“The Muslim world was enraged”

Ok now I’m curious enough about Rafia Zakaria to read her piece about Charlie Hebdo in Al Jazeera. It’s a relief that she does at least know how to adjust her style for a broader audience. The clarity is welcome.

She starts by summarizing the controversy, ending with a very odd description of its core event:

The question whether Charlie Hebdo needs to be valorized is contentious. It tragically lost eight staff members when gunmen affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Yemen stormed the magazine’s offices on Jan. 7.

Charlie “lost” eight staff members. So I guess when the gunmen stormed the offices, Charlie just somehow misplaced eight of its people and has never been able to find them? And that’s what all this is about?

What a weasel. Charlie didn’t “lose” any staff members. The Kouachi brothers, in masks and body armor, forced their way into the office and shot everyone they saw, killing eight people.

She’s a cowardly weasel about saying what happened to Charlie, but she makes up for it by being assertively blunt about the nature of Charlie – blunt but untruthful. She veils the truth and puts the untruth out into the glare of noon sunlight.

Those who are withdrawing from PEN’s gala support Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish the material, but they argue that its racist and Islamophobic content should not be endorsed with an award.

She treats it as established fact that Charlie Hebdo has “racist and Islamophobic content” when she must be aware that that’s hotly contested.

The magazine has a history of singling out Muslims for jabs and ridicule.

Note the gross factual mistake, or pair of mistakes. CH doesn’t single out Muslims, and the jabs and ridicule are for the ideas and the bosses more than for “Muslims” in general.

Its editorial staff occupies a privileged position compared with that of European Muslims or Muslims in general, whom they have long targeted with irreverent satire.

Oh really? Muslims in general? So the staff occupies a privileged position compared with that of the rulers of Saudi Arabia for instance? Compared with that of the Saudi religious police? Compared with that of Daesh and Boko Haram? Privileged in what sense, privileged in relation to whom? In short, that’s bullshit; simplistic, self-pitying bullshit.

Over the years, PEN has done exemplary work in supporting and speaking out for persecuted writers. However, its award to Charlie Hebdo appears counterproductive to the ideal of literary truth by elevating Islamophobic and racist content that instead deserves condemnation. Although the magazine’s editors and cartoonists were victims of terrorism, their work reflected and fed into the collective sensibility that led to the mass slaughter of Muslims as a way to fight terrorism. I support freedom of speech, and I deplore the tragedy, but their work does not deserve honors.

Again – she’s just pretending it’s established fact that Charlie Hebdo is full of “Islamophobic and racist content” when that is at the very least contested.

Literary organizations such as PEN have often been too silent about Western interventions in the Muslim world and the mayhem they have caused. For example, while PEN regularly champions Muslim writers persecuted by foreign governments, it has rarely done this when Muslim writers are persecuted by the U.S government or its allies under its “war on terrorism.” Such silence or tacit support of U.S. foreign policy has led to the elevation of Islamophobia as an acceptable prejudice in the West.

She gives no examples. I would like to know what Muslim writers she has in mind.

And then she takes a turn for the completely disgusting.

Leading the countercharge in PEN’s defense is Rushdie. In 1988, when he published his fictional account of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, “The Satanic Verses,” the Muslim world was enraged. Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini accused him of blasphemy and issued a fatwa with death threats. More than 20 years later, Rushdie still enjoys worldwide acclaim.

Look at that. Look at it, and quail with disgust. For one thing, The Satanic Verses is not “his fictional account of the life of the Prophet Muhammad.” And then saying “the Muslim world was enraged” is completely ridiculous, and an insult to the very set of people she takes herself to be defending or justifying or speaking up for. It’s not the case that all Muslims were enraged.

And then, worst of all, is that glib callous brutal jump from Khomeini’s murderous fatwa to her apparent resentment that Rushdie still enjoys worldwide acclaim. I guess she wishes he were reviled and long-dead?

But it gets worse.

He has championed Charlie Hebdo. In addition to his comments on the authors behind the PEN boycott, he continues to castigate the writers who have raised objections about the award as “being in the enemy camp” and “fellow travelers” in the cause of Islamic jihad.

Rushdie’s accusations sound eerily similar to George W. Bush’s now famous mantra “You’re either with us or against us,” which has been a huge part of the U.S wars abroad. In March, on the 12th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, a report revealed that the conservatively estimated human cost of Washington’s military campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to stand at 1.3 million people.

Yes really. She’s linking Rushdie to Bush (hey, even the names are similar) and thence to the body count of Bush’s war and the Islamist murder-campaigns. Really.

(Yes, Bush’s war created the vacuum that made the Islamist murder-campaigns possible. I’m not defending Bush’s stinking war.)

Questions about privilege and Islamophobia have been difficult to discuss in the U.S. literary sphere, not least because of the lack of diversity in this realm and the politics of the “war on terrorism.” While U.S. military interventions have altered the global view of Muslims for the worse, organizations such as PEN have remained silent. In this context, valorizing Charlie Hebdo’s pillorying of Muslims ignores the 1.3 million mostly Muslim casualties of U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Making jokes about Muslims and their identity in the aftermath of Washington’s wars serves only to reinforce the war’s propaganda.

