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Islam’s Contempt for Self-Criticism: From Salman Rushdie to Kamel Daoud

| April 13, 2016

islam kamel daoud

Refused reckoning. (agoolapulapu)

By Raphaël Hadas-Lebel

The argument began when the Algerian novelist and journalist Kamel Daoud wrote an article for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica about a spate of sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve, 2015. The attacks were widely reported to have been carried out by groups of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, which Daoud explained by saying that many Muslims from the region suffer from extreme sexual deprivation, which, he wrote, generates an “unhealthy relationship with women, their body, and desire.”

Daoud seems not to have expected the reaction his article received, especially in France, where it was republished by Le Monde. After withering criticism accusing him of Islamophobia, Daoud announced that he would cease his journalistic work and focus on writing novels. But putting Islam off limits to criticism not only deprives a voice to authors like Daoud; it perfunctorily halts a much-needed discussion.

There can be no doubt that Daoud’s decision to write the article took extraordinary courage. In 2014, shortly after the publication of his first novel, The Meursault Investigation, which retells Albert Camus’ The Stranger from the perspective of the murdered Arab’s brother, a Salafist imam declared a fatwa calling for Daoud’s death for apostasy and heresy. But that didn’t stop him from tackling a controversial subject.

In the Muslim world, Daoud wrote, “Women are negated, rejected, killed, veiled, locked in, or owned,” their bodies denied the right to pleasure. In the preaching of Islamists seeking recruits, he notes, are “descriptions of a paradise more similar to a bordello than the reward for pious individuals, fantasies of virgins for suicide bombers, morality police chasing down women showing too much skin, the puritanism of dictatorship, veils, and burqas.”

In the Islamist view, the liberation of Western women is not an expression of freedom, but a sign of the West’s moral decay. Daoud concludes, “Islam is an outrage against desire. And that desire is bound to explode from time to time in Western territory, where freedom is so naked.”

The response was quick and vicious. On February 12, a “collective” of anthropologists, sociologists, and historians published a virulent attack in Le Monde. Entitled “Kamel Daoud’s Fantasies,” it accused him of “recycling much worn-out Orientalist clichés” and “feeding the Islamophobic fantasies of a growing segment of the European public.”

To be sure, it is understandable that academics might question Daoud’s approach; his argument was based on a strain of “essentialism,” in which individual actions are reduced to cultural and religious forces, with no attention to the social, political, and economic conditions that might be at work. And the critics were right to point out that Daoud omitted mentioning the many acts of violence with no connection to Islam that are carried out against women in Europe, Asia, and North America.

But Daoud’s critics overstepped the boundaries of legitimate discussion of ideas, accusing him of “trivializing” racist criticism and dressing it up in “humanistic thought.” Indeed, they questioned his right to wish for a much-needed change in the way the Muslim world treats women and a reexamination of its sexual taboos. “I still find it quite unethical,” Daoud responded, “that I was pushed into the role of sacrificial lamb to be brought on the altar of local hate, condemned for Islamophobia by today’s Inquisition.”

The episode created such a commotion in France that several authors – as well as many Franco-Algerian bloggers – came to Daoud’s defense, criticizing the attacks against him by Salafists and academics intent on bullying him into silence. Even French Prime Minister Manuel Valls weighed in, saluting Daoud’s “original hard thinking” and denouncing his critics. Referring to France’s national motto, Valls defended “liberty, that is, freedom to write and to think, equality among men and women, and fraternity and secularism, from which is derived our social unity.” As he put it, “Leaving this writer to fend for himself would be like giving up on who we are.”

Sadly, Daoud’s travails are just one example of legitimate intellectual inquiry degenerating into political bickering over whether it is acceptable to criticize Islam. This has dangerous implications for free thought, as well as for the future of Islam itself.

It is not uncommon today for political analysts to contort their arguments in order to avoid being denounced as Islamophobic. As a result, rather than examining the systemic role that Islam plays in radicalization, for example, they describe radicals as having somehow fallen haphazardly into Islam. For the sake of free thought alone, it is time to stop branding as a bigot anyone who dares discuss the religion critically. Until we do, an honest debate about Islam in Europe will be impossible.

Raphaël Hadas-LebelRaphaël Hadas-Lebel, author of Hundred and One Words about the French Democracy, is Honorary Section President at France’s Conseil d’État and a former professor at the Institut d’études politiques in Paris. For eight years he was a columnist at L’Express. He is vice president of the Institut Aspen France. (© Project Syndicate)

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14 Responses for “Islam’s Contempt for Self-Criticism: From Salman Rushdie to Kamel Daoud”

  1. anonymous says:

    I personally want nothing to do with the islam ppl or religion. I am a us citizen and a Catholic who believes in God. Not allah. This is my country and u fought for our country in the us navy. I am against that religion and the terrosim and treatment of women. I wish they would all leave. Im so sick of feeling like we are here to cater to Muslim. No, we are not.

  2. Rocky Pines says:

    I don’t think the problem lies with Islam alone. All religions carry with them dogmas, edicts and a ton of superstitions. Catholicism underwent a reformation centuries ago and Islam needs to do it now.

    In my opinion the problems lies with the gender that controls most religions. They transfer the blame to the female gender simply because of their own lack of SELF-CONTROL.

