Irshad Manji on the London bombings

Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble With Islam and Daniel Pipes’ favourite Muslim, assesses the London bombings. Her conclusions? 1. They have nothing to do with Iraq; and 2. They are based on the authority of the Qur’an. Thanks, Irshad. That’s a real help.

You need not live in Britain to cling defensively to the myth that Islam has nothing to do with these atrocities

Irshad Manji

Evening Standard, 12 July 2005

As a reform-minded Muslim, I’ve given birth to a twinge of optimism. Nine months ago, I wrote about the need for Muslim leaders to pull their heads out of the sand. I challenged them to recognise that something is askew in Islam today. My call for honesty capped a week of back-to-back terrorist atrocities in Iraq, Israel and Beslan. But in the wake of the London bombings, something has changed.

As I scour Muslim chatrooms and discussion boards on the internet, I see an overwhelming display of heartfelt condolences for the victims and angry condemnation of the criminals.

Last year the children of Beslan didn’t have nearly such an effect on Muslims worldwide. It is as if London – its pluralism, dynamism and capitalism – marked the line that dare not be crossed.

Yet two myths still rear their heads in this most sympathetic of Muslim responses.

First, that Britain courted the attack by joining America in Iraq. If staying out of Iraq protected anybody from terrorism, then why did “insurgents” make hostages out of reporters from France – the most antiwar, anti-Bush nation in the West? Even overt solidarity with the people of Iraq, demonstrated by Care’s Margaret Hassan, did not shield her from assassination.

When British Muslims ignore these facts, they cloud what ought to be a clear repudiation of the London bombings. I say “ought” not just for moral reasons but also for strategic ones. An unqualified rejection can only help moderate Muslims differentiate themselves from the apologists.

Which brings me to a second shibboleth: that Islam has nothing to do with these atrocities.

You need not live in Britain to cling defensively to that myth. One example comes from a press release issued by a prominent imam in New York City. I know him: he is a gentle, decent man who emphasises multi-faith dialogue. But in his response to the London bombings, this cleric sanitises the Koran.

He says it teaches us that “whoever kills a human being… it is as if he has killed all humankind”. The imam is honest enough to indicate that he has removed a part of the passage but not honest enough to tell us it is a crucial part.

The full verse reads: “Whoever kills a human being, except as punishment for murder or other villainy in the land, shall be regarded as having killed all humankind.”

Militant Muslims easily deploy the clause beginning with “except” to justify their rampages.

It is what Osama bin Laden had in mind when he announced a jihad against America. Did the boot prints of US troops in the Arabian peninsula, birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, qualify as “villainy in the land”?

To Bin Laden, they certainly did.

As for American civilians, can they be innocent of either “murder” or “villainy” when their tax money helps Israel buy tanks to raze Palestinian homes? A no-brainer for Bin Laden.

And, it seems, for the 7 July terrorists. The group claiming responsibility cited – what else? – a defence of Iraq and a disgust with the Zionist entity as its primary motives.

The invasion of the former and the existence of the latter amount to nothing less than murder and villainy in the land.

These days, most Muslims in Britain can agree that al Qaeda and its sympathisers are ethically Neanderthal for manipulating the Koran to pursue this train of jihad.

I stand with those Muslims who insist that certain passages are being politically exploited. Of course, they are. The point is, however, that they could not be exploited if they did not exist.

We Muslims cannot bear to admit as much. Why? Why do we hang on to the mantra that the Koran – and Islam – are blemish-free? God may very well be perfect but God transcends a book, a prophet and a belief system.

That means we are free to question without fear that the Almighty will feel threatened by our reasoning, speculating, or doubting. Rather, it is we who feel threatened. It does not have to be this way in Britain. More than most, Muslims here enjoy precious freedoms to think, express, challenge and be challenged without government reprisal.

To be sure, some Muslims have faced unwarranted harassment. In the weeks ahead, it is bound to happen again. But it is equally true that the British state protects Muslims to a degree that can only be dreamt of elsewhere in the West.

Witness the police patrolling mosques for signs of anti-Muslim backlash – a presence acknowledged, and applauded, by many Muslims. Yesterday Parliament debated the Government’s Racist and Religious Hatred Bill. Mainstream Muslims campaigned for it, arguing that they are being terrorised by bigots. Now many of their neighbours feel the same, thanks to a fistful of fanatics.

What will moderate Muslims do?

How about joining with the moderates of Judaism and Christianity in confessing some “sins of scripture”, as one of America’s best-regarded Episcopal bishops has said of the Bible?

British Muslims would be paying tribute to the very pluralism of ideas and interpretations that allows them to practise Islam in this part of the world.

And the rest of the world is watching.