Targeting the Quran

CNN, May 17, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

On May 11, in a police station shooting range on Baghdad's western outskirts, the American-allied Iraqi militiaman found what one or more GIs had been using for target practice -- a copy of the Quran, Islam's holy book.

Riddled with bullets, the rounds piercing deep into the thick volume, the pages were shredded. Turning the holy book in his hands, the man found two handwritten English words, scrawled in pen. "F*** yeah."

The discovery was incendiary. It was an affront to Islam and a serious challenge to the religious credentials of the U.S-allied militias, or Awakening Councils, who turned on al-Qaeda and are now on the U.S. government payroll.

Largely moderate Sunnis, the American-backed militias face constant accusations from Islamic groups that they have turned against Islam to support the cause of the infidels, or nonbelievers. If this indignity had gone unanswered, the Islamists' case would have been won.

Abdullah, the militiaman who found the defaced Quran, complained to his superiors. Soon, there was outrage among the tribes and population of Radhwaniya.

Word of what the Americans had done rippled throughout the district and the fury spread. Honor was at stake, and the urge for a violent response against the insult was strong. Tribal leaders made an approach to American commanders in the region, who immediately launched an investigation.

Army investigators soon identified the section that had been at the police station's small arms range on May 9, and a staff sergeant was the primary suspect. The sergeant eventually confessed, though he claimed he had no idea the book used for target practice was a Quran. Martin found the shooter guilty and relieved him of duty.

On May 17, CNN was present for the showdown in Radwaniyeh as the Americans faced the tribes. U.S. commanders arrived at a police outpost in heavily armored vehicles to be met by a human tempest; hundreds of chanting tribesmen lined up behind razor wire, offering their blood and souls in sacrifice for the Quran.

Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, commander of the U.S. forces in Baghdad, stood facing the angry crowd. His face was grim and fixed as tribal sheikhs swirled around him.

"I am a man of honor, I am a man of character. You have my word, this will never happen again," the general told the angry crowd through loudspeakers, pounding the makeshift podium three times with his fist.

"In the most humble manner, I look in to your eyes today and I say, please forgive me and my soldiers. The actions of one soldier were nothing more than criminal behavior. I've come to this land to protect you, to support you, not to harm you, and the behavior of this soldier was nothing short of wrong and unacceptable. This soldier has lost the honor to serve the United States Army and the people of Iraq here in Baghdad."

Hammond also read from the shooter's letter: "I sincerely hope that my actions have not diminished the partnership that our two nations have developed together. ... My actions were shortsighted, very reckless and irresponsible, but in my heart they were not malicious."

Brigade commander Col. Ted Martin stood before the crowd next, opening his address with an Islamic blessing. He announced the sergeant had been relieved of duty with prejudice, reprimanded by the commanding general with a memorandum of record attached to his military record, dismissed from the regiment, and redeployed from the brigade. An official said he will be sent to the United States for reassignment.

Holding a new Quran in his hands, Martin turned to the crowd. "I hope that you'll accept this humble gift." He kissed the Quran and touched it to his forehead as he handed it to the tribal elders. The crowd's voice rose, "Yes, yes, to the Quran. No, no, to the devil. America out, out."

Sheikh Hamadi al-Qirtani, in a speech on behalf of all tribal sheiks of Radhwaniya, called the incident "aggression against the entire Islamic world." Then he said, "In the name of all the sheikhs, we declare we accept the apology that was submitted."

The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq issued a statement:

"As the Association of Muslim Scholars condemns this heinous crime against God's holy book, the Constitution of this nation, a source of pride and dignity, they condemned the silence by all those who are part of the occupation's agenda and holds the occupation and the current government fully responsible for this violation and reminds everyone that God preserves His book and He is a great avenger."

Accommodating Islamic Law?

By Theodore Dalrymple
City Journal, February 11, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

British intellectual life has long harbored a strain of militantly self-satisfied foolishness, and the present archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is a perfect exemplar of the tendency. In an interview with the BBC on February 7, the archbishop said that it "seems unavoidable" that some aspects of sharia, or Islamic law, would be adopted in Britain.

