How best to fight Islamophobia (II)

How best to fight Islamophobia (II)

Before Turkey’s “liberal” Islamism could soften radical Islamism signs have emerged to suggest the opposite has happened. Expecting Turkey to play the role model for ‘Fortress Islam’ is like expecting the chief rabbi of Berlin to convince Adolf Hitler to give peace a chance. 

In 2009, for instance, Saudi courts declined to nullify a marriage between a 6-year-old girl and a 58-year-old man. I recalled this incident when Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheik, recently insisted that girls are ready for marriage by age 10 or 12. “Good upbringing,” the mufti reasoned, “makes a girl ready to perform all marital duties.” Dear parents; don’t panic if you spot curious Muslim men and women watching your daughters at kindergarten playgrounds: They could just be innocently looking for a suitable wife for their son.

At times when rare voices like those of prominent Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen are thriving to enhance interfaith dialogue, al-Sheik said that all churches in the Arabian Peninsula must be destroyed. How on earth should Gülen persuade the grand mufti that we no longer wish to live in times of jihad? But that’s not the only problem.

Democracy may have arrived in some parts of Islamdom but only in the shape of votes cast. Several people are under arrest in Syria, the Palestinian territories and Jordan for allegedly “insulting Islam.” Prison sentences in Kuwait and prosecutions in Tunisia on charges of blasphemous online content are in abundance. Apparently, social media has not only helped democratize the Middle East, but also boosted legal intimidation against the less faithful.

In Egypt, a telecom magnate, Naguib Sawiris, faces trial for uploading a picture of Mickey and Minnie Mouse clad in Islamic garb to his Twitter. In Saudi Arabia, Hamza Kashgari had to flee his country after tweeting something against religion. Sadly, he chose the wrong country to flee to. Malaysian authorities extradited Kashgari, who now awaits a possible death penalty sentence. Poor Kashgari must have been unaware that in Malaysia the National Fatwa Committee would announce it was not even permissible for Muslims “to participate in any rally intending to oust a government.”

And in Turkey, an official from the Religious Affairs Directorate told Hürriyet Daily News that “evil minded and illegal actions were not permitted in Islam.” I totally understand if religions did not allow illegal activity – although this, too, can be complex. Do religious rules changes when laws change? What about evil intentions? Is demonstrating against a government an evil intention? For the government it may be, but for the opposition why should it be? Who is to judge which intention is evil?

Recently, a virtuoso pianist and composer, Fazıl Say, was investigated by prosecutors after tweeting remarks considered offensive to all three monotheistic faiths. In fact, the prosecutors must have wished to pose a fake secular posture since Say’s tweets had really joked only about Islam.

The pianist, possibly one of the 10 most widely known Turks in the world, used Twitter to question whether Islamic heaven is a brothel or a pub, citing Quranic verses that describe rivers of drinks and beautiful women for those admitted to paradise. Say was joking, but the ruling elite were not laughing. Tweeting in response to Say’s tweets, a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party, Şamil Tayyar, asked Say: “Were you born in a brothel?” 

But luckily there is one tiny land in the Middle East where most of that medieval understanding does not exist. It’s where Arab women have the right to vote and to be elected to public office and enjoy the same status as men; where laws prohibit polygamy, child marriage and female mutilation; where there are no incidences of honor killings. Which lucky Muslim country is that? Well, it’s not really Muslim and goes by the name Israel! (Thanks, Marc, for the inspiration.)