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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Profile: Irshad Manji


Loosely translated, 'Prophet! daft and dumb, keeping woman under thumb'.

 

'I am a dissident. By definition, dissidents dissent.
We do not worry about who will be offended
because our role is to tell the truth as we see it.'
- Irshad Manji

The Blanket will feature a biography of each of the 12 signatories of Manifesto: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism, along with each of the Danish cartoons their number represents.

This is the second in the series.

Anthony McIntyre • 19 March 2006

A commitment to freedom of expression that is more substantive than waffle is never easy. The 'free speech' tradition is small in comparison to the 'free speech but' school. Because the struggle to push back the boundaries of censorship is so difficult it steels those who wage it and are prepared to stick with it. It would need to. How otherwise could we defend the right to a political opinion for those who hold some of the views that Irshad Manji does? In a New York Times piece she wrote of how she learned to love the Israeli apartheid wall. (Ed's note: See clarification below.)

My position is on the other side of the intellectual globe from hers. Although my five year old daughter is told she can use whatever language she wants to describe her feelings or attitudes towards others but the word 'hate', I have chosen to abandon the good example and state clearly that I hate the apartheid wall. I didn't learn to hate it. I have hated it since I first learned it was being considered as a means of further slamming Palestinians into the dirt and dust of their already grossly violated territory. It appalls me that Irshad Manji who demands the right to be free from what she calls Islamic totalitarianism can love such a human rights negating fiendish construction as this diabolical wall. It is impossible to reconcile her professed belief in universal human rights with her love for the wall.

Irshad Manji was born in 1968. Her parents fled to Canada when she was four to escape the brutal regime of Idi Amin's Uganda. In 1990, she graduated from the University of British Columbia, with a degree in intellectual history. A lesbian, in 1998 she started hosting Queer Television in Toronto. She is currently based at Yale University as a Visiting Fellow with the International Security Studies program. A fierce defender of Women's freedoms and critic of what she sees as a tendency within Islam towards misogyny she vociferously draws attention to the findings of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, which found that in one year alone 1,200 women were murdered in honour killings, claiming that it amounted to twice as many detainees than are being held at Guantanamo Bay. In one sense, the Danish cartoon asking the Prophet Mohammed is he daft or dumb is a play on Christ's appeal from the Cross at Calvary: 'Father, why hast thou forsaken me?' It expresses anxiety that the divine is not for intervening.

On learning of Irshad Manji's passionate appeal on behalf of her own sex, I could not prevent my mind drifting to the eight year old Palestinian girl butchered by Israeli troops as she engaged in nothing more sinister than going on a journey to have eight stitches removed from her chin. Who will sign manifestos against totalitarianism on her behalf?

A believing Muslim, Irshad Manji is deeply critical of the culture of Islamic faith and not merely its more fundamentalist dimensions. 'I am turning the mirror on the mainstream and not just on the radical fringe.' Author of the widely distributed book, The Trouble With Islam Today she claims that Muslims must share the blame for the way Islam oppresses women and promotes hatred of non-Muslims, in particular Jews. She rejects the notion that Islam is an innocent bystander when theocratic fascism inflicts its slaughter on the innocent. Since the publication of the book she has become a figure of international renown. She demands that Muslims think about the problems posed when faith becomes dogma, arguing that Islam needs to accept that there are sins of scripture.

Civilizational progress happens when individuals transgress, even blaspheme. Galileo offended the Church. So did Darwin. Spinoza royally offended many rabbis. The concept of universal human rights offends most religions. Without offence, there is only silence - and therefore groupthink.

With such ardent views it is not surprising to learn that the New York Times has lauded her as 'Osama Bin Laden's worst nightmare.' She regularly globetrots to lecture on the need to liberalise Islam. Such exposure to publicity has ensured she is the recipient of frequent death threats and is often labelled an agent of the 'Zionist conspiracy.'

Much of her time is given to Project Ijtihad, the aim of which is to establish a network to encourage young, reform-minded Muslims to embrace ijtihad, a tradition within Islam of independent thinking, lost to the culture after the 15th century collapse of the Muslim empire. She asserts her passion for promoting democratic values over theocratic ones, and universal human rights over
cultural relativism.

In response to the criticism that the Manifesto Against Totalitarianism signed by her and eleven others is too broad in that it targets Islam rather than Islamism she urges:

Read the Manifesto. We state forthrightly that critiquing Islamism should not be confused with stigmatizing Muslims. We also emphasize that Muslims are not to be denied equality and freedom. All of this amounts to a defence of those who practice Islam peacefully. It's those who impose Islamism - on Muslims no less than on non-Muslims - whom we are challenging.