The archbishop spoke to the BBC on the same day that he delivered a lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice in London before an audience of distinguished lawyers, including the Lord Chief Justice. Williams suggested that some elements of sharia should enjoy joint jurisdiction with British law. The passage that caused an immediate furor and has led to calls for his resignation was that in which he spoke prospectively of a "transformative accommodation."

Rarely does philosophical inanity dovetail so neatly into total ignorance of concrete social realities. Those more charitably inclined point out that the archbishop is an erudite man, a professor of theology who reads in eight languages and who was addressing a highly sophisticated audience.

Charity is a virtue, of course, but so is clarity. Here is a telling passage from the lecture:

Perhaps it helps to see the universalist vision of law as guaranteeing equal accountability and access primarily in a negative rather than a positive sense — that is, to see it as a mechanism whereby any human participant in a society is protected against the loss of certain elementary liberties of self-determination and guaranteed the freedom to demand reasons for any actions on the part of others for actions and policies that infringe self-determination.

The archbishop goes on for pages and pages in this vein:

Earlier on, I proposed that the criterion for recognising and collaborating with communal religious discipline should be connected with whether a communal jurisdiction actively interfered with liberties guaranteed by the wider society in such a way as definitively to block access to the exercise of those liberties; clearly the refusal of a religious believer to act upon the legal recognition of a right is not, given the plural character of society, a denial to anyone inside or outside the community of access to that right.

There is only one word for a society in which such discourse can pass for intellectual subtlety and sophistication, and lead to career advancement: decadent.

Theodore Dalrymple on Islam

Shariah Is for Everyone!

By Henryk M. Broder
Spiegel Online, February 12, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

The Archbishop of Canterbury has proposed a partial introduction of Islamic Shariah law in Great Britain. This is yet another step on the part of the Western world to subjugate itself to a Muslim immigrant minority unwilling to integrate.

In the summer of 2007, Tiny Muskens, a liberal Catholic and the former bishop of the Dutch city of Breda, proposed replacing the word "God" with the word "Allah." Allah, he said, is a nice name for God.

A short time later, the Social Democratic mayor of Brussels, Freddy Thielemans, banned a rally -- scheduled to take place on the sixth anniversary of 9/11 -- to protest the gradual Islamicization of Europe. He also instructed Brussels police officers not to smoke or eat in public during the month-long Ramadan fast, so as not to offend Muslims.

Meanwhile, the BBC announced a new policy on its website's "Section on Islam": Any mention of the Prophet Muhammad was to be followed by the phrase "Peace be upon him." The move, a BBC spokesman explained, was intended to ensure a "fair and balanced" portrayal of Islam.

Then the British Home Office announced a new rule applicable to all official government statements: Phrases like "war on terror" and "Islamic extremism"" were no longer to be used. Home Secretary Jacqueline Jill Smith explained the reasoning behind the rule: Extremists, she said, act, not in the name of Islam, but in opposition to their faith. For this reason, she argued, their activities ought to be referred to as "anti-Islamic activities."

And now the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, says that Britain must consider the fact that some citizens cannot identify with British law. Accepting some aspects of Shariah, he argued, could help to avoid social tension.

But the bishop is mistaken. A little bit of Shariah is just as unrealistic as a little bit of pregnancy. Shariah regulates all aspects of life, and anyone who proposes assuming only parts of Shariah fails to comprehend its inherent inevitability.

The proposal by the archbishop of Canterbury is evidence of more than just an unbelievable naiveté. It also reveals how far the idea of preventive capitulation in the face of an unsolvable problem has advanced.

Cant on the Other

By Daniel Johnson
New York Sun, February 15, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

A couple of years ago, the Archbishop of Cant lectured a roomful of historians on the subject of "the other" — a pretentious way of referring to remote historical figures, which segued into a disquisition on how the British ought to treat Muslims. According to His Grace, it was quite wrong to impose Judaeo-Christian cultural norms on "the other" in the name of a moral absolutism that was quite inappropriate in a modern multicultural society like Britain.

He had particularly harsh words to say about Pope Benedict XVI, who had then recently been elected, and whose devastating attack on "the dictatorship of relativism" was still ringing in our ears. For the leader of the Anglican Church, it seemed, for the Pope to lay claim to any moral certainty or theological truth was at the very least lacking in respect for "the other."

