Interview with Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush on TV International English on July 12.
Maryam Namazie: I want to start by discussing Qaradawi's visit to the UK [Who is Qaradawi?]. He had come to chair a meeting of the European Council on Fatwa and Research – a very interesting name for an organisation! – and several other meetings on hijab and so on. Since his visit, many have been saying that his views are so extremist and despicable that he should be banned from entering the UK because of them. What would you say to that?
Fariborz Pooya: I have two problems with banning. Removing a person from the UK, or barring people from entering the UK, I think, doesn't deal with the problem. This is like saying: it's OK for Al-Qaradawi and the like to advocate such views abroad or in the Middle East as long as they don't bring it to the UK. On the other hand, it doesn't deal with the problem because if you face a similar home-grown mullah who advocates the same, then effectively you've lost the argument. It's important to face the Islamic movement head on, challenge them on their views and expose the outrageous views that they hold. Society needs to be vaccinated against such views. So I wouldn't agree with banning, but I would urge people who find his views abhorrent and distasteful to expose them and to show that such a person is a leader of the Islamic movement. Unfortunately, this is a movement that is growing, and we need to confront it and stop it.
Namazie: What if it's not just a question of someone's views but what they have done? For example, some say Qaradawi is the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a political Islamic group. It's also alleged that he is a major shareholder in a bank that is part of Al Qaeda's fund-raising. We talked about not banning people because of their views, but what about banning people from entering the UK because of their actions? Would you agree with that or not?
Bahram Soroush: Again it depends what actions they have committed. If there has been a trial and what they have done has been substantiated in a due process of law, then the matter has been dealt with. But if the person is still advocating, or actively financing – as it's been alleged in the case of Qaradawi – Al Qaeda, for example, and actively organising support for a particular terrorist organisation, or his role in the Muslim Brotherhood, if those are well-documented, then that is something that can be looked at in this country as well. So it depends whether that person's presence in the UK is infringing the laws of the UK or not.
I would agree with Fariborz that banning people for simply airing your views, however despicable they are, however repugnant they are, that wouldn't solve the problem. There should be room for those views to be expressed and then people have the right to oppose those views. At the same time, I don't believe that those views should be supported by a particular state; for example, that the UK government should play host to them, or like the Mayor of London chairing conferences, which he will be doing, or he has done already, which is specific support for those views.
Namazie: Some of his supporters have said – and there was a recent commentary in the Guardian on this – that Qaradawi's statements in which he encourages suicide bombings, that he encourages the death penalty against gays, that he permits wife-beating, these are all statements that have been attributed to him, but have been taking out of context, that he has been misquoted, and it is an effort to misrepresent who he really is. Would you agree that they are taken out of context?
Fariborz Pooya: I don't think so, because if you look at his writings, his views, his arguments, they are all distasteful; they are extremely reactionary and he represents the Islamic movement. I think it's important to recognise that this is not an academic discussion. It's a political Islamic movement. And there is a division of labour within this movement. You have the theoreticians who advocate the views, who support and provide the background to this movement. You have states that actually enforce Islamic laws. You have movements which, wherever they have the power, impose Islamic laws. And you have the military wings of this movement that has no regard for human life, and will use any means indiscriminately against everybody to advance the movement. So it's important to show this as a movement. And Qaradawi represents this movement. His views are well-publicized. You could refer to his views on wife-beating, etc.
I think that shows the desperation of the Islamic movement and their supporters, that the views of their representatives and advocates are so distasteful that they can't hide them. And when you refer to them and quote them, they say they have been misquoted or quoted out of context. His views are very clear. In a civilised society I don't think there would be any toleration for those views and we need to forcefully condemn them and oppose them.
Namazie: But again there is the issue of freedom of expression.
Soroush: Yes, there is. But at the same time there is freedom of expression for you and I to criticise his views. Freedom of expression doesn't mean respecting a particular viewpoint. So if he is holding a conference, we have the right to go there and say what we think about his views as well. And I think a lot of people have already expressed what they feel about his views on homosexuals, on violence against women and on suicide bombers. They are not out of context. They are very clear. He has uttered them and I think he would defend them still if he was asked about them.
Namazie: Let's go on to another question. Some of Qaradawi's supporters have said that, 'Islam not only prohibits attacking non-Muslims who don't launch attacks against Muslims, but it also urges Muslims to treat those non-Muslims with due respect and kindness, especially non-Muslims who live along with Muslims within Islamic territories'. Can you comment on that?
Soroush: I would like to know what he defines as 'people who do not attack Muslims'. Are people in Israel, is every Jew, a target of attack because they happen to be living there and there is terrorization by the Israeli state against the Palestinians? Would it be justified to attack them? You can't tell from just that quotation what he means.
I have read other so called Islamic 'scholars', who have been very clear about it. They say this is Islam and the law of the Qesas, i.e. retribution. So if they attack us by killing civilians we have the right to attack and use the same methods to kill civilians. So every Jew is according to them a legitimate target. We have to look at that quotation in the context of what Qaradawi has said and his role, because there is so much else apart from that quotation.
Namazie: I suppose every woman who doesn't wear the hijab, every gay that has a relationship, everyone that has a voluntary sexual relation outside of marriage – these could all be considered as 'attacks'.
