Yet again, a furor is sweeping across the Muslim world because Queen Elizabeth knighted the infidel, Salman Rushdie. Who more appropriate to comment on what it all means than a fellow infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born activist on behalf of the rights of Muslim women who was also a member of the Dutch Parliament? Her memoir is entitled Infidel.
By Ayaan Hirsi Ali
WASHINGTON - Imagine if a crowd of Englishmen marched in London carrying effigies of Muhammad, peace be upon him, stacks of the Koran, miniatures of the ka'ba in Mecca and Saudi flags. Imagine if they then built a bonfire and hurled the items one at a time into that fire screaming "Long live the queen!" each time the flames shot up.
This would be the equivalent of what hardline Muslim students did in the eastern Pakistani city of Multan, to take just one example, when they burned effigies this week of Queen Elizabeth and Salman Rushdie, chanting "Kill him! Kill him!" in response to his recently bestowed knighthood. Such raging crowds, of course, rarely appear in the modern West (unless as soccer hooligans). But they have become a common site across the Muslim world every time a pope, some cartoonist or, now, the queen, step over some line in the sand drawn by the forces of intolerance.
An ever-growing number of Muslims worldwide feel that they are engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the West over ideas, for power, for territory and for limited resources. As with all wars in human history, symbols are important. But this is especially true in the Muslim mind, which is governed by a rigid code of honor and shame. In the shame-and-honor context, symbols are not just images but a matter of life and death. They embody honor (to defend with your life) and shame (to die or kill to avoid). He who stands by and watches as his symbols are trashed has lost his honor.
The honor-and-shame code affects all Muslim societies from top to bottom - family, tribe and the Umma, or Muslim nation. An insider who breaches this code, which is Salman Rushdie's great "crime," must be put to death. He shamed Muslims in two very serious ways. He left Islam. And he insulted Islam's infallible founder. Queen Elizabeth, in their minds, added insult to injury by honoring him - a slap in the face of 1.5 billion Muslims. In the tribal mindset - and Islam is a tribal religion and political movement combined - if one's icons are destroyed without consequence then one has essentially surrendered. The reality of surrender does not matter, only the perception.
To many Westerners, the flags of their nations are just pieces of textile cherished by a few patriots and saluted during sporting events, but to the ardent tribal male who has pledged allegiance to Islam, banners embody the honor of a nation. The Saudi flag is to every Muslim (not only the Saudis) what to every devout, patriotic, American Catholic would be a combination of the U.S. flag and the cross. The letters on the Saudi flag are a pledge of allegiance to Islam accompanied by a sword.
Westerners have too often shrugged their shoulders at the trashing of their icons - such as when the queen is burned in effigy - by the foot soldiers of tribal barbarism. The West's perceived weakness makes jihadists more ferocious and helps attract more recruits for the likes of Bin Laden than the war on Afghanistan, Iraq and the Israeli Palestinian conflict combined.
Instead the West should join together to vigorously defend its symbols and its civilization - which, for all its flaws, still offers the best life to the most people.
Strident demands for apologies should be met with stoicism. Not one inch should be given. Governments like that of Pakistan - which encourage and even stoke the flames - ought to be brought to account instead of coddled. The U.S. and Britain ought to demand that Pakistan's religious affairs minister, Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, resign for telling the Pakistani parliament in Islamabad: "The West is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the 'sir' title."
With this episode involving Sir Salman, as with so many of late, the Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka is absolutely right: It is a fatal mistake for the West to let the forces of intolerance "define the territory of insult." The West must stand its ground. By knighting Salman Rushdie, the queen has honored the freedom of conscience and creativity cherished in the West, making her a symbol not of lost monarchy but of the essence of our way of life. Long live the queen!