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Confronting Islamist Totalitarianism

Confronting Islamist Totalitarianism
From Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2006

On October 22, 2005, the France 2 television talk show Tout le Monde en Parle aired an interview with writer Salman Rushdie and French actor and Islamist Sami Nacéri. Left on the cutting room floor was an ugly incident during taping when Nacéri accused Rushdie of debasing Islam. If an imam asked him to kill Rushdie, Nacéri went on, he would himself shoot the bullet into Rushdie’s head. He then pantomimed firing a gun at Rushdie.

Philippe Val, editor of the French left-wing weekly Charlie Hebdo, described the omitted segment in the November 2 issue of the magazine. French reaction was minimal. While some journalists debated whether celebrities made appropriate commentators, there was little discussion of France 2’s decision to delete the offending segment.

On February 28, 2006, in response to Nacéri’s threat, France 2’s censorship, and the decision of several newspapers not to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, twelve prominent Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals issued a manifesto first published on the French website Proche-Orient.info. The translation, replicated below, was later published in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten. The willingness of prominent thinkers, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to stand together suggests that intellectuals recognize the totalitarian nature of Islamism and are determined not to cede terms of the societal debates to Islamists.

—The Editors

After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.

We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity, and secular values for all.

The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilizations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.

Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism, and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology, which kills equality, freedom, and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.

We reject “cultural relativism,” which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom, and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of “Islamophobia,” an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatization of its believers.

We plead for the universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas.

We appeal to democrats and free spirits of all countries that our century should be one of Enlightenment, not of obscurantism.

Signed:

Salman Rushdie, author, The Satanic Verses
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Somali-born Dutch MP
Taslima Nasreen, exiled Bangladeshi writer
Bernard-Henri Levy, French philosopher
Chahla Chafiq, exiled Iranian writer
Caroline Fourest, French writer
Irshad Manji, author, The Trouble with Islam
Mehdi Mozaffari, professor of political science, University of Aarhus
Maryam Namazie, producer, TV International English
Antoine Sfeir, editor, Cahiers de l’Orient
Ibn Warraq, author, Why I Am Not a Muslim
Philippe Val, editor, Charlie Hebdo

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