Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

The Legacy of Rushdie Affair

Muslim-Majority Countries

Rushdie-related Violence

Tehran has steadily upheld the Islamic correctness and permanent validity of Ayatollah Khomeini’s edict, even as it declared its lack of intention in sending out its own hit men to prosecute the death sentence. Sayyed Husayn Musavian, an Iranian envoy who downplayed the whole controversy in his talks with Western leaders in the hopes of renormalizing Euro-Iranian relations, made this point explicitly: “The fatwa was merely a statement of something that has been part of Islamic law for 1,400 years.”[1] Though some elements in the government profess no longer to back these efforts, Ayatollah Hasan Sanei’i’s Khordad Foundation still has a standing offer of $2.8 million for anyone who slays Salman Rushdie and many mullahs have pledged a month’s salary as contribution to the award.

The Iranian regime gave added credibility to its continued threat against Rushdie by executing dissidents within the country and assassinating dozens of Iranians living in exile, such as the musician Fereydun Farokhzad in Bonn[2] and the columnist Mustafa Jehan in the Christian sector of Beirut.[3] One count, by the exiled former prime minister Abol Hassan Bani Sadr, has the regime killing thirty-three exiled opponents between 1980 and 1996.[4]

Violence most directly related to Rushdie several attacks on his translators. Two of them, the Italian Ettore Capriolo and the Norwegian William Nygaard, were seriously wounded in knife assaults. (In defiance, Nygaard declared at the 1994 Book Fair in Frankfurt that the only correct reply to the terrorists was to stand firm for freedom, and that his way to do this was to translate and publish yet another blasphemer’s book, Taslima Nasrin’s Shame.)[5] More alarming yet was the lethal attack on Hitoshi Igarashi, a Japanese professor of literature and translator of The Satanic Verses, right on the campus of Tsukuba University in 1991.[6] To the indignation of the Japanese public, Japanese Muslims applauded this killing and declared that “even if the murder was not committed by a Muslim, God made sure that Igarashi got what he deserved.”[7]

But the most murderous consequence by far took place in July 1993 in the town of Sivas, Turkey, at a cultural conference commemorating Pir Sultan Abdal (ca. 1480 – 1550 [MEF1]), a poet sometimes called “Turkey’s first socialist.”[8] Participants included Aziz Nesin, the translator of The Satanic Verses into Turkish and a Marxist author in his own right who had declared that “an end should be put to the millennial tyranny of the Qur’an” and that Muslims “should not be guided by such an antiquated book.”[9] Most conference participants were Alevis, members of a Shi‘i sect widely seen by Sunni Muslims as beyond the pale of Islam. To protest the meeting, a mob destroyed a statue of Abdal and demanded Nesin be handed over for summary execution. Failing this, the crowd stormed the conference hotel, set the building on fire, and prevented firefighters from extinguishing the blaze. As a result, thirty-seven conference participants died. Although Nesin himself escaped death, state attorney Nusrat Demiral accused him of behaving “provocatively,” and thereby being the prime culprit for the deadly riots.[10]

In 1996, a Pakistani Christian named Ayub Masih was accused by his Muslim neighbor of encouraging him to read The Satanic Verses. Under Pakistani law, the testimony of a single Muslim suffices in blasphemy cases, and Masih was sentenced to death on April 28, 1998. When the Court failed to order his immediate execution, he was attacked in the courthouse itself but was saved. In a subsequent Christian protest march, attacked with stones by Muslim bystanders, Bishop John Joseph shot himself in a spectacular act of desperation (some Christians allege he was murdered). In Masih’s village, all the Christians fled and their houses were occupied by Muslims.[11]

One prominent Muslim who suffered for The Satanic Verses, notably for protesting against the ban, was Mushir-ul-Hasan, pro-vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, the Muslim university of Delhi. He told an interviewer: “I think the ban should be lifted. I think every person has a right to be heard and to be read.”[12] In his view, the ban “qualifies as an indefensible move,” though he took care to deny any sympathy for the book’s contents. Overnight, he became the object of a vicious campaign by most students and some professors at Jamia Millia. Though he buckled, apologizing and saying he never meant to demand the lifting of the ban, he had to stay away from his own university. The day he showed up again, he was severely beaten up and had to be hospitalized.

The result of this terror is clear: critics of Islam feel constrained to apply self-censorship or accept a life of living in fear.

Select Countries

Rather than provide a survey of the Rushdie rules being applied globally, here is a closer look at three countries, Turkey, Egypt, and Algeria.

Turkey. Islamist militants killed journalist Cetin Emec (1990), Turan Dursun (1990), exiled Iranian dissident Ali Akbar Gorbani (alias Mansour Amini, 1992), and leading Leftist journalist Uğur Mumcu (1993). These murders were probably committed by the Islamic Action Group, whose members were arrested in 1993 and the murders stopped.[13] Toktamış Ateş, a left-secular columnist for the daily Cumhuriyet, escaped death when the police discovered a time-bomb fixed underneath the table in an Istanbul bookstore where he was to sign autographs.[14] A Turkish bartender, Oğuz Atak, had the name “Allah” tattooed on his shoulder; in 1997 he was shot dead for defiling God’s name.[15] On 21 October 1999, prominent secularist academic Ahmet Taner Kislali died after picking up a parcel left on the roof of his car in an Ankara street.[16]

Turks responded robustly; for example, a quarter million Turks marched against radical Islam (“Turkey will never be Iran”) in the mourning procession for Uğur Mumcu.[17] Nonetheless, as Islamist pressure rose, the government began banning books critical of Islam, such as Ilhan Arsal’s Stories about the Shari‘a, a volume that tells about the historical basis of Islamic law, questioning whether modern behavior should be based on ancient and sometimes even comical incidents. This was deemed insulting to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Arsal replied that he had wanted Turks to know more about the Shari‘a and had simply brought authentic Islamic materials to public attention: “Most quotations have been taken from publications by the Ministry for Religious Affairs.”[18] Thus did Atatürk’s successors prohibit a faithful rendering of Islam’s own traditions for the crime of insulting Islam.

Egypt. Egypt has a history of Islamist violence that has affected even the country’s most renowned writer, Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz (b. 1911), who was stabbed with a knife to his neck and seriously wounded in 1994. Farag Foda, a Muslim liberal and long-standing critic of the fundamentalists, was murdered in June 1992; his son and other bystanders were seriously wounded. During the trial of several suspects in the Foda murder, expert witnesses defended the execution of apostates and blasphemers. As a newspaper report put it:

Those accused of killing Farag Foda were defended in court by Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali, one of Egypt’s most senior theologians. He is an official at Al-Azhar [University, a theological academy] and thus a government employee. Mr. Ghazali testified in court that Mr. Foda and ‘secularists’ like him are apostates who should be put to death. He added that if the government failed to carry out that ‘duty’, individuals were free to do so.[19]

As Ghazali’s testimony suggests, censorship has become a joint venture of the Egyptian state and the guardians of orthodoxy. A fundamentalist member of parliament, Jalal Gharib, demanded in 1994 and won an assurance from Culture Minister Faruq Husni that a committee of Islamic scholars from Al-Azhar University would henceforth screen (and possibly reject) ministry books scheduled for publication.[20] This agreement merely confirmed a privilege that Al-Azhar had already exercised many times in the past, most notably, by banning Nagib Mahfouz’s 1959 novel, Children of Gabalawi,[21] which it claimed contained “insulting” references to God and the prophets.[22]

Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid at-Tantawi, the head of Al-Azhar, in 1996 called A Psychological Analysis of Prophets by journalist ‘Abdullah Kamal, a blasphemous book on the grounds that “Islamic doctrine does not permit description of the divine messengers in terms which erode their religious position. It is the task of Al-Azhar and other religious institutes to correct such sinful thoughts.” The government dutifully imposed a ban on the book and confiscated all unsold copies.[23]

Egyptian courts have tried to steer a middle course between purely Islamic verdicts (death sentence for apostasy) and showing an amiable face to the outside world. For this reason, ‘Ala’ Hamid, a civil servant and author of a Voltairian essay,[24] was not sentenced to death but to eight years’ imprisonment for blasphemy.[25] His publisher, Muhammad Madbuli, a critic of Islam who has dismissed religion as “a fabric of myths,” got the same sentence, along with the printer of Hamid’s book.[26] Hamid hadn’t expected this much trouble: “My only crime is that I allowed myself to think.”[27] Likewise, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, a reformist Muslim professor of literature, was not sentenced to death for apostasy, but found his marriage dissolved on the Shari‘a grounds that a Muslim woman may not be married to a non-Muslim man.[28] Fortunately for the couple, the University of Leiden in Holland invited both to teach, permitting them to escape Egypt.

Islamists have killed Western tourists to Egypt in many incidents, most notoriously in an assault in Luxor in late 1997. This campaign of violence not only reduces the Egyptian government’s vital tourist income but it punishes those who visit Egypt to see the Pharaonic “idol temples.” (Though less well known than the Taliban destruction of the Buddha at Bamiyan, the famous Karnak temple was bombed in 1992, giving teeth to Islamist calls for demolishing the Sphinx and other antiquities.)[29]

Even living in the West does not guarantee safety for Egyptian dissidents, however. After the Mecca-based Council of Religious Scholars declared Rashad Khalifa, an Egyptian emigrant to the United States, to be an “infidel,” he was killed in Tucson, Arizona. Unknown assailants shot Makin Morcos in Australia after a radio station broadcast his criticism of Islamists for harassing and murdering Coptic Christians in Egypt.[30]

Algeria. From freethinking journalists to women in Western dress, many alleged enemies of Islam have lost their lives in Algeria, where the death toll from an Islamist insurgency numbers over 100,000. The year 1993 alone counted such victims as: Berber writer Tahar Djaout, shot dead as he walked out of the Algiers office of the secularist weekly Rupture; political scientist Mohammed Boukhobza, his throat cut; sociologist and poet Youssef Sebti, his throat also cut;[31] and political scientist Djillali Lyabès, writer Hafidh Senhadri, and doctor and writer Laadi Flici.[32] Newsreader Tayeb Bouterfis was shot dead near his residence in Baraki outside Algiers in October 1994.[33] Playwright Abdelkader Alloula was shot in Oran.[34] Said Mekbel died on December 4, 1994 from his bullet wounds, the 24th journalist killed by the Islamists since 1992; his final article was found in his computer, describing some of the stratagems he used to deceive the terrorists about his whereabouts.[35] Film director Ali Tenki was among 65 civilians killed west and south of Algiers in a particularly bloody week in August 1997.[36] Terror by the mysterious Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) struck unveiled schoolgirls, working women, and entire villages, as well as targets outside the country. The GIA continues its policy of carrying out massacres in undefended villages to the present.

The Berber singer-songwriter Lounès Matoub had described himself as an apostate (“ni Arabe ni musulman,” “neither Arab nor Muslim”); in June 1998, he was murdered.[37] Though some insiders to the Berber autonomist movement sought to blame the Algerian government,[38] the GIA claimed responsibility, explaining that Matoub was among the fiercest enemies of religion and of the Mujahidin, as did another Islamist organization, the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat. Consequently, the murder remains shrouded in mystery.[39]

The Islamist terror campaign extends to Westerners in Algeria, secular and religious. Notable among the latter: A bomb killed Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran in 1996, along with his chauffeur,[40] making him the nineteenth Catholic priest killed since 1992. Other victims included Father Charles Deckers, a Belgian pioneer of Muslim-Christian dialogue, one of a group of seven White Fathers murdered in a single attack.

Miscellaneous and Unreported Cases

The Rushdie rules apply to fashion and the arts as wells in other places. In several cases, utilizing the name “Allah” (or any of its many derivatives in personal names, such as ‘Abdallah) on clothing has lead to protests and apologies. The model Claudia Schiffer wore a dress with Arabic letters in Paris but the resulting protests led to the fashion house withdrawing the dress. Several similar cases of protest occurred in Bangladesh and elsewhere because manufacturers allegedly defiled the name “Allah” by imprinting it on something as lowly as a shoe. More bizarre yet was a case in the United States, where the sports-apparel firm Nike, threatened by a global Muslim boycott, agreed not only to recall 38,000 pairs of shoes bearing a logo that some Muslims claimed resembled the Arabic spelling of the word “Allah,” but also to apologize for the incident, provide “sensitivity training” on Islam for all Nike employees, and donate $50,000 to an Islamic school in the United States.[41] By contrast, the Israeli Arab fashion designer. Fida’ Na‘amna, though deemed a blasphemer and unbeliever by some imams, refused even to apologize for using the calligraphy “Allah” in one of her creations.[42]

In instances like these, the offending artists have a fairly good case in denying any commission of an act of blasphemy. In this register of “blasphemy,” people are making ritually improper references to Allah or Mohammed but without any hostile or even skeptical intent. Thus, in the 1999 case of Christian singer Marcel Khalife in Lebanon, Judge ‘Abd ar-Rahman Shihab demanded his imprisonment for up to three years for insulting religious rituals by using a chapter of the Qur’an in his song lyrics. But the trial got postponed and derailed thanks to the singer’s friends in high places. Druze leader Walid Joumblatt and even Prime Minister Salim Hoss came out in his support. Shi‘i leader Mohammed Hasan al-Amin said that the use of Qur’anic quotations is a common practice in Arabic poetry. Another Shi‘i leader, Muhammad Mahdi Shams ad-Din, considered the use of a Qur’anic text to be blasphemous but rejected the idea of putting the singer on trial.[43] This ritual impropriety was enough to raise some frowns from clerics but not sufficient to provoke the anger needed for a real persecution.

This list of victims of the Islamist book-banners and blasphemy-avengers is, however, far from complete. In many cases, lighter forms of suppression take place and do not attract international attention. Bassam Tibi, a Syrian professor based in Germany, has noted the many cases of “critical Muslims in Algeria, Egypt or Turkey who are persecuted or even killed by fundamentalists and about whom world opinion never gets informed. In a fundamentalist environment, being both Muslim and intellectual is a risk, because the Shari‘a’s big stick tolerates no freedom of opinion.”[44] Likewise, Rachid Boudjedra of Algeria remarks that the international media reports only selected cases: “When Farag Foda fell, they were briefly persuaded [to report] but even before Foda many intellectuals in Cairo and Alexandria have been killed by fanatics.”[45]

Some examples: In the United Arab Emirates, eleven Indians were sentenced in May 1992 to six years’ imprisonment for staging a play, Shavamtîni Urumbukal (Malayalam: “Ants feasting on a corpse”), which contained allegedly blasphemous passages.[46] This award-winning play, written in 1981-82 by Karthikeyan Padiyath and frequently staged and applauded throughout Kerala, “is a social comedy on the followers of Christ, Prophet Muhammad and Karl Marx.”[47] In other cases, no judicial prosecution nor physical violence occurs but people are threatened with financial or career consequences for smaller “offences.” For example, a Muslim school principal in India was forced to resign because she had allowed pupils to stage a play depicting scenes from the life of a Hindu family.[48] In this case, the mere expression of sympathetic interest in heathen neighbors amounts to a deviation to be punished.

