Wilders in Melbourne
Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders' recent speaking tour in Australia brought him to my home town of Melbourne. I have been pondering his message since his visit, and this is the first of a series of blog posts which engage with it.
Wilders came to warn Australians about Islam: "I am here to tell you how Islam is changing the Netherlands and Western Europe beyond recognition. I am … here to warn Australia about the true nature of Islam." (See the text of his speech here). Wilders turns on its head the Islamic supremacist claim that the Islamic system is superior and Islam the solution to all humankind's problems. For Wilders, "Islam is the problem, and we should not be afraid to say so." (Marked for Death, p.64)
To attend Wilders' Melbourne speech, guests had to make their way past a cordon of police and a hostile collection of left-wing protestors. Once inside, they then had to pass security checks before finding a seat in the auditorium.
The 'warm-up' for the evening was a brilliant presentation by Sam Solomon, a former Muslim jurist, now a convert to Christianity, on the Koranic theological basis for discrimination in the socio-political realm. He argued that Islamic theology supports the systematic elevation of specific groups over others: Muslims over non-Muslims and men over women. He invited Muslims to sign his Charter of Muslim Understanding, which affirms universal principles of peaceful co-existence, human dignity and mutual respect between people.
After a brief delay, apparently due to security concerns, Geert Wilders took the podium to address the question of Islam. By the 'Question of Islam' I mean the question whether Islam itself is the explanation for the disadvantage faced by Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbours in the world today, including poverty, abuse of women, religious discrimination and persecution, inequality and injustice, societal failure, inferior educational and health outcomes, despotism, violence, and economic backwardness.
Examples of these disadvantages abound.
Religious Liberty Outcomes
Globally, a significant Islamic presence in a society bodes ill for the religious freedom of non-Muslims. Because Christianity is the most numerous faith in the world today, Christians are affected most by this principle. In 2007 the British Secret Service put the number of persecuted Christians in the world at 200 million. Where are the 200 million Christians located? Open Doors, an organization which advocates for persecuted Christians, maintains a watch list of 50 countries where the persecution of Christians is most intense. In four out of five of these countries, the context for persecution of Christians is Islamic. (Of the remaining 10 watch list countries, four regimes are communist-atheist, two are predominantly Christian Orthodox, one is Hindu, another Buddhist, one is run by a military junta, and in Colombia rebels persecute Christianity because it is bad for the drug trade.)
The challenge of Islamic disadvantage is also economic. Bernard Lewis observed in What Went Wrong (p.47) that the total exports of the Arab world — minus oil — are less than Finland's. In light of this statistic, compare the economic trajectory of South Korea — which has gone from absolute poverty to being a world leader since the Korean war ceasefire 60 years ago — to that of Egypt, which for decades has suffered worsening social services, declining living standards and increasing insecurity.
In the United Nation's 2011 Human Development Report no Muslim state could be found in the top 25 countries for Human Development outcomes. The highest ranked majority Muslim country in the Human Development Index which does not have either significant oil resources (like Kuwait) or a sizeable non-Muslim population (like Malaysia) is the very secular Azerbaijan, placed at no. 79. In keeping with the trend, predominately Muslim Bosnia-Herzgovinia is ranked considerably lower for its Human Development Index than either Catholic Croatia or Orthodox Serbia, although these three countries share the same language. Even within individual countries Muslims are often at the bottom of the heap, from Europe to India.
Outcomes for Muslim Women
Islam is also linked to patterns of disadvantage for Muslim women.
A September 2010 study of so-called "honour killings" by Phyllis Chesler, based on media reports, found that 96% of reported European perpetrators were Muslim.
A recent Dutch report on Violence against Women in Islam, put out by Wilders' own party, has revealed that although 5% of Holland's population are Muslim, in September 2010 a staggering 77% of the women in Dutch women's shelters came (they or one of their parents) from just three Muslim countries: Turkey, Morocco and Iraq.