This is the man who has just sold the pass on perhaps the most important legacy of Judaeo-Christian jurisprudence: the idea that every person is equal in the sight of God, and hence also equal before His law. Human, secular law reflects its origins in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Sharia law knows nothing of equality for women or non-Muslims. Its imposition in countries where Islam competes with Christianity has led to persecution on a vast scale.

Just as all seemed lost, the British establishment closed ranks. On Monday, the archbishop had to open the general synod, or governing assembly, of the Church of England. no sooner had he entered the hall than almost all those present rose to give him a standing ovation. Prime Minister Brown phoned to give the archbishop, "a man of great integrity," his support. The state had come to rescue of the established church.

The spectacle of the Church of England and its leader advancing the cause of Sharia will not be soon forgotten. The archbishop's adviser on Islamic affairs is reported to be Tariq Ramadan, the Oxford-based academic who is banned from America because he has links to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. Professor Ramadan is fond of reacting to criticism of Sharia by accusing the critics of fomenting "Islamophobia." What the Archbishop of Canterbury has unwittingly revealed, however, is that people are not impressed by this tactic. They can see how Sharia is practiced in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and they want none of it.

Free Speech and Radical Islam

By Flemming Rose
Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

After celebrating his 25th anniversary with Jyllands-Posten, Kurt Westergaard is on the run. Mr. Westergaard did the most famous of the 12 Muhammad cartoons published in Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 -- the one depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban. Mr. Westergaard's fate has proven the point of his cartoon: In the early hours of Tuesday morning Danish police arrested three men who allegedly had been plotting to kill him.

Sadly, the plot to kill Mr. Westergaard is not an isolated story, but part of a broader trend that risks undermining free speech in Europe and around the world.

Every case speaks to the same problem: a global battle for the right to free speech. The justifications for censorship and self-censorship are similar in different parts of the world: Religious feelings and taboos need to be treated with a kind of sensibility and respect that other feelings and ideas cannot command.

Right now the Organization of Islamic Countries is conducting a successful campaign at the United Nations to rewrite international human-rights standards to curtail the right to free speech. Last year the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution against "defamation of religion," calling on governments around the world to clamp down on cartoonists, writers, journalists, artists and dissidents who dare to speak up.

We need a global movement to fight blasphemy and other insult laws, and the European Union should lead the way by removing them. Europe should make it clear that democracies will protect their citizens if they say something that triggers threats and intimidation.

Flemming Rose is the culture editor of Jyllands-Posten.

Gaza Palestinians march against Danish Muhammad cartoons

International Herald Tribune, February 15, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

Thousands of Palestinians protested Friday in the Gaza Strip against the reprinting of Danish newspaper cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Chanting "What Denmark said is heresy," residents of the strip, ruled by the militant Islamic Hamas movement, marched in the Jebaliya refugee camp.

More Gaza news

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Asks EU Lawmakers for Protection

Spiegel Online, February 15, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

After spending the last two years in the US and recently requesting French citizenship, Ayaan Hirsi Ali went before a group of 100 EU lawmakers to request assistance in protecting her life from Muslim jihadists who vowed to hunt her down.

Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali made a pitch for French citizenship last week. Now the former Dutch poltician, who speaks six languages, is asking the EU for help in protecting her life. Hirsi Ali has received death threats since 2004 for her criticism of Islam.

"The threats to my life have not subsided and the cost is beyond anything I can pay," Hirsi Ali said to a group of European Union lawmakers on Thursday. "I find myself in a very desperate position. I don't want to die. I want to live and I love life. I'm going to do anything legal to get help."

Help Ayaan Hirsi Ali


Sharia law can be appalling, says archbishop

By Riazat Butt
The Guardian, February 21 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

The Archbishop of Canterbury last night said some of the practices of sharia law can be "grim" and "appalling".

Rowan Williams made the remarks in the first of three public lectures to be given in Cambridge: "In some of the ways it has been codified and practised across the world, it has been appalling. In some of the ways it has been applied to women in places like Saudi Arabia, it is grim."

Two weeks have passed since the archbishop caused an uproar for suggesting that some aspects of sharia law might be accommodated within the British legal system. "My doomed enterprise the other day was to try and introduce that bit of perspective. Let that be a warning to you all," he joked.

He warned against demonising Muslims and their religion.