Even more serious cases go unreported. Islamists shot and killed in October 1997the Pakistani High Court judge, Arif Bhatti, who had acquitted two Christians on blasphemy charges. In Saudi Arabia in 1992, young poet Sadiq ‘Abd al-Karim Milalla was beheaded for having declared that Islam is a false religion, the Prophet a charlatan, and the Qur’an Muhammad’s own creation.[49] That same year, a Christian preacher from the Philippines was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for trying to convert Muslims.[50] In 1997, two Christian Filipinos from in Saudi Arabia were sentenced to death, ostensibly for common crimes, but according to witnesses it was in fact because they had tried to preach their religion as preferable to Islam.[51] Media interest in all these events was minimal.

Some Muslim intellectuals complain that their culture has still not produced a Voltaire.[52] But the truth seems rather to be that there are quite a few Muslim Voltaires, only they are working under more difficult circumstances than the French satirist: some of them are in exile, many are being very cautious, and others have been silenced for good.


The West


The traditional Muslim countries may be where the Rushdie rules are most often applied, but they also extend now to the West as well. In March 1989, French singer Véronique Sanson performed a song titled Allah in a show at the Paris Olympia Hall, which begins with the story of a Lebanese female suicide-bomber, then implores God:

Allah, why the fire and thunder?
Why do you wage this war? . . .
It is you whom they are using.
It is in your name that they are fighting. . . .
If I were you, I wouldn’t be proud.[53]

Sanson received death threats after just one performance of this song, so she immediately removed it from her program. “I am not so much afraid for myself,” she explained. “But I cannot run the risk of endangering the lives of my musicians and of the thousands of people in the audience.”[54]

Mostly, however, the main brake on critical discussion of Islam in the West results not from physical threats but from subtle and not-so-subtle forms of censorship. Westerners who have critical things to say about Islam render themselves unemployable. The French civil servant Jean-Claude Barreau, head of the administration for the integration of immigrants, was sacked in 1991 for publishing a book in which he questioned the “golden legend” of the “great Islamic civilization” which is only believed because “man’s capacity for self-deception is enormous.” He called the spread of Islam “one of the great catastrophes in history,” pointing out that agriculture collapsed where peasants converted to Islam, a city-based religion: “The Muslims are not the sons but the fathers of the desert.”[55] Strong language, certainly, and critics discovered a number of errors of detail in the book, but Barreau was right to point out that similar criticism of Christianity would never have caused his dismissal. Barreau called himself a victim of the taboo on critical discussion of Islam.[56]

In France, the late bishop Marcel Lefebvre, leader of the traditionalist Catholics, was sentenced to pay a fine of 5,000 French francs (about $900) for his “racist” statement, to a non-Muslim audience, that when the Muslims presence becomes even stronger, “it is your wives, your daughters, your children who will be kidnapped and dragged off to a certain kind of places as they exist in Casablanca [Morocco].”[57] That a prominent bishop can be brought before a court for evoking the historical fact of European slavery at the hands of Muslim slavers is a sign of a new power equation. (In contrast, British Muslim leader Kalim Siddiqui was not prosecuted for blaming European civilization for all the evils of the modern world, nor even for breaking the law by publicly calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie.) And Lefebvre got off lightly, the judge having ruled that he had not “actively incited to discrimination,” in which case he would have received a prison sentence plus a fine of 300,000 francs. Fines of this magnitude have recently been imposed twice on actress and animal-rights activist Brigitte Bardot for comparing Muslim settlement in France to the Nazi occupation, and for saying: “Tomorrow, the Muslims who cut the throats of innocent sheep to celebrate Eid, may well cut the throat of human beings, as is already being done in Algeria.”[58]

In 1994, the city government of Geneva organized the performance of all of Voltaire’s theatre plays to celebrate the famous freethinker’s 300th birthday. However, the Muslim community (not Islamists, but state-subsidized cultural foundations) objected to the staging by director Hugues Loichemol of Voltaire’s play, first staged in 1742, Mahomet ou le fanatisme, an attack on religious intolerance based on the Muslim biography of Muhammad in which he orders the murder of his critics.[59] The city government withdrew funding for the play and no one dared come forward in response to Loichemol’s plea for private sponsorship, so the performance was cancelled.[60]

Those in the West who speak out critically in their own name sometimes must live underground. This is the case for Steven Emerson, the American journalist researching Islamist networks in the United States,[61] and ‘Abd al-Qadir Yasin, a Palestinian writer and ex-assistant of Yasir Arafat, now living in Sweden. Yasin comments:

Rushdie has written what we wanted to say. He has told the world that we exist. He ended our isolation. But at the same time he has isolated us again. He has freed us only to put us in chains again. Now it has become entirely impossible to see anything in the Qur’an except a sacred and unassailable book of God.

Yasin also testified from personal experience how difficult and dangerous it is to speak one’s doubts about Islam even with friends, always knowing that “when we declare ourselves separated from the faith, it is the duty of the faithful to put us to justice.”[62]

A number of books on Islam, even serious and important works, are now published under pseudonym. Thus, the apostate Muslim author Why I Am Not a Muslim, a well-argued secular-humanist critique of Islam, felt compelled to hide his identity behind a false name.[63] So did the nationalist French author of Islamism and the United States: An Alliance against Europe, which sees a conspiracy in America’s pressure on the European Union to admit Turkey and its all-out American support for the Bosnian Muslims.[64] Then there is the case of the book published in 1990 by a Muslim who called himself “Mohamed Rasoel,”[65] The Impending Ruin of the Netherlands, Country of Gullible Fools,[66] which deserves special attention.

Warning that the Dutch are mistaken to tolerate the establishment of Islamic institutions and the mushrooming growth of their Muslim population, The Impending Ruin of the Netherlands predicted this would lead to a civil war and the country’s partition. Significantly, the author’s first warning to this effect was an unsolicited guest column in a Rotterdam daily during the heat of the Rushdie controversy.[67] Many progressive intellectuals reacted to the book in a vicious way. For example, the Hindu-born secularist Anil Ramdas equated its author with Khomeini, saying that he was “revealing himself as an intentional murderer.”[68] A number of bookstores refused to sell the book.[69]

Unwilling to reveal his whereabouts, the author did grant media interviews, prompting the Dutch press frantically to try to uncover his real identity. A television talk show host tried to grab his passport and pull off the shawl with which he covered his face; a Muslim politician was ostensibly willing to talk to him, only to pass his teacup onto the police for the fingerprints. After a few months of cat-and-mouse, this effort finally succeeded; the author turned out to be a Pakistani cabaret artist living in Edam who was known to the public only as “Zoka F.”

