Small World

Jewish World Review July 10, 2001 / 19 Tamuz, 5761

An American Rushdie?

By Daniel Pipes -- THIS month marked the joyous day when Americans celebrate their freedom. But Khalid Durán of Bethesda, Maryland, has little cause for celebration. For, in an eerie echo of the Rushdie affair, the death of this freethinking Muslim has been called for by an Islamist (or fundamentalist) leader living in the Middle East for a book he has written.

Durán, 61, is an accomplished scholar and original thinker. Born of a Spanish mother and a Moroccan father, he speaks five languages and was educated in Spain, Germany, Bosnia, and Pakistan. A German citizen, he has lived in the United States since 1986, teaching and writing mostly about Islam at leading universities and think tanks. Durán has written six books and is a leading analyst of Islam and politics, an authority on the current wave of Islamism and an expert with an excellent record of predictions.

Durán is also an activist on behalf of causes like the revival of Afghan culture and the promotion of dialogue between the three major monotheistic religions ("trialogue"). He now heads the IbnKhaldun Society, a cultural association of moderate Muslims opposed to Islamism. His is a rare and welcome voice of Muslim liberalism at a time when radicals dominate the mosques, the media, and the counsels of state.

Given this background, it was natural that when the American Jewish Committee (AJC) sponsored a book called Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews, it sought Durán out to write the volume, and that he accomplished this task with distinction. Fourteen scholars of Islam approved the manuscript prior to publication; in addition, it won glowing reviews from such authoritative figures as Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, the eminent church historian Martin Marty, and Prince Hassan of Jordan.

Then, just as the book was being readied for release, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) weighed in. Thisfringe Islamist organization promotes a Khomeini-like agenda but has the smarts to hide its extremism. It issued two press releases in which it insulted Durán personally and demanded that Children of Abraham be withheld until a group of CAIR-appointed academics review the book to correct what it assumed (without having read the manuscript) would be "stereotypical or inaccurate content."

CAIR being part of an international network of Islamists, like-minded publications in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East quickly picked up its message. With the retelling. naturally, the story hardened. Thus, Cairo's Al-Wafd announced that Durán's book "spreads anti-Muslim propaganda" through its "distortions of Islamic concepts."

The campaign of vilification culminated in early June, when a weekly in Jordan reported that 'Abd al-Mun'im Abu Zant, one of that country's most powerful Islamist leaders, had declared that Durán "should be regarded as an apostate" and on this basis called for an Islamic ruling that "religiously condones Durán's death."

Days later, Durán's car was broken into, with a dead squirrel and excrement thrown inside. And CAIR, far from apologizing for the evil results of its handiwork, has the gall to accuse the AJC of fabricating the death edict as a "cheap publicity stunt to boost book sales."

Abu Zant was applying the "Rushdie rules" that Ayatollah Khomeini had established back in 1989, whereby anyone critical of Islam or Islamism is liable to be fined, jailed, or perhaps threatened with death. Already applied in most Muslim countries and many Western ones (Canada, Holland, France, Israel), these rules now threaten to be extended to the United States.

Actually, they already have been applied: in 1990, not long after the Council of Religious Scholars in Mecca called Rashad Khalifa an infidel, thereby marking him as someone to be eliminated, this Egyptian immigrant living in Tucson, Arizona, was murdered by members of an extremist Islamic group. It bears noting that CAIR has never denounced this assassination.

The threat against Durán requires that all of us, whatever our politics or religions, stand together as one and with a loud, clear voice condemn Abu Zant's threat and reaffirm the sanctity of free speech. In this case, if Americans truly do join forces, they can stop those who would instill the Middle East's violent religious habits in the United States.

Khalid Durán recently noted how, given that "some two dozen" of his good friends have been killed in recent decades, his even being alive is a miracle. His security is now a trust that all Americans must safeguard.

JWR contributor Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and the author of several books, most recently Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes from. Let him know what you think by clicking here.


© 2001, Daniel Pipes