FIFTEEN MINUTES AD NAUSEAM
Suppose you’re an inconsequential (even untalented or hideously awful) writer, broadcaster or artist and have nothing of interest to say about anything. How to become famous? Andy Warhol had an answer. Postmodernist philosophers are in a league of their own: occasionally it is the banal masquerading as wisdom; in general, it is incomprehensible nonsense as Platonic truth. If, however, you’re from an Islamic background and are willing to spill the carefully selected beans, generously seasoned with the most bitter of herbs, on what a wicked and repressive religion Islam is, fifteen minutes is the least you’ll get from the rightwing, rapacious, feeble-minded Western media. Meanwhile, the liberal media will make you a saint.
Advertised as Islam’s reformers and saviours, the more famous “refuseniks” are barely off our screens or newspapers. The likes of Kanan Makiya, Fouad Ajami and Ayaan Hirsi Ali can be encountered at any time discussing the need for a “reformation” or invasion of anywhere with a population of dusky faces. These otherwise regular folk, not especially talented, have seen the bandwagon and leapt on, incurring brain damage, even complete cerebral devastation, on the way.
And so it is no surprise to see the delightfully batty Irshad Manji, who some time ago joined the above stellar roll call of world class liars by making a name for herself with the self-explanatory book “The Trouble With Islam Today” (previously, and importantly, entitled “The Trouble With Islam”), misinterpreting the Archbishop of Canterbury’s words on accommodating some aspects of Sharia law. By the way, is it not rather strange that one of the few people to come to the Archbishop’s aid is the awesomely ignorant bigot Martin Amis, who simply stated the inconvertible fact that the Archbishop did not say what has been attributed to him. So brace yourselves for a lot more of Manji in the UK media. After all, if one of them says so, well…
To appreciate Manji’s arguments, reach no further than her magnum opus, “The Trouble With Islam Today”. From what I knew of Manji, even before delving into page one, I ventured the following wild guess as to Manji’s possible conclusion: is Islam the trouble with Islam? Well, almost, and indeed it is that almost quality that has made her and Kanan Makiya Solzhenitsyn-like figures. Guffaw if you must, for it is your right.
Manji is a celebrity: feminist (apparently unique in Islamic society), a “here and proud” lesbian (go girl!), bin Laden’s worst enemy (something he is happily unaware of), reformer and saviour of Islam (a new Averroes?), fan of Israel (lobotomy?). She makes great play of being denounced by unknown heavily-bearded men (some achievement). The new Averroes is soon discovered to be someone with very little knowledge about anything except how to get feted by a Western media which wants to blame the victims. Her book reminds me of the put-down the brilliant Swiss physicist Wolfgang Pauli would humiliate the idiots of his day with. Pauli would mutter that what he was witnessing was “not even wrong” – the arguments were so ill-thought that they could not be classed in the same category as those that were just wrong.
Sub-titled “A Wake-up Call For Honesty and Change”, Manji’s book is, for various reasons, neither a “wake-up call”, “honest” nor likely to precipitate “change”. First, because it does not address intelligently any issue of interest. Second, important questions are not asked. Third, knee-jerk and entirely wrong conclusions are made. Fourth, the source for any and all conclusions rests on the fact that the participants are Muslim and that their religious book has some rather unfavourable things to say about things Manji favours. Political, social, economic and imperial factors and objectives are irrelevant. Manji shows that the effects of European imperialism can’t be blamed for anything because Muslims were being nasty to one another before Europeans were nasty to Muslims. Powerful stuff, this. In similar vein, since Jews were being nasty to one another long before Europeans made them into furniture, Jews better look in the mirror first before pointing fingers at Europeans. Indeed, black people sold one another into slavery before the Europeans did, so there! This is Manji’s standard of argument – and it doesn’t get any better.
