My recent article on the dominant discourse of Muslim women’s liberation generated a heated debate in which a number of commentators and scores of posters took part on issues ranging from moral responsibility towards victims of oppression, to the universality of human rights and the left’s role in strategies of liberation.
It seems that Muslim women – particularly those living in western capitals- are destined to remain besieged by two debilitating discourses, which though different in appearance, are one in essence.
Once again riots have broken out in Paris’s banlieus, this time in Villiers-le-Bel, a poverty-stricken suburb to the north of the capital. For the second night running angry youths hurled stones, petrol bombs and fireworks at the police, and set light to hundreds of cars and buildings. The latest reports speak of 80 injured officers and tens of torched vehicles and buildings, including the municipal library, two schools and several shops.
No subject seems to generate more heated discussion these days than religion. And this is by no means confined to Comment is Free, where articles on God, atheism, secularism, evolution and creationism consistently attract floods of comments within hours of being published. Books exploring religion and spirituality top bestseller lists, too. According to Amazon, religious publishing has grown by 50% in the last three years, surpassing sales of books in categories such as history and politics.
In a few days time a cluster of far-right groups under the name the Stop the Islamisation of Europe alliance will hold rallies in London, Copenhagen and Marseilles to demand an end to what they call “the overt and covert expansion of Islam in Europe”. Although the events are likely to attract no more than a handful of protesters, their message resonates widely. On Saturday the rightwing People’s party, notorious for its virulent hostility to ethnic minorities and Muslims, emerged as the victor in the Swiss elections, taking 29% of the vote, the best electoral performance by a party in the country’s elections since 1919.
On Channel 4 News last night, Martin Amis stuck to the same strategy he has adopted since the eruption of the row a week ago over his statements on Muslims. The comments in question, he repeated, were not made in writing – as literary critic Terry Eagleton had suggested – but “conversationally” in a press interview. He has since written more than 25,000 words all of which, he maintained, he stands by.
One warm Sunday afternoon a few years back, I went with my scout group on a march against the Iraq war shortly after our weekly meeting. Dressed in our scout uniforms, we joined hundreds of protesters waving banners and flags, blowing whistles, and chanting anti-war slogans to the beat of drums. While enjoying the carnival-like atmosphere, I watched a photographer scouring the crowd with a large camera in his hand. Walking past one row of protesters after another, he suddenly stopped near us and aimed his lens. His target, mind you, was not the uniformed scouts with their sweet, colourful homemade placards, but two figures nearby, swathed in black from head to toe, with only their eyes showing, their foreheads covered with headbands which read “jihad now”.
I am no expert on Russia. I enjoy reading Tolstoy, Chekhov and above all Gorky. But when it comes to Russian affairs, I could not write a detailed essay to save my life. Fortunately for Russians and Russia experts, I stay quiet on the subject. Most people know even less about the Middle East … I wish they too would remain quiet on the subject.
I have been and remain convinced that for all the noise it continues to make and the vast volumes of commentary its exhibitionist actions continue to generate, al-Qaida is only a passing phenomenon, a wave of tension and burning rage that rises only to recede again.
“Is Islam incompatible with democracy?” was the title of a discussion panel (sponsored by the New Statesman) at the Hay Festival last weekend. This clichéd question, which keeps scores of journalists and writers busy today, is in reality the product of stereotypical understanding of “Islam” and “democracy”.