Salman Rushdie, "Islam Versus Islamism," The Guardian, November 3, 2001
The world's leaders have repeated the mantra "This isn't about Islam" for weeks, partly in the virtuous hope of deterring reprisal attacks on innocent Muslims living in the West, partly because, if the United States is to maintain its coalition against terror, it can't afford to allege that Islam and terrorism are in any way related.
The trouble with this necessary disclaimer is that it isn't true. If this isn't about Islam, why the worldwide Muslim demonstrations in support of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida? Why did those 10 000 men armed with swords and axes mass on the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier, answering some mullah's call to jihad? Why are the war's first British casualties three Muslim men who died fighting on the Taliban side?
Why the routine anti-Semitism of the much-repeated Islamic slander that "the Jews" arranged the hits on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, with the oddly self-deprecating explanation offered by the Tali- ban leadership, among others, that Muslims could not have the technological know-how or organisational sophistication to pull off such a feat?
Why does Imran Khan, the Paki- stani ex-sports star turned politician, demand to be shown the evidence of al-Qaida's guilt, while apparently turning a deaf ear to the self-incriminating statements of al-Qaida's own spokesmen (there will be a rain of aircraft from the skies, Muslims in the west are warned not to live or work in tall buildings...)?
Why all the talk about US military infidels desecrating the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, if some sort of definition of what is sacred is not at the heart of the present discontents?
Let's start calling a spade a spade. Of course this is "about Islam". The question is: What exactly does that mean? After all, most religious belief isn't very theological. Most Muslims are not profound Qu'ranic analysts. For a vast number of "believing" Muslim men, "Islam" stands, in a jumbled, half-examined way, not only for the fear of God - the fear more than the love, one suspects - but also for a cluster of customs, opinions and prejudices that include their dietary practices, the sequestration or near-sequestration of "their" women, the sermons delivered by their mullah of choice, a loathing of modern society in general, riddled as it is with music, godlessness and sex, and a more particularised loathing (and fear) of the prospect that their own immediate surroundings could be taken over - "westoxicated" - by the liberal, western-style way of life.
Highly motivated organisations of Muslim men have been engaged, over the past 30 years or so, in growing radical political movements out of this mulch of "belief".
These Islamists - we must get used to this word "Islamists", meaning those who are engaged upon such political projects, and learn to distinguish it from the more general, and politically neutral "Muslim" - include the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the bloodsoaked combatants of the FIS and GIA in Algeria, the Shia revolutionaries of Iran, and the Taliban.
Poverty is their great helper, and the fruit of their efforts is paranoia. This paranoid Islam, which blames outsiders, "infidels", for all the ills of Muslim societies, and whose proposed remedy is the closing of those societies to the rival project of modernity, is presently the fastest-growing version of Islam in the world.
This is not wholly to go along with Samuel Huntington's thesis about the "clash of civilisations", for the simple reason that the Islamists' project is not only turned against the West and "the Jews", but also against their fellow Islamists.
Whatever the public rhetoric, there is little love lost between the Taliban and Iranian regimes. Dissensions between Muslim nations run at least as deep, if not deeper, than those nations' resentment of the West. Nevertheless, it would be absurd to deny that this self- exculpatory, paranoiac Islam is an ideology with widespread appeal.
Twenty years ago, when I was writing a novel about power struggles in a fictionalised Pakistan, it was already de rigueur in the Muslim world to blame all its troubles on the West and, in particular, the United States. Then, as now, some of these criticisms were well founded.
But I wanted then to ask a question which is no less important now: suppose we say that the ills of our societies are not primarily America's fault - that we are to blame for our own failings? Might we not, by accepting our own responsibility for our problems, begin to learn to solve them for ourselves?
Interestingly, many Muslims, as well as secularist analysts with roots in the Muslim world, are beginning to ask such questions now. In recent weeks, Muslim voices have been raised everywhere against the obscurantist "hijack" of their religion.
An Iraqi writer quotes an earlier Iraqi satirist: "The disease that is in us, is from us." A British Muslim writes that "Islam has become its own enemy". Many commentators have spoken of the need for a reformation in the Muslim world.
I'm reminded of the way non- communist socialists used to distance themselves from the tyrannous "actually existing" socialism of the Soviets; nevertheless, the first stirrings of this counter-project are of great significance. If Islam is to be reconciled with modernity, these voices must be encouraged until they swell to a roar.
Many of them speak of another Islam - their personal, private faith - and the restoration of religion to the sphere of the personal - its depoliticisation - is the nettle that all Muslim societies must grasp in order to become modern. The only aspect of modernity in which the terrorists are interested is technology, which they see as a weapon that can be turned against its makers. If terrorism is to be defeated, the world of Islam must take on board the secularist-humanist principles on which the modern is based, and without which their countries' freedom will remain a distant dream.