Imagine: a major, highly trafficked West-Coast American web site publishes a lengthy, glowing account of how an educated, successful professional woman converts to fundamentalist Christianity, despite the objections of her family, to say nothing of the faith’s foundational texts, which reek of misogyny and homophobia, condone slavery, and preach an End Times worldview antithetical to the approach we so urgently need to adopt to safeguard the future of life on our fragile planet.
Your reaction? Your first thoughts might well be, how has this happened? What motivated the writer? Is there some ulterior explanation? Has, say, the editor-in-chief gone on drugs? “Found Jesus?” Or just lost his or her mind? The progress we as a society have made in recent decades—in women’s rights and in gay rights, for starters—largely stems from our overcoming religion-based prejudices. Liberal folks take that as a given.
Wait, no, not all liberal folks! Some of them are inclined to make a de facto condescending, hypocritical, insidious exception to the Left’s established line of thinking about faith—but only when it concerns one faith in particular. The exception is meant to seem meritorious and humane, but in reality it tramples upon the rights of women and gays and freethinkers, and, in doing so, affronts reason and human decency. It subverts Enlightenment values and inadvertently fosters hostility against the very people it intends to protect.
Enough hypotheticals here. The religion in question is Islam, of course, and the web site, the Huffington Post, a longtime beacon of the Regressive Left. (Note that the above description of Christianity’s demerits applies to Islam as well.) The Huffington Post recently published a wordy, Islam-exculpatory puff piece, “This Former MTV Icon Found Inner Peace Through Islam.” Its author is Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University. Ahmed recounts the faith-destined journey of a German MTV host, Kristiane Backer, onetime companion of the celebrity Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan—a fact relevant here, because, says Backer, Khan “was [her] introduction to Islam.” She adds that, “I like to say I wasn’t looking, I was found.”
— Patrick Burnett (@prb493) June 24, 2017
In the sappiest traditions of Christian confessions, Ahmed drones on in this “once lost, now found” manner for two thousand words. Backer—what else?—was “having the time of her life,” “living her dream as a presenter for MTV Europe,” hobnobbing with the stars. Sure enough, though, “on the inside, she sometimes felt a crushing sense of depression and anxiety that she couldn’t shake.” Meeting Khan and listening to Sufi music changed everything. About the latter Backer tells us: “Each lyric seemed connected to a higher form of love that could not be felt between humans.” She visited Pakistan with Khan, where she was “very much touched by the humanity of the people, by the hospitality, by the warmth,” and their generosity in giving to a cancer hospital for which Khan was raising funds.
“Backer was in awe,” gushes Ahmed. “She was taken aback by the stark difference between the attitudes she experienced in the entertainment industry life, especially the superficiality of Western pop music, and the spirituality she witnessed in Pakistan.” Ahmed gives no date for her trip, leaving us to surmise that it took place sometime before the spate of ghastly Islamist suicide bombings that have hit the country in recent years.
Backer read up on Khan’s faith, and concluded that “there is one God … and that we’re self-responsible for our own deeds and [that] babies are born pure, not as sinners. … I also learned how verses from the Quran can help me in my daily life.” In a video accompanying the text, Backer tells us that it was Sufi esthetics that changed her heart: “You have all the poetry in Sufism, music, the arts.” Hence, declared Backer, “I converted because I wanted to bring God into my life, and I wanted to purify myself to taste the spiritual fruits I was reading about.”
Her conversion withstood being dumped by Khan. Ahmed informs us that, “What began as a journey of discovery prompted by love for a man became a discovery of eternal love for someone else: God. . . . There were no more clouds in her life; the confusion and inner conflict had lifted.” Moreover, “her newly adopted faith . . . helped Backer reconcile life in a glitzy pop icon world ― where she had previously felt unsure of her place ― and find meaning in European culture.” How wonderful, you might think, but then Ahmed quotes her as saying, “I was sacked from all my TV programs and practically lost my entertainment career in Germany.”
I’ll stop here to note that nothing in Backer’s account is remarkable; being “lost,” “found,” troubled and then at peace, and so on are banalities uttered by almost all the faith-deranged in such confessions, starting with Saint Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century. Furthermore, a Westerner visits a faraway land and encounters superficial kindness, but has little time to fathom the deeper, grimmer realities of the place—this is nothing more than a commonplace experience indulged in by third-rate travel writers. But what demands our attention here is that a major liberal web site saw fit to publish such clichéd musings.
