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    In 1991 or ’92 I attended a talk by a Muslim academic at the University of Edinburgh on a topic related to Islam, the specifics of which escape me. Relevant is that the talk took place in Ramadan. He started by explaining to his audience, with more than a little pride of distinction, that he had sought and received special dispensation from a local cleric to be exempted from fasting that day on account of the talk he’d have to give that evening. I remember being struck by the idea of an academic at one of the most esteemed universities in 20th century Britain having to beg some mediaeval ignoramus for permission to eat. I wondered whether the one possessed of such power over the one possessed of such learning could even read.

    I was reminded of this proudly-declared indignity again recently, when I came across  an account of Abdulaziz Sachedina’s inadvertent submission to an inquisition by Ayatollah Ali Sistani. On 20 August 1998, with staggering naivety, Sachedina sought out the Ayatollah to clear up a small misunderstanding concerning the former’s lectures at the University of Toronto. If Sachedina were familiar with Galileo’s little run-in with the Pope, he might have thought better of going to any such trouble at all. Galileo, at least, did not kowtow to the Holy See. In a series of deepening humiliations over the course of a “total time of three hours and ten minutes” stretched out over two days, during which Sachedina tried to explain his job as an academic to the Ayatollah and the latter tried, with increasing irritation and rudeness, to prohibit Sachedina from ever saying anything about Islam again. Sachedina, growing increasingly exasperated, recalls:

    I informed the Ayatollah that I was among the seven American professors who were invited …to participate in a workshop in Tehran …on Civil Society and Civilizational Dialogue… He [Ayatollah Sistani] interrupted me saying that I could speak on civilization because that “is not Islam.” “Civilization and Islam are two different things,”

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    It is one of the enduring myths of the great liberal delusion that all people aspire to the same values as the values of the Enlightenment. Our ideals, flowing from the Enlightenment, include universal Human Rights and equality for all. So firmly is this ideal built into our psyche that we measure our societal worth by our insistence on pursuing this ideal without exception (barring exceptions, of course). It should not be necessary to point out that these are my ideals, too. I may further add that I hold these ideals to be superior to anything else humanity has hitherto devised.

    It is, however, inescapable that Human Rights and equality for all are not ideals that all people share. What is more, significant sections of humanity are actively opposed to them. Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the ideal of equality for all human beings are so strongly opposed by so many, that no fewer than 45 states signed the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI), adopted in 1990, expressly to challenge the universality of the UDHR, and specifically its applicability to Muslims, and to instead safeguard the pre-mediaeval and inhuman Shari’a as the framework for human relations and interactions. It is neither a slight nor an insult to say that Muslims do not hold to the UDHR as an ideal, on the contrary, it is an affirmation.

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    I’d like to go back to exactly a year ago today, when the contrast between intellectual honesty and intellectual bankruptcy could not have been more starkly captured than with Foreign Policy magazine’s question, “Can the wave of violence sweeping the Islamic world be traced back to the religion’s core teachings?” posed to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and to Manal Omar, and their answers then published. I want to look at how these two critics, the realist Hirsi Ali and the apologist Omar, approached this question, and suggest that the “Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam,” claim is discredited not only because it is manifestly untrue, but because the people making that claim lack integrity. We are not talking about merely the other side of an argument here. An obviously dishonest claim is knowingly advanced by obviously dishonest means. One tragic outcome of this is that Muslim sensibilities came to trump human life.

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