“SAMPLING OF FACTS”
Like “From Time Immemorial”, this is a book I had gone out of my way to avoid because of what I call the “Woody Allen guide to books”: Allen was once asked what he would do differently if he could live his life again. He replied that he wouldn’t read Moby Dick. I stumbled across Manji’s book while in my public library. I could be wrong about her, I thought. Though I’ve endured her imbecilic mutterings and writings on television and in articles, perhaps in book form she can make a better case, I thought. No one can be that stupid, I thought. What can you lose, I thought. That’s too much thinking, I now think.
Manji’s routine has the usual following staple of lines: Muslims apparently have “no clue on how to reform or debate” and are prone to “screaming self-pity”. Note: not regular self-pity but the “screaming” kind. Given that the name Akbar Ganji will probably be new to her, the names of the millions of other brave Muslims who have fought for freedom will also be unknown to her. Moreover, Muslims blame everyone but themselves for their self-inflicted woes: “neither Israel nor America lies at the heart of Muslim problems”, “the cancer begins within us” and “we need to depose our own victim mentality”. This eccentric analysis is something occupied, let alone ethnically cleansed, Palestinians may wish to learn more about. As for Afghans and Iraqis? In book form she’s no better, just more tiresome and exasperating.
Politically, Manji is not only completely ignorant but retarded. “Tunisia,” writes Manji, “is giving secular democracy a less-than-democratic name”. And how, pray, can it do that when it is a dictatorship? Let us not unduly concern ourselves with this terribly important and elementary fact. They are a distraction if one wants to read Manji. For Manji, unsurprisingly, the world changed with 9/11. But then she is not alone. So many liberals got “mugged by reality”, to quote the tragicomic line they instinctively trot out. The “reality” was not evident when these “freedom fighters” devastated Afghanistan, helped Suharto turn Indonesia into a bloodbath, and murdered hundreds of thousands of liberal and secular Muslims and millions of peasants across the Islamic world. No, the “reality” hit home when these previously heroic “freedom fighters” turned their sights not on commies, alleged commies, commies in all but name, anti-communist nationalists who are deviously trying to mask their comminess, commies who don’t even know they’re commies and liberal, secular Muslims (essentially commies), but on the West, who, except for Harold Wilson, aren’t commies. It is no surprise then that Manji can find no link between Pakistan’s current predicament and, as she herself writes, the “US-backed military coup [which] installed General Zia al-Haq,” a fundamentalist lunatic, and devastated Pakistani democracy. They are isolated events. Cause and effect do not exist in her mind, especially if Muslims have any sort of grievance.
She quotes from the famous Le Nouvel Observateur interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to President Carter, without mentioning the slightly important section where Brzezinski confesses that the US had masterminded a jihad against the Soviet Union, destroying Afghanistan in the process, and thus letting loose a jihadi djinni. That Manji can do this is a tribute to her extraordinary gifts of political and social awareness. As for America, this is no mere country with “interests”, it is “the unrealised hope, not the criminal”.
Manji’s short history of Palestine, including the second intifada and the Camp David talks, which she refers to as “a sampling of facts lost in the present polarisation”, is as bizarre as it is ludicrous. One imagines that the “sampling of facts” were from books by Benjamin Netanyahu and Daniel Pipes. Like a demented Likudnik, she considers Jordan to have been part of Palestine, and so is baffled by Palestinian “self-pity” that Palestine is, er, Palestine. This, along with the imaginative retelling of Palestinian history, will be a revelation for Palestinians. As is her vile pronouncement that Israel brings “compassion to ‘colonisation’” (note the scare quotes) and that Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is “an affirmative action policy. Liberals should love it.” This is tinged with the heartache she feels at the Israeli “government’s consistent refusal to arrest the criminals who erect illegal settlements”. Either Manji believes that only some settlements are illegal or that Israel did not erect the settlements (home to many a chauvinist paramilitary terrorist who is state-sanctioned to murder Arabs at will). Or does she expect the Israeli government to “arrest” itself?
