The continuing Russian brutalities in Ukraine are diverting my attention from other horrors perpetrated elsewhere in the world.
About ten days ago the de facto government of Afghanistan, the semi-literate Taliban, announced that Afghan women had to cover their faces in public, that they must avoid going out of their houses at all, and that most significant travel required that they be accompanied by a male “guardian.” In the meantime, teenage girls are forbidden to go to school in most of the country. The Taliban took these important measures against a background of famine, as if they were urgently needed.
I understand that the Taliban are primitive people from an earlier age (How else could they have beaten the American armed forces and other modern militaries while fighting in flip-flops?)
I also understand that religion is often the more or less inert and innocent vehicle for repulsive cultural traits and actions. My own ancestors for centuries used a religious pretext to assuage their simple desire for land. It was called the “Crusades” from the word for “cross,” the cross of Christ. I am not a real Christian myself, but I am completely sure Jesus wouldn’t have told them to go ahead and set the Levant to flames and blood. I am kind of familiar with the basic Christian Scriptures. I think they don’t authorize such military adventures (except when you go way back into the Old Testament, when God had not yet become civilized Himself).
I am no a theologian but I would expect many Muslims to argue that the Taliban are misguided from a religious standpoint, in this instance. If I were forced to bet, it would wager that the covering of women’s faces in nowhere to be found in the Quran nor does it appear in the oldest and most trusted Hadith. So, I have been paying attention to different kinds of media, in English and in French, for unfavorable public Muslim reactions to the Taliban barbarity. I would think that thousands, perhaps millions of Muslims who will insist that they care about all human dignity, including that of women, should condemn that particular Taliban’s policy loud and clear.
I would expect some denunciation from some specifically Islamic sources because the Taliban took this anti-woman measure explicitly in the name of religion, in the name of Islam. I fact, I don’t know if there have been such public negative reactions at all. There are hundreds of millions of possible sources of such reactions. I may have missed some. Yet, the protests if any were few and quiet enough to completely escape the attention of this leisurely old man who lives with some sort of mass media about fifteen hours a day. That’s not good enough for a tolerant rationalist like me with no penchant toward Islamophobia. (See below.) This seeming silence makes the worst impression!
Frankly, I did not expect much from within the likes of either Saudi Arabia where they practice this form of oppression, or from tyrannical and murderous Iran (where they don’t). I had higher expectation that voices would arise in Indonesia, where the large Muslim majority used to be open-minded, or from India, where the 200 million Muslims are forced by circumstance. to think of the impression they make on others. Wrong, nothing!
Of course, I just may be factually wrong in some small way, or even in a big way. I hope some will bring any public statements by Muslims on face covering to my attention. If I judge them credible, I will immediately correct myself right here.
I was hoping for comments coming from three more specific countries. The first is Algeria, 95% Muslim but explicitly founded on a secular basis. The second is Egypt which houses what I understand are the most respected Islamic theological authorities, including at Al-Azhar University. Incidentally, I was even secretly hoping that a scholar or two at the latter would discuss the old Islamic idea that adding laws to the Quran and the Hadith can easily become blasphemous. My mistake! The third country is Turkey, simply because it has a large class of nominal Muslims educated in the Western way, including a good acquaintance with the Enlightenment. I have heard and read nothing from any of the three.
My final hope concerned the large, well established Muslim minorities in such liberal countries as the UK and France. I know the situation in the latter best. French Muslims seem to be present in all sectors and at all levels of French society. They are blue collar workers, of course simply because many are recent immigrants. They also direct prestigious medical school hospitals . They are public servants, including at the highest levels, and they are politicians. The best loved French comic appears to be a Muslim and also one of the main popular French singers. I say “seem” and “appear” because I have no way of knowing who is a real Muslim. I can only tell that someone has a Muslim name. I don’t know what’s in his or her heart.
Yet, there are in France Muslim organizations that are explicitly expected to represent Muslims vis-à-vis the civil authorities. There is little doubt that those representatives are genuine Muslims, whatever that may be. These people live in the comfort and with the freedom of a democratic society and they are protected by it. I don’t see why they don’t raise their voices in protest of the Taliban’s barbarities. That is unless, they approve of the Taliban’s treatment of women or unless they are frankly indifferent to it. In either case, their silence where there should be voices raised gives Islam a bad name.
Few of us will publicly comment on this silence but we do take note. That few of of us will comment results in some part from a successful intellectual swindle perpetrated in the West in the past twenty years or so. It has become almost accepted that Islamophobia is pretty much like racism or even a sort or branch of racism. That is ridiculous, of course. Racism depends on highly visible physical characteristics that cannot be changed. The same physical features we know do not allow for predictions about the person’s intelligence or morality, or good judgment. Islamophobia, on the other hand, the dislike of Islam, is based on the assumption that the Muslim is a person who possesses a well articulated set of beliefs and ideas about reality. These beliefs are easy to ascertain (at least at a superficial level). They can reliably and logically be linked to certain preferred behaviors: Hate to be obvious but knowing that someone is a Muslim if enough to predict that there is a higher than average chance the he will avoid pork and alcoholic beverages. Mostly and definitely, at least under certain fairly common circumstances, it’s possible, even easy, to stop being Muslim by abandoning the said set of beliefs and ideas. I am being a little cautious here because in several mostly Muslim countries, apostasy, abandoning one’s faith is theoretically punishable by death. It’s not in France, of course, it’s not in the UK, it’s not anywhere in Western Europe; it’s not in North America, etc.
The Muslim silence in connection with the latest Taliban horror thus joins the Muslim silence regarding the widespread sexual mutilation of little girls in predominantly Islamic West Africa, and about the practice of “honor killing” in the wider Middle East. None of these savage customs are mandated by Islam but they coincide closely with areas where Islam has its sway and they are at least tolerated there. This tolerance of the intolerable couldn’t be better calculated to inspire dislike among the civilized people of this world. This tolerance breeds Islamophobia. It’ not prejudice, “pre-judgment,” it’s rational judgment.
I speak freely as a poor candidate myself for Islamophobia. I have known Muslims all my life. I have liked every single one of the Muslims I have known personally. (I can’t says the same about members of any other religious group, including my group of origin, Catholics.) I have visited several Muslim countries and liked everyone of them. I spend five golden months in 100% Muslim Morocco several years ago. I would move there in a minute. (My wife wouldn’t though.) I like Middle Eastern music – not specifically Muslim, of course but closely associated with Muslim culture areas. I like mosques, inside and outsides. My preference extends to Arab calligraphy – also not specifically Muslim but kept well alive by the Islamic faith. As I write, I have hanging nearby a nice small wooden board inscribed with the Arabic formula for the Shaada, the Muslim profession of faith. It does not mean that I am about to convert. It means that I tend to be friendly. My friendliness is just being tested too often.
Some Muslims will object, of course, that they have nothing to prove to me. Sure enough! I am just trying to explain. If religious authorities in the Christian and formerly Christian West resumed burning witches, do you think I would let it pass without comment?