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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Profile: Ibn Warraq

The Blanket will feature a biography of each of the 12 signatories of Manifesto: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism, along with each of the Danish cartoons their number represents.

This is the eighth in the series.

Anthony McIntyre • 16 May 2006

The writer Ibn Warraq has penned a number of books on Islam, of which one of the better know is Why I Am Not a Muslim. Published in 1995 it has been described as 'an impassioned polemic against almost 1,400 years of Muslim dogma and its effect on the Islamic world.' A penname, 'Ibn Warraq' has a history of being employed by dissenting voices within the Islamic world. The author of Why I Am Not a Muslim uses it due to concerns for his personal safety.

Born in 1946 in India to Muslim parents, the family moved to Pakistan after his national birthplace was partitioned. Later in life his studies took him to the University of Edinburgh. During the 1970s he spent five years teaching in London. Perhaps more than most of his fellow signatories of the Manifesto Against Totalitarianism Ibn Warraq has immersed himself in an intense critical reading of the Koran and associated texts and is now at the forefront of a head-on intellectual assault on Islam, a religion he abandoned in order to become a secular humanist.

As absurd as it may be, some Muslims cannot even allow themselves to think that leaving Islam is an option, or even possible. They rather think that those who leave Islam are paid Jewish agents than accept the fact that people have freedom to think and some may even think that Islam is not for them.

A one time firm believer he later realised that his understanding of Islam was based on reading those who promulgated the religion. With his switch from reading religion to studying science came what he considered a more enlightened grounding for understanding the world. He views the Koran as little more than a tissue of lies.

Warraq does not hold to the thesis advanced by many analysts that there is a major demarcation line that separates Islam off from the belief system of its more fundamentalist adherents. He approvingly cites the French thinker Maxime Rodinson who argued that violence is "existentially" Islam; being deeply rooted in Islam violence becomes essential to it. Warraq sums it up: 'without Islam the long-term strategy and individual acts of violence by Usama bin Laden and his followers make little sense.' While ceding that there are moderate Muslims he is adamant that Islam itself is far from moderate: 'At most there is a difference of degree but not of kind.'

It is his firm belief that Islam as a system is a totalitarian belief grid and that this is nowhere more apparent:

than in the concept of Jihad, the Holy War, whose ultimate aim is to conquer the entire world and submit it to the one true faith, to the law of Allah. To Islam alone has been granted the truth: there is no possibility of salvation outside it. Muslims must fight and kill in the name of Allah. We read (IX. 5-6):"Kill those who join other gods with God wherever you may find them".'

Nor is he of a mind to acquiesce in the fashionable view of Islamic fundamentalism that it is just like any other type of fundamentalism. He points out that while other fundamentalisms have been responsible for violent acts they have been 'confined to particular countries and regions.' Not so Islamic fundamentalism which has 'global aspirations: the submission of the entire world to the all-embracing Shari'a, Islamic Law, a fascist system of dictates designed to control every single act of all individuals.' Moreover, he draws attention to the 'racist' character of the religion. 'Only Islam treats non-believers as inferior beings who are expendable in the drive to world hegemony.'

In response to such misgivings Warraq questions the celestial dimension of Mohammed's character, whom he alleged 'was not above political assassinations' and who was responsible for the massacre of Jews.

'How could a messenger of God maim and crucify people on the account that they resist accepting him? Could such person be really a messenger of God? Wasn't there a better man with more moral an ethical fortitude to bear this mighty responsibility?

His invective while widely scattered against a range of targets has at times focussed on those who seek martyrdom in pursuit of their anti-secular crusade. 'These God-intoxicated fanatics blindly throw away their lives in return for the Paradise of Seventy Two Virgins offered Muslim martyrs killed in the Holy War against all infidels.'

Consistent with this critical spirit Warraq seeks to heighten awareness of the unreciprocated intolerance of Islam.

It became obvious to me that Muslims are accepted by all the people of the world yet our prophet wants us to hate them, to disassociate ourselves from them, to force them into our way of life or kill them, subdue them and make them pay Jizya. How silly! How pathetic! How inhumane!

A serious and well-regarded thinker, he highlights the lack of intellectual depth and critical reflection amongst Muslims when it comes to surveying their own religion. Pointing to the tradition within the West of higher biblical criticism which goes back to the 16th and 17th century with Spinoza, he claims:

Few Muslims have shown themselves capable of scrutinising their sacred text rationally. … Muslims have a horror of putting the Koran to critical scrutiny as a human document. The layman is not permitted to question the Koran. This is why there's no progress in Islamic society … Indeed any criticism of their religious tenets is taken as an insult to their faith, for which so many Muslims seem ready to kill.

For Ibn Warraq this absence of critical reason is reinforced by a patronising attitude on the part of many Western intellectuals and political leaders. 'There's a kind of condescension which says you mustn't hurt the sensibilities of these poor Muslims, as though they are children who must be shielded from the adult world of criticism.' Warraq refuses to excuse those who go along with such condescension:

'they bear some responsibility for creating an atmosphere little short of intellectual terrorism where any criticism of Islam is denounced as fascism, racism, or "orientalism".' This results in Muslims responding to any critical inquiry by shouting 'Oh, you're insulting our prophet, you're insulting our religion.'

