"Muslims Speak Out" Forum Attracts Further Criticism
It seems I'm not alone in my criticism (which can be read here and here) of the Washington Post/Newsweek "Muslims Speak Out" forum that took place last week via the On Faith blog. Under the guise of putting forth a "diversity of opinion" from the Muslim world and related experts, organizers, in fact, ended up providing a platform for Islamists and their apologists.
Along with the problematic panelists I discussed earlier, Little Green Footballs provides some rather revealing information about panelist Muzzamil Siddiqi, "chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, and former president of the ISNA (one of the organizations named as unindicted co-conspirators in the Hamas funding trial in Dallas)." Far from being a moderate, Siddiqi, according to author Kenneth Timmerman, has "called for a wider application of sharia law in the United States, and in a 1995 speech praised suicide bombers," among other shining moments.
In addition, none other than On Faith panelist Susan Jacoby has broken ranks with her colleagues, criticizing "Muslims Speak Out" for being "unbalanced." She elaborates:
As a regular member of the On Faith panel, I am reluctant to bite the hand that publishes me. Nevertheless, I must point out that the "Muslims Speak Out" forum represents a gamut of opinion stretching, roughly, from A to C. This forum includes only a few women--an oversight that, in itself, disqualifies the panel as a representative group--and the voices of secular Islam, stressing the need for a Muslim Enlightenment, are also virtually inaudible.To be sure, Jacobs, who is the author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, (2004), brings a fervently atheistic perspective to the table. But, in doing so, she sheds light on a very important aspect of this forum--the lack of participation by apostates. Apostates being those who have left Islam, either for secularism or to convert to another faith.
The forum consists entirely of observant Muslims, ranging from theological reactionaries to those who advocate a more liberal, and less literal, interpretation of the Koran.
Under sharia law, apostasy is a "crime" punishible by prison and, in some cases, death, which explains why public adherents tend to travel with a 24-hour bodyguard in tow. Jacobs refers to Salman Rushdie, Wafa Sultan, and Ibn Warraq, to which I would add Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ali Sina of Faith Freedom International.
The very essence of religious reform is the ability to tolerate disbelief. By leaving such territory unexplored, On Faith organizers did a disservice to the self-professed cause at hand.
In closing, it might be instructive to look to the outcome of another meeting of the minds earlier this year in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Secular Islam Summit. Featuring several of the figures referenced above, the summit produced a significant document that's been largely overlooked by the mainstream media. It's called the St. Petersburg Declaration and it has important implications, both for the secular and the devout. It reads:
We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.Amen to that.
We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.
We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerancein the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.
We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called “Islamaphobia” in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.
We call on the governments of the world to:reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostasy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights;We demand the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy.
eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women;
protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence;
reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims;
and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed
without coercion or intimidation.
We enjoin academics and thinkers everywhere to embark on a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam, and to promulgate the ideals of free scientific and spiritual inquiry through cross-cultural translation, publishing, and the mass media.
We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine;
to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, and all members of non-Muslim faith communities: we stand with you as free and equal citizens;
and to nonbelievers: we defend your unqualified liberty to question and dissent.
Before any of us is a member of the Umma, the Body of Christ, or the Chosen, we are all members of the community of conscience, the people who must choose for themselves.