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Protest, Islamabad, 2007: The Rushdie test tells you all you need to know about a writer’s willingness to choose freedom or brute power

No group is better than liberal academics at illustrating how racist anti-racism has become. As liberals, they ought to respect individual rights and oppose reactionary attempts to corral and control. As academics, they ought to look for evidence that shakes comfortable opinions. As it is, they do neither.

In human rights organisations, leftish political parties, liberal newspapers and, above all, in the universities, committed and morally earnest people would rather die than admit that radical Islam is a murderous and oppressive movement. The effect of their evasion is to promote the racism they say they oppose, while denying their supposed allies in "Muslim lands" and immigrant communities the same rights as they enjoy. Hypocrisy is too meagre a word to cover their behaviour.

Take the latest effort to land in my pigeonhole: On the Muslim Question by Anne Norton, a professor of political science at Pennsylvania University. Norton's publishers, Princeton University Press, modestly declare that she is a "fearless, original and surprising" author. In truth she is timid, unthinking and hackneyed. Like thousands of her contemporaries, Norton argues that conservative elites in the West use radical Islam to befuddle the doltish masses. There is truth in the charge that ever since 9/11 security services have taken the opportunity to bring in excessive coercive powers to fight the menace of Islamist violence. If that were the end of the argument, I could not object. Norton is a typical representative of the Anglo-American intelligentsia because she goes on to pretend that there is no real menace, and to cover up the mistreatment of women, the suppression of free speech, the inquisitorial punishment of heresy, and all the other woes armed and militant religion brings.

As with everyone of my generation (I was born in 1961), the "Rushdie test" tells you all you need to know about a political writer's willingness to choose freedom or brute power. Norton fails it, and seems to me to want to fail it. She tells us that Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie, was a "very local fuss" and a "very British affair" — as bland and unthreatening as a walk in the park. She assures the reader without caveat or elaboration that "no arrests or injuries occurred as a result of the demonstrations" against Rushdie. Even as a description of the formal demonstrations against The Satanic Verses that isn't true — the police arrested 84 people as they hung effigies of Rushdie outside Parliament in May 1989. But formal demonstrations were not the end of the protests, as she must know. Norton does not tell the reader how the supporters of religious reaction murdered or attempted to murder Rushdie's translators, staged riots in which dozens died in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Turkey, and bombed bookshops in central London and the US for stocking copies of the blasphemous novel.

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May 21st, 2013
4:05 PM
Dear Deborah Jamil. Your e-mail encapsulates the ill informed relativism so prevalent in the current time, whilst displaying complete ignorance of the subjects cited. Let us take, for example, the case of Muhammad. Which 'ossified' religions was he acting against? Why do you consider them to be ossified and 'harmful ideologies'? What are the sources you use to reach such a conclusion? Your suggestion that Muhammad was interested in 'universal human rights' is not based on any clear understanding of early Islam, either from within the Islamic historical tradition or outside, where such source material is available. I imagine you are the type to march with the leftists of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the 'Stop The War Coalition', proclaiming the value of 'Human Rights', whilst standing with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB)and other self-proclaimed 'representatives' of Islam without ANY sense of irony.

Ed Hooper
April 11th, 2013
8:04 AM
@ Deborah Jamil I've read some bollocks in my time, but never so much all in the same paragraph.

Deborah Jamil
March 31st, 2013
10:03 PM
The formalized religions formed some time after the deaths of the people the adherents of those religions claim to follow.Even just a cursory study of their history will show that the people referred to as prophets were fighting the ossified religions of their time--Jesus, Judaism and Muhammed, paganism--and any practices they had people do were simply an attempt to wean them off the rituals of a harmful ideology and point them in the direction of universal human rights. They could not eliminate every harmful practice at once but pointed to a direction to go in--the same direction universal human rights activists are pointing toward. If they were to return today they would not be on the side of the obviously ossified religions/ideologies similar to the ones they were fighting against when alive.

Pat Yale
March 28th, 2013
4:03 PM
The trouble with the whole "imperialism" thing is that doesn't even have to be about today. You say there is now Westerm imperialism in Iran, Nigeria etc but of course there are some who will argue that what those places are now is a product of past imperialism. This sort of silliness is not restricted to the West with. I once met a Turkish "socialist" who turned his back rather than talk to me, the "imperialist". He'd obviously forgotten all about the Ottoman Empire.

March 28th, 2013
4:03 AM
Speaking on the BBC's Today programme in February 2010, Gita Saghal said: "I've been concerned about what Moazzem Begg and his organisation stands for for a long time but the issue I really have is with my employer because we are a Human Rights organisation, we make very very careful decisions about how and where we partner with people, we have long discussions around these things and when I spoke to people in my office who are experts on these matters who investigate armed group violations, who are regional experts who work on counter terror policy, all of them said they had recommended against this relationship. I then asked where the decision had been made that we should have such a close relationship or whether we had just drifted into it and whether we had any form of paper work that would explain what we were doing and why we were doing it and none of that has ever been answered." Asked what her objection was she replied: "Because I believe that the organisation Cage Prisoners has an agenda that goes way beyond being a prisoners rights organisation. Well yesterday I was on radio with Asim Qureshi who is another prominent figure in the organisation and he didn't deny statements that were read out to him supporting global jihad which he said was protected under international law." From the time of his first article in the Guardian in February 2006 to his last one in January 2010, Moazzem Begg was repeatedly asked what it was he was doing in Afghanistan. He declined to answer. Only in 2010 in an attempt to justify his association with Amnesty International did he claim that he was there setting up a girls school in the Taliban infested country. On 22 February 2009 in an article for the Guardian, "Guantánamo: the forgotten prisoner" is a statement about Shaker Aamer: "Since the early 90s, Shaker Aamer had resided in the UK, where he worked as a translator at a legal firm and later met his wife. In the summer of 2001, Aamer made the decision to live and work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with his wife and children, to undertake projects to support a girls' school and build wells." How strange that following the article, Mr Begg seemed to retrieve his memory and could remember that he was also setting up a girls school in Taliban infested Afghanistan.

March 28th, 2013
3:03 AM
The recent movement among left-leaning academics in the U.S. to boycott Israeli universities and professors illustrates beautifully the left's delusion described here. I'm so glad Sahgal and Tax are standing up for human rights and against hypocrisy.

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