He calls for a vigorous inquisitiveness that will 'unapologetically examine the life of the Prophet.' He finds France a more intellectually free country than England. The French press were up for a fuller exploration of ideas whereas in England intellectuals are so 'Islamically and politically correct' that they feared using 'the word Islam in front of terrorism.' They take their cue from politicians:

it's quite ironical, both Bush and Tony Blair are the two leaders who have introduced religion into political life, and now they're the ones to refuse to use the word 'Islam' when talking about terrorism.

He fears the Islamization of Europe and the perilous consequences that await democratic and secular values were this to happen:

Muslims are exhorted in sermons in mosques, and in books by such Muslim intellectuals as Dr Siddiqui of the Muslim Institute in London, that if the laws of the land conflict with any of the tenets of Islam, then they must break the laws of the infidels, and only follow the Law of God, the Shari'a, Islamic Law.

Like many thinkers whose origins lie in the Muslim world Warraq has come to question the value of multiculturalism, he argues that it is based on a false premise that holds that where there is a difference between cultures all remain equally worthy of respect. For Warraq this is a falsehood, which must not go unchallenged:

...We will not get anywhere until we emphasise the things that we value, like separation of church and state, liberalism, democracy, the value of rationality, discussing our problems and so on. And yet our leaders have been incredibly remiss. They pour even more money into keeping people apart. It seems insane to me. Instead of teaching the new arrivals and new immigrants the language of the host community, mostly English in Britain of course, and in America and Australia, they're spending thousands of dollars and pounds on encouraging language teaching in Punjabi, in Urdu, in Hindi, it seems completely daft; how on earth can these people integrate and become a part of the community if they do not speak the language of that community?

A profound defender of the publication of the Danish cartoons he places them in the context of refusing to give into the pressures of a medieval society.

There's no democracy without freedom: freedom of debate, of disagreement or insulting and offending, even. This is a freedom the Islamic world does not have and without it, the Islam will always be dogmatic, fanatic and medieval.

Ibn Warraq believed it was important to show solidarity with the Danish cartoonists in an open and public way otherwise run the risk of facing the imposition of totalitarian ideology. Although some tried to unilaterally impose their own interpretation of the cartoons on wider society in a bid to show that the caricatures were stereotyping all Muslims as terrorists, Warraq had earlier made clear his position when he dismissed any such meaning: 'not all Muslims or all Arabs are terrorists.'

As well as being applauded by the US neoconservatives he has defended the record of British imperialism in India against its Islamic counterpart arguing that whereas the latter 'destroyed thousands of Indian temples' the former adopted a preservationist stance allowing the modern world a window on the richness of Indian society. The 'English even allowed the Indians to rediscover their past.' Flowing from this benign perspective on British imperialism is a view that 'the West' is vastly superior in terms of culture to 'the rest.' This is manifested in the field of human rights where the West in Warraq's view is the indisputably the leader.

The West does not need the lessons of virtue of the societies that keep women submitted, where their clitorises are severed and where they are stoned to death if suspected of adultery, where acid is thrown to the faces of or where Human Rights are denied to those who are considered lower classes.

Ibn Warraq's contribution to anti-totalitarian discourse has been immense. His identification of Islam as a totalitarian belief system with imperialist impulses and designs is certainly at odds with those anti-totalitarians who feel there is a substantive differentiation between Islam in general and Islamic fundamentalism. Right or not, his thinking provides enough material to those grappling with his ideas and concepts to more clearly understand one of the major belief systems of our time.


See also:

MANIFESTO: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism
Freedom of Speech

Ibn Warraq
Chahla Chafiq
Philippe Val
Antoine Sfeir
Maryam Namazie
Taslima Nasrin
Irshad Manji
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The Muslims America Loves
Freedom of Expression: No Ifs and Buts
Manning the Firewalls
Ulster Muslims' Fury at Web Cartoons
For Freedom of Expression
Muslim News Interviews The Blanket
Who Fears to Speak
Cartoons and Caricatures: An anarchist take on the cartoon row
Taslima Nasrin (2000)
The Clash of the Uncivilized
Misunderstandings Abound
A Vital Question Not Easily Washed Away
Zen and the Heart of Blasphemy
Closer to Home
The Right to Offend
Wrong to Claim Freedom of Speech
The Parameters of Free Speech
Unreal Paradigms
Cowardice on Cartoon Controversary

Standing Up to the Enemies of Free Speech
Irish Republicanism and Islam
Real human rights - without any religious blackmail
Resisting Censorship
Controversy over the publication of cartoons
Stereotypes Must Be Challenged Openly
New Convert
About the Possible Posting of the Muslim Cartoons
Well Done
A Muslim's Response
Straight Talk vs Orthodoxy

One Man's Terrorist is Another Man's Prophet
Christ Collage
An Eye for An Eye
Glad to See Someone is Not Afraid
There Are No Sides to Peace
Rights and Responsibilities

Censorship: The Blanket's first article (2001): Silence is Not Golden; It is Complicity



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

16 May 2006

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