Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide
In spite of its slightly agitated title, this book is mostly a cool and even-tempered human rights report, and its findings go a long way toward explaining one of the mysteries of our time, namely, the ever-expanding success of political movements with overtly Islamic doctrines and radical programs.
Some people may suppose that Islam itself, the ancient religion, mandates theocracy. Seen in this light, the vigor of theocratically tinged political movements right now ought to seem normal to us, and maybe even commendable—a fitting renaissance of cultural authenticity in places around the world that, having left behind the indignities of colonial domination and the awkwardness of the post-colonial era, have entered at last into the post-post-colonial age of the return to self. Movements that carry such labels as “Islamism” or “radical Islam” or “political Islam,” judged in this way, could perfectly well drop their suffixes and adjectives and simply adopt the name of Islam itself—an Islam that has exited the mosque in order to fulfill still more sacred obligations in the public square. But Paul Marshall and Nina Shea take a different view. And in order to confer an august authority upon their contrary estimation, they have padded their human-rights report, or perhaps armored it, with learned commentaries by three Islamic scholars, two of whom are recently deceased but all of whom are distinguished.
The Islamic scholars are the late Abdurrahman Wahid, who at one time was president of Indonesia; the late Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd, a professor of Arabic literature at Cairo University until he fled into exile; and Abdullah Saeed, in exile from the Maldives, who is currently a professor at the University of Melbourne. All three of these eminences argue stoutly and knowledgeably that the radical Islamic political movements of our time represent, in Wahid’s phrase, an “extreme and perverse ideology.” The ideology ought not to be confused with other, more tolerant and traditional currents of thought within Islam, more compatible with modern liberal ideas—such as the peaceable Sufism endorsed by Wahid, together with sundry humanist currents that descend from Islam’s medieval Golden Age. The three scholars display a confident erudition in laying out their view. And yet the scholarly self-confidence only raises a further question: why have liberal-minded and scripturally sophisticated thinkers such as Wahid, Abu-Zayd, and Saeed failed in so many parts of the world to out-argue the extreme and perverse ideologues? Why haven’t the liberals and the moderates crushed the radicals? This is the mystery that Marshall and Shea add