Manji takes us on another “sampling of facts” when it comes to the Holocaust, and it is, to use the medical definition, exquisite: “Let’s be straight about what else happened during the Nazi years: Muslim complicity in the Holocaust”. This essentially amounts to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem making anti-Semitic comments and broadcasts and making the deluded ultra-nationalist judgement that the enemy of the British Empire is a friend. Manji, however, blames the Grand Mufti for denying Jews refuge into Palestine. Manji may be surprised to learn that Palestine was at the time part of the British Empire. That any decision on giving refuge would have been made in Downing Street, Westminster and Whitehall, not by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. That most Jews wanted to leave Europe for the United States but were refused refuge in the land of the free and the home of the brave – “huddled masses” did not include Jews. That Europe had had enough of the so-called “Jewish problem” (that is, their very existence in Europe) and wanted a non-European land to accommodate the “problem”. And that Muslims did not devise the “Final Solution”. Other than these minor qualifications, yes, Muslims have a lot to answer for. Such a shame Raul Hilberg has passed away and can’t be informed of this astonishing find in Holocaust studies. Surely it can’t be long before Manji’s talents are spotted by Talk Sport radio or the Daily Express.
The Armenian genocide, Manji continues, is a “Muslim genocide against Armenian Christians”. When nasty things occur in despotisms it does not cross her mind that this is expected in a despotism. That this is part and parcel of the very definition of a despotism. No, it is because the people carrying out the nastiness are Muslims. That is the reason and no more needs to be said. It has to be accepted as gospel, so to speak: “What else aren’t we Muslims telling ourselves so we can keep surfing on sympathy and subsisting on victimhood.” It’s not entirely unexpected that Manji never uses the same standard for Christians, Jews, Hindus or anyone else with religious leanings. It’s all very much the same way the violent and/or ultra-fundamentalist fringe in any religion but Islam is described as “chauvinist”, but the violent and/or ultra-fundamentalist fringe in Islam is described as “fascist”.
“EXCELLENT” AND “CAMEL SADDLES”
Theologically, Manji has yet to graduate from kindergarten. Manji: “The Quran insists…‘whichever way you turn there is the face of God.’ Why, then, must Muslims bow to Mecca five times a day?” Manji’s topological argument is as zany as her wish to see Jews and Christians go on the hajj. Well, why not a Sikh Archbishop of Canterbury, a Hindu Chief Rabbi, or a Jain butcher? The most obvious points regarding religious belief do not impose themselves on her. Attempting to square her homosexuality with her faith leads her into her difficulties. Her theological ignorance and sexual disposition come together in the most embarrassing analysis I have yet encountered. She searches the Quran to find a passage that will legitimise her sexual disposition. Manji finally finds the sought after passage: Allah “makes excellent everything he creates”. Therefore homosexuality is “excellent”. This is some argument. (Homosexuality ain’t just OK, it is “excellent”.) Though hardly a robust intellectual argument that would convince anyone else, it does, unsurprisingly, convince her. Presumably, Manji would therefore find it “excellent” that the following exist in creation: cancer, Aids, diarrhoea, malaria, dementia, child molesters, rapists, psychopathic serial killers, Hitler, Mao, Stalin, etc.
How strange it is then that she is somewhat shocked to be offered a “cheese and ham sandwich”. Surely, using Manji’s own standard, aren’t pigs created by Allah and therefore “excellent”? So why not tuck in? And of course, one hardly need point out that there is no comparison between, say, Manji’s sexuality and Hitler’s cruelty. It is merely another indication that Manji’s analysis does not reach the high standard of stupidity. And so it is all the more expected that Harvard’s “Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values” said the following about the supposed movement Manji is apparently at the heart of “the most important new movement in several decades”. The last movement with as comical a figure at the helm was David Icke’s.
