So two academics, an artsy “freedom fighter” and a priest walk into a synagogue… The setup that night resembled an old bar joke, but the outcome wasn’t that funny.
The highly-anticipated panel discussion with Daniel Pipes on the issue of Islam and Islamism missed the point. He and the other two participants – Prof. Salim Mansur and Father Raymond de Souza – along with the moderator Fred Litwin (from the Free Thinking Film Festival) delivered a presentation more fitting for an “interfaith dialogue” event than a discussion where most of the people showed up looking for answers to pressing political problems.
It was hard to figure out their position on Islam, however, the panel was united in its displeasure with Pamela Geller as a person with supposedly extreme positions. When you criticize someone, who is doing some real work and taking daily blows for it, you are usually expected to offer a better course of action.
None of the panelists offered anything better. Don’t get me wrong – they all had good intentions and were well prepared, but there wasn’t much of practical use for their views. This post will be critical. When somebody is criticized, the most common comeback is that their words have been taken out of context. In anticipation of that I recorded the presentations of Daniel Pipes and Salim Mansur and you can see them in their entirety here (Daniel Pipes & Salim Mansur).
The audience sensed that they were receiving inadequate answers. After all, theorizing about the possible evolution of Islam on the day when in London two Muslim savages beheaded a British soldier in broad daylight is not the best way to address the threat of Islam or Islamism.
The lively discussion and the concerns of the people who showed up at the event were the most interesting part of it. That was when real issues were brought up and that video is much more interesting.
In his opening statement Fred Litwin set the tone of hostility for the evening attacking the “wrong” way to deal with Islam. The culprits were Geert Wilders and Pamela Geller. Their actions led to “horrible” side consequences like banning circumcision and kosher slaughter. They are definitely not good, the good people are in the panel.
Daniel Pipes admitted in the beginning that the issue of Islam is controversial and emotional. We cannot ignore the recent attacks in Florida and London. The problem is how to respond. There are different approaches; some fight the radical extremism, others, like Geert Wilders consider Islam to be the enemy. In his movie he linked every appalling practice of Islam with a specific verse from the Koran. A third view is to deal specifically with the foreign Islam as a main enemy.
According to Pipes, Islam can be reformed and become moderate. Can the Muslim leaders make the coexistence possible? Yes, Islam can change, everything human changes including religion. There are many examples – the US constitution, it’s an important document, but you can’t understand the USA by only reading the constitution, the same applies to Islam, the Koran and the hadith.
The concepts of jihad and the place of women in Islam have all changed. It’s not enough to look at documents; you need to look at Islam itself. That religion has changed over time and continues to change. Since the 1960s had been enormous changes in Islam, much for the worse. But if Islam can get worse, it can get better as well.
Sharia is the key to the language with which Islam influences public life. It puts many demands on the Muslims, for example the jihad war against non-Muslims which now is not applied universally. The Koran calls for limited taxation, which now few countries can afford. The prohibition of interest is impossible – without it businesses and banks can’t run.
These are all compromises, which had to be adopted by Islam. There are two directions in the Muslim countries – one is westernizing, the other Islamization. Ataturk in Turkey in the 1920s changed the country through westernization. But in the 1970s resistance appeared, which eventually brought in Erdogan. Turkey is returning to Islam.
In other countries they decided that Muslims are not successful, because they don’t apply sharia properly. In fact they borrowed the idea of returning to something stable and correct from Mussolini and Lenin. The first big success of that trend was the Khomeinist revolution, which inspired Islamists over the world. Islamism could also be non-violent – Erdogan was elected several times.
Many old ideas still exist in Islam – there is slavery in Mauritania and Saudi Arabia and some leaders find it normal. Their banks deny they charge interest but that’s deceptive – they are charging service fees. We have to support the positive changes. Some clerics declared female genital mutilation contrary to Islam. It will take many decades to make those changes permanent. We should resist both violent and peaceful Islamism and support the reformers.
Everybody in the audience was wondering what Mr. Pipes’ point was. Other than demonstrating his knowledge on the issue, he didn’t have any definitive position. Islam in his view was an amorphous entity that could take both good and bad shapes and no one knew when the new change would occur. His lecture offered no answer to the question what the ordinary people could do protect themselves. Those doubts resurfaced later when the audience asked quite a few inconvenient questions.
In his presentation Father de Souza observed that the majority of victims of Muslim terrorism are fellow Muslims. It is a war within the Islam, a theological struggle. After quoting several politicians discussing the expansion of radical Islam, he said that the best solution is to work with those in the Muslim world who want to change the minds of the dangerous people.