She believes that the context for the production of the Danish cartoons was frustration rather than malice, the outcome of failed attempts by an author to find an illustrator for his book aimed at promoting religious tolerance. Flagging up the hypocrisy surrounding the affair, she recounts a tale of attending the World Economic Forum in January at which she observed something 'revealing.' A cartoonist caricatured Christian fundamentalist bigot Pat Robertson. 'In the audience, chuckling with the rest of us, was a prominent British Muslim. But his smile disappeared the moment we were shown a cartoon that ridiculed Muslim clerics.'

It is in drawing out such contradictions and inconsistencies that Irshad Manji makes a valuable contribution to a wider public understanding. Her views on the apartheid wall, while abhorrent to me, are no reason to contend that the baby of universal human rights should be thrown out with the bathwater of reaction.

 

You can find out more about Irshad Manji at her website: Muslim Refusenik

EDITOR'S NOTE: Irshad Manji's representative clarifies Irshad has never claimed to "love" the wall; that sentiment was attributed to her article by the headline from the New York Times, which she had no control over.

The writer of the profile misrepresents Irshad's views on the Israeli wall. Irshad NEVER says that she "loves" the wall. She states the opposite; that she looks forward to the day when the wall will no longer be in the West Bank. She also challenges her fellow Muslims to stop the culture of suicide bombing that led to the wall in the first place.
It is the editors of the New York Times who gave her article the unfortunate and misleading title of "How I Learned to Love The Wall." She had no control over the title given. She is responsible for the content of the article, and in it she makes perfectly clear that she is at best ambivalent about the wall.
Please bring this to Mr. McIntyre's attention. He may still disagree with her ambivalence or her analysis. Fair enough; but to assert that she loves the wall is patently untrue and only mimics the sloppiness of the NY Times editors. - Adriana Salvia • 20 March 2006


 

See also:

MANIFESTO: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism
Freedom of Speech

Profile:
Irshad Manji
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Debate:
The Clash of the Uncivilized
Misunderstandings Abound
A Vital Question Not Easily Washed Away
Zen and the Heart of Blasphemy
Closer to Home
The Right to Offend
Threads
Wrong to Claim Freedom of Speech
The Parameters of Free Speech
Unreal Paradigms
Cowardice on Cartoon Controversary

Letters:
New Convert
Cartoons
About the Possible Posting of the Muslim Cartoons
Well Done
A Muslim's Response
Straight Talk vs Orthodoxy

One Man's Terrorist is Another Man's Prophet
Christ Collage
An Eye for An Eye
Glad to See Someone is Not Afraid
There Are No Sides to Peace
Rights and Responsibilities

Censorship: The Blanket's first article (2001): Silence is Not Golden; It is Complicity


 

 


Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



 

 

There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa



Index: Current Articles



19 March 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Profile: Irshad Manji
Anthony McIntyre

How Muslims are Caricaturing Ourselves
Irshad Manji

The Clash of the Uncivilized
Imam Zaid Shakir

Misunderstandings Abound
Mick Hall

A Vital Question Not Easily Washed Away
Malachi O'Doherty

Zen and the Heart of Blasphemy
Liam Clarke

Gerry Peacemaker
John Kennedy

Surrendered
John Kennedy

Closer to Home
Anthony McIntyre

Drawing a Line Under the Past
David Adams

It's Our Easter, Too, You Know
Dr John Coulter

'The Way Ireland Ought to Be'
Michael Gilliespie

Former Hunger Striker leads 1981 Commemoration March in St. Pat's Day Parade
Deirdre Fennessy

Corn Beef & Lunatics
Fred A. Wilcox

The Letters page has been updated:

New Convert

Cartoons

About the Possible Posting of the Muslim Cartoons

Well Done

A Muslim's Response

Straight Talk vs Orthodoxy

Freedom of Speech index


12 March 2006

Profile: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Anthony McIntyre

The Right to Offend
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Spool of Threads
Marc Kerr

Wrong to Claim Freedom of Speech
Mick Hall

Anti-Racism Network Urges Website Not to Publish Racist-Cartoons
ARN Press Release

Fires of Hate
Anthony McIntyre

All is Far From Lost After Riots
David Adams

Who's A Nazi?
Dr John Coulter

'Screamingly Funny in its Absurdity'
Liam O Ruairc

The Letters page has been updated:

One Man's Terrorist is Another Man's Prophet

Christ Collage

An Eye for An Eye

Glad to See Someone is Not Afraid

There Are No Sides to Peace

Silence is Not Golden; It is Complicity
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index

 

 

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