Rendering his last name with only the initial reflected the fact that by the time he became known, the author had become a suspect in a court case; the Anne Frank Foundation, of all things, then controlled by the far Left, had brought charges of racism against Rasoel. During the course of the trial in 1992, the Dutch public beheld the remarkable spectacle of a dark-skinned immigrant shouted down by the press and sentenced to a heavy fine by white judges, while his white collaborators – the publisher and translator (from broken English to Dutch) of his book – were acquitted. The judge decided that Rasoel had made “unjustified generalizations” by contrasting “soft Dutchmen” with “crude, cruel, corrupt and bloodthirsty Muslims.”[70] Although the verdict left Rasoel with a large debt, he felt vindicated by it:

It proves that the general thrust of my book is correct, that Dutch society is changing and becoming less tolerant. Freedom of opinion is already being sacrificed. I don’t blame this state attorney, he is a nice man but rather dumb and naïve like most Dutchmen. . . . Muslims are allowed to shout: kill Rushdie. . . . When Muslims say on TV that all Dutch women are whores, it is allowed. . . . It is ridiculous and scandalous that I have to justify myself in court for discrimination of Muslims.[71]

Rasoel’s case points to the fact that the proliferation of anti-racist legislation offers a mechanism to punish critics of Islam; in addition to the Netherlands, it has already been used to this effect in France and Belgium. This is doubly ironic: For one, there are plenty of critics of Islam by not-so-white people, especially former Muslims.[72] For another, real racism, i.e. belief in the inequality of races, is now definitely at its lowest ebb in centuries. Still, the highly charged accusation of racism is now used for an ever-widening spectrum of non-racist opinions, from xenophobia (which is indeed on the rise) to legitimate criticism of cultural expressions associated with immigrant groups. The anti-racism laws also include the creation of a legal category of “opinion crimes” that can be used to suppress opinions having nothing to do with racism.

Who Are the Censors?

Governments. It need not be Muslims who put pressure to prevent criticism of Islam or punish its authors; in a number of instances, Western governments have attempted to thwart, or at least refused to support, criticism of Islam. The British government banned a demonstration in support of Salman Rushdie on the thousandth day of his underground life, fearing that this would endanger the negotiations to release Terry Waite, a British hostage in Lebanon.[73] Lufthansa, the German airline, refused to let Rushdie on to one of its flights; as recently as March 2002, Air Canada banned Rushdie from its flights for six months.[74] A public reading from The Satanic Verses in a Muslim-dominated suburb of Brussels was prohibited; when questioned, the City Council and the Home Ministry held one another responsible for issuing the ban. When the European Parliament invited Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin to come and receive the Sakharov Prize in Strasbourg, the French government initially wanted to grant her a visa for a single day, pleading an inability to guarantee her safety for any longer period than this utmost minimum.[75]

Despite the American tradition of tolerating even the most repugnant speech, the State Department in mid-1997 publicly demanded the punishment of an Israeli woman who had distributed a poster depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a pig. And an Israeli judge did its bidding, sentencing her to two years’ imprisonment.

Intellectuals. On several occasions, university authorities in Belgium have cancelled permission for lectures and debates expected to be critical of Islam. A Brussels weekly published a cover story titled “Will the Belgium of Our Children Be Islamic?” that was filled with sober references to human rights violations against Christians in Turkey and Egypt, plus an excerpt from a speech by a Belgium-based imam: “Soon we will take power in this country. Those who criticize us now, will regret it. They will have to serve us. Prepare, for the hour is near.”[76] In response, the Belgian Human Rights League filed a suit on the basis of the anti-racism law—and not against the imam but against the journalist. The palace contacted the editor to protest the issue’s cover, which showed King Albert II wearing an Arab head dress. The editor had advertisements of the issue removed; soon after, he himself was sacked.[77]

Pressure is sometimes applied in private. A well-known Belgian psychologist, Herman Somers, published a book, A Different Muhammad, that contains a detailed analysis of the words and acts of the prophet and concludes that his prophethood is a typical case of paranoid delusion nourished with sensorial hallucinations.[78] The psychiatrists and specialists on Islam who helped Somers do his research, it bears noting, did so only on condition of strict anonymity. Somers also wrote best-selling studies of Jesus, Biblical prophets, the Jesuit order, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, all of which were widely discussed in the media. This time, however, his book met with a deafening silence. Reviewers looked the other way, scholars of religion strictly avoided mention of the book, and even the publisher failed to publicize the book. It sold poorly and quickly became unavailable. Without any law being violated or any ban issued, Somers’ thesis was effectively prevented from entering the public discourse. These cases contain not a hint of Islamist threat nor government pressure.

In some cases, Western intellectuals who wish to stand by Muslim-born critics of Islam simply can’t get a grip on the problem. In November 2000, a theater in Rotterdam was forced to withdraw from its program a play called Aisha, written by Dutch playwright Gerrit Timmers but manned entirely by Moroccan-born actors. After persuasive interventions by some imams, the actors pleaded that they couldn’t be a party to an enactment of scenes from the life of the Prophet and of his favourite young wife ‘A’isha.[79] There was some commotion about the matter (even in the Dutch parliament), with the general conclusion being that non-Muslims just have no clue to Islam and the Muslim community, and that freethinking Muslims would just have to sort matters out for themselves.

Political authorities at least have the excuse that they have other concerns (financial, diplomatic, security) beside the cause of intellectual freedom. Intellectuals, however, have no such excuses. Nor can they point to personal danger; there have been practically no attempts on the lives of Western critics of Islam, the most conspicuous exception so far being Steven Emerson, who has indeed been threatened. Muslims dislike it when a non-Muslim articulates his non-acceptance of Islamic doctrine, but they find this much less shocking than when a born-Muslim does the same thing. After all, a non-Muslim by definition does not believe in Muhammad as God’s messenger, so theories about Muhammad being a fraud and the like merely make explicit the skepticism common to nearly all non-Muslims. So, fear of physical violence probably does not account for the silence of Western intellectuals. Rather, it is a matter of careerist calculations. Criticism of Islam is easily associated with a retrograde Christian fanaticism or anti-immigrant xenophobia—and being tagged with such labels is disastrous publicity, whether or not they accurately apply.

Islamist organizations. Now that Islamist organizations have taken root and are prospering in the West, they have shown skill at turning the laws of their host societies against its supposed high valuation of freedom of expression. Islamist groups had an important role in the case of the Voltaire play (above) and Michel Houellebecq (below).

Some Muslim organizations, all while treading the legal path themselves, obliquely support or applaud the actions of their more militant brethren, at times even openly. This happened in two cases concerning Muslims who critique their coreligionists who gave Islam a bad name by their intolerance and violence. The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organization with an entrée to the White House, brought about an edict against Khalid Durán by for his allegedly misrepresenting Islam in his book on Islam; then CAIR pretended that the edict had not taken place but was made up by the publisher in an effort to stimulate sales.[80] In July 1998, Prof. Ebrahim Moosa and his family narrowly survived when a bomb blew up their house in Cape Town, South Africa; to this, the Islamic Unity Convention publicly rejoiced.[81]

The Impact of September 11

The events of September 11, 2001, slightly shifted but did not fundamentally change publicly stated Western opinion landscape regarding Islam. Debate about the need to limit immigration or to pursue energetic policies of assimilation rather than pampering isolationist structures in the immigrant Muslim communities could finally break through the limits imposed by political correctness. It suddenly became acceptable to mention and discuss the higher crime rate among Muslims, as in the epidemic of gang-rapes from Sydney to Paris and Copenhagen. Even so, it remains risky to take liberties with the Islamic religion. People have felt emboldened to express their misgivings about the increasing Islamic assertiveness, but the (generally well-meaning) enforcers of the taboo on criticizing Islam have not disarmed.

