Factchecking Antonia Zerbisias

Yesterday, I blogged about Canadian columnist Antonia Zerbisias’ hate-filled diatribe against those (namely, the right) who dared to reprint the Mohammed cartoons.

In her column, Zerbisias’ wrote the following in an apparent effort to prove some sort of point about fanatical Islamists supposedly being tolerant when someone spoke out against Islam:

As for violence, I would guess that Muslims are more victims than perpetrators.

After all, when Irshad Manji published her controversial The Trouble With Islam: A Wake Up Call for Honesty and Change in 2003, no harm ever came to her despite so many — again right-wing — bloggers’ musings that it would. That said, their fears helped Manji move a lot of books around the world.

Frankly, we’re a lot more tolerant society than our own intolerant right would like to believe.

Something about her assertion that Manji was never harmed for writing her book seemed a bit incomplete to me. I didn’t follow up on that feeling by doing any verification of her claim but thankfully, my Canadian friend Tommy (no, not the Tommy who posts here) brought to my attention that Manji received death threats as a result of speaking out against Islam and as a result has to go everywhere with a certain amount of security personnel close by. I did some research on the issue and and found that in addition to Manji’s life being threatened on numerous occasions, there have been others who, too, have had to endure death threats as a result of speaking out against Islam:

Asra Nomani’s stomach was churning as she passed through the front door of her mosque and stepped into its glittering, cavernous sanctuary.

Her prayer there would not be merely religious; Nomani, 39, was making a bold act of disobedience. Women were supposed to take a wooden side door into the building and pray upstairs, away from the mosque’s main hall and male worshipers.

When the mosque’s president begged her to retreat to the women’s balcony, she was resolute. “Thank you, brother,” she told him. “I’m happy praying here.”

Nomani’s outspokenness is unusual, but it is part of the distinctly female voice defining a controversial movement for reform in the Islamic world.

Wounded by public criticism and policies that singled them out after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many Muslims in the United States closed ranks and became tight-lipped.

But the scrutiny of Islam also brought new attention to brutal practices against women abroad in the name of the religion, from lack of education to limited rights to initiate divorce and retain custody of children.

Emboldened by the sudden public interest in these problems, and free in the United States to speak their minds without fear of the government reprisal that exists in many of their homelands, Muslim women have taken the lead in challenging the status quo.

They are taking on everything from women’s role in the mosque to the anti-Semitism and anti-Christian attitudes some say are entