Last week on ABC’s Q&A, Yassmin Abdel-Magied declared Islam to be “the most feminist religion.” It’s a strong field, but this may well be her most idiotic statement yet.
As The Australian reported, last year Abdel-Magied took a taxpayer-funded jaunt across the Middle East. The #YasMENAtour, as it was called (her words), took her to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Sudan, and other countries with atrocious records in women’s rights and legal systems that just happen to mention Sharia and its virtues.
Unfortunately for Abdel-Magied, none of this led her to an outbreak of coherent thought. On the Q&A program, she spoke highly of Sharia and wouldn’t stand to be told about its faults. In her reading, it’s all about justice and equality, a few optional prayers, and spiritual merry-making. That sounds swell, and who could disagree with it? Well, probably a vast majority of the world’s Muslims, for starters, as well as more than a few Islamic scholars. There may be perfectly benign elements to Sharia, but it also undoubtedly has something to do with the motivations of the Islamic State, the brutal punishments reserved for apostates and homosexuals, and the immiseration of Muslim women. This much needs to be acknowledged.
Abdel-Magied, however, endeavours to be a person on whom everything is lost. She argues, and is virtually alone in doing so, that any negative aspects of Sharia are attributable to Western colonialism, rather than the sacred texts of Islam. She seems to believe that religion and culture are separate and do not overlap. In this way, culture can be charged with crimes and misdemeanours, but faith is always exempt. This is a senseless claim, but it manages to immunise the religion of peace against critical scrutiny. For her, Islam is all Sweetness and Light and anyone saying otherwise ought to be yelled at. Or, to paraphrase Abdel-Magied herself, she just doing her thang and the peeps be like dissin’ her religion.
The most charitable conclusion would be that she is either dishonest or deluded. I’m slightly more convinced of the latter, especially after reading Rick Morton’s latest scoop in The Australian. After her hissy-fit on Q&A, Abdel-Magied reached out on Facebook to Wassim Doureihi, one of the hirsute fanatics of the Australian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Yes, that’s another Muslim group advancing the cause of the Caliphate and its attendant barbarisms). Doureihi, like me, didn’t enjoy Monday night’s episode. Abdel-Magied inquired:
“What specifically was problematic and how can I do better in the future inshallah? I am young, and willing to learn, inshallah. Trying to do the best with the platform I can, Allah willing.”
Ease up on the secularism, he advised (and all that inshallah-ing is a good start, I would say). She had “ended up framing Islam through a secular lens, aimed at a secular people and conscious of the presence of a secular government.” Like all good Islamists, Doureihi dislikes the non-theocratic stuff.
“Ah indeed,” she sighed in response. “This is always a tricky one.”
Is it really, Yas? Really? I would think it fairly easy to avoid a consultation with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Its members are rather fond of Sharia, it’s worth noting, and this seems to inform the virulence of their views on women, gays, infidels and so on. They tend not to hide their views, either. Doureihi, after all, is best known for an interview on ABC when he refused to condemn the jihadists of the Islamic State.
Less known, perhaps, is that time such a condemnation slipped from Abdel-Magied’s mind. On an appearance on ABC’s panel show The Drum, she was asked to speak about the relationship between terrorism and Islam. Was there a connection? Her answer contained a good deal of waffle, but the salient point was this: no. Stop blaming Islam, she declared. Terrorists are just “a group of people that are fighting for identity in a world that doesn’t accept them.”
This pathetic excuse for an answer replaces outrage with pity. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Abdel-Magied is a closet Islamist or anything like that. But I do mean to say that the left-wing media has made a huge mistake by constantly elevating her and then treating her with uncritical reverence. She adds so little of substance to serious debate over Islam because her real talent is for narcissistic windbaggery. After all, at the ripe age of twenty-four she decided that it was about time she got around to writing her memoirs.
But such figures are elevated all the time. Last year on The Drum (does the reader notice a pattern here?) the Muslim reformist Maajid Nawaz sparred with Get Up activist Sara Saleh. In careful detail, Nawaz spelled out the complexities of radicalisation, the imperative of reform, and why secularism is a prerequisite for a well-developed society. It was quite obvious that Saleh didn’t pay any attention, but had decided to disagree with him in advance. Bizarrely, she blamed secularism for the ills of homophobia, sexism, and capitalism, and then made the extraordinary claim that the secular and democratic mode of governance in Australia ought to be up for negotiation:
The point that I’m trying to make, is that for you, you definitely ONLY believe in one way of a government. ONLY believe in, umm secularism . . . there is no room for theocracy – that is what you said, no room for “Islamism”, that is correct. So what I’m trying to say is that there doesn’t need to be that limitation.
Such are the views of the Muslim ‘moderates’. Saleh has paid no reputational cost for her musings on theocracy. Nor have her impeccably left-wing credentials ever been up for reassessment. Meanwhile Nawaz is largely friendless in the Muslim community, reviled by the Left, and branded an anti-Muslim extremist by the cretins of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is on that list, too, and it’s sometimes hard to determine who hates her more, the Islamists or the left. Usefully, perhaps, they have recently combined in the person of Linda Sarsour, the activist and hero to ‘liberals’ everywhere.
The Muslim reform movement is doomed so long as figures like Abdel-Magied, Saleh, Sarsour and their co-thinkers dominate the conversation and regressive leftists nod dumbly at their every utterance. It’s hard to be at all optimistic about change, however. That’s why I qualified my earlier insult: Abdel-Magied’s assertion of Islam’s feminist credentials is only the most risible thing she has said thus far. It’s safe to expect a whole lot more.
Timothy Cootes writes for Quillette, The Spectator Australia, and Quadrant. Follow him on Twitter @timothycootes.