There were signs of this happening with the Rushdie case and now that the Arab Spring has pitted the Islamist victors against the Liberal revolutionaries, the split is sharpening. That split is a serious problem for Western liberals whose affinity for Islamism depends on racial coverage, thereby equating religion with race and giving birth to such irrational labels as Islamophobic.
This letter sent to Human Rights Watch, an organization which has benefited from Saudi support, navigates the complex conflict between Middle Eastern liberals who want civil rights and Western liberals who largely support Islamism in order to benefit from the political support of Muslim Brotherhood front groups in the West.
You say, “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but you fail to call for the most basic guarantee of rights—the separation of religion from the state. Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling. And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control. You, however, are so unconcerned with the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities that you mention them only once, as follows: “Many Islamic parties have indeed embraced disturbing positions that would subjugate the rights of women and restrict religious, personal, and political freedoms. But so have many of the autocratic regimes that the West props up.” Are we really going to set the bar that low? This is the voice of an apologist, not a senior human rights advocate.
And Human Rights Watch, which trolls for Saudi cash, certainly has an apologist’s interest, but it also has the same biases of most Western liberals who excuse Muslim repression on the grounds of cultural differences.
As Salman Rushdie wrote to MP Grant…
“You represent, sir, the unacceptable face of multiculturalism, its deformation into an ideology of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the death of ethical thought, supporting the right of tyrannical priests to tyrannize, of despotic parents to mutilate their daughters, of bigoted individuals to hate homosexuals and Jews, because it is part of their “culture” to do so. Bigotry, prejudice and violence, or the threat of violence, are not human “values”. They are proof of the absence of such values. They are not manifestations of a person’s culture. They are indications of a person’s lack of culture.”
The open letter to Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, goes on to ask,
Like you, we support calls to dismantle the security state and to promote the rule of law. But we do not see that one set of autocratic structures should be replaced by another which claims divine sanction. And while the overthrow of repressive governments was a victory and free elections are, in principle, a step towards democracy, shouldn’t the leader of a prominent human rights organization be supporting popular calls to prevent backlash and safeguard fundamental rights? In other words, rather than advocating strategic support for parties who may use elections to halt the call for continuing change and attack basic rights, shouldn’t you support the voices for both liberty and equality that are arguing that the revolutions must continue?
Revolution for Western Liberals appears to consist entirely of a popular rule without regard for human rights that they would not support at home, but that they do support abroad. There is a basic hypocrisy here.