How can an informed reader plod through these pleasant platitudes without thinking, wait, what about Pakistan’s murderous waves of faith-fueled sectarian strife, its Islamist terrorist attacks, its sheltering of Bin Laden? For that matter, what to make of Islam-related honor killings, the Hadith-sanctioned stoning of adulterers, and 9/11? How do they square with the “peace” Backer has so ostentatiously discovered for herself in Islam? It is not “Islamophobic” to wonder about such things.
Ahmed then tells us that Backer “enjoyed a sense of modesty in her Muslim life, [but] she had never associated Islam with the compulsion to wear burqas or found the stereotype of repression of women in the religion to ring true in her personal experience.” Forget about the lived experience of millions upon millions of Muslim women the world over, and the restrictive dress codes imposed on them by the state, community, and family in so many Islamic countries (and in Muslim communities in the West). What counts is the personal “truth” of Kristiane Backer, regardless of objective, verifiable fact.
The Huffington Post opens the article with a picture of Backer proudly gazing into the camera, her long hair washing over her shoulders, her dress or blouse décolleté. In the middle of the piece we see a photo of her seated with the famed Irish musician Bob Geldof. Near the end comes a shot of her in lipstick and with plucked eyebrows, defiantly sporting what appears to be a Pakistani headscarf. The reportage closes with a photo of her in a pink headscarf and a smart pantsuit, kneeling in prayer.
Backer is not shy about showing off her beauty. (A note says she provided the Huffington Post with the pictures.) However, we quickly learn that with her conversion to Islam, she came to disdain Western dress habits. “It’s actually more dignified for a woman to cover her assets and not show them to everybody. . . . It’s fine if you . . . show your tummy and have a piercing in your tummy and wear miniskirts, but it’s not fine to wear long clothes and a headscarf? That’s wrong.” What’s more, “Who needs those whistles on the streets?”
No, what is wrong is forcing women to cover their hair and other “assets,” as Islam ordains. This is no “unfair perception of Islam,” as she tells us, but a matter of scripture. What’s wrong is holding women responsible for the sexual harassment they endure. What’s wrong is preaching an anti-female code of morality and then using the police and caners and sword-wielding beheaders to enforce it, or, in the West, deploying honor brigades toward that end. The Sufism to which Backer adheres may not dictate such barbarities, but she repeatedly refers not to Sufism, but to “Islam” as a whole, thereby setting herself up for criticisms of all her religion’s retrograde doctrines.
Ahmed recounts Backer’s struggle with the “serious prejudices against Islam and especially Muslim men” held by her parents. She tells us that her father “even mentioned the word ‘pantheism’” – perhaps implying he was guilty of shirk (polytheism)—an unpardonable sin, according to Islam. She could not comprehend their strange reluctance to approve of her choice. Ludicrously, Ahmed says that, “In Backer’s experience, German identity is not all that different from Islamic identity, so why should she have to choose between the two?” As she put it, “Islamic values are compatible not only with German values, [but] with European values generally. Islam is a religion for all times and all worlds—and therefore also for Europeans in our day and age. I’m living proof.”
In “Backer’s experience?” If Backer is living proof of anything, it is narcissistic solipsism: willfully disregard the dark reality into which millions of your oppressed sisters are born, and just do your thing. I’m not sure what German identity is, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve favoring male heirs over female heirs in dividing up estates, chopping off the hands of thieves, or murdering the apostates of whatever religion. The European (secular) values she glosses over arose in contradistinction to Islamic (and some Judeo-Christian) values, and have buttressed political systems that have helped make the continent, in recent years, a magnet for millions of people fleeing—from where? Largely from the Muslim world.
Then Ahmed presents us with what looks like a deliberate misrepresentation or a clumsy conflation: “In embracing Islam and Eastern culture, [Backer] was merely following in the footsteps of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Martin Heidegger and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller—German thinkers who were influenced by Eastern and Islamic texts, including those by Persian poets Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafez.” None of those three Germans converted to Islam. And one can certainly enjoy Rumi’s poetry without having recited the Shahada.
