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The Real Lesson of Charlie Hebdo

As the world endeavors to digest the savage massacre of 12 innocent people in Paris by French Muslims, it is worth stepping back to remember that the last week or so has also seen the publication of two important manifestos by prominent Muslims.

Both manifestos, though in different ways, are remarkable for their frank recognition of some salient facts about Islam, what a Marxist might call “really existing Islam,” as distinct from those ideal constructions urged upon us by the naïve but well-meaning.

The first manifesto was delivered in Cairo by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on New Year’s Day before Al-Azhar University and the Awqaf Ministry, which oversees Egypt’s religious endowments. Roger L. Simon, writing here at PJM, was right to call the speech “extraordinary.” El-Sisi, as Simon observes, called for nothing less that an ecclesiastical revolution in Islam. The great Raymond Ibrahim, who has done as much as anyone to tell the truth about Islam in the Middle East, posted an English translation of key excerpts from the speech on his web site. “The corpus of [Islamic] texts and ideas that we sacralized over the years,” el-Sisi said,  are “antagonizing the entire world.” Egypt, he continued, is being “torn apart” by these violent ideas.

We have to think hard about what we are facing . . . It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible! . . .

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible! . . .

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move . . .  because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.

Some have objected that el-Sisi has not matched his actions to his words. But Simon is right: no Western leader (certainly not Barack Hussein Obama) has had the courage to issue a call for such radical change in Islam. And the fact that the leader of the largest Arab nation should do so has potentially “world-changing implications.”

El-Sisi’s speech occurred on New Year’s Day. A scant week later,  two masked gunman shouting “Allahu Akbar!” stormed into offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and murdered 10 journalists and 2 policemen in cold blood. This was not a random act of what the Obama administration called “workplace violence” (their description of the Islamic-inspired butchery at Fort Hood). It was not the work of “lone extremists” (another favorite Obama term for the work Islamic terrorism). It certainly was not an act of “anti-Islamic activity,” the cynical and mendacious term that former British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith coined to describe Islamic terrorism. (Shades of the “No True Scotsman fallacy” there, Jacqui.)

No, these two French Muslims, since identified as Said Kouachi (34) and his brother Cherif Kouachi (32), were on a mission. They targeted Charlie Hebdo because the irreverent magazine had repeatedly made fun of Islam and its founder (it has done the same to other religions and indeed to other establishment figures in general, but with less incarnadine results). Back in 2011, after the paper published the famous “Danish Cartoons” of Mohammed, other partisans of “the religion of peace” firebombed the offices of the magazine.  Its editor, Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, was given round-the-clock police protection as a result. It wasn’t enough. The Kouachi brothers knew exactly who they were looking for. When they shot their way into the office of Cahrlie Hebdo, they rattled off a list of names of journalists and cartoonists, including Charbonnier’s. When they found them, they murdered them. Now at last, they proclaimed, “the prophet has been avenged.”

Think about that. The prophet, i.e., Mohammed, the revered founder of Islam, has been “avenged” because 12 people have been murdered in cold blood. Why? Because a magazine published some satirical cartoons of said prophet.

Which brings me to the second Muslim manifesto I mentioned.  This, too, was an extraordinary effusion, notable for its honesty about the realities of Islam in the world today.  But unlike President al-Sisi’s speech in Cairo, this manifesto was not a call for an accommodating revolution in Islam. On the contrary, it was a warning to infidels (that would be you and me, Virginia) that the French journalists (and their bodyguards) reaped what they had sown.

I refer to the “opposing view” op-ed by Anjem Choudary, “a radical Muslim cleric in London and a lecturer in sharia,” in USA Today yesterday. “Why,” the article’s dek asks, “did France allow the tabloid to provoke Muslims?”

You know what happens when Muslims are provoked. They start murdering people. One or two, if that’s all they can manage, thousands if they happen to get their hands on a few airliners. “Offend” them and they kill you. If you let them.

This ravening specimen of intolerant, theocratic rage doesn’t put it quite like that, of course, but he is pretty frank. “Contrary to popular misconception,” he begins (are you listening, President Bush?), “Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone.”

