James’s Musings

thoughts, photography, and geeky stuff
from an unrelentingly curious Silicon Valley entrepreneur

The Bigots Are Comings! The Bigots Are Coming!

by James G. Beldock on August 18, 2007

My friend Irshad Manji, whom I have blogged about be­fore (“Catalyst in Chief: A Voice Worth Listening To” and “The Catalyst Strikes Again”), wrote a great piece in the Washington Post and Newsweek’s On Faith column yes­ter­day. As usu­al, she is thought­ful and and re­spect­ful, and ul­ti­mate­ly re­as­sur­ing in her in­sis­tence on a rea­soned di­a­logue with­in Islam about what it means to be a Muslim.

She and her col­leagues have formed Project Ijtihad, which seeks to en­cour­age dis­cus­sion, de­bate, and in­de­pen­dent think­ing about what Islam should and should not mean to its be­liev­ers. Ijtihad (Arabic اجتهاد IPA: [ iʤti’hæːd]) is orig­i­nal­ly a word of tech­ni­cal legal orig­in for the process of reach­ing a legal con­clu­sion by di­rect in­ter­pre­ta­tion (i.e. in­de­pen­dent analy­sis) of legal sources, as op­posed to blind­ly fol­low­ing the de­ci­sions of oth­ers (its op­po­site is, telling­ly, Taqlid (Arabic تَقْليد IPA: [ taqlīd ]) which means “im­mi­ta­tion”). Interestingly, the word ijti­had shares is et­y­mo­log­i­cal­ly re­lat­ed to ji­had (Arabic: جهاد IPA: [ ʤi’hæːd]), which means strug­gle. The mis­sion of Project Ijtihad? Incite de­bate. (“Struggle!”)

Irshad (lower right) with Craig Kielburger, president, FreeTheChildren + StudentsEffectingChange Irshad with Bono
Irshad (low­er right) with Craig Kielburger, President,
FreeTheChildren and StudentsEffectingChange
Irshad (right) with Bono

No soon­er does Irshad’s piece run on line than the big­ots and pedants come out in droves to com­ment. We’ll start with the pedants, who mind­less­ly quote mid-mil­len­ni­al Muslim con­ser­v­a­tive thinkers (most­ly writ­ing af­ter the twelfth cen­tu­ry, a.d.). Nobody ac­tu­al­ly pays at­ten­tion to ar­gu­ments Irshad is mak­ing that it was pre-twelfth cen­tu­ry Islam that was the seat of open and hon­est de­bate and in­tel­lec­tu­al cu­rios­i­ty. They (her crit­ics) just blind­ly post quo­ta­tions from all of the­se re­ac­tionary, con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es as if she nev­er made her ar­gu­ment in the first place. It’s al­most amus­ing­ly pa­thet­ic.

And of course there were sev­er­al crack­pot posts from peo­ple at­tack­ing Irshad for be­ing a wom­an. Or for be­ing a les­bian. Or for hav­ing a brain. Or an opin­ion. There was, in short, the usu­al dis­play of small-bind­ed big­otry for which the whole of Islam is oc­ca­sion­al­ly mis­tak­en. They (the big­ots) give Islam a bad name and a bad rep­u­ta­tion, and every time they at­tack as they have on the Washington Post’s web­site in re­spon­se to Irshad’s column, they fur­ther prove the point that de­bate and in­tro­spec­tion is what is most des­per­ate­ly need­ed in Islam to­day. (“Sunlight is the best dis­in­fec­tant,” said Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.)

Since the Washington Post’s com­ment­ing sys­tem is run­ning sev­er­al hours be­hind, I’ll copy the com­ment I made here–especially be­cause of the irony of the tagline of Islamica Magazine (which sup­pos­ed­ly is “Opening Minds Everywhere”), where a scathing re­view of Irshad’s book re­cent­ly ran.

Why is it that any­one who brave­ly rais­es her voice to seek rea­son, dis­cus­sion, or tol­er­ance with­in Islam im­me­di­ate­ly be­comes the tar­get of such vit­ri­ol? I sup­pose I don’t ob­ject to the rea­soned (if in­tense­ly ver­bose) re­view of her book by Haroon Moghul, which some­one was “clev­er” enough to cut and paste above (thus fla­grant­ly vi­o­lat­ing US copy­right law :-). Twice. (Incidentally, the re­view was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Islamica Magazine, whose tag line reads “Opening Minds Everywhere.” Irony.) But the in­tense de­sire of the oth­ers who speak out above and in­sist on fling­ing mud at Ms. Manji for her per­son

Update: my col­league Pascal Levensohn, whom I’ve blogged about be­fore (No Reason to be Board) has just post­ed his own re­spon­se to Irshad’s column and the at­ten­dant read­er re­spon­se. (Full dis­clo­sure: al­though we knew each oth­er long be­fore, and in­deed par­tic­i­pat­ed in an Aspen Institute sem­i­nar on Islam with Irshad long be­fore, Pascal now sits on the Board of Directors of ShotSpotter.)

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