Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Irshad Manji - What's the buzz?

Irshad Manji, in this interview on Studio 4 with Fanny Kiefer, describes the impact her book The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith has had on young people in the Muslim world.

Remember that the greatest support for a book like this has actually come from those who are living these realities on the ground, .... young Muslims in particular. They obviously not are just the future. They are the present. And they're the ones who are saying, Keep going. Because the more you use your privileges to speak out from the West, the more you're creating a ripple effect for us to be able to create these kind of conversations in our own communities. And I've got evidence of that when I was at the World Economic Forum this past January. A number of Arab journalists and politicians came up to me and said, You don't know me, but I know you. And do you know how much buzz our kids are making about your book? And I played dumb. 'Course I knew. But I asked them, Tell me more. And you know what they told me? Please stop! And that's exactly when I knew you gotta keep going.

The other day I was happy to see an article of hers in the Wall St. Journal regarding the Danish "cartoon wars", to use Manji's phrase. She's made it available at her website muslim-refusenik.com.

On the other side of the Atlantic, The Economist uses the very same phrase, "cartoon wars", as the title for its lead opinion piece. It starts with a brilliant misquote of Voltaire, I disagree with what you say and even if you are threatened with death I will not defend very strongly your right to say it. This captures well the miserable Milquetoasts I have talked with in the past week. Where's liberalism? When I was a teen, there was a poster hanging in the Stevenson high school library with the Voltaire quote, I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. That poster inspired me deeply through the years.

Unfortunately, it appears that Voltaire may not have actually said that, but he did write something similar. The really real quote is Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.

This brings us back full circle to the interview. Manji says:

I had occasion to ask [Salman Rushdie], Why would you support a young, Muslim woman writing a book that might invite into her life the kind of violence and chaos that has been visited upon yours?

And without any hesitation, he replied, Because a book is more important than a life.

Now I laughed, Fanny, thinking this guy's a joker. He's poking fun at his situation. He's about to tell me the serious answer.

No, no, he said. Let me tell you the serious answer. It is this. Whenever a writer puts out a thought, it can be disagreed with vigorously, vehemently, even violently, but it cannot be unthought. And that is the great permanent gift that the writer gives to this world.

Now what I loved about his answer is that he wasn't denying I might die as a result of this work. He was implying strongly that it may still be worth it. And try as I did for the next two weeks to come up with a counter-argument. I couldn't. And that is when I knew I had made the emotional commitment to write this book

There's liberalism.

UPDATE: 2 AM - Just listened to an interview of Irshad Manji with John Moore on CFRB where she validates my point on idolatry last week.

UPDATE: Next day 1 AM - Voltaire himself dallied in Mohammed depiction. Two months ago it became an issue in Geneva for the Théâtre de Carouge.

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