Since September 11, the alliance between the Saudi and Muslim Brotherhood front groups and the Western Left has become ubiquitous. It’s impossible to read a paper or watch the evening news without encountering representatives of both groups delivering the familiar homilies about foreign policy, the tiny minority of Muslim extremists and the infinite Muslim moderates victimized by Islamophobia.
At first glance Karima Bennoune’s Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here appears to fit seamlessly into that mold. Bennoune is a University of California professor and former Amnesty International activist writing a book billed as a tale of how moderate Muslims are resisting Islamic fundamentalism. But Bennoune’s book is really something else; it’s a telegram for the Western left from the forgotten Arab left.
The Western left has abandoned its Arab stepchildren. It has found it convenient to forget that all the Arab Communists, Trotskyites, Socialists and assorted intellectuals of the left ever existed. But that did not mean that the Arab left stopped existing.
The backlash against Morsi caught Western liberals by surprise because it did not fit a region they had compressed in their minds into American puppets and Islamic populists. It was a leftist formula that ironically did not take into account the local left. The Western left still refuses to deal with the events in Egypt as anything but a military coup; completely disregarding the populist muscle from the Arab left.
The Hitler-Stalin pact between the Western left and the Islamist organizations turned the Arab left into non-persons who are ignored unless they play into the Western preconceived narrative about Islam.
Karima Bennoune understands that and Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here is carefully packaged in the moderate Muslim formula. Bennoune speaks of people of “Muslim Heritage” to maintain appearances, but the bulk of her heroes and heroines are as secular as her. What she is really writing about is the social struggle between the Arab Left and its Islamists allies and enemies.
If Bennoune occasionally sounds like a Western conservative, denouncing the Western left for drinking the “multicultural Kool-Aid”; it’s because they both share a common enemy in the Islamic populism funded by Saudi oil money and championed by Muslim Brotherhood front groups that is overrunning the West and the Middle East.
The alliance that Bennoune describes as the liberal “tactical alliance with the Muslim right against the Western right wing” is the background to her book. It’s that audience of Western liberals who have issued their own Fatwa against the Arab left whom she is trying to reach with personal stories of the struggle against the imposition of Islamic law; including her own story and the story of her father.
Karima Bennoune is a talented writer and if Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here follows a familiar enough formula from countless other books about the region, she is taking her liberal readers beyond Malala territory and showing them Muslim women who reject the Hijab and Muslim men who reject much of what passes for Islamic law, and if her Muslim men and women are about as religious as many of her readers, that should only make them easier to relate to as she guides Western college students into rejecting the Islamist narrative.
It’s that narrative, that the imposition of Islam is a human right rather than an atrocity, that Muslim women want to veil, that Muslim terrorism is a reaction to American foreign policy, that Bennoune is really trying to challenge by attacking it with personal narratives and the struggle of entire societies.
Western liberals are always on the lookout for books that will make them see the world in a whole new way and Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here certainly performs that function, but what the University of California professor is really trying to do is deprogram liberal readers who have absorbed too many trite lectures on Islamophobia from Muslim Brotherhood activists.
Outwardly Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here may be packaged to fit into the moderate Muslim narrative, but inside it often becomes as direct and abrasive as its title. “Fundamentalism will not win, even if they say, ‘Allahu akbar’ all day long,” she quotes her mother as saying. “Who will be Muslim after they have killed everyone?” another woman says even more directly to the point.
Moments like these crystallize Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here as a book about resistance. Beneath the familiar pattern of travelogues and interviews, is the same spirit of defiance projected by women like Wafa Sultan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Firoozeh Bazrafkan. It’s doubtful that Karima Bennoune would want to be included in that list, if only because it would mean abandoning any influence she has on the left.
And yet that abandonment may be inevitable. The Western left seems far more interested in Hassan Rouhani than in Marjane Satrapi. It is far more interested in talking about discrimination against Muslim women who wear Hijabs than about the Muslim discrimination of women being forced to wear Hijabs.
Bennoune writes passionately and well, but few in the Western left want to hear anything bad about fundamentalism unless it involves the Tea Party. As compelling as her narrative is, it will never be able to compete with the latest novel about a Muslim girl dealing with Islamophobia in America.
The Soviet Union cut the Arab left off, trading them for ties with Arab strongmen like Nasser. Now, just when the Arab left was hoping its hour had come, the Western left traded the strongmen for the Islamists. And that is a bitter pill to swallow.
In the Egyptian paper Al-Ahram, Nabil Shawkat wrote that “the next global cultural clash is not going to be between the West and Islam. It is going to be between Western liberals (friendly to the Islamists) and Eastern liberals (unfriendly to the Islamists).”
While his assumption of a global clash between the Eastern and Western lefts may be exaggerated, Egypt has shown that a clash between the two can have global consequences.
The Egyptian left and the Western right found common ground over the Morsi takeover as Egyptian protesters brandished Tea Party photoshops of Obama in turban and beard while American conservative columnists quoted Egyptian accusations about his collaboration with the Brotherhood.
It would be premature to imagine the Western right and the Arab left coming together the way that the Western left and the Islamists have. And yet it’s not inconceivable. The liberal split over Communism transformed the landscape of American politics. A split over Islam on the left could have equally serious political consequences.
The Western left has ostracized liberal critics of Islam as thoroughly as it once suppressed liberal critics of the USSR. The treatment meted out to Richard Dawkins shows that even for its notables, criticism of Islam is a red line that may not be crossed. Those politically correct fatwas from the ayatollahs of Georgetown and the London School of Economics carry far more force than most Muslim fatwas.
Karima Bennoune’s Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here not only challenges the fatwas of Islam, but also the politically correct fatwas of the Western left.
Don't miss Jamie Glazov's video interview with Daniel Greenfield about The Left's Unholy Alliance with Radical Islam, Obama's Brotherhood Romance, the Huma Abedin-Anthony Weiner saga, and much, much more:
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