Pooya: The deeds of the Islamic movement speak better than what they actually say, although what they say is again very distasteful. If you look at the history of the Islamic movement, in the last thirty years at least, its recent history, it is littered with violations of human rights. Look at the history of Iran since the Islamic government was established. All its opponents, anybody who had the slightest opposing view against the Islamic Republic of Iran, were wiped out.
Political opponents, communists, socialists, anybody who had the slightest disagreement with the Islamic government, were killed. The history of Iran is tied with a Holocaust against the opposition. And that is the history of the Islamic movement. Look at Afghanistan. Why do we have to go so far? Look at today's Iraq… Even in Palestine, with the rise of this Islamic movement, you see how the picture of society in Palestine is changing. Even when you look at the quotations from this Middle Eastern mullah, you see that this is not about unconditional freedom to oppose Islam; it is conditioned by the fact that you agree with him. And if you disagree with him, then you are not protected against the attacks.
Namazie: Some of the Islamists are saying that he is a 'Muslim progressive social reformer', 'an esteemed scholar'. They say he is a 'moderate' and that it's 'extremely distressing' that he is being labelled as an extremist. They say 'if he is an extremist, then who's left out there to be a moderate'?
Pooya: I think there is a problem to construct a reformist, liberal, moderate character or trend within the Islamic movement. The Islamic movement is misogynist; it's against equality; it's based on violationa of human rights; and it's an extremely oppressive movement. I can see the difficulty the Islamic movement has to actually come up with somebody decent enough not to get 'distressed' when they are quoted! We have seen this attempt to create and reconstruct a 'moderate' Islam in Iran. We've seen it in Iran and it's been defeated, because you can't find such a character within the political Islamic movement.
I would also like to add that some try to construct such 'moderate features' within the Islamic movement because they want to work with it, because they want to use it. Clearly, the European states do so because they want to have good relations with oppressive Islamic governments in the Middle East, so they have come up with this theory of moderate Islam, which is effectively an effort to justify the relationship with the Islamic movement and the Islamic government, and to appease a brutal movement and government.
Namazie: You hear all the time that there is a difference between moderate Islamists, fundamentalist Islamists, the extremist political Islamic movement. Is there a distinction?
Soroush: There are distinctions. As in every phenomenon – and Islam is not excluded from that – you have extreme, moderate, centre, etc. But that is not the issue. This is a question of degrees; a relative thing. In any repugnant thing you can find things which are less repugnant than the others. Our problem is with the whole of Islam and the political movement of Islam. It's a movement that is running amok throughout the world, creating havoc, taking victims. You might find somebody, another version of it, which is a little bit less brutal, but that is not the issue.
For us in the 21st century, that we should have lowered our expectations so much to say that a reformist – if such a thing was possible – liberal or a softer version of Islam or political Islam is tolerable. That is an insult to humanity. Our criticism, our attack, our problem with this Islamic movement is not just with its extremist faction; it's with the whole of it. So I think to anyone like that I would say, why do you bother, why not get rid of the whole thing? And as Fariborz was saying, in Iran they tried to do that, to reconstruct, to come up with a second kind of Islamic regime, which, even if it was possible, the people of Iran have said no to; they want to get rid of the whole thing.
Namazie: One of the questions this Islamist asks in the Guardian commentary is 'who are Muslims expected to follow if not Qaradawi'? If he's the moderate, they want to follow him. If he's not acceptable, who is?!
Pooya: I'm not in a position to advise Muslims on who to follow! But I would say that the Islamic movement is a reactionary movement and anybody who wants to have a decent society needs to oppose the Islamic movement. You can't have a civilised society, you can't have a decent society, for yourself, for your children, for your future, by appeasing and supporting this movement. So I think people should advocate a non-religious state, a non-religious society. The only way to improve the situation of humanity today, to get out of this effectively dark scenario that has been built by the Islamic movement, is to oppose this movement and to defeat it. And we are pretty determined to do this.
Namazie: Someone has written and said that we have a 'pathetically narrow view of Islam'; that we are associating what some people are doing in the name of Islam with what Islam is; that we are categorizing all of Islam as something that is misogynist, etc., whereas it's the practice of just a few people. Can you comment briefly on that?
Soroush: Nobody has tried to categorize all Muslims as responsible for what is being done – the stonings, the amputation of limbs and all those atrocities. At the same time, my expectation from someone who is a Muslim would be to distance themselves from that, to say that they don't want to be identified with that. If they are as categorical in condemnation of that as we are, then that is fine. Then the next step would be to show the incompatibility of their standpoint with the teachings of Islam; to show where it's at odds with it…
Namazie: One final question. Is this not inciting religious hatred when you oppose Islam so strongly, when you oppose its political movement so strongly?
Pooya: It's a reactionary ideology and you need to oppose it. There's no other way. That's not inciting hatred against a group of people. It's because we have a lot of respect for humanity and its welfare that we don't want it to be dominated by reactionary movements. We need to and we must, it's our duty, to expose this reactionary movement and to defend people's rights against it. I'm worried with the new attempts by the British government.
David Blunkett has floated the idea again that he wants to bring a law to ban incitement to religious hatred. He hasn't actually publicly said how within that framework he wants to support the freedom of speech and freedom of criticising religion. That's an important thing. Freedom of speech, freedom of criticising reactionary movements and religion is a fundamental building block of a civilised society.
Maryam Namazie is the host of TV International English, Executive Director of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees and Director of the International Relations Committee of the Worker-communist Party of Iran.