Islam, warned the best-selling Algerian novelist, Boualem Sansal, is going to split European society. In an interview with German media, this brave Arab writer painted a vision of Europe subjugated by radical Islam. According to Sansal, the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels are directed at the Western way of life: «You can not even defeat the weak Arab states, so they have brought in fifth columns to bring the West to destroy itself. If they succeed society will fall.»
Mr. Sansal, who has been threatened with death, belongs to a rapidly growing army of Muslim dissidents. They are the best liberation movement for millions of Muslims who aspire to practice their faith peacefully without submitting to the dictates of fundamentalists and fanatics. These Muslim dissidents pursue freedom of conscience, interreligious coexistence, pluralism in the public sphere, criticism of Islam, and respect for the rule of common law. For the Islamic world, their message could be devastating. That is why the Islamists are hunting them down.
It is always individuals, such as Lech Walesa, who make all the difference. The Soviet Union was defeated by only three beings: Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II — and the dissidents. When Professor Robert Havemann died in East Germany, few people noticed it. This intrepid critic of the regime was confined under house arrest in Grünheide, guarded by the Stasi. But the old professor never allowed himself to be intimidated. He continued to fight for his ideas.
A hero of Czechoslovak anti-Communism, Jan Patočka, died under grueling police interrogation. Patočka paid the highest price of silencing. His brilliant lectures were reduced to a clandestine seminar. Although unable to publish, he continued to work in a tiny underground apartment.
Hunted by the KGB, Alexander Solzhenitsyn set down the chapters of his Gulag Archipelago and hid them with different trusted friends, so no one possessed the entire manuscript. In 1973 only three copies existed. When the Soviet political police managed to extort the typist, Elizaveta Voronyanskya, to divulge one of the hideouts, thinking the masterpiece was lost forever she hanged herself.
Today a new Iron Curtain has been erected by Islam against the rest of the world, and the new heroes are the dissidents, the apostates, the heretics, the rebels, and the non-believers. It is no coincidence that the first victim of a fatwa was Salman Rushdie, an Indian-British writer from a Muslim family.
Pascal Bruckner called them «the free thinkers of the Muslim world.» We should support them — all of them. Because if the enemies of freedom come from free societies, those who kneel before Allah’s enforcers, some of the bravest defenders of freedom come from the Islamic regimes. Europe should give financial, moral and political support to these friends of Western civilization, while our disgraced intelligentsia is engaged in slandering them.
One, an Algerian author, Kamel Daoud, who called Saudi Arabia «an Isis that had made it,» recently sparked an «Islamophobia» row for having directed his own anger at the naïve people, who he says ignore the cultural gulf separating the Arab-Muslim world from Europe.
Another, an Iranian exile, now in the Netherlands, the jurist Afshin Ellian, works at Utrecht University, where after the murder of Theo Van Gogh, he is protected by bodyguards. After the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, while Europe’s media were busy in blaming the «stupid» cartoonists, Ellian promoted an appeal: «Don’t let terrorists determine the limits of free speech.»
Another brave dissident and author, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, had to flee from the Netherlands to the U.S., where she rapidly became one of most prominent public intellectuals.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a brave Muslim dissident and author, had to flee from the Netherlands to the U.S., where she rapidly became one of most prominent public intellectuals. (Image source: Gage Skidmore)
The Moroccan mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, is also guarded by police. He recently told fellow Muslims who protested against freedoms they found while living in the West to «pack your bags and f… off.» A heroic Christian defender of these freedoms in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, is now on trial accused of «discrimination.» «I am in jail,» he has said, referring to his safehouses, «and they are walking around free.»
Many of these dissidents are women. Shukria Barakzai, an Afghan politician and journalist, declared war on Islamic fundamentalists after the Taliban’s religious police beat her for daring to walk without a male escort. A suicide bomber blew himself up near her car, killing three. Kadra Yusuf, a Somali journalist, infiltrated Oslo’s mosques to denounce the imams, especially regarding female genital mutilation, not even required in the Koran or the Hadith (reports about Mohammad). In Pakistan, Sherry Rehman called for «a reform of Pakistani blasphemy’s laws.» She risks her life every day. She is branded by Islamists «fit to be killed» for being a woman, a Muslim and a secular activist. The Syrian-American author and psychiatrist, Wafa Sultan, was also branded an «infidel» deserving of death.
Le Figaro recently published a long report about Muslim French personalities threatened with «execution». «Placed under permanent police protection, regarded as traitors by Muslim fundamentalists, they live in a hell. In the eyes of Islamists, their freedom is an act of betrayal of the ummah [community].» They are writers and journalists of Arab-Muslim culture who denounce the Islamist threat and the inherent violence of the Koran. They stand alone against Islamism which uses the physical terrorism of Kalashnikovs, and against the intellectual terrorism which submits them to media intimidation. Seen as «traitors» by their communities, they are accused by the élites in the West of «stigmatizing.»
