Navigate to News section

The Real Resistance

Anti-totalitarian Muslim reformers like Farzana Hassan are leading the charge

Phyllis Chesler
October 15, 2018
Farzana Hassan's exclusive talk with Aruna Papp on 'Honour Killing Culture' @TAGTVYouTube
Farzana Hassan's exclusive talk with Aruna Papp on 'Honour Killing Culture' @TAGTVYouTube

The most valorous resistance movement of our time is that which steadfastly opposes all forms of totalitarian fundamentalism, whether they masquerade as “progressivism” or as divine commandments. Partisans of this resistance oppose intolerance and incivility among both the masses and the intelligentsia; historical revisionism and historical illiteracy; racism—including Jew-hatred and Muslim persecution of black Africans; gender and religious apartheid; contemporary slavery. And finally, we condemn as genuine hate speech, that which assaults free speech, and leads to the absence of self-criticism, scientific inquiry, and intellectual diversity.

With some few exceptions, we strongly support the state of Israel. While many of us are Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and atheists, those most crucial to this struggle are, perhaps, religious, secular, and former Muslims.

In her latest book, The Case Against Jihad (Mantua Books, 2018), Farzana Hassan, the Canadian feminist, author, and activist makes the case for why Muslims are essential to the fight against movements of militant Islamism. She writes: “The challenge to the ideology of jihad must come from within the Muslim community.”

What she is saying is that the “Good Muslim Germans” (so to speak), are the only ones who can stop the demonic Goebbels that have arisen in their names, overturned the long-standing customs of their parents and grandparents, radicalized their children, face-veiled their women, and declared a terrorist jihad against the West, against infidels, and against other Muslims.

Farzana Hassan is a brave resistance fighter for the 21st century. It helps that she is also a good writer and a clear thinker. But, perhaps most important, despite the considerable odds she has been persistent.

In The Case Against Jihad, Hassan argues that Islamic customs, history, and beliefs have been hijacked by a violent and criminal minority. This may not be a new critique but it is still one that comes with risks, especially for a Muslim author. In spite of the risks, Hassan writes with the hope of reaching more moderate Muslims, who, when forced to confront the takeover of their tradition, will find ways to stop the militants among them, perhaps by teaching them values that are radically non-Islamist.

Hassan interprets or re-interprets certain passages in the Quran to argue that they have either been misunderstood or perverted. For example, like Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Hassan writes: “The Quran clearly states that retribution has to be exactly equal, neither more nor less … in exactly the same manner in which the injury was inflicted … this cannot possibly be quantified in complex situations.” If Muslim communities truly understood the meaning of a passage like this, Hassan argues, they would understand that jihadists are “violating,” not “upholding,” Quranic principles and thus, would be emboldened to resist and end Islamist terrorism.

Ah, if only.

Although I, too, am totally committed to the power of the written word, wearily, I must note that hate-filled maniacs do not often engage in self-criticism, nor do they read books that oppose their worldview. However, there are still forms of meaningful resistance possible through reason and persuasion. Appealing to those just outside the circle of radicalism who act as its moderate apologists, is one way to strengthen the resistance movement; another, and perhaps the most important, is educating the coming generations.

The hope for Hassan and others like her, is that that logic, reason, and education can ultimately prevail over homicidal, totalitarian Death-Eaters. In the long run, yes; but in the breach, such military force must be defeated militarily, as was done at the gates of Vienna in 1683.

Hassan is at her most persuasive when she writes about her own life and the lives of Muslim women. In Unveiled: A Canadian Muslim Woman’s Struggle Against Misogyny, Sharia, and Jihad (2012), she shows that South Asian Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Muslim India used to be more tolerant, far less religious, and did not demand that women veil. In her view, Arabic customs and radical beliefs penetrated Pakistan and Afghanistan and “Arabized” the treatment of women, infidels, dissidents, and apostates.

In her efforts to “promote a tolerant strain in Islam and to alleviate the suffering of Muslim women and to protect beleaguered religious minorities in Muslim majority countries,” Hassan has been demonized, defamed and ostracized. She writes:

“Apart from being branded an apostate, I have been accused of being a sellout, a Zionist conspirator, a self-hating Muslim, a ‘whore’ for opposing the burka, a shrew who flouts all domestic virtues and a libertine who promotes ‘immoral secular values.’”