What she seems to be doing here is conceptualizing Islam as just “Muslims” – and “Muslims” as all subalterns, parishioners, members, audience – ignoring imams and scholars, religious police and Islamist organizations, monarchs and dictators, madrassas and sharia courts. She is, in short, eliding the very existence of power relations within Islam, and of the millions of Muslims who are subject to theocratic power with no way of modifying or appealing it. What about the “identity” of the judge who sentenced Raif Badawi? What about the “identity” of the machete-wielders who murdered Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman? What about the “identity” of the heavily armed men who have enslaved thousands of Nigerian women and girls?

She doesn’t say.


  1. Eric MacDonald says

    And I read it early this morning. However, it is helpful, Ophelia, that you analysed Zakaria’s earlier article in Al Jazeera, which makes it clear how biased Al Jazeera (as well as Zakaria) really is. This is really not surprising, of course, but it’s important to be reminded of this from time to time. To speak generally about Islam, it seems that, in many quarters, Islam has never given up its aim to conquer the world for Allah, and perhaps cannot do so. Without painting all Muslims with the same brush, it seems to be true, nevertheless, that the fundamental principles of Islam itself seem to demand this. This inevitably makes all Muslims possible vectors of this aim, which is clearly stated in fundamental Islamic texts. I agree with Richard Rubenstein when he states:

    For the first time in history, a great civilization has more or less voluntarily opened its gates on a nonreciprocal basis to members of an alien civilization in large numbers. And they have done so without any realistic attempt to discern who among the immigrants is irrevocably committed to the destruction of the host civilization or to its dependent and subordinated extension of the civlization of Islam. [Jihad and Genocide, 41, my emphasis]

  2. says

    It tragically lost eight staff members

    That’s not the right wording:
    Eight staff members were killed
    “lost” makes it sound like they, oh – you know – got misplaced or some shit like that.

  3. says

    irrevocably committed to the destruction of the host civilization

    This kind of xenophobic bullshit makes me see little floating purple spots in front of my eyes. Seriously: humans do not go move to a place to live there and destroy it. It’s too damn much work, for one thing. And self-defeating, for another. The presumption that muslims are uniformly crazed nihilists who long for self-destruction is utter bullshit. Most of the people who are immigrating to Europe are doing it because they want to live there not destroy the place.

  4. DLC says

    But the general tenets of Islam need to be derided. They deserve to be pointed and laughed at. As does any system of beliefs which contain the oppression of others as a part of their beliefs. It does not matter to me if it’s Islam, Catholicism, Southern Baptists, Episcopalians or Pastafarianism.

  5. Omar Puhleez says

    In this context, valorizing Charlie Hebdo’s pillorying of Muslims ignores the 1.3 million mostly Muslim casualties of U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Rafia Zakaria here puts down all the casualties of those wars in the Islamic world as the responsibility of the US. But as bin Laden was using Afghanistan and Pakistan as foxholes from which to launch 9/11, the response was arguably justified: particularly since US passivity in response would likely have been cheered to the minarets round the Islamic world, and would have egged the Islamists on.
    The assumption also is that if Saddam Hussein had been left alone, the number of casualties would have been less. Given that bastard’s track record (Iran, Kuwait, his Iraqi opponents) that’s bit of a leap.
    (And it’s good to see Eric MacDonald back.)

  6. Omar Puhleez says

    Galloise Blonde:

    It’s Rafia, not Rashid. (Feel free to delete this comment)

    I have tried to do it, using every trick in my pathetically small hacker’s bag, but to no avail.
    Ah well. Just one more lost opportunity….

  7. Eric MacDonald says

    Marcus Ranum. I do not see Rubenstein’s statement as xenophobic. It derives directly from his exegesis of fundamental Islamic beliefs which are fairly universally put into effect, and too many Muslims in the West hold those beliefs in an undiluted form. Rubenstein does not refer to “all Muslims”, a tiresome objection that is repeated ad nauseam to belittle and marginalise perfectly reasonable criticisms of Islam. There may be no reason to think that all Muslims are going to act in accordance with a literal interpretation of Muslim beliefs. Nevertheless, every Muslim is a possible vector of such beliefs, and that is something that should concern us all. Even some Muslim majority states have come to the rather belated realisation that these beliefs are in fact a two-edged sword, and can be used to upset existing religious settlements (say, in Saudi Arabia or Egypt), just as easily as they can be used against the “kuffar”. The problem simply is that, read literally (and the ongoing reformation within Islam encourages such a reading), Islamic teachings are essentially murderous towards those considered to be either unbelievers or apostates. It is not xenophobic to point this out. ISIS is not a “one-off” event, attracting as it does supporters from Muslim communities around the world. Even Zakaria, who claims to prize free speech, clearly understands free speech to be limited by the unimpeded expression of fundamental Muslim beliefs, even when those beliefs lead to the murder of innocents. Speaking about xenophobia, the fundamental Islamic belief system is a good example of what an institutionalised version of xenophobic beliefs and practices would look like.

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