Efforts to combat “Islamophobia” have long been on the agenda of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), but there are legitimate concerns about the implications of various initiatives that have sought to criminalize any “defamation” of Islam. Whenever I read about these issues – raised e.g. in this recent piece – I’m left with a lot of questions, because it seems to me that it is often Muslims, and indeed Muslim authorities, that are the worst offenders.
Consider the examples from the Saudi textbook on “Studies from the Muslim World” quoted in my previous post. To say that the Koran encourages Jew-hatred surely sounds “Islamophobic,” but unfortunately, that seems to be very much the message that Saudi authorities want to convey to the millions of Muslim youngsters who study this textbook.
Similarly, it would seem definitely defamatory to say that one of the most influential Muslim preachers believes that Hitler should be seen as “divine punishment” for the Jews – but unfortunately, this is just one of many shocking statements made by Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, who is revered as a great scholar by many millions of Muslims.
Western non-Muslims are often admonished to avoid formulations that associate Islam with terrorism or racism. One frequently cited argument is that “just as the Ku Klux Klan does not speak for Christianity,” terrorists who claim to be motivated by Islamic teaching don’t speak for Islam and do not deserve to have their claim taken seriously.
But in this context it’s instructive to recall that the UN has not adopted a definition of terrorism because the OIC wants to make sure that the definition would not include violent acts that its Muslim member countries deem part of “the legitimate struggle of peoples in the exercise of their right to self-determination.” As everyone knows, this means that Kurdish terrorists will remain terrorist, whereas “jihad” as defined in the Saudi “Studies from the Muslim World,” won’t be terrorism:
“Jihad for the sake of Allah is the only path to liberating Palestine. Only through jihad did the Muslims conquer Jerusalem, and only through jihad did the Crusaders leave Palestine. Likewise, only through jihad will the Jews leave Palestine.”
There are plenty of examples indicating that the Muslim Brotherhood – which, given its impressive popular support can now definitely claim to be a “mainstream” group, and which is often described as “moderate” in the Western media – has a similar view. And no matter what Western liberals may want to believe, the term “jihad” most definitely does not refer to some struggle for self-improvement here.
The obvious problem is that the OIC’s efforts to shield Islam from defamation by non-Muslims will inevitably look like an attempt to proscribe free speech as long as authorities that claim a leading role in the Muslim world as well as mainstream Muslim groups and widely revered Muslim scholars come out with statements that sound quite “Islamophobic” when quoted as representative of mainstream Muslim views.