Wednesday, September 25, 2002

NRO's Corner is all a-twitter today about this story that an Islamic court in the UK has issued a fatwa of death against Terence McNally. [Note on September 24: The Wall Street Journal's Best of the Webhas now picked this up, presumably from NRO though they don't say so.] This sounded somewhat familiar, so I dug out a copy of a book called The Multiculturalism of Fear, published in 2000. I found the following (p. 48:)

"A British Islamic court has issued a sentence of death against the playwright Terrence McNally, on the grounds that his play Corpus Christi portrays Jesus (an honored prophet in Islam, though not the Messiah) as homosexual. It happens that, unlike the decade-long fatwa against Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie, this sentence is explicitly not to be carried out by individual Muslims, but only by any Islamic State McNally enters. But the more interesting difference, from our current perspective, is that McNally has never been Muslim. Unlike in the Rushdie case, there is not even a pretense of a community judging one of its own. Leaving the community alone to manage its own affairs is not an option; a conflict has arisen between the laws of the state and the (presumably authoritatively-interpreted) legal tradition of a minority culture. The customs, rules, and legal traditions of neighboring communities interact and conflict in all sorts of ways. The communities must have some framework for managing those interactions, and some frameworks are better than others. In this case, a framework that allowed British Muslims to attack McNally (if such had been the terms of the fatwa) would be much worse than the existing one, in which the state insists that the protections of the criminal law against violence take absolute priority over the rules of any minority community."

I found there a footnote to James Lyons, "Islamic Court Condemns Author Who Depicts Jesus as a Homosexual," The Independent, Saturday 30 October 1999, p. 3.

I'm unable to find any material change between that three-year old news and what's being reported as if it were new by the BBC. There was a particular protest, but doesn't the BBC article make it sound as if the sentence itself is new?

UPDATE: Indeed, there's nothing new about the BBC article because the BBC article is itself three years old. This fatwa was issued in October 1999. The same group ("Shariah Court of the UK," by the way, being a self-given title, not an official one; the radically decentralized ability to issue ostensibly-binding fatwas is a frequent source of confusion) has since issued a fatwa of death against all members of a gay Muslim organization in Britain and recruited British Muslims as jihadic fighters in Afghanistan and elsewhere. This is a particularly nasty group of British Islamist extremists who have publicly expressed their hope that Britain will be made an Islamic state ruled by sharia; it's not the official voice of Islam in the UK. But now a question for Rod Dreher in The Corner: why did you link to this three-year-old article as if it were new news? UPDATE AGAIN: Asked and gracefully answered. Dreher says "My bad; it was presented to me as new news, and I should have checked the date on the story."

UPDATE AGAIN: The apparently much-larger and more mainstream Muslim Council of Britain seems to have made a habit of criticizing that small, nasty group of interlocking Islamist charities. I quote here from an August 17 letter to the editor of the Express from Inayat Bunglawala, Media Committee Secretary of the MCB:

"THE disgraceful recent antics of Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza al-Masri together with their veiled threats of violence against our country in the event of a war against Iraq have caused widespread dismay and anger among ordinary British Muslims. It seems they are determined to help the cause of the racist British National Party in their goal of portraying Muslims as disloyal and potential 'fifthcolumnists'. I doubt whether the BNP have two better recruiting sergeants than Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza. The real victims of their hateful and inflammatory rhetoric have been British Muslims who are left facing a racist backlash. In the wake of September 11 and the shameful response of Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza to that tragedy, the Muslim Council of Britain began to receive report after report of mosques being despoiled; one Bolton mosque was even firebombed while there were still children inside. British Muslims are certainly opposed to a new war against Iraq but this is not because of any illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a vile dictator who has in the past invaded Iran and Kuwait, killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims. He has also inflicted tremendous suffering on his own people and was responsible for using poison gas to kill Kurds in 1988. Our opposition to a new war will be expressed only through democratic channels. There is certainly no room for making veiled threats against our country. Indeed, this only betrays a fascist mentality in those that make them. It is important to understand that of the 800 mosques in the UK, Omar Bakri does not run a single one, while Abu Hamza has recently been ordered to stop using Finsbury Park mosque by the Charities Commission. Whenever he is asked about the true extent of his organisation al-Muhajiroun's membership, Bakri seems to become very coy. Al-Muhajiroun's aim is to establish a worldwide Islamic state by any means. Its membership is less than 1,000. When you compare this to a total Muslim population in the UK of around two million it becomes clear that the massive press coverage these individuals have attracted has caused enormous damage to the image of mainstream British Muslims. If the media stops talking about them they may even perhaps both leave and go to live somewhere else. "

The MCB's website is filled with some material I find distasteful and more that I simply disagree with. But it's not filled with fatwas against gays, calls for violence, calls for the taking up of arms against the west, celebration of September 11, or any of the rest of the vile output of Bakri and his groups. Good for the BCM for taking on the extremists. I wonder when CAIR will do the same?

FINAL UPDATE: On the one hand, the fact that this story could resurface three years later and make the web rounds without its age being noticed indicates that the McNally fatwa a) hasn't been Rushdie-level news because b) there's been no sign of anyone doing anything to carry it out. The Shariah Court carefully protected its members against incitement-to-murder charges by saying that the sentence could only be lawfully carried out by an Islamic state; and McNally doesn't seem to have had travel plans to Iran or Saudi Arabia in the first place. That's the good news, such as it is. On the other hand, the awful fact that we're not really surprised by the fatwa also helps to explain the lack of public memory that it was issued three years ago. That's the very bad news.

And of course the worse news is that, unlike the U.S. reconstructionist Christian movement that wants to execute all sorts of people (gays, adulterers, blasphemers, etc), Bakri and his associates have had an international network of well-funded, violent, and until-recently-running-a-state like-minded friends. (The Reconstructionists only have the U.S. Taxpayers' Party.) Bakri's network seems to be at the center of every dreadul thing one hears about extremist Islam in Britain. That means that we shouldn't generalize from the frequency of such stories into thinking that all of British Islam is like this. But it also means that Bakri's network is quite dreadful, and it reminds us of the tight relationship between the internal-religious face of Islamism (seeking the deaths of gay Muslims, for instance) and its international face (al-Qaeda).

It also reminds us to read The Multiculturalism of Fear, in which much of this was discussed long before September 11...

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