Novelists on politics and terrorism

by Yule Heibel on July 20, 2005

Interesting interview in The Spiegel (English-language international version) with the novelist Ian McEwan:

McEwan: Inevitably, we’re going to start seeing around the preposterous political correctness that allows us to have radical clerics preaching in mosques and recruiting young people. We have been caught too much by a sense that we can just regard these clerics as being like English eccentrics at Hyde Park Corner. But the problem is that their audience has already been to training camps.

SPIEGEL: But isn’t the West providing the best advertisement for terrorist recruiters by being in Iraq and killing Islamic civilians, torturing Muslim prisoners a la Abu Ghraib and spreading pictures of the deeds around the world?

McEwan: I don’t think terror needs a breeding ground. I don’t buy the arguments in the Iraq war. What keeps getting forgotten here is that the people committing massacres in Iraq right now belong to al-Qaida. We’re witnessing a civil war that’s taking place in Islam. The most breathtaking statement was the one of al-Qaida claiming responsibility for the London bombings saying it was in return for the massacre in Iraq. But the massacres in Iraq now are being conducted by al-Qaida against Muslims. I also think it’s extraordinary the way in which we get morally selective in our outrages. When there was a rumor that someone at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down the lavatory, the pages in The Guardian almost caught fire with outrage, but only months before the Taliban had set fire to a mosque and destroyed 300 ancient Korans. [More…]

Unfortunately, I can’t find an English version of an essay by Leon de Winter, published today in the German-language Der Spiegel. Called “Murderous Piety,” de Winter’s essay argues that “tolerant” Islam as well as “radical” or “fundamentalist” Islam both rely on the same verses in the Koran, and that Sharia law, taken as god-given and directly emanating from the supposedly holy book, cannot be altered or contextualised. If it’s god-given, there is no other context, and if you mess with Sharia, you have to mess with Koran. But for Westerners who aren’t fundamentalists, context is everything. The ummah, meanwhile, does nothing to criticise, reflect on, or …contextualise Islam from within, either. Echoing McEwan, de Winter points out that Muslim leadership did nothing when the Taliban reduced Afghanistan to a humanitarian and cultural wasteland based on the total suppression of women and of any notion of individual selfhood. Only the dissidents and refugees criticised the status quo in Algeria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Sudan: rarely did Muslim leaders do so. De Winter allows that censorship squelches critique, but he also notes that none of the leaders protest the humiliation of women in their culture and religion. That’s because the culture is typically based on tribal structures based in shame and honour, but not in self-criticism, self-reflection, or personal responsibility. In such structures, misfortunes are the fault of others, of outsiders. De Winter notes that already some Muslim leaders claim that the London subway bombings were the work of Jews: Iran’s Ayatollah Mohammed Emami Kaschani said the bombings were the fault of the US and Israel; Iranian state radio said that the Mossad was behind the attacks.

De Winter has another article, this one in English, that came out on July 16 in The New York Times on the Op-Ed page: Tolerating a Time Bomb. It focusses mainly on Holland and the murders of Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn, and has none of the urgency of the German-language essay.

I can’t find any working links that elaborate the difference of opinion between John le Carré and de Winter, but the former did write a column attacking Tony Blair’s collusion with the US in invading Iraq, and de Winter launched a counter-offensive. I would typically side with le Carré, but the ferocity with which fundamentalist islamofascists oppress women — and the absence of progressive, enlightened leadership within the Muslim community, the absence of any sense of equal rights for women (and don’t tell me about any “wonderful” separate but equal claptrap; we’ve been down that road already…) tells me that appeasement is ridiculous, and that it’s people like Irshad Manji who really know the score.

Meanwhile, speaking of John le Carré: he could have written the text for this story, told by Ian Johnson: How a Mosque for Ex-Nazis Became Center of Radical Islam. It was published in The Wall Street Journal on July 12, but you have to pay to see it there. The link I have here is to the in Pittsburgh; I have no idea what its political leanings are. Suffice it to say, Johnson’s article (unfairly, in my opinion) caught the attention of all the rightwing ranters (including “Little Green Snotballs”), but typically they pounced on it, pointed a finger or two, and then left, without understanding the complex historical underpinnings that Johnson brings to light. The struggle between the German Herr Wende and the Americans is classic le Carré subterfuge, a lose-lose tale that produces totally unexpected outcomes. Really, the story is a classic tale of how stupid the West could be in its blind struggle against the Soviet Union and perceived international Red Menaces.

Context is everything.

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