The disadvantages facing Muslim women are not just a matter of individual acts of abuse such as domestic violence or honor killings. Systematic abuses and discriminatory practices are embedded in practices mandated by Islam itself. Examples abound, such as female circumcision, which has been claimed to be an Islamic practice by Muslim scholars; women's inferior status as witnesses in sharia courts (a woman's testimony is worth only half a man's); the system of male guardianship of women and associated restrictions on the movement of women; child marriage of girls (following Muhammad's example); the right, taught in the Qur'an, of husbands to beat their wives; discrimminatory laws determining the rights of women in marriage, divorce, and inheritance; and the 50% discount on the value of a women for the purposes of legal compensation. In all these respects and more, Muslim women are considerably worse off than both non-Muslim women and Muslim men.
Given these realities, it is reasonable to ask to what extent the religion of Islam itself is the cause of Muslim women's unequal and inferior status.
The Claim that Islam is the Solution: the Egyptican and Iranian Experiments
Despite all the evidence to the contrary — the litany of human suffering associated with Islamic faith and practice — for decades the Muslim Brotherhood has been confidently proclaiming its utopian slogan that 'Islam is the solution' to the people of Egypt. Many in the Egyptian population were convinced by this message, at least enough to vote the Brotherhood into office. The result is a grand national experiment in which Islam is being put to the test.
Not only the Brotherhood, but a wide variety of Muslim organisations with global aspirations promote the view that the lack of Islam is the fundamental human problem, including the House of Saud, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama'at, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which with its 57 member states is the "collective voice of the Muslim world" and the largest international organisation outside the United Nations itself.
With all these groups, Geert Wilders disagrees. His position is quite the opposite. Contra the Muslim Brotherhood, Wilders' prophecy for Egypt would be that the fruits of the Arab 'spring' will bring a season more aptly called 'Winter' precisely because it is Islamic. The Brotherhood ascendancy will not usher in an era of national salvation, but only more dysfunction, worsening rights for women, more vulnerability for non-Muslims, increasing violence, insecurity and economic failure.
What we see happening today in the Muslim Brotherhood's grand 'Egypt experiment' is a vindication of Wilders' thesis. For all that he is vilified in Europe, he is being proved right in Egypt.
One of the reasons Islamic radicals opposed former President Mubarak was that Mubarak introduced laws which gave more rights to women than they had under Islamic law. For example in 2008 Egyptian women were granted greater custody rights over their children after divorce than the sharia permits, and in 2000 Egyptian women were given the right to divorce their husbands without having to prove fault, a provision which allowed women a way to escape from abusive marriages. However these protections are now being wound back by Egypt's legislators, in the name of making Egypt more sharia-compliant (this wind-back is being strenuously opposed by Egyptian women and human rights activists).
Denial can be deadly. One of the tragedies of the Islamist Winter unfolding across the Middle East is that its coming was hastened by American foreign policy. There was a blindness in the White House about the implications of empowering radical Islam — whether in Lybia, Egypt or Syria. This was grounded in a refusal to engage with the reality that Islam itself is a real threat to the people of the Middle East.
Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, declared in June 2012 that Islam is the 'only solution' for mankind. He praised Ayatollah Khomeini for proving this to the world, and commented that the global Islamic awakening was inspired by the Islamic Revolution in Iran. He said "Imam Khomeini gave a great lesson to the Muslims all over the world. ... Revolution had dispelled many misconceptions against Islam and depicted the true face of Islam."
This begs the question: 'What is the true face of Islam?'
Has the Iranian experiment vindicated the Islamic solution? What do Iranians think now that the Revolution has 'dispelled misconceptions' about Islam and depicted its 'true face' to Iranians?
I spoke recently with an Australian Anglican Bishop who reported that he is conducting confirmations involving Iranian Christians all over the city. Around the world today the Iranian diaspora is leaving Islam in droves. People are rejecting Islam in Iran too, but there it is more dangerous because the radical Islamist regime still holds power and the penalty for rejecting Islam is death.
Why are Iranians rejecting Islam? It is because Iranians have seen the 'true face' of Islam, up close and personal, and they have rejected the 'Islamic solution'. They have found that Islam is the cause of so many of their difficulties and not their salvation. As a result, I have met Iranians who agree passionately with Geert Wilders. They are pleased to agree with Wilders, but not because they are Islamophobes. They are just sick and tired of all the lies.
In my next post I will consider the view that 'the problem' of Islam is not the religion itself, but 'extremism', consider how this perspective manifests itself and critique its debilitating implications.
Mark Durie is an Anglican vicar in Melbourne, Australia, author of The Third Choice, and an Associate Fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum.