You may have heard that British journalist Yvonne Ridley is visiting the island this week to give a series of lectures about Islam and the world. If you don't remember, Ridley was the Sunday Express journalist who was captured by the Taliban in 2001 just prior to the US invasion of Afganistan and released 10 days after. Her ordeal encouraged her to study Islam eventually leading to her conversion last year. She is now a self-avowed "peace campaigner".
Now I had read her story before, and was somewhat sceptic about her, but I thought there was a chance that the media had been twisting her story so maybe it would be useful to hear what she has to say from her mouth. So I attended the lecture that the Discover Islam centre invited her to give on Sunday evening at the Beit al Quran.
Unfortunately, it turned out much worse than I expected. I feel bad criticizing her so much, because she seemed like a nice enough lady, but I really disagreed with her approach to Muslim political issues and "peace activism". The start of her lecture was very interesting. Dressed in the shalwar qameez given to her by the Taliban during her capture, and with a Palestinian kaffiyeh draped over her left shoulder, she spoke about what lead her to Afghanistan, her capture, captivity and release, and then her study of and conversion to Islam. She basically told the exactly the same account of her story that you can find anywhere on the web, dotted with the scripted jokes about flappy knickers or the Talib's big beautiful eyes, etc. It was quite entertaining. I also agreed with her that the Taliban were probably not as evil as the media has made them out to be. Yes, they did routinely carry out hideous acts, but not all of them were the children of Lucifer as we are often lead to believe.
My opinion of her quickly changed when she stopped talking about her personal story and started on her political agenda. She repeatedly spoke of the "American War Machine", she called Israel the "world's biggest terrorist state", Condoleeza Rice was a "slave" (I don't recall the full insult used). The Muslims of Palestine, Iraq, Chechnya and everywhere are the poor helpless victims of American aggression which is the source of all the world's evil. She insisted that the War on Terrorism is in fact a war against Islam, but repeatedly contradicted herself when she said that oil is the main motivation behind American aggression. Hmmm.... those are the words I might expect to hear from my mullah who has never been to America or met any Americans, and who has no understanding of politics and international relations other than by listening to cafe gossip. It's sad that this totally one-sided and biased point of view comes from a supposed journalist of world affairs whom I would expect has formally studied politics -- yet her worldview is so naive and simplistic.
Moreover, Ridley calls herself a "peace campaigner", yet her lecture was (in my opinion) filled with hate and anger towards America and Israel. Certainly, America and Israel don't have a perfectly clean record, so it is important recognize when their actions are unjust. But she had absolutely nothing to say about the many many shameless acts of violence that have been carried out throughout the world in the name of Islam. She just railed on about the George Bush and the American war machine. Now if she were giving her lecture in the US, then it might be possible to understand why there is a need to highlight the wrongdoings of America since people there might not be fully aware of the wrong acts being done in their name abroad. However, I think everyone in Bahrain is quite well aware of America's injustices, and then some -- so there really isn't a need to go over these same old arguments. But there is a need in Bahrain (and the rest of the Muslim world) to start talking about the horrendous acts being carried out by Muslims in the name of Islam, and to be comfortable with openly and loudly condemning this violence for what it is.
All Ridley did in her lecture was to tell the crowd what they wanted to hear... that We are the oppressed victims, and They are the evil aggressors. This is a typical theme at lectures sponsored by the Discover Islam centre, and most other "Muslim lectures" anywhere else in the world. Muslims attend the lectures, nod their heads in agreement with the speaker, and then leave feeling good about themselves, patting themselves on the back for all the great things "We Muslims" have done. There really isn't any engagement, or challenging of ideas. It's sad.
You've read thousands of books of knowledge
But have you ever read your Soul?
You visit temples and mosques abound
But have you ever visited the depths of your Heart?
You go around fighting against Satan
But have you ever tried fighting against your Self?