The Netherlands was typical of many Western countries. There, the freedom to discuss Islam increased after September 11 – up to a point. The flamboyant homosexual sociology professor Pim Fortuyn drew the logical anti-Islamic conclusions from his ultraliberal views. Single-handedly, he broke the taboo on non-deferential discussion of Islam, which he saw as “backward” and threatening to modern values. Out of the blue, the party he founded cornered 26 of the 150 seats in parliament in the elections of May 2002, but he himself was murdered a week earlier by a Green-Left activist. All the same, his party joined the new Centre-Right government, which immediately broke with the earlier routine of pampering the mushrooming Islamic establishment, at least at the verbal level. Fortuyn was against demands of sending immigrants back to where they came from (and his party in government shows no signs of promoting such a policy), but he insisted on their gradual assimilation on the pattern of earlier waves of immigrants. Even this was enough to earn him al kinds of hate labels (“Mussolini,” “Milosevic,,” etc.)[82] but after September 11, the tide of public opinion had clearly turned in his favour.

After September 11, it became much easier openly to question the virulent sermons given by Imams in some Dutch mosques, without incurring the “racism” indictment that had struck Mohamed Rasoel a decade earlier; but the taboo on criticism of Islam did not disappear. It had merely receded to protect Muslims as a whole, if no longer their more embarrassing extremist spokesmen. Muslim-born critics of Islam still run a more serious risk than the non-Muslims, who can get away with a mere verbal reprimand from the multiculturalist opinion hegemons. “For me as a non-Muslim it is easier to criticize Islam than for Muslims,” noted the Arabic scholar Maurice Blessing.[83]

In the course of 2002, writer Hafid Bouazza and jurist Afshin Ellian, a refugee from Iran, received death threats after criticizing Islam. In September 2002, Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 32, Somali-born political scientist working for the Dutch Labour Party, was threatened from several quarters after uttering criticism of Islam on television. Inside the party, she had launched the debate on the emancipation of Muslim women, a debate which the Dutch socialists had been avoiding for too long. In a talk show, she had conceded that, “measured by certain criteria,” Islam is indeed a “backward” religion.

Muslim author and prison chaplain Ali Eddaoudi, who had angrily walked out of the television debate with her, explained afterwards that Muslims are enraged with her “dilly-dallying with the Dutch” who embrace her as their “model immigrant.”[84] Imam Abdullah Haselhoef, who had emerged after September 11 as the government’s favorite liberal Muslim, lambasted her as a “coconut”: brown on the outside, white within.[85] Ali went underground for a while and cancelled her lectures and publications, for the police took the threats (which came from different countries and also targeted her father in London) very seriously. Muslim members of the Labour Party protested, e.g.: “I am a liberal Muslim and I am boiling with rage, so you can imagine how conservative Muslims feel about this and what they may do.”[86]

These incidents spelled out the ultimate Islamic principle that underlie the controversies over freedom of expression; the prohibition on apostasy from Islam. “Apostasy is the biggest taboo in Islam,” noted Maurice Blessing: “It is a frontier you cannot cross.” Blessing got worried when he saw the reactions of Muslim panel members in the television debate with Hirsi Ali: “Accusing someone on TV of apostasy, as Muslims did to her in this TV programme, is nasty. If you do that as a Muslim, you know how serious the allegation is and what the consequences can be.”[87] Arabic scholar Fred Leemhuis explained:

Every Muslim who executes the death sentence on an apostate, does work pleasing to God. So this is freedom of religion. This is Islam. In Egypt the highly authoritative imam Muhammad al-Ghazali confirmed before a court of justice that apostasy is punished with the death penalty. If the state doesn’t implement it, doing so himself would be the duty of every Muslim. Those are statements which can inspire people. And fundamentalists don’t feel restrained by national borders or legislation.

One limitation does exist, however: “It must really be established with certainty that the accused is an apostate,” according to Leemhuis, and this can be deduced from his or her words and actions.[88]

Cases of quiet apostasy are relatively common, typically during the student years under the influence of secularized or (more rarely) firmly Christian natives. But going public with apostasy, even if only implicitly through criticism of Islam, is not tolerated and requires great courage. That is why columnist Sylvain Ephimenco congratulates Hirsi Ali: “Your participation in this type of debate in the last few weeks has meant more for the emancipation of Muslim women in this country than a whole decade of deafening silence from the Dutch feminists.”[89]

It was striking how seemingly the entire political and intellectual class hurried to assure the Muslim community that it would not be targeted with suspicions of collective guilt. This cuddly goodwill offensive included a visit by Prime Minister Wim Kok to a mosque. While this was not bad in itself, and may even have saved a few Muslim lives by nipping a possible wave of anti-Muslim anger in the bud, it remains hard to imagine such an attitude in case of violence by other groups, such as autochthonous nationalists. In such a case, there would be an outcry about how “this event shows the ugly true face of nationalism,” and there would be no goodwill missions of politicians to the beer halls of the nationalists.

But claims that Osama bin Laden incarnated “the true face of Islam,” or even “a legitimate part of Islam,” remained confined to an extremist fringe in Holland, while everyone of some standing came out to affirm the opposite. For example, in a collection of articles on 9/11 published in the high-brow daily Trouw, not a single author links these acts of terrorism to any Islamic doctrine. One contributor says the events were proof of “nihilism,” another puts them down to “Third-World frustration,” the next one accuses “economic inequality,” but all are in effective agreement to deny and smother the Islamic motive explicitly invoked by the suicide terrorists themselves.[90]

Looking quickly at other countries: In November 2001, the Danish people elected a government promising to curb the perceived advances and increasing arrogance of the growing Islamic establishment. The new government’s policies regarding the integration or assimilation of Muslim immigrants and the creation of hurdles in the way of mass immigration were widely criticized as being too “xenophobic” by some – but as too tentative and timid by others. This aptly sums up the power equation after September 11: an acknowledged desire to “take no more nonsense,” but also a sense of restraint so as not to veer from one extreme (starry-eyed multiculturalism) to the other, combined with a fear of criticism from the Left.

In Italy, the contradictory reactions can be seen in two prominent cases. In autumn 2001, the media’s cries of “racism!” forced Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to retract his description of Islam as “backward” and “inferior to European civilization.” But other voices critical of Islam became bolder, and especially the shrill critique of Islam by the veteran leftist journalist, Oriana Fallaci, in her La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio (Anger and Pride). Not surprisingly, Fallaci herself received lambasting reviews of extraordinary ferocity.[91] In France, a petition seeking to ban Fallaci’s book for alleged racism narrowly failed; but more important was the late 2002 trial of postmodern novelist Michel Houellebecq, 45, for anti-Islamic utterances in his novel Plateforme, published in August 2001, and in subsequent interviews.[92] (In the book, after the protagonist’s beloved is killed by a Muslim in a bombing, he applauds the killing of a Palestinian militant.) Professionals of the French race relations industry joined hands with Islamic organizations (the mosque foundations of Paris and Lyons, the Saudi-based World Islamic Council) to file a court case against Houellebecq for “incitement to racial hatred.”