The French journalist Zineb El Rhazoui has more bodyguards than many ministers in the government of Manuel Valls, and for security, has to change houses in Paris often in recent months. For this young scholar, born in Casablanca and who works at the French weekly, Charlie Hebdo, walking down the street in Paris has become unthinkable. A fatwa put out after January 7, 2015 reads: «Kill Zineb El Rhazoui to avenge the Prophet.»
Threats against another dissident, Nadia Remadna, do not come from Raqqa, Syria, but her own city: Sevran, in Seine-Saint-Denis. They reflect the growing influence of Islamists in the lost territories of the French Republic. What «crime» was she found guilty of? She created the «Brigade of Mothers» to combat the Islamist influence on young Muslims.
A philosophy teacher, Sofiane Zitouni, has also quit his job at a Muslim French school over «insidious Islamism.»
The French-Algerian journalist, essayist and author of several investigations into Islamist circles, Mohamed Sifaoui, is the victim of a double threat. He is a prime target for both fundamentalists and the «tolerant» grand inquisitors. Sentenced to two years in prison by the Algerian regime for «press offenses,» then harassed by Islamists, Sifaoui requested asylum in France in 1999 and has never set foot in Algeria again. Since then, Sifaoui has seen his picture and name next to the words «le mourtad,» the apostate, on Islamist websites, meaning that he is targeted for death. French police protection around him has been total since 2006, when he defended freedom of expression for the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
About fifteen witnesses made a deposition in favor of the magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Among them were the late Muslim Tunisian essayist, Abdelwahab Meddeb, who had the courage to challenge the entire French Muslim establishment which tried to stop Charlie Hebdo. Meddeb wanted to show «this is not about anyone against Islam, but enlightened Islam against obscurantist Islam.»
Also in France, Hassen Chalghoumi, the courageous imam of Drancy, preaches while wearing a bullet-proof vest. When he goes out on the street, he is accompanied by five police officers with semiautomatic weapons. This is not outside Baghdad’s Green Zone; this is in the heart of Paris. Chalghoumi backed the ban on burkas; made an unprecedented visit at Jerusalem’s Holocaust memorial; paid tribute to the victims of Charlie Hebdo and favored a dialogue with French Jews.
In Italy, an Egyptian-born writer, Magdi Cristiano Allam, is protected by bodyguards for having criticized political Islam. As the deputy editor of Italy’s leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera, Mr. Allam published a book whose title alone was enough to endanger his life: «Viva Israele.»
Ibn Warraq lives protected behind a pseudonym since writing a seminal book, «Why I am Not a Muslim.»
The Palestinian blogger Walid Husayin is also a rarity. Jailed for «satirizing the Koran, he recently published a book in France about his experience in the Palestinian territories, where his «atheism» nearly cost him his life.
In Tunisia there are a handful of filmmakers and intellectuals who fight for freedom of expression, especially after a secular opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, was assassinated. Also Nadia El Fani, the director of «Ni Allah ni maître» [«Neither Allah nor Master»], and Nabil Karoui, the manager of Nessma TV, are threatened with death and are being taken to court to answer charges of «blasphemy.» If Tunisia’s «Arab spring» did not turn into an Islamist winter, as elsewhere, it is largely thanks to these dissidents.
Those heroes know what happened to their predecessors in «the war on Arab intellectuals.» Writers such as Tahar Djaout were killed in 1993 by the Islamists in Algiers, as was the journalist, Farag Foda, famous for his sharp satires on Islamic fundamentalism. Prior to his murder, Foda had been accused of «blasphemy» by the great mosque of al-Azhar. A dozen Bangladeshi bloggers have also been murdered in cold blood by Islamists for the «crime» of «secularism.»
Last year, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al- Sisi called for reforming Islam and the way it is taught as did Sunni Islam’s leading cleric, Sheikh Ahmed al Tayeb, head of Cairo’s al-Azhar University, the center of Sunni Islam. And he said it in Mecca, no less. Egypt’s conservatives however did their best to tamp that down – at least for the moment.
There are, however, more and more dissidents successfully speaking out and leading bold, farsighted movements. In the U.S., M. Zuhdi Jasser, author of «A Battle for the Soul of Islam,» and a practising physician, founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Last year, more than two dozen Muslim personalities promoted an appeal «to embrace a pluralistic interpretation of Islam, rejecting all forms of oppression and abuses committed in the name of religion.»
In the U.K., Maajid Nawaz heads the influential Quilliam Foundation, and Shiraz Maher, who defected from the Islamist organization, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, now serves as a Senior Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.
These are just a few of today’s heroes. Some had to be left out; there were too many to list.
The proud and painful resistance of these «Allah’s rebels» is one of the most beautiful testaments of our times. These «Allah’s rebels» are also the only real hope of reform for the Islamic world — and of preserving freedom for all of us.
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.