Monday, 23 November 2009

Times: How the Imam stole my hands

Sunday, 22nd November 2009 by Mark-Anthony Falzon

Where the Inquisition left off, the Imam picked up. Just when we thought we had heard it all, along came Mohammed El Sadi on last week's Bondiplus to tell us it is only natural that thieves should have their hands chopped off.

He was also generous with encores, as befits his smiling and benevolent persona. In an interview carried in Thursday's The Times, the Imam informed us of the 'wrath of God' at things like homosexuality and same-sex marriage. He also said (as reported) that "under Sharia law such crimes may even be punishable by death".

The Imam finds 'Sharia law' sort of agreeable. After all, if the Lord seems to take issue with same-sex marriage rather than, say, African children dying of eminently avoidable diseases, who are we to argue? Off with their groomed heads I say.

It's not the first time the Imam has shared his wisdom with us. In March 2007, for example, he told of - you guessed it - the wrath of God at - yes, yes - homosexuality.

Thankfully, he stopped short of describing what 'Sharia law' would choose to amputate in that case.

Makes me wonder what Heaven must be like, ruled by a divinity perennially furious at thieves and gays and ever-hungry for bloody souvenirs of their sins. It also makes me wonder what our country would be like ruled by men like Mohammed El Sadi.

Not just wonder in fact, but do something to prevent it. Far from one of 'recession of values' and the other nonsense that some politicians talk about, we are actually living in a time of unprecedented freedom and civil liberties. And I don't want the Imam or anyone else to touch that, thank you very much.

The obvious solution is one we come across very often. It goes as follows. The Imam is the voice of Islam in Malta; Muslims are outsiders (as in immigrants) here; the easiest way to get rid of their views is to get rid of them entirely; we must therefore resist the migration of Muslims into Malta.

Lest my readers think I cannonball the heads of infidels across the harbour in my spare time, I rush to add that the above paragraph is nonsense. There are many reasons why xenophobia and/or Islamophobia won't get us anywhere.

First, we must consider to what extent the Imam really represents Muslims in Malta, or anywhere. The answer is ambiguous. Structurally and formally, he certainly does not. Islam doesn't have a catechism or bishops and things. There is one Koran but very many schools of interpretation.

Tangibly, I know for a fact that many Muslims would disagree that thieves should have their hands chopped off. I personally know two Egyptian Muslims who attended the Corradino mosque once and ran a mile.

The argument applies elsewhere. Of late a certain Rajan Zed, who apparently is based in the States, has been sending missives about the (lack of) rights of Hindus in Malta. But then Rajan Zed is quite simply self-appointed. Hindus have lived happily in Malta for over 140 years, and they don't need anyone to tell them how to cope here. All of which warns us of the danger of talking about 'religious/community leaders'.

At the same time, this is rather too easy. There is a sense in which the Imam does represent Muslims in Malta. He certainly enjoys widespread moral legitimacy among them, and he is involved in the running of a school that, by his own saying on Bondiplus, educates children in the values of (his, presumably) Islam. (A terrifying thought that children are being inspired by values such as that 'criminals' - easy isn't it? - should also be amputees, and gays 're-educated' or dead.)

One might also expect, if the Imam is not representative, moderate Muslims publicly to distance themselves from his ideas. Until they do, we can't really be blamed for assuming El Sadi is the voice of Islam in Malta.

Whether or not he is, there are other reasons why the 'xenophobic' paragraph above is misguided. First, it is not true that Muslims are outsiders here - there are many, and counting, Maltese nationals who are actually Muslims. Second, my issue is with the Imam's ideas, not his immigration papers. In sum, El Sadi and whoever else have as much right to live here as I do. There's a second possible way of dealing with the Imam, and that's to silence him - never again to invite him on national television, block his access to newspapers, haul him to court if he persists in speaking his mind, and such. For reasons I explained three weeks ago in my column on Nick Griffin and the BNP, I think this second option is as bad as the first.

Which leaves us with a third solution: politics. The surest and most acceptable way of consigning the Imam's views where they really belong is to engage them politically. This is what The Times did when it invited people to comment on his 'hands-free gays' rant.

I would have expected many more individuals and groups to come out.

This has to do partly with political correctness, partly complacency. On the first, it somehow feels 'not quite right' to contest the Imam. For we're supposed to be multicultural and celebrate diversity no? Hmm.

The biggest pitfall in all this is probably complacency. The belief that is, that respect towards the dignity of criminals and gays (only coupled here because of the case in question) is somehow natural, and that rabid views like the Imam's are temporary aberrations which will just go away. My guess is they won't.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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