The trial became an arena where the core questions of the whole debate on the Rushdie rules found expression. Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris mosque, made the basic case: “Freedom of expression ends where it can hurt .... I think that my community has been humiliated, my religion insulted, and I want justice to be done.”

The Court also heard representatives of a group of writers and journalists (including Philippe Sollers, Michel Braudeau, Josyane Savigneau, Francisco Arrabal) who came out in support of Houellebecq and freedom of expression. They were mostly celebrities of second rank, for the really big names chose to remain aloof. Pierre Assouline, editor of the magazine Lire which had published the offending statements, even came to testify that Houellebecq had displayed a crude “aversion for Arabs” and that he had transgressed the boundaries of literary provocation to lapse into a frenzy of pure “vengeance.”[93] Interestingly, the public prosecutor demanded Houellebecq’s unconditional acquittal: “His statements are admittedly shocking, but we are not here to moralize, only to determine penal guilt. And on those terms, I must request his release.”[94]

Interrogated by the Court, Michel Houellebecq explained that he had the right to criticize the “monotheistic religions,” adding some detail of what he considered wrong and “hate-mongering” in the Bible as well as the Qur’an. He stood by the utterances he had made in the offending interviews, that between the two scriptures, he considered the Bible superior, as it had been written by many writers, some of them “worthless as excrement” but others “true men of genius” and “Jews, who are good at writing.” By contrast, the Qur’an was produced single-handedly by an Arab businessman who was a “rather mediocre” writer. Summing up, he found the Qur’an a “devastatingly depressing” book and Islam “the most stupid religion” as well as “a dangerous religion since its very beginning.”

The core of Houellebecq’s defence was, firstly, that criticism of a religion cannot fall under the legal category of “racism” because Islam or the Muslim community is not a race; and secondly, that criticism or even “hatred” of a religion doesn’t imply hatred of its adherents. He also expected people to understand from the tone of his statements that his position regarding Islam was clearly not one of “hatred” but one of contempt. To the question of one of the prosecuting lawyers whether he “considered the Muslims stupid,” he clarified that he didn’t think so, that he had never made such sweeping generalizations about the Muslims, but that Islam as a belief system did indeed remain “stupid” in his opinion. In particular, he felt it was time to pin-prick the claim that “Islam preaches peace.” [95]

This record illustrates two major developments. Apologetic claims on behalf of Islam, engaged in by governments and the media in hopes of smoothing the transition to the multicultural society, are making way for a hard look at what Islamic teachings really say, even as Islamist institutions develop a foot-hold in Western societies.

A Ray of Hope

We conclude this update with a ray of hope. Firstly, it is rare and getting even rarer that Muslim-majority states, including declared Islamic Shari‘a-based states, dare to openly implement the whole procedure of arresting a “blasphemer,” sentencing him to death and effectively executing him.

In Pakistan with its draconian anti-blasphemy law, many people (mostly from the Christian and Ahmadiya minorities) have been arrested on blasphemy charges, many of them have been sentenced to years in prison, some have been sentenced to death, some have been murdered in custody or at large, but in no case has the state dared fully and formally to implement the whole course of its legal provision of a death sentence. Thus, in 1995, two Christians were sentenced to death for blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed: Salamat Masih, an illiterate 14-year-old, alleged to have written blasphemous words on the wall of a mosque, and his uncle, Rehmat Masih.[96] However, local and international support helped finance a High Court appeal and they were acquitted of the charge. The authorities kept an eye closed when the Masihs were smuggled out of Pakistan to find refuge in Germany,[97] relieved to be rid of a source embarrassment in its relations with what it perceives as “Christian” America.

Ayub Masih, the Christian who had been sentenced to death in 1998 on charges of propagating Salman Rushdie’s offending book, was still alive in February 2002 when he was allowed a retrial. This was not coincidentally at a time when Pakistan’s leader General Pervez Musharraf was critically dependent on American support and greatly embarrassed by regular attacks on Christian churches by Islamist militants eager to thwart his alliance with the United States. Ayub Masih was acquitted in August 2002 and immediately released from prison.[98]

Other Muslim countries likewise try to steer a middle course between Islamist demands for heavy penalties and a more progressive international image. In Egypt, as noted above, sentences demanded against and imposed upon religious offenders typically amount to a few years in prison, or to some personal harassment such as an enforced divorce. In Indonesia, Permadi Satrio Wiwoho, who had called Muhammad a “dictator,” was taken to court for “demeaning the Islamic religion” and sentenced to seven months’ jail: secular and unpleasant, certainly, but not the end of the world either.[99]

Iranian government support for the Rushdie edict has been gradually declining and the trigger-happy days of executing dissidents at home and abroad seem to be over. In the last weeks of 1998 the writers Majid Sharif, Mohammad Moukhtari and Mohammad Ja’far Pouyandeh were killed, as were the elderly couple Dariush Forouhar and Parvaneh Eskandari. Instead of celebrating the death of these “apostates,” the government announced on 6 January 1999 that “rogue elements” in its own ranks, notably in the security forces, had been arrested for the killings.[100]

With its extreme dependence on foreign aid, Bangladesh is understandably concerned about not offending Western sensibilities too much., Its government did not insist on implementing the prison sentence pronounced by a court against feminist author Taslima Nasrin for her 1994 book Shame, much less the death sentence pronounced by individual Muftis. Instead it preferred to send her into exile and be rid of the whole controversy. Her latest book, Wild Wind, is the object of yet another ban by the Islamist-leaning government of Khaleda Zia, the reason given being that it “destroys the socio-political amity of the country” and “contains anti-Islamic statements.”[101] But book-banning is not the same thing as a death sentence or an assassination.

Non-governmental Islamist forces are also becoming more circumspect. In Great Britain, after thousands of Muslims openly shouted “We will kill Satan Rushdie,” the next death edict, against Pakistani-born Anwar Sheikh in 1995, was much more restrained.[102] Unlike the novelist Rushdie with his oblique and ironical challenge to Islam, Sheikh very formally renounced and criticized Islam in a bilingual English/Urdu quarterly, Liberty, and in a series of erudite books.[103] When news of his critique reached his homeland Pakistan, at least fourteen clerics there issued death sentences against him. A Pakistani daily reported:

All Pakistani clergy demand extradition of the accursed renegade Anwar Shaikh from Britain to hang him publicly. … renegade must be murdered—this is a fundamental rule of the Islamic Law—Anwar Shaikh must be called back, some lover of the Prophet is bound to kill him. … If he is not eliminated, more Rushdies will appear. He is an apostate for denying heaven, hell, revelation, Koran, Prophet and angels. The Muslims of the world are ready to behead the accursed renegade to defend the magnificence of their Prophet.[104]

But the Pakistani authorities never demanded Anwar Sheikh’s extradition and the powerful Pakistan-originated Islamist groups in Britain never seriously threatened the offending author. Britain-based muftis explained that Sheikh deserves the death sentence but that it should not be carried out except by a duly constituted authority in a proper Islamic state. Again, no attempt was made to abduct the author to such an Islamic state for standing trial.[105] Shaikh continued to live discreetly but without police protection in suburban Cardiff.

A pattern seems to be emerging in the Muslim world: after a number of sensational murders or death threats against “blasphemous” authors in the early 1990s, life for freethinkers has become slightly safer again, with an unmistakable downward trend in the murder and execution statistics. Could militant Islam have grown wary of the negative publicity that comes from threatening writers for their thoughts? If so, then the main reason would be the increased interconnectedness of the world, especially with satellite-based television and the internet.

Publicity can save lives. This was already evident in the Soviet Union: whereas unknown local activists for religious freedom or human rights were unceremoniously carted off to the Gulag camps, high-profile dissidents with fan clubs in the West were not physically eliminated, only thwarted in their careers. The same applies with Islamists and explains why in Egypt or Lebanon, where the Western presence is palpable through media, tourists and an American university, judges award (and even prosecutors demand) sentences which fall far short of the death sentence demanded by Islamic law for blasphemy and apostasy. With the world media reporting within hours on the fatwa issued against Taslima Nasrin, the government of Bangladesh simply couldn’t risk incurring the opprobrium of the world by leaving the author to her fate, let alone by executing the death sentence on its own authority.

Today, stepping out of their cultural isolation, even militant Muslims now have a strong feeling of being watched and evaluated by the rest of the world. Governments concerned about good trade relations with the West are highly sensitive about foreign opinion, but even radical movements are increasingly PR-conscious. To some extent, they feel forced to live up to their own rhetoric about how advanced and civilized and humane the Islamic religion really is.

One practical implication is that non-Muslim governments and intellectual circles should maintain or increase their involvement with the situation of intellectual freedom in the Muslim world. It does make a difference.

At the same time, Western sympathizers should see their role as auxiliary. Like the West itself in the past few centuries, the Muslim world is bringing forth its own circles of freethinkers who are presently groping around for ways of communicating in reasonable safety with their fellow born-Muslims. Arab, Iranian and Pakistani dissidents (as yet typically residing in Western countries) have set up websites where texts critical of Islam are made available, and where all the latest information about particular cases of persecution is centralized.[106] This way, the authors can spread their message and the interested Muslim-born seekers can read it without anyone much noticing, thus silently but irrevocably changing the opinion climate in ever wider enclaves of Muslim society. Voltaire is not dead, he’s only being discreet somewhere in the Orient.


Koenraad Elst is a Belgium-based writer on comparative religion, Indian history, and Hindu-Muslim relations.


  1. Sunday Times (London), June 3, 1990.

  2. Le Figaro (Paris), Aug. 10, 1992. In the 1940s, Khomeini denounced the modernist historian Ahmad Kasravi, who was subsequently assassinated.

  3. India Times (Washington, D.C.), Feb. 1, 1992.

  4. De Morgen (Brussels), Aug. 24, 1996.

  5. Gazet van Antwerpen (Antwerp), Oct. 7, 1994.

  6. De Standaard (Brussels), July 13, 1991.

  7. "Radio Trottoir," BRTN Radio-1 (Brussels), Aug. 3, 1991.

  8. Elsevier (Amsterdam), July 10, 1993.

  9. Elsevier, July 10, 1993.

  10. De Morgen, Aug. 12, 1994.

  11. “Persecution of Christians in Islamic countries,” Left Shoe News ); “Religious intolerance in Pakistan” (

  12. Quoted in Arun Shourie's discussion of the affair: "The Point We Always Evade," Observer of Business and Politics (Delhi), May 18, 1992; included in his book Indian Controversies (Delhi: ASA, 1993), pp. 363-370.

  13. De Standaard, Feb. 5, 1993.

  14. De Morgen, Sept. 9, 1994.

  15. De Standaard, May 7, 1997.

  16. « Breakthrough in Kislali murder investigation », Kurdish Observer, Jan. 21, 2000.

  17. Observer of Business and Politics, Jan. 29, 1993.

  18. Interview in Cumhuriyet, cited in De Morgen, Aug. 9, 1996.

  19. International Herald Tribune (Paris), Feb. 4, 1994.

  20. International Herald Tribune, Feb. 4, 1994.

  21. De Morgen, Oct. 18, 1994. Some characters in Mahfouz's The Children of Gabalawi, as in Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, are transparent allusions to the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, which is why an Egyptian imam is quoted commenting: "If only we had behaved in the proper Islamic manner with Naguib Mahfouz, we would not have been assailed by the appearance of Salman Rushdie. Had we killed Naguib Mahfouz, Salman Rushdie would not have appeared." Quoted in this book, p. 148.

  22. International Herald Tribune, Feb. 4, 1994.

  23. De Standaard, July 15, 1996.

  24. ‘Ala’ Hamid: The Distance in a Man's Mind (1990).

  25. Newsweek, Jan. 27, 1992.

  26. Tahar ben Jelloun in De Morgen, Feb. 1, 1992.

  27. The Economist (London), Jan. 25, 1992.

  28. Gazet van Antwerpen, Aug. 7, 1996.

  29. Der Spiegel, 1992/40.

  30. Robert Burns, The Wrath of Allah (Houston: A. Ghosh, 1994), dedication.

  31. Reported by Hassouna Moshabi in Die Zeit, Feb. 11, 1994.

  32. Newsweek, July 19, 1993.

  33. Gazet van Antwerpen, Oct. 17, 1994.

  34. De Standaard, Mar. 12, 1994.

  35. The article was printed in De Morgen, Dec. 15, 1994.

  36. “Algeria: A Few Days in August,” Left Shoe News Archive (, Aug. 25, 1997.

  37. Hassane Zerrouky, "Matoub Lounès assassiné," L’Humanité (Paris), June 26, 1998.

  38. Vide Ferhat Mehenni: “Communiqué du Mouvement Autonomiste Kabyle en mémoire de Matoub Lounès,”, June 24, 2002.

  39. Farid Alilat reviews the evidence in “Matoub: le dossier qui fait peur,” Le Matin (Algiers), Dec. 21, 2000.

  40. Gazet van Antwerpen, Aug. 3, 1996.

  41. The American Reporter, June 24, 1997.

  42. Celean Jacobson: “Arab fashion designer under fire,” The Associated Press, Aug. 26, 2002.

  43. “Singer denounces blasphemy charge,” BBC News, Oct. 3, 1999; “Blasphemy trial adjourned,” BBC News, Nov. 3, 1999.

  44. Bassam Tibi, "Wie Feuer und Wasser," Der Spiegel, Sep. 20, 1994.

  45. Rachid Boudjedra speaking to Libération, quoted in De Morgen, July 22, 1992.

  46. Times of India, Oct. 29, 1992.

  47. Times of India, Dec. 6, 1994.

  48. Times of India, Oct. 29, 1992.

  49. Die Zeit (Hamburg), Feb. 11, 1994.

  50. The Statesman (Calcutta), Dec. 23, 1992.

  51. “Two Filipino Christians Beheaded in Saudi Arabia,” Left Shoe News Archive (, July 27, 1997.

  52. De Morgen, July 13, 1991.

  53. 't Pallieterke (Antwerp), Mar. 23, 1989.

