Harris Zafar and His Straw Man

A case study in how Islamic supremacists dodge real debate and demonize their foes.

harrisOn January 10, FrontPage Mag published my article, “The Grand Mufti’s Sex Tape and Violence in Islam,” in which I noted, in conjunction with the sex tape scandal of Rakhmatulla-Hajji Egemberdiev, the Grand Mufti of Kyrgyzstan, that he was the sixth Grand Mufti of Kyrgyzstan to be replaced in four years – since, as al Arabiya reported, “recent grand muftis, who are elected to five-year terms, have resigned early amid corruption scandals and been kidnapped and beaten.”

This became my jumping-off point for a series of speculations as to why so much violence – kidnappings, beatings -- surrounded the office of Grand Mufti of Kyrgyzstan, which led me to examine the fates of the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs (all murdered) and the violent exhortations of the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an. In the Huffington Post a week later, Ahmadi Muslim spokesman Harris Zafar said this amounted to my blaming Islam for the Grand Mufti’s sexual misconduct, and invoked Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Ted Haggart in constructing an elaborate tu-quoque argument: you see? Christian clerics get involved in sex scandals, too, so shut up.

The only problem with Zafar’s article was that I had not actually blamed Islam for the Mufti’s sex scandal at all. My article was an exploration into Islamic texts that might shed light on why so many Grand Muftis of Kyrgyzstan had been kidnapped and beaten, and why so much violence surrounded even some of the founding and most revered figures of Islamic tradition. Zafar’s entire article, with all its pious posturing about fostering mutual understanding instead of indulging hatred and bigotry, was based on a straw man: the false claim that I had attributed the randiness of Kyrgyzstan’s mufti to Islam.

This phenomenon is all too common: Islamic supremacist spokesmen never in my experience engage their opponents honestly, and deal with their arguments with the “maturity, integrity and dialogue” for which Zafar, tongue no doubt firmly planted in cheek, calls in his article. Instead, they (Zafar included), indulge liberally in ad hominem attacks, smear, defamation, and misrepresentation of their foes’ position, in an all-out effort to demonize them and intimidate people of good will into backing away from any association with such forces of “hate.”

That someone like Harris Zafar would engage in such gutter tactics is bitterly ironic, since he is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community that is violently persecuted today by orthodox Sunni Muslims in Pakistan and Indonesia. Yet Zafar, rather than support those who decry how Islamic jihadists use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence even against his fellow Ahmadis, enthusiastically joins in attempts to marginalize such people, thereby aiding and abetting the program of those who oppress his people back home.

For example, a year ago Zafar wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he offered a manifesto for the destruction of the freedom of speech worthy of a true totalitarian – and emblematic of the Islamic supremacist war on free speech and all criticism of Islam.

“The difference between Islam’s view on free speech and the view promoted by free speech advocates these days,” Zafar asserted, “is the intention and ultimate goal each seeks to promote. Whereas many secularists champion individual privileges, Islam promotes the principle of uniting mankind and cultivating love and understanding among people. Both endorse freedom for people to express themselves, but Islam promotes unity, whereas modern-day free speech advocates promote individualism.”

This glossy Orwellian language, “uniting mankind and cultivating love and understanding among people,” masked the insidious goal of the article, which became clear when Zafar decried “the most vocal proponents of freedom of speech,” who would “call us towards a different path, where people can say anything and everything on their mind. With no restraint on speech at all, every form of provocation would exist, thereby cultivating confrontation and antagonism. They insist this freedom entitles them the legal privilege to insult others. This is neither democracy nor freedom of speech. It fosters animosity, resentment and disorder.”

Note the sleight of hand: “With no restraint on speech at all, every form of provocation would exist, thereby cultivating confrontation and antagonism.” Zafar was implying that the Muslims who have rioted and killed because of perceived affronts to Islam were not responsible for their own actions, but that those who supposedly provoked them were.

This is an increasingly widespread confusion in the West, willfully spread by people like Zafar and his Islamic supremacist allies. In reality, the only person responsible for his actions is the person who is acting, not anyone else. You may provoke me in a hundred ways, but my response is my own, which I choose from a range of possible responses, and only I am responsible for it.

But having established that if someone riots and kills in response to someone else’s speech, the fault lies with the speaker, not the rioter, Zafar drove his point home: speech must be restricted in the interests of “world peace”: “Treating speech as supreme at the expense of world peace and harmony is an incredibly flawed concept. No matter how important the cause of free speech, it still pales in comparison to the cause of world peace and unity.”

In other words, speech considered to be not in accord with “world peace and harmony” will be outlawed, although Zafar then backtracked and claimed that “Islam does not prescribe any worldly punishment for unseemly speech. So people who insult should not be persecuted. Islam grants everyone the right to express disagreements with others. After all, the Prophet Muhammad called differences of opinion a blessing in society and never sought to censor or threaten those who verbally attacked him.”

Actually, according to a manual of Islamic law certified as reliable by al-Azhar, the foremost institution in Sunni Islam, Islam mandates death for non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state who mention “something impermissible about Allah, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), or Islam” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o11.10).

This ruling is based on the example of Muhammad himself, who several times ordered people who had criticized him to be put to death. Thus the irony gets even thicker when in the Huffington Post article Zafar declares: “Let’s discuss the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, his rightly guided Khalifas and even the Quranic verses that are deceptively twisted to justify violence. Let's combat immorality and intolerance through maturity, integrity and dialogue.”

I’ve written a book about the life and teachings of Muhammad as recorded in the earliest Islamic traditions: The Truth About Muhammad. I’ve discussed at length Qur’an verses that Islamic jihadists use to justify violence in another book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran. But instead of engaging in my actual arguments in either one, Zafar mischaracterizes my statements about the Mufti and dismisses me as an “anti-Islam blogger.”

The point here is not about me. It is about the unwillingness and apparent inability of apologists for Islamic supremacism such as Harris Zafar to engage in rational discussion and debate, even as they pretend to call for it. Twelve years have now passed since 9/11, and not a single self-proclaimed moderate Muslim has published an exegesis of the Qur’anic verses that are used to incite violence that would blunt the force of that incitement. Instead, ad hominem attacks against those who call attention to this use of the Qur’an, and crafty straw man arguments, are the only thing we ever get from Islamic spokesmen.

If Harris Zafar or any other Muslim spokesman is ready to abandon this ultimately self-defeating approach and recognize how it enables jihad terrorists, I stand ready with an open invitation to them to engage in genuine discussion, dialogue and debate, in which we discuss what really can be done to end Islamic jihad violence once and for all and establish lasting peace.

But I won’t be holding my breath.