Raised in an influential and well-educated family in Pakistan, Hassan had an unusual upbringing. She and her sisters attended a Catholic school as did her mother. Her grandmother was a Protestant from Britain who had never been pressured to convert to Islam and who wore Western dress until a wave of fundamentalism in the 1980s forced her into the “traditional shalwar kameez.” Her family used to celebrate Christmas; Hassan cannot recall any of her relatives “praying regularly” (as Muslims).

She writes things that would be considered heretical by Islamists today while also recalling how, once, things were different, at least for the well-to-do in Pakistan. So, what changed?

“Bigotry would begin to take root and an inflexible orthodoxy would dominate. At that point I was beginning to feel the British and other colonialists did not complete their job. They should have stayed longer to ensure that democratic principles and a culture of tolerance and pluralism were firmly established in the subcontinent. The Islamic world was now riddled with fanaticism of the worst kind: one that would kill and terrorize in the name of religion.”

Among a number of specific and rather horrifying examples of the hatred toward Israel and Jews that exist in the Islamic world, Hassan writes of her experience on a trip to Syria in 2009:

“In the evenings, Judy, Kathy, Hind and I would roam the market or sooq. But anti-Israel sentiment was quite palpable on the streets. The war between Gaza and Israel was raging at that time. The figures on the screen showed Israel’s military might as a kind of grisly scoreboard: 13 Israeli dead against 313 Palestinians. During our visit, Judy and I also stumbled upon people trampling on a drawing of the Israeli flag on the street. Naturally Judy, being Jewish, felt very uncomfortable. On another occasion, we came upon a Syrian shopkeeper who was cursing the Israeli army. At the conference, some women declared, “We don’t hate Jews. We just hate the Zionists.” All over the streets of Damascus was the catchphrase “Gaza bleeds.”’

Echoing Hassan’s voice, there are a welcome and growing minority of Muslims and ex-Muslims. Some of them write critiques of Sharia, others reject Islam altogether or re-interpret the Quran. Some are religious, others are secular and agnostic.

To name only a few: In Canada, there are Homa Arjomand, Tarek Fateh, Irshad Manji, Salim Mansur, and Raheel Raza; in North America we have Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Zainab al-Suwaij, Nonie Darwish, Mona Eltahawy, Zuhdi Jasser, Asra Nomani, Soona Samsami, Amina Wadud, and Ibn Warraq; in Europe, there is Fadela Amara, Henes Ayari, Seyran Ates, Zeyno Baran, Samia Labidi, Maryam Namazie, Salman Rushdie, Bassam Tibi, etc. Perhaps the most endangered dissident Muslims live in Muslim countries; their precious names are legion, their punishments barbaric.

In Canada, Hassan has been attacked by Islamists and by politically correct feminists who disagree with her anti-burqa stand and with her call to separate religion and state, not boys and girls in school. She opposes the corporal punishment meted out to Muslim children in religious schools and rejects Canada’s misguided submission to Muslim misogynist customs out of misguided progressivism that selectively tolerates some forms of women’s subjugation.

I will give Hassan the last word:

“In the end, I urge all Muslims, fundamentalist and liberal, to think long and hard about these issues. It is now time to shun bigotry and obscurantism to enable a better future for all. I also urge Muslims to embrace Canadian values of equality, pluralism and dignity for all human beings. They must discard their anti-Western sentiment. They have chosen Canada as their home and they owe allegiance to it.”

Phyllis Chesler is the author of the new memoir A Politically Incorrect Feminist: Creating a Movement with Bitches, Lunatics, Dykes, Prodigies, Warriors, and Wonder Women published by St. Martin’s Press and is featured in the documentary Feminists: What Were They Thinking? airing now on Netflix

Phyllis Chesler is the author of 20 books, including the landmark feminist classics Women and Madness (1972), Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman (2002), An American Bride in Kabul (2013), which won a National Jewish Book Award, and A Politically Incorrect Feminist. Her most recent work is Requiem for a Female Serial Killer. She is a founding member of the Original Women of the Wall.