  54. Wereldwijd (Antwerp), July 1989.

  55. Jean-Claude Barreau, De l'islam en général et de la modernité en particulier (Paris: Le Pré aux Clerics, 1991).

  56. Le Figaro, Nov. 13, 1991.

  57. De Morgen, July, 14, 1990.

  58. Le Figaro, Apr. 26, 1996; Le Monde, Jan. 21, 1998.

  59. Voltaire, Mahomet the Prophet or Fanaticism: A Tragedy in Five Acts, trans. Robert L. Myers, ( New York: Frederick Ungar, 1964).

  60. The Economist, July 2, 1994.

  61. Emerson revealed his personal plight in "Foreign Terrorists in America: Five Years After the World Trade Center Bombing," testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information, Feb. 24, 1998. The same testimony also supplies extensive information on Islamist intimidation of writers and journalists in the United States.

  62. `Abd al-Qadir Yasin, Göteborgs-Posten (Göteborg), quoted in Süddeutsche Zeitung, Apr. 25, 1992.

  63. Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not a Muslim (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1995).

  64. Alexandre del Valle, Islamisme et les [Au: added the word les - okay?] Etats-Unis: Une Alliance contre l'Europe (Lausanne: L'Age d'Homme, 1997).

  65. Recalling the many cries of "Death to Salman Rushdie," the author chose a pseudonym that means "Muhammad the Prophet," calculating that Muslims would find it difficult to shout "Death to Muhammad the Prophet."

  66. Mohamed Rasoel, Ondergang van Nederland, Land der Naïeve Dwazen (Amsterdam: Gerard Timmer, 1990).

  67. NRC Handelsblad (Rotterdam), Mar. 6, 1989.

  68. "De kleur van Mohamed Rasoel," Groene Amsterdammer, Oct. 17, 1990.

  69. NRC-Handelsblad, Oct. 19, 1990.

  70. NRC Handelsblad, Dec. 17, 1992.

  71. NRC Handelsblad, Feb. 29, 1992.

  72. E.g. Ignacio Ramonet, “Islam contre Islam,” Le Monde Diplomatique, July 2002.

  73. According to Tariq Ali, interviewed in Groene Amsterdammer, Nov. 13, 1991.

  74. Reuters, March 18, 2002.

  75. Gazet van Antwerpen, Oct. 7, 1994.

  76. Alain De Kuyssche, "La Belgique de nos enfants sera-t-elle islamique?" Télémoustique, Oct. 7, 1994.

  77. De Morgen, Oct. 5, 1994.

  78. Herman Somers, Een Andere Mohammed (Antwerp: Hadewijch, 1992).

  79. Vide interview with Gerrit Timmers: “Ik geloof in pragmatisme,” De Standaard, May 24, 2002.

  80. Vide Daniel Pipes: “An American Rushdie?,” Jerusalem Post, July 4, 2001.

  81. Ebrahim Moosa: “Muslim world reacts: silence of Islamic leaders harmful to great religion”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 14, 2001.

  82. Vide Koenraad Elst: “De betekenis van Pim Fortuyn,” Vivat Academia (Brussels), September 2002.

  83. Yoram Stein: “Het vonnis voltrekken zou de plicht zijn van iedere moslim,” Trouw, Sep. 19, 2002.

  84. “Hirsi Ali bedreigd na kritiek op islam,” NRC Handelsblad, Sep. 18, 2002.

  85. Quoted by Sylvain Ephimenco in his column in Trouw, Sep. 19, 2002.

  86. “Hirsi Ali bedreigd na kritiek op islam,” NRC Handelsblad, Sep. 18, 2002.

  87. Ibid. In contrast, Yassin Hartog, coordinator of the integrationist committee Islam en Burgerschap (Islam and Citizenship), thinks most Muslims in the Netherlands don’t make an issue of apostasy any more: “In the Dutch setting, it is seen as a personal choice. This is not a debate on apostasy. There is only an individual who has informed us that she has secularized. That has induced certain prejudices in her. Thus, she is fervently opposed to the creation of a separate Islamic school network. I think the Somali community is angry with her for explaining problems like the mistreatment of women as problems of Islam. Muslims as a community feel she has attacked them.” Sylvain Ephimenco in Trouw, Sep. 19, 2002.

  88. Yoram Stein: “Het vonnis voltrekken zou de plicht zijn van iedere moslim,” Trouw, Sep. 19, 2002.

  89. Quoted by Sylvain Ephimenco in Trouw, Sep. 19, 2002.

  90. Peter Dekkers, ed., Grenzeloze Haat (Amsterdam: Trouw/Rainbow, 2001); reviewed by Koenraad Elst in Punt, Feb. 12., 2002.

  91. Bernard-Henri Lévy’s column “Bloc-notes” in Le Point, 24 May 2002; P. Stouthuysen’s review “De zonen van Allah” in De Standaard, 25 July 2002; Rana Kabbani’s review “Bible of the Muslim Haters” in The Guardian, 11 June 2002, the review by Gilles Kepel in Le Monde, 30 May 2002, by Mona Chollet in Périphérie, June 2002, etc. Lévy’s case is most peculiar: he promoted the Bangladeshi dissident author Taslima Nasrin on a tour in Europe and attacked militant Islam in his related book La Pureté Dangereuse (1994), yet he also worked as PR adviser to Bosnia’s Islamist president Alia Izetbegovic.

  92. Interviews with Michel Houellebecq in Figaro Magazine, August 2001, and in the leading literary magazine Lire, September 2001.

  93. This apparently refers to the author’s painful first experience with Islam: his mother had abandoned him when he was 6 and she, upon completing her wild hippie years, converted to Islam.

  94. "Relaxe requise pour Michel Houellebecq," Reuters, Sep. 18, 2002.

  95. "Michel Houellebecq admet son ‘mépris pour l'islam’ mais pas pour les musulmans," Agence France-Presse, Sep. 17, 2002.

  96. “Pakistan Blasphemy Update,” Left Shoe News Archive (, Feb. 20, 1995.

  97. Left Shoe News Archive (, Nov. 14, 1997.

  98. Munir Ahmad: “Pakistani court orders Christian freed,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 15, 2002.

  99. “Blasphemy in Indonesia,” Left Shoe News Archive (, June 23, 1995.

  100. Index on Censorship, January 1999, with reference to the revelations in the Iranian pro-reformist daily Salam, Jan. 5, 1999, which forced the Government to denounce and arrested the suspected culprits.

  101. “Shame,” editorial in the Hindustan Times (New Delhi), Aug. 29, 2002; interview with Taslima Nasrin in the Times of India, Aug. 29, 2002.

  102. Virendra Kapoor: “Another Salman Rushdie in the making?” The Free Press Journal, Sep. 2, 1996.

  103. Mainly Eternity (1990), Islam, the Arab National Movement (1992), Islam (1994), and Faith & Deception (1996), all from Principality Publishers, Cardiff, Anwar Sheikh’s private publishing outfit.

  104. Daily Sadaqat (Lahore), Oct. 21, 1995, quoted by Ibn Warraq: “Anwar Shaikh: The Autobiography of an Apostate,”

  105. Tariq Ali, “The case of Anwar Sheikh,” in The Clash of Fundamentalisms (London: Verso, 2002.

  106. E.g.,, .

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