Over dinner with good friends on Saturday, the conversation turned to Muslims. Help ma boab (Scottish expression of exasperation)! If one counts up all the ignorant, racist, biased internet material flying around about the Muslim faith, it is, to say the least, tantamount to a reactionary campaign of misinformation. It’s worse than that actually. Designed more to make us hate Islam and all its associations, or to mock and deride its beliefs and traditions. Why? Because, ‘they’re all terrorists.’ Sure.
Our simmering (just short of heated) discussion started somehow with Salmon Rushdie and my friend’s indignation that the British Government had to foot the bill for the author’s protection and security, after publication of The Satanic Verses. For those who somehow managed not to hear about the controversy, many in the Muslim community believed that there were blasphemous references to the prophet Mohammed in the novel. There were consequential riots in India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and of course, Iran. The loony Ayatollah Khomeini, Supreme leader of Iran and a Shi’a Muslim scholar, then issued a fatwa calling on all ‘good’ Muslims to kill Rushdie and his publishers. Even arch-Conservative MP Norman Tebbit got in on the act, calling Rushdie ‘an outstanding villain whose public life has been a record of despicable acts of betrayal of his upbringing, religion, adopted home and nationality.’
Pursuant of Tebbit’s view, my friend implied that Rushdie, being of the religion himself, had written the book with the full intention of winding up hardline Muslims. He should therefore ‘pay for his own bloody security.’ My own position was that while common sense needs to apply, freedom of expression was also important in a democratic society (there have of course been other Muslim-issue controversies, including that caused by Danish cartoonist Jyllands-Posten). And as the British Government keeps reminding us (their justification for the invasion of Libya, but curiously forgotten in the case of Syria) ‘governments have a moral obligation to protect their citizens,’ whomsoever they may be.
Incidentally, my friend offered no objection to the Cape Town artist, Brett Murray, whose freedom of expression recently produced the anti-ANC Zuma Spear painting (depicting the President with his genitals on display). I presume he would therefore not oppose state protection for Murray should this become necessary?
I offered the opinion that things had got out of hand vis a vis Muslims since 9/11. All Muslims should not be tarred with the same brush. I tried to argue that extremist elements of Islam had somehow made their violence more personal of late, having the effect therefore of inflaming our resentments. I was thinking of the videos of kidnap victims pleading for their lives. In a way, through those videos, we got to know those people – like Kenneth Bigley the British civil engineer in Iraq whose direct appeal to Blair fell on deaf ears. The extremists cut off his head on line.
My friend seemed insistent that such violence was somehow more inherent in the Muslim faith, than others. There had been plenty of examples of their loathsome work in relatively recent history, he said (eg the Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, well before 9/11). In fact, that’s a synthesized version of the atrocities he was keen to point out.
Personally I feel sure that Muslims have no such a monopoly of faith inspired malevolence. After all, the English were happy contributors to European 11th Century Crusades (expeditionary wars blessed by the Pope and the Catholic Church) which sought to duff up the Muslims and install Christians in the holy places in and around Jerusalem. In modern times we have seen 300,000 civilian deaths in Iraq – most at the hands of American and British bombs and shelling (some due to factional fighting among various branches of Islam) while those governments sought the overthrow of Saddam and searched for non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Let us be cognisant too of Blair’s conversion to Catholicism at the time and his Boy’s Own alliance with Methodist nutter George Bush.
Neither should we let our natural liking of Israelis (good English speakers, tough, resilient, sometimes congenial) obscure their contribution, backed as they are by the largest programme of constant ongoing military aid in the history of the world, to Muslim bashing. In response to a few home made rockets fired into Israel by Hezbollah in 2006, the Israelis began 34 days of retribution following which 1300 Lebanese men, women and children were killed, one million were displaced from their homes, and parts of southern Lebanon remain uninhabitable due to unexploded cluster bombs. Parts of Beirut will probably take a quarter of a century to recover. How fanatical was that? How fanatical has the war in Afghanistan become? Do we really believe that that country harbours a never ending reserve of terrorists just itching to create havoc in our own nations? No. They just want us to leave them in peace.
Michael Wood is a Cape blogger, radio presenter and author of two African theme adventure novels. See www.michaelconradwood.com for details of how to order.