Islamist violence, a dangerous many-headed beast, today roams the world, threatening both Islam and everyone else. This is a terrible fact for most people; but for honest and peaceful Muslims it's also a matter of shame, as Salim Mansur demonstrates in his recently collected collection of columns and articles, Islam's Predicament: Perspectives of a Dissident Muslim.
Mansur has been called a moderate Muslim, but "moderate" doesn't describe him. He's angry at violent, evil men who have done their best to ruin the reputation of his religion. He's equally furious at their many apologists in the West who explain away Islamist atrocities in the name of social justice. He has no tolerance for leaders of Muslim majority states (Egypt, Qatar, whatever) who demonstrate that politics pollutes faith.
He carries a personal rage against the many Muslims who devote themselves to killing other Muslims: "More Muslims have been killed by Muslims, more Muslims continue to be victimized by Muslims, and more Muslims are in danger of dying at the hands of Muslims than [at the hands of] non-Muslims." In 1971, during the creation of Bangladesh, he was both a victim and a witness when the military government of Pakistan made war on its own population, leaving half a million dead.
He's equally impassioned when he speaks of his love for Canada, which received him as a penniless immigrant 36 years ago and gave him the opportunity to become a professor.
Mansur quotes the most famous poem of W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming, written at the end of the First World War, to describe Islamist violence: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold ... anarchy is loosed upon the world." At the end, Yeats mentions a "rough beast" endangering civilization. Mansur says, "The beast within Islam has been prowling for a very long time." Once Islam was a civilizing force, but keeping the beast caged has led to a wretched history of civil wars.
Islam's Predicament is a far from perfect book. Mansur needed, but didn't get, a sharp, severe editor. In long articles, he sometimes loses his way. His short newspaper columns are scattered. His prose feels careless. Even so, Islam's Predicament reveals a most interesting man, a Canadian who has enlisted in the struggle against "Islamists who have wrecked the Muslim world."
He never softens his criticism for the sake of genteel politics. He knows that pernicious forces are the work of particular individuals. He thinks it's his duty to name names. Being both a professor of political science (at the University of Western Ontario) and a journalist (at the Toronto Sun and elsewhere), Mansur has a feel for the currents of opinion that sweep both Islam and the West, surfacing through the universities and the mass media.
During the brutal riots against the Danish cartoons in 2006, when mobs were driven to mindless fury by demagogues and political opportunists ("and rascals of all stripes," Mansur adds), this ocean of fury was glibly explained by Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-born theologian and grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is a principle of faith, Ramadan wrote in the Guardian, that God and the prophets never be represented. The Danish cartoons were therefore "a grave transgression." By implication, the mobs were right to go crazy.
Well, no, Mansur says. The Koran contains no such injunction. There's a consensus among many Muslims, Ramadan among them, but that's all. You can find medieval images of Muhammad in museums from Istanbul to Samarkand. As often happens, non-Muslims went to the wrong Muslim for an understanding of the faith. Ramadan, a propagandist and master of double-speak, masquerades as a scholar and has developed a fan base among innocent professors of religion. Mansur thinks he serves as the beast's apologist. He sees Ramadan for what he is: the wrong Muslim.
Simmering anger, caused by the alleged humiliation of Muslims, strengthens the beast. Here, Mansur gets to the late Edward Said (1935-2003), the Christian Palestinian-American professor at Columbia University who used his sophisticated literary talents to package the politics of resentment. Said's polemic, Orientalism, gave Muslims "a stick with which to beat the imperialistic West." In dealing with the Arabs, Said claimed, the West was uniformly racist, imperialist and ethnocentric. His opinions, treated as gospel in hundreds of universities, celebrated by a thousand sheep-like journalists, have undermined confidence in the West, leading us toward another problem mentioned in the Yeats poem but not quoted by Mansur: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity."
Mansur, for one, does not lack conviction.