An Honor Worth Defending

Resident Fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Resident Fellow
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Imagine if a crowd of Englishmen marched in London carrying effigies of Muhammad, peace be upon him, stacks of the Koran, miniatures of the Kaaba 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 II 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 British queen, step over some line in the sand drawn by the forces of intolerance.

The West should join together to vigoroulsy defend its symbols and civilization that, with all its flaws, still offers the best life to the most people.

An ever growing number of Muslims worldwide feel that they are engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the West for power, for territory, for limited resources and ideas.

As with all wars, symbols are important. But this is especially true in the Muslim mind which is governed by a rigid code of honor and shame. In this context symbols are not just images, but a matter of life and death. 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 the 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.

The queen, in this view, 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.

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. This perceived weakness makes the foes of the West more ferocious and helps recruit more jihadists.

Instead the West should join together to vigorously defend its symbols and civilization that, with all its flaws, still offers the best life to the most people.

Strident demands for apologies from power holders 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 United States and Britain ought to demand that Pakistan's religious affairs minister, Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, resign for saying, in the Pakistani Parliament: "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, 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 of the essence of our way of life.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a resident fellow at AEI.

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