He’s right about that, you know: “Islam” means “submission” not “peace.” And Choudary’s frankness does not end there.  About the first thing Barack Obama did on assuming office was travel to Cairo as part of his world-apologize-to-tyrants-tour. At the University of Cairo, he gave a famous (now infamous) speech in which he asserted that Islam and America share core principles, “principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

Tolerance, eh? Barack Obama ought to have asked Anjem Choudary about that. “Muslims,” Choudary wrote in USA Today,  “do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people's desires.” How does that accord with “tolerance”? Choudary is clear-eyed about that, too. “In an increasingly unstable and insecure world,” he writes, “the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.” You said it, Anjem! Even as I write, Riaf Badawi, a Saudi blogger, is receiving 50-lashes in public, part of a sentence that includes a 10-year prison sentence and 1000 lashes (50 every Friday for 20 weeks, if he lasts that long). And what heinous crime did Badawi commit to merit such barbaric punishment? Why, he “insulted Islam.” So our “friends” and “allies” the Saudis are subjecting him to something out of a twisted medieval melodrama.

Badawi might well die from the prolonged torture he is being subjected to. But he might survive. Which in a way, I suppose, shows that, from an Islamic perspective, the Saudis are being lenient. I suspect that Anjem Choudary would not be so accommodating. To besmirch the “honor” of Mohammed is a grave crime against Sharia, i.e., Islamic law, Choudary points out, and the “strict punishment if found guilty . . . is capital punishment implementable by an Islamic State. This is because the Messenger Muhammad said, ‘Whoever insults a Prophet kill him.’”

Oh, I see. So that’s all right then?

According to Anjem Choudary, France is responsible for the deaths of those 10 journalists and 2 policemen because it allowed Charlie Hebdo to “provoke Muslims.” It thereby, he suggests, “placed the sanctity of its citizens as risk.” His conclusion? “It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world’s population was protected.”

My conclusion is a bit different. I believe it is time that the insane and murderous ideology of Islam is recognized for what it is, by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. USA Today got a lot of pushback for publishing  Choudary’s drooling apology for murder. I am glad that they did, for it reminds us in vivid terms exactly the sort of thing we in the so-called liberal West are up against.

Liberal regimes have always suffered from this paralyzing antinomy: Liberalism implies openness to other points of view, even those points of view whose success would destroy liberalism. Tolerance to those points of view is a prescription for suicide. Intolerance betrays the fundamental premise of liberalism, i.e. openness.

Of course (may I say “of course”?), there is a sense in which the antinomy is illusory, since any robust liberalism, i.e., a liberalism buttressed by a core of conservative backbone, understands that tolerance, if it is to flourish, cannot be synonymous with capitulation to ideas that would exploit tolerance only to destroy it. The “openness” that liberal society rightly cherishes is not a vacuous openness to all points of view: it is not “value neutral.” It need not, indeed it cannot, say Yes to all comers. American democracy, for example, affords its citizens great latitude, but great latitude is not synonymous with the proposition that “anything goes.” Our society, like every society, is founded on particular positive values—the rule of law, for example, respect for the individual, religious freedom, the separation of church and state.

Islam in its current configuration denies those values. Perhaps the “revolution” that President al-Sisi hopes for will eventually take place and carve out a place for Islam among the civilized religions and political systems of the world. Until that day, however, the sane response to Islam is not to pixelate images that Muslims find “offensive,” as The Daily News just did, to its shame. Nor is it to redact news stories in the hope that they will not (as Anjem Choudary put it) “provoke Muslims,” as The New York Times just did, to its shame. Were I (per impossible) editor of The New York Times, I would run those cartoons of Mohammed on the front page of the paper every day for a month. The sane response is to say No to any form of Islam that does not accommodate itself to the animating principles of liberal Western society. That means no to polygamy, no to murdering people who apostatize from Islam, no to stoning adulteresses, no to murdering homosexuals and Jews, no to treating women like chattel, no, in short, to the entire rancid menu of insanity that is contained under the rubric “Sharia.”

Aristotle observed that without courage, one cannot reliably practice the other virtues, because courage is necessary to meet the existential challenges of life. We in the West have grown pusillanimous about our foundational principles and have retreated to a vacuous pseudo-tolerance that is without foundation because it is without animating convictions. As I write, there are reports that the Kouachi brothers have been cornered and killed outside Paris. At the same time, news is coming in that another Muslim, who killed a policewoman yesterday and two hostages today, has also been killed by French authorities. It’s a start.  But the West will never be free from the murderous incursions of the sick atavism that is Islam until it rejects the timid ideology of political correctness and multiculturalism. It is just too bad if wackos like Anjem Choudary are “offended” or “provoked” by satirical cartoons. They can stew all they like in their wounded self-aggrandizing fantasies. Once they act upon them, however, they have rejected the social contract that makes civilized life in a liberal democracy possible. Having done so, they should themselves be rejected.