Commenting on the now famous speech of Pope Benedict, in which he mentioned Islam (and Muslims rioted over it), he said that the speech was distorted. The Pope asked the question whether it is possible to justify religious violence. That boiled down to the nature of god in Islam. Despite the initial violent reaction, later Islamic scholars wrote a letter concerning the issues he raised. Then the king of Saudi Arabia organized a conference with Muslims, Jews and Christians, although he couldn’t do it in his country. It had to be held in Spain with the help of the Spanish King.
I am not sure if Father de Souza realized the dark irony of the situation. The Muslim “understanding” of the Pope’s message was limited to organizing an interfaith conference in Europe, because the filthy kafirs, Christians and Jews, can’t be allowed into the citadel of the Muslim barbarism. And he considers this “progress”. It’s no wonder that Christians in many countries feel betrayed by the cowardly behaviour of their clerics.
The presentation of Prof. Salim Mansur focused on defining the difference between Islam and Islamism. Are they the same? The answer has an immense implication about understanding the Muslim world. Islamism is a fascistic and totalitarian ideology, regardless of how Islamists are dressed or educated.
Islamism is about power. Its purpose is the establishment of a sharia state, a theocracy. The Muslim Brotherhood has such goals.
At the same time Islam is a faith tradition with a message to worship one god and live truthfully. It began under Mohammed as a spiritual quest. Islam can’t be reduced to political ideology. Islamism in its current form is promoted by the Saudi Wahabism with the oil money. Islamism glorifies violence.
The West needs to distinguish between Islam and Islamism. If we consider them the same that means the West is at war with the whole Muslim world and you can’t engage with them. On the flip side Islamists have a similar view and consider everybody infidel.
Islamism is a perversion of Islam. The west should support those Muslims that fight against Islamism.
I understand that (at least nominally) Prof. Mansur is Muslim. He wants to defend his religion. However, it is very difficult to tell the difference between Islam and Islamism. Islam has always had political aspirations; it always boasts that it offers the perfect solution to all moral, social and political issues. Islam is never willing to play the second fiddle in a society – it can sense any weakness and exploit it mercilessly to achieve its goal of domination. Prof. Mansur himself acknowledged in his book on multiculturalism how the western liberal democracy is targeted by such movements. Maybe someday Islam would limit itself to the activities of worship (like most other religions) but it looks like it may take many decades to see that change.
I don’t know if the panel expected everybody in the audience to agree with their mushy positions, but the people present had their own opinions and they were not afraid to express them. Thinking people have that nasty habit to see through bullshit and call it.
That became painfully obvious to the panel when the Q&A session started. The hostility was rekindled by the moderator Fred Litwin, who found it necessary to ask the first question and it was again about Pamela Geller and the way she sees Islam. This part of the post covers the events in another video, which shows exactly how things went on (that’s in case somebody blames me that I take statements out of context). You can see it here.
Again, the panel was unanimous. Daniel Pipes flatly stated that she was wrong. His example was Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood wanted power but they were confronted by the people and failed. (That was a lame argument – in a Muslim country where the majority of people are backward and uneducated, with no perspective of developing any economy, the support for theocratic parties will always be strong).
Salim Mansur said that she and her supporters were wrong – she raises theological questions, but only Muslims can resolve those theological questions. Who is Pamela Geller to decide how those problems will be resolved? The pendulum swings toward the Islamists, but it will swing back because the Islamists have nothing to offer. Father de Souza echoed Mansur’s statement saying that you cannot offer an answer to a theological problem unless you have knowledge of theology and she doesn’t.
That was sad to watch – three respectable men trying to diminish what a brave woman tries to do to deal with the threat of Islam, all of them hiding behind some questionable theory.
The audience obviously didn’t buy those arguments. A woman asked the panel how they can dismiss Pamela Geller’s work, when she has done so much to defend the victims of Muslim violence (like the victim of honour killing Aqsa Pervez). Besides, Geller doesn’t deny the fact that Islam may evolve, but she is dealing with Islam now, isn’t there anything important in what she does?
Pipes’ reply was shockingly snobbish – he simply dismissed her again saying that the members of the panel are not students of Pamela Geller. That definitely wasn’t met with applause by the audience.
A friend of mine asked an excellent question about Salim Mansur’s statement that Islam started as a spiritual religion. How could that be true, if Mohammed was a very successful warlord, who conquered many peoples, he was not just a spiritual person?
Mansur replied with an example from a Kurosawa movie where the same event is seen by the same people in several different ways (he probably meant “Rashomon”). Mohammed in his century established one of the most successful societies outside of Europe. Mohammed is not responsible for what happened later as the Jews are not responsible for the end of the Roman Empire. (That was totally unconvincing – no amount of verbal equilibristic could change the fact that Islam was established as a political ideology with expansionist goals and remains the same even today.)
The inconvenient questions didn’t stop. Another attendee observed that the Nazis wouldn’t have been able to achieve their goals without the willing participation of the Germans. Isn’t that what Pamela Geller is talking about when discussing what is going on in the mosques?
