Immunity from “Fear” — and Criticism


The Canadian parliament is currently discussing Motion 103. This motion, if passed, would require the government torecognize the need to “quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

The motion was placed by a Pakistani-Canadian Liberal MP, Iqra Khalid, who immigrated to Canada in 1998.

A troubling fact is that Islamic societies tend to become less liberal as they become more democratic.

Liberals and the media have been shouting that this is not a bill and will not convert into a law. It is a simple non-binding gesture of goodwill, and in their views there is nothing to worry about.

But is there not?

There is no known Islamic country that is liberal. In almost all of these societies, women and non-Muslims have a rather low status. And if the countries enjoy economic prosperity, it is generally limited to empathy-lacking elites and exists not because of value created by their people, but because of exports of natural resources. Even Turkey and Malaysia, which have so far been relatively moderate, have taken a turn towards fanaticism.

Is it inappropriate to explore, regardless of accusations of Islamaphobia that are bound to come, if there is something inherent in Islamic societies that makes their backwardness entrenched?

A troubling fact is that Islamic societies tend to become less liberal as they become more democratic. Many complain about lack of liberties, particularly of women, in the US-supported dictatorial regime in Saudi Arabia, but those who understand the area better would claim that were it to become democratic, the remaining liberties would vanish. Women would be completely locked in.

No one in Pakistan — the tyrants, the democratic rulers, or the rest of the society — appears to know what “liberty” means.

Pakistan — where Iqra Khalid was born — is an interesting case study. It keeps vacillating from military dictatorship to democracy. When they have dictatorship, women come out in droves to fight for “freedom and democracy.” When they get democracy, women get locked back in.

Failing to understand causality, the Pakistanis keep the cycle going. None of them — the tyrants, the democratic rulers, or the rest of the society — appears to know what “liberty” means. They are forever looking for something external to solve their material and, very much, their internal miseries. My rare Pakistani friends who do not like religious totalitarianism must stay completely silent, or risk being killed. They cannot expose their views even to their own family. They are not allowed to question anything whatsoever about Islam.

What distinguishes Canada from Pakistan is precisely this: freedom of speech. Iqra Khalid wants Canadians to stop questioning if there is anything wrong about Islam. Maybe there isn’t, but if I am inviting someone to come to my home permanently I see no reason not to find out whether he is bringing a biological, or in this case a cultural, virus. Khalid of course does not conceive of the idea that anything could have gone wrong with Islam. She wants to brand Canadians who question it as “Islamophobic.”

Perhaps she should reflect on why her family immigrated to Canada. So eager is she to find problems among Canadians that one may ask whether she finds no problem in her own background or culture. She herself might ask why those in Pakistan who disagree with Islam are not allowed to speak up. She might ask why people in the West are increasingly scared to discuss Islam. She might ask why it is virtually impossible to find a Muslim — including herself — who publicly considers Islam to be anything but perfect.

She evidently believes that controlling freedom of speech in Canada is a mere tweaking at the fringes, to somehow improve that country. She fails to see that the fringe of free speech is really the center of what keeps Canada from becoming a mirror image of what she left behind. She fails to see the danger that, if she gets her way, she herself may eventually be forced into a veil and packed back into her house. And it is clear that neither she nor other supporters of the Motion would entertain the question of why, if Islamic culture is really so invulnerable to criticism, they do not wish to live in an Islamic country.

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It's difficult to take seriously an article, even from so experienced and well-travelled a commenter as Mr. Bhandari, that places the blame so squarely on Islam for the various tyrannies and outrages of Islamic societies while refusing to even consider the role that "rational" Western societies have played in sustaining tyrants and fomenting outrage.

In Pakistan alone, the CIA cultivated relations with the first dictator who seized military power, Ayub Khan; the US provided money and military aid to the young country and made sure Khan was the man left in charge after Pakistan officially declared itself an Islamic Republic. In exchange, the US was able to use Pakistan to stage multiple military interventions into the Middle East and launch spy planes over Soviet territory; all the while, the US played other nations and groups off against Pakistan, especially India and various Bangladeshi factions, to ensure that no one group would gain enough power in the region to act autonomously.

Pakistan was and remains a vassal state, held in check by their dependence on US military aid and, increasingly global debt service; even today, many drone assassinations start from Pakistani territory, and there are bases still in operation supporting our endless war in Afghanistan. The Islamic students who burned the American Embassy, the Taliban, and splinters of other groups like al Qaeda that have brutally enforced Islamic fundamentalism are responding to that imperial presence, just as the salafists did centuries before. That doesn't make them any less virulent, but it also shouldn't make us regard the broader population or Pakistan or any other Muslim country as inevitably infected with that same virus, especially when our continual interventions (including things that would cause instant revolts in the US, if another country were to try them here) are a big part of why they never have a chance to develop any other options for themselves.

But that will not happen, because the US in its rational goodness is bent on pursuing endless war in the Middle East and empire around the world.
What would a 21st-century democratic Islamic society look like? We may never get the chance to find out.


... democratic Islamic society ...

Is that an oxymoron?


Have you seen the UP result yet? Better start working on another article.


Great article Jayant. It is disturbing to me to see how little people understand the price that was paid for this freedom, or even stop to think of the concept of what freedom is. I wonder how far people will be pushed before they wake up and realize just what it is we have lost as a society.

also liking the new page layout, keep up the good work!

Luther Jett

Equating criticism of radical jihadism with islamophobia is in some ways akin to equating criticism of Israel's government with anti-semitism.

In the latter case, some critics of Israel really are anti-Semitic; they aren't just critical of Israel, they want to delegitimize it and bring about its destruction, and the destruction of its Jewish citizens along with it. However, many active, committed Zionists are deeply critical of the present Netanyahu coalition, and press for reforms in the belief that only by arresting and reversing the current, illiberal trend can the Jewish people survive.

Of course, Israel's founding was rooted in western liberal tradition. Critics of Islamic fundamentalism have a much more difficult case to make, as this article points out. Even so, the parallel struck me as worthy of comment. Not all who criticize religious extremism are bigoted against religion in general, nor against a specific religion.

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