An honor worth defending
By Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Monday, June 25, 2007
Imagine if a crowd of Englishmen marched in London carrying effigies
of Muhammad, peace be upon him, stacks of the Koran, miniatures of
the Kaaba in Mecca and Saudi flags. Imagine if they then built a
bonfire and hurled the items one at a time into that fire screaming
“Long Live the Queen!” each time the flames shot up.
This would be the equivalent of what hardline Muslim students did in
the eastern Pakistani city of Multan, to take just one example, when
they burned effigies this week of Queen Elizabeth II and Salman
Rushdie, chanting “Kill him! Kill him!” in response to his recently
Such raging crowds, of course, rarely appear in the modern West
(unless as soccer hooligans). But they have become a common sight
across the Muslim world every time a pope, some cartoonist or, now,
the British queen, step over some line in the sand drawn by the
forces of intolerance.
An ever growing number of Muslims worldwide feel that they are
engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the West for power, for
territory, for limited resources and ideas.
As with all wars, symbols are important. But this is especially true
in the Muslim mind which is governed by a rigid code of honor and
shame. In this context symbols are not just images, but a matter of
life and death. He who stands by and watches as his symbols are
trashed has lost his honor.
The honor-and-shame code affects all Muslim societies from top to
bottom – family, tribe and the Umma, or the Muslim nation. An insider
who breaches this code, which is Salman Rushdie’s great “crime,” must
be put to death. He shamed Muslims in two very serious ways: He left
Islam, and he insulted Islam’s infallible founder.
The queen, in this view, added insult to injury by honoring him – a
slap in the face of 1.5 billion Muslims. In the tribal mindset – and
Islam is a tribal religion and political movement combined – if one’s
icons are destroyed without consequence then one has essentially
Westerners have too often shrugged their shoulders at the trashing of
their icons – such as when the queen is burned in effigy – by the
foot soldiers of tribal barbarism. This perceived weakness makes the
foes of the West more ferocious and helps recruit more jihadists.
Instead the West should join together to vigoroulsy defend its
symbols and civilization that, with all its flaws, still offers the
best life to the most people.
Strident demands for apologies from power holders should be met with
stoicism. Not one inch should be given.
Governments like that of Pakistan, which encourage and even stoke the
flames, ought to be brought to account instead of coddled. The United
States and Britain ought to demand that Pakistan’s religious affairs
minister, Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, resign for saying, in the Pakistani
Parliament: “The West is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism.
If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so
unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the ‘sir’ title.”
With this episode involving Sir Salman, the Nigerian playwright Wole
Soyinka is absolutely right: It is a fatal mistake for the West to
let the forces of intolerance “define the territory of insult.” The
West must stand its ground.
By knighting Salman Rushdie, the queen has honored the freedom of
conscience and creativity cherished in the West, making her a symbol
of the essence of our way of life.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali emigrant and former member of the Dutch
parliament, is an outspoken defender of women’s rights in Islamic
societies. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.