    It was Eve’s fault for the loss of Eden or so Adam claimed simply because he was just plain stupid enough without a wisp of self control.

  3. Outsider says:

    And it’s not only authors that are criticized whenever they point out the violence carried out in the name of Islam/Allah; it’s people right here. If you say anything against it we are Islamaphobes, racists, you name it. I find it ridiculous that people can’t state the obvious and call Islam for what it is: a hateful, violent, intolerant political ideology. Even it’s redeeming tenets, such as caring for the poor only applies to poor Muslims. The jihadists make it clear again and again that their goal is an Islamic world, and it’s perfectly fine to lie to further this goal. The leaders of western countries who are admitting these people wholesale without vetting are just plain stupid. As a whole Islam goes against every western value, including freedom of religion, speech, expression, and women, yet here we are helping them in achieving their goals. I will leave you with some food for thought:

  4. Lin says:

    You state the obvious so well
    +1 from me

  5. Crusader says:

    Behold Evil islam…………..The Knights Templar RIDE again !!!!!!

  6. Anonymous says:


  7. Knightwatch says:

    So, if you’re a citizen, a Muslim and you believe in Allah, this isn’t your country? And if Islam is a hateful, violent and intolerant political ideology, what about evangelical Christians who bomb health clinics, kill lawful abortion doctors, promote and defend hateful discriminatory anti-LGBT laws and approve of ethnic-based walls and bans on people entering this country based solely on their religion?

    And Islam is against “every Western value”? Like, I suppose, slavery, lynchings and segregation followed by racial gerrymandering and voter suppression.

    Yep, Islam sure is un-American.

  8. Jay says:

    To Anonymous, in answer to your question, people that bring up things that happened many years ago are just plain stupid. If Muslims think their religion and their countries are so wonderful, why are they so anxious to come to America, perhaps so they can spread their hatred and disdain for our beliefs such as the right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and women’s rights, just to mention a few that they do not believe in. They are nothing but religious fanatics and they have no regard for human life. Need I say more.

  9. SueC says:

    Patriarchy/misogyny its all the same. There is a reason god created both men and women. We were meant to balance things. Not all men are men not all women are women and that’s okay. Seems to me that Islam goes against nature. These men want love but breed resentment and hatred. Marriages and relationships and children ill conceived against the will of both nature and god. I watch the news of these roving destructive mobs dressed in black with guns and hatred in their hearts and can’t help but think they I have never seen so many lost souls lead by souless leaders since I learned of the holocaust. Cancers of humanity.
    I pray for us all.

  10. SueC says:

    Sadly for the wrong reasons. I think they are trying to equate some sort of evolution that took place in christianity will eventually happen for them. What they forget is Islam
    has always been a death driven religion. It’s roots were not the same. Domination of everyone has been it’s central theme since it’s inception. Where as the christian religion has been hi-jack several times. There is no comparison here. They are just idiots flapping there jaws.

  11. Outsider says:

    Since 1977, 11 murders of abortion providers occurred in the United States. That is of course, 11 too many. I’m not sure how many were “evangelical Christians,” but even if they all were, eleven deaths is a slow day for religious based murders in many countries. The bigger point is what happens to these murderers here in the U.S.: they are tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison or executed. In many Islamic countries, the murderers are considered martyrs, heroes who receive the respect and admiration of many. I’m not sure what an “ethnic based wall” is. Is it similar to the Great Wall of China? Who, in this day and age, considers slavery, lynchings, and segregation American values? Let’s keep it real.

  12. Geezer says:

    Religions are designed to direct people’s focus and energy on to an unchanging, inflexible
    and (of course) invisible supreme being who supposedly created a species of lesser beings
    just for companionship and love for himself.

    After all this creativity from outer space, this so-called supreme-being then supposedly legislates oppressive and arbitrary rules on his “children,” which if disobeyed will be met with unspeakably
    violent, and eternal punishment.
    This keeps the believers in a never-ending state of fear, awe, and obedience.

    Different flavors of religion teach that only theirs is the true religion and others are
    god-haters, infidels, and a danger to mankind, thus invoking the wrath of the creator, who
    for some reason created us all, with the ability to doubt.

    Then we have the fools who kill in the name of god, as if this almighty presence needs
    these little assassins to enforce his rules. How stupid….

    Show me a religion that demands cooperation among ALL of god’s creatures, and I’ll be
    first in line to sign up.

    The religions I know of are all divisive, and will keep us fighting until we blow ourselves,
    and everything else up in a nuclear war. Because of mankind and his never-ending greed
    and bullshit, the world’s oceans will boil.

    At this point in time it’s Islam that’s growing the quickest, and poses the biggest threat.
    It’s their turn, I guess…..

  13. Sherry says:

    Right On Geezer!

    And for those Christians who think the last atrocities by Christians was hundreds of years ago. . . just remember, Nazis were Christians. NO religion is without shame!

  14. anonymous says:

    All i have to say is im a Christian. I believe in God. I. Am a US CITIZEN. I fought for my country. I dont give a damn what anyones religion is. As long as they are not here to harm the American people. I dont have any predjudice against a persons belief. As long as they dont bother me, my family, friends and fellow American people.

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