Tony Blair has designated Sir Iqbal Sacranie to be the face of moderate Islam in Britain. He is an outrageous choice, writes Salman Rushdie in Sunday’s Washington Post. Sacranie is not at all moderate, according to Rushdie, who is still sore that Sacranie considered the fatwa on Rushdie’s head after The Satanic Verses to be a very good idea.
“Death is perhaps too easy” for Rushdie, said Sacranie at the time. Rushdie also reports Sacranie’s recent outlandish comment that “there is no such thing as an Islamic terrorist,” and notes that Sacranie “boycotted a Holocaust remembrance ceremony in London commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz 60 years ago.”
What’s newsworthy about Rushdie’s op-ed is his willingness to define orthodox, not simply heterodox, Islam as the problem. This is a rarely taken position among liberals who out of politically correct sensitivities are loath to call mainstream, orthodox Islam illiberal though they don’t hesitate to slap that label on the religious tradition of Western civilization.
Rushdie writes that Blair’s selection of Sacranie proves either his government’s “penchant for religious appeasement or a demonstration of how limited Blair’s options really are….If Sir Iqbal Sacranie is the best Blair can offer in the way of a good Muslim, we have a problem.” In other words, orthodox Islam is militant Islam, according to Rushdie, and hence the selection of Sacranie to combat radicalism will be useless: “The Sacranie case illustrates the weakness of the Blair government’s strategy of relying on traditional, essentially orthodox Muslims to help eradicate Islamist radicalism.”
Since 9/11 the calls for Islam’s “reformation” have always implied that mainstream Islam is the problem — were it a religion of peace, why would it need to be reshaped? — but Rushdie is spelling this attitude out more explicitly and calling on Muslims to undertake the most ambitious reformation of all, namely, that they stop being Muslims. That’s not how he puts it but that is what he means. His calls for reform amount to saying that Islam needs to remove its traditional Islamic content and replace it with his liberalism.
The assumption underlying Rushdie’s agenda of reform for Islam — a secularist assumption, by the way, that he would apply to all religions — is that Islam is man-made, and whatever man makes he can unmake. “It is high time, for starters, that Muslims were able to study the revelation of their religion as an event inside history, not supernaturally above it,” Rushdie writes.
Rushdie speaks of Islam like judicial activists speak of the Constitution, as a blank slate on which to write the liberal values of this generation. “Laws made in the seventh century could finally give way to the needs of the 21st,” he writes. “The Islamic Reformation has to begin here, with an acceptance of the concept that all ideas, even sacred ones, must adapt to altered realities.”
Again, Rushdie’s appeal is more honest than the ones liberals normally make. Liberals usually suggest that there is a tradition of Islam as a religion of peace to go back to. No, there isn’t, Rushdie is in effect saying. Tradition is the problem, he is arguing, and the solution is a brand new religion embodying modern liberalism.
Rushdie, who no doubt would be quick to denounce Christians for urging Muslims to convert to a new religion, is himself approaching Islam as a missionary — a secular one who is calling for the conversion of Muslims to liberalism. Missionaries are often accused of naivete — a naivete that leads to martyrdom — and there is a lot of that in Rushdie’s apostolic work on behalf of secularism. As his own incredulity at Blair’s selection of a radical as the “moderate” leader of the Muslim Council of Britian should tell him, liberal Europe, by trying to steer the tiger of Islam toward liberalism, is just putting itself into a position to be eaten by it.
That is, liberal Europe is not going to change Islam; but Islam will change liberal Europe. The reason Muslims are attacking liberal European countries that were already accommodating them, such as Spain and England, is that they know these countries will become even more accommodating to them after the attacks. In the name of defusing these crises and liberalizing Islam, these governments will elevate Muslim leaders like Sacranie to privileged government positions.
France, reeling from its own Islamic crisis, established the “French Council for the Muslim Religion” in 2003. The purpose was to bring Islam into line with “French values” and take Islam out of the “cellars and garages,” which just meant that radical Islam would henceforth be operating out of the French government. Like Blair, who has to call a radical like Sacranie a “moderate” because he can’t find anyone else, the French have watched passively as radical Muslims entered positions on their government-approved Islamic council. According to Time, when Nicolas Sarkozy, the French government official then responsible for the council, appeared at a conference of 10,000 French Muslims and urged them to embrace liberal reforms, he “reaped jeers and whistles.”
Rushdie’s work as a secular missionary to Islam won’t produce a different reaction. It is more likely to produce another fatwa.