Manji’s internal logic is a wonder. She spends a couple hundred pages blabbing that the Quran is not perfect, that Islam is so horrid that she may up sticks and make do with another religion or none at all, only then to write that the reason she has renamed her book (the “Today” in the title is the addition) is because she realises that Islam itself is as perfect as it can be, and were it not for deranged beardies (cue Louis Armstrong) what a wonderful world it would be.
Just when one supposes that we have reached the zenith of Manji’s awesome stupidity, there comes Manji’s flabbergasting parallels between bin Laden and the Prophet Mohammed. “Is it mere happenstance,” Manji asks, “that bin Laden spends so much time in caves, like the meditating Prophet Mohammed did?” (I may be wrong, but I do not think it is mere happenstance that it never crossed the Prophet Mohammed’s mind that it would be prudent to keep a low profile in a cave, lest the satellite-guided Tomahawk Cruise missiles or Delta Force commandos zero in on him.) Bin Laden, like Mohammed, was a rich man but lived the life of a poor man. Unconvinced? Bin Laden’s attack on the icons of world capitalism, the Twin Towers, is akin to Mohammed’s challenge to the “moral basis” of Arabian society. Still unconvinced? Manji tantalisingly insists that “the parallels continue to proliferate”. Brace yourself for the following clincher. In Mohammed’s day “camel saddles permitted faster travel, more trade, greater greed and deeper social disparities. Camel saddles yesterday, online transactions today.” I see. Camel saddles. Online transactions. Manji has missed the eerie parallel that Mohammed lived on Earth and that bin Laden presently is alive on, yes, Earth! Of all the planets he could live on, why Earth? Or is this mere “happenstance”, to use Manji’s term?
VENEER OF INTELLECTUAL DEPTH
Amazingly, Manji thinks that madressa means religious school. It doesn’t. It merely means school. The fact that many madressas are religious schools does not change its definition. Recalling her madressa, Manji sets up her trademark attempt at humour. At her religious school, she encountered “self-conscious prebuscents struggling with acne…adolescents sprouting moustaches – and that’s just the girls” . Telegraphed, leaden, cringe-inducing and pitiful seventies-style “workingmen’s” club humour. Manji is an Asian lesbian version of Jim Davidson, and unfortunately one can’t escape her awful attempts at being humorous. She even has a “great joke about a priest, a rabbi and a mullah”. It’s so bad that it borders on proof of the existence of Satan.
There are perfunctory references to convivencia, ijtihad (something, incredibly, she had not heard of until quite recently), the great thinker Averroes and anything else that she has tapped into Google (Islam+history of ideas+golden age) and will make her case. These feeble attempts at coating her ignorance with the veneer of intellectual depth are readily apparent – except, naturally enough, to Harvard profs. But then an almost limitless amount of vague references to the past would be required to camouflage Manji’s awesome ignorance and inability to understand the world. These are merely props for Manji to permit herself to foam at the mouth. To complete the horror, however, Manji includes a “sample of readings…This list doesn’t cover all of my research”. Included are Tariq Ali’s The Clash of Fundamentalisms, Albert Hourani’s A History of the Arab Peoples, Edward Said’s Orientalism and Covering Islam. Evidently, she has not read any of these. Referencing Hourani and Said is mere show – and anyone who has read their works will know immediately that Manji is a pretender, an attention seeker, a phoney, a fraud.
You will recall that in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose that a character was killed by being ingeniously poisoned through the pages of the book he handled. I’ve always known that a similar book exists for me, but, in my case, it would be the words, not the pages, that would be toxic. Is this that book? Possibly. But then, to be fair, I’ve yet to read Kissinger’s fantastic tales of heroic statesmanship – or would I merely laugh to death? Just when one thinks Manji’s indescribably shameful careerism, ignorance and stupidity cannot possibly sink any further, she has the audacity to use the courageous title “refusenik” in reference to herself. That Manji has no shame is no longer surprising; that a major publishing house has none and sees fit to inflict this detestable book on the public is worrying.