Ahmed plods on, giving us more of Backer’s thoughts about Islam and terrorism, and spooning us more pablum about Islam being friendship, and so on. I’ll forgo further explication and finish my critique with Ahmed’s summary of one point: “Backer aspires to show Europeans that outside of the terror and suppression they see on the news, the majority of Muslims are in fact normal, wholesome and productive members of their society.”
Which is precisely beside the point. Muslims practicing their faith peacefully are not the problem; those willing to kill and die for it are. Relentlessly excluding honest analysis of their motivation from accounts of this sort shields the troublesome aspects of Islamic ideology from the conversations we need to have about it. This is specially true regarding Europe, as it suffers a seemingly endless wave of Muslim immigration and repeated acts of Islamist terrorism. Freedom of religion is a pillar of Western society; but Islam’s most provocative doctrines (specifically, those of jihad and martyrdom) demand scrutiny because vast majorities, Pew polling data tell us of Muslims profess them, from Morocco to Indonesia. If you you refuse to acknowledge that, you are stifling debate and setting the stage in the West for a violent, anti-Muslim backlash.
No doubt, cheery-minded simpletons will find consolation in Ahmed’s insipid piffle about Backer’s conversion to Islam. Adopt a faith as though you were donning a headscarf, and all will be fine! Just pronounce Islam wonderful and terrorism will cease! Decry as the real problem not the doctrines of jihad and martyrdom, but “Islamophobes”—those asking serious, fact-based questions! In short, close your eyes and wish upon a star—or a crescent moon. As the body toll rises in Europe, it is becoming increasingly clear that none of this works.
But on, briefly, to another topic: a two-minute “satirical” video released on the Internet by the accomplished radio journalist Mariam Sobh titled “Muslims Making Money.” Sobh is no credulous simpleton, nor does her video appear to be targeting them. Rather, she is a clever panderer to those (Leftists) who wish to ignore uncomfortable realities about Islam and cast former Muslims as venal, conniving traitors to their faith.
Sobh begins her video by telling us that everyone is out to make a fast buck—and most of all, for some reason, Muslim apostates. She offers Muslims a chance to follow her very own “special program” and “pretend” to abandon Islam. Why? “People who have had inside access to this faith are in high demand? You’ll be the go-to expert before you can say ‘creeping Sharia.’”
To cash in, Sobh invites you to join her “I’m Not A Muslim Anymore Tell-All Society.” Once you do, you get “Instant book deals, 6-figure speaking gigs, VIP World Travel, Coveted Political Positions.” She performs a cringeworthy Valley-Girl imitation of a Muslim woman giving a “testimonial” in which she cites boredom and greed as her motivations for faking apostasy and writing “fictional stories about life as a Muslim,” with the intended result that her “phone is ringing off the hook,” and she has “three bestsellers.” (We understand this as an allusion to the heroic Somali-born public intellectual and critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.)
Just, she says, “denounce your faith in a series of social media rants and wait for the trolls to bite. Once your story goes viral and you receive at least one death threat, you’re a candidate!” Having just mocked those justifiably fearing for their lives after making the most anguished decision imaginable, Sobh presents us with a second, this time mock-male, testimonial, to drive home her message that ex-Muslims are vile moneygrubbers. She finishes with a dull-bladed stab at humor: “We do take a 90-percent cut on all speaking engagements.”
Sobh’s premise is nonsensical—given the risks, who would fake apostasy, and do so publicly? Sobh insults all those who have wised up, courageously quit their faith, and paid for it with their lives, or who are enduring prison sentences and floggings, or who find themselves cast out of their family or ostracized by their community. By ginning up hostility toward former Muslims, Sobh places them in even greater jeopardy. She says nothing of the shockingly high percentages of Muslims who agree with the Sharia’s declaration of the death penalty for apostates. Intentionally or not, she is planting herself on the side of assassins.
Sobh’s video deserves nothing but scorn and the digital equivalent of damnatio memoriae—the ancient Roman punishment, pronounced by the senate, of the shameful consignment of traitors to oblivion. I had never heard of Sobh before she posted her foul clip. I will now try— but surely fail—to consign her to my own personal version of damnatio memoriae.
You should, too.