Review of “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism”, by Karima Bennoune.
I started reading this book a few years ago and while I find it to be an important and well-researched account of Muslim-led efforts throughout the world to combat Islamic extremism, I ended up putting it down about two-thirds of the way through. It’s a tough read. If worries about man’s potential for evil keep you up at night, this book might not reassure you. However, I’m not one to shy away from books about human suffering and punishing struggles for liberty. When browsing my shelves last week, the jacket caught my eye and I decided to pick it up again. Below I list my principal takeaways from the author’s thoroughly researched treatise.
Perhaps the most relevant point, repeated throughout the text, is that Muslims represent by far the greatest numbers of victims of Islamic terrorism and persecution. Thanks to our egocentric press, many westerners have the impression that Europe and the United States are the principal targets of extremist organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS. Coupled with this belief is the idea that European and American troops have been the main effective forces combatting the surge of Muslim fundamentalism. Both of these notions are sadly misguided.
Bennoune is a native of Algeria whose professorial father came under attack by religious fanatics in the 1990s. Despite repeated death threats, her father continued to speak out. Bennoune opens her book describing her family’s persecution and persistent activism. Influenced by her father’s example, Bennoune has traveled the world, documenting similar cases of aggression, oppression, and terror—from Pakistan to Mali, Indonesia to Iraq—and meeting the Muslim people that valiantly organize opposition movements, risking their lives and those of their family members in doing so.
Muslim playwrights, journalists, educators, women’s rights activists, liberal politicians, and ordinary citizens form the backbone of this extraordinarily perilous resistance movement. With zero financial or military backing to speak of, these people speak out and defy Islamic death threats on a daily basis. The courage and resilience exhibited on page after page is truly remarkable.
Bennoune argues that Western-funded military campaigns inevitably harm innocent civilians and often produce welcome footage for militant extremists seeking anti-western propaganda for their recruiting sites. Instead, countries like the United States and France should support humanitarian organizations across the Middle East, Indonesia, Asia, and Africa that are on the ground, working to educate and reduce the wretched conditions that too frequently spawn terrorists.
Bennoune also denounces those on the far-left that try to defend oppressive Islamic traditions by claiming that Western concepts of human rights do not apply in Muslim society. She strongly opposed the Obama administration’s negotiations with the Taliban that lead to the return of Corporal Bowe Bergdal in exchange for the release of 5 Taliban prisoners being held in Guantanamo. One of the keys to ending extremism, she argues, is zero tolerance for totalitarian regimes that exploit fundamentalism for their own political ends. She cites Saudi Arabia and Iran as being two of the worst offenders.
Not surprisingly, Karima Bennoune is now the target of numerous death threats but she refuses to be silenced. Like many of the individuals that she details in her book, speaking out against Muslim fundamentalism has become a moral imperative. I can’t imagine what it’s like to put one’s life on the line for a humanitarian cause. I don’t expect that I’ll ever feel called upon to do so. But, I do feel that as a comfortable citizen, living in an affluent country where all of my friends live peacefully, with plenty to eat, and a multitude of privileges, I have a moral imperative to at least try to understand what takes place well beyond the borders of my own comfortable existence. And so I’m glad to have finally finished this bitter yet inspirational book.