremism that is
spreading across our culture. A book called The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Danish-born Jytte Klausen, who is a professor of politics at Brandeis University, tells the story of the lurid and preplanned campaign of
“protest” and boycott that was orchestrated in late 2005 after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran a competition for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. (The competition was itself a response to the sudden refusal of a Danish publisher to release a book for children about the life of Mohammed, lest it, too, give offense.) By the time the hysteria had been called off by those who incited it, perhaps as many as 200 people around the world had
been pointlessly killed.