From Fatwa to Jihad
Is multiculturalism to blame for further alienating Muslims who live in Western countries?
In his engaging book, From Fatwa to Jihad, Kenan Malik posits that the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against Indian-British novelist Salman Rushdie (for blaspheming Islam in “The Satanic Verses”) was a beginning. According to Malik, that was the event that marked the starting whistle in a contest between Enlightenment notions of free expression and the most extreme interpretations of Islam.Skip to next paragraph
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Malik, himself an Indian-British journalist, aruges that multiculturalism has failed to harmonize relations between British Muslims and their countrymen, succeeding instead in fostering a culture of grievance and alienation that ultimately led to the July 2005 train bombings in London by homegrown jihadists.
In the British context, multiculturalism was an implicit bargain between the state and self-appointed minority community leaders whereby the former would grant the latter prestige and funds in exchange for votes and tranquility, says Malik. But the deal has backfired, and the loudest and most extreme Muslim leaders have been granted legitimacy as the authentic representatives of diverse communities. Worse, Western apologies in the face of threats have only emboldened Islamist extremists.
Malik’s is a liberal self-critique of the sort that has become familiar since 9/11, with Paul Berman’s “Terror and Liberalism” leading the way in a mini-genre that includes Nick Cohen’s “What’s Left?,” Bernard-Henri Levy’s “Left in Dark Times,” and the writings of Christopher Hitchens. Unlike those works, however, “From Fatwa to Jihad” is persuasive more often than not.
The primary idea of “From Fatwa to Jihad” is that the right to free expression should always outweigh any right to not be offended. Distasteful though some people might find certain words and pictures, Malik makes the case that the moral and pragmatic arguments on behalf of state censorship do not hold up to scrutiny.
“Freedom of speech,” he quotes Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black writing in 1961, “must be accorded to ideas we hate or sooner or later it will be denied to ideas we cherish.” This is as convincing now as it was 50 years ago. The repeated examples of publishing houses and museums bowing before Islamist threats are troubling. “Nobody would have the [courage] today to write ‘The Satanic Verses,’ let alone publish it,” Malik quotes playwright Hanif Kureishi as saying – a chilling observation.