Prof. Mansur finally descended from his theoretical pedestal and faced the reality saying that he has talked for a long time about the same things. Not only Pamela Geller sees that, many people have noticed it. There is recruitment going on at mosques and very little is done about it. Multiculturalism makes that easier for the jihadis. Even Muslims have concerns about the same things. Mansur finally took the strong position he displayed last month after the plot to bomb the VIA Rail was uncovered (you can read and see what he said here.)
Even though Pamela wasn’t there, she obviously couldn’t get a break. Fred Litwin started to bash her again – the reason he puts down Pamela, he said, is not because she fights Islamism, it’s because she goes one step further. If you read her blog and Robert Spencer’s writings, you’ll see that she wants a confrontation with Islam. Both Spencer and Geller criticized the Pipes article about the distinction between Islam and Islamism.
Another attendee asked a question about what is to be done, we are dealing with violent jihadis, whose number is huge, even if their percentage among Muslims is small, we don’t want to become collateral damage.
Pipes again gave a strange response, offending the person who asked and the audience, and then said that we have to support Muslims who fight Islamism.
Here Litwin decided to educate the audience by sharing his encounters with “moderate Islam.” For a time he worked for Intel in Singapore and took trips to Malaysia and Indonesia. He noticed that Islam in Malaysia is different. Islam is very diverse. He had no problem being Jewish in Malaysia. Muslims in Malaysia or Indonesia were not Islamists.
It was kind of him to provide the perspective of the wealthy Western tourist. He sounded as pathetic as a TDSB multiculturalism specialist lecturing a bunch of 5-graders in Toronto. Visiting those countries is not like living there. In Malaysia the Muslims are barely a majority, but they are as pushy as everywhere else – just listen to the two large minorities that keep the country going, the Chinese and the Hindus. They pay more taxes than the Muslims and are regularly harassed when they don’t “respect” the Muslim customs.
Recently a Japanese company making mayonnaise was harassed by the Malaysian government to change its logo in order to do business in Malaysia. The logo depicted a doll with tiny wings, which the Muslims considered an angel.
The whole issue is as demented as the Muslim riots over cartoons, but to Litwin that may look like a reasonable moderate Muslim demand. I have seen Fred Litwin on the TV stating that he is homosexual. There is nothing wrong with that in Canada, but it is very, very wrong in Muslim Malaysia. Anwar Ibrahim was a powerful member of the government a few years ago. His career was destroyed and he did time in jail, accused of being a homosexual. If a government minister is treated like that, could Mr. Litwin imagine what would happen to an ordinary Malaysian homosexual? Or even better – what would happen to Mr. Litwin, if he picks up a guy in Malaysia and gets caught? I am sure his concept of Muslim moderation would change overnight.
In Indonesia the persecution of Christians has never stopped (they don’t have local Jews to persecute). In 1997, during the crisis, the moderate Indonesian Muslims exterminated thousands of Christians. And maybe I should remind Mr. Litwin what the Muslims did in a night club in Bali a few years later…
This is the problem with people like Fred Litwin – they sound impartial and respectful, but actually they treat their audience like a bunch of ignorant idiots willing to believe anything.
The last round of the argument was started by a guy who had a very simple question – where are the moderate Muslims? What happens in the Muslim world is shocking – if let’s say 10% of the Christians are violent, there will be huge outcry. Churches and governments would be condemning the violence. That doesn’t happen in Islam, where the extremists are supposedly 10%.
Daniel Pipes responded by pointing at the moderate Muslims in the room (Raheel Raza, Tahir Gora, Salim Mansur). There is a strong faction of them in Ontario. We need to find and help them all over the world. (Frankly, that was far from convincing and the person who asked didn’t buy it.)
He said that was wonderful but that’s not the point. We are told there are many moderate Muslims and that appears not to be true.
Finally, Pipes, visibly irritated, made his final estimate – Islamists are 10-15%, the moderates are 1-2% and the vast majority are in between. The domination by Islamises is regrettable.
That wasn’t comforting either – a large passive Muslim mass that can be easily won by the Islamists, if they offer them enough goodies is a very real threat.
R. Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, once said that there is only one Islam. And this is the only thing he said, with which I fully agree. The scholastic discourses about Islam and Islamism are meaningless. It’s all about Islam. Islam is a doctrine with built in violence (jihad). Aggression and mistreatment of the others is part of its nature.
The only way to deal with it is to curb its political aspirations, which will bring destruction to the West. That means limiting the powers of all Islamic organizations in the Western countries. Islam would be much less dangerous if it really gets limited to the mosque. We can hardly afford to wait for it to evolve into something more docile. Its bloodthirsty “warriors” would do everything to stop that evolution.
But putting Islam in its place, as one of the many cults existing in the West, won’t be an easy task. It will require courage and a lot of work to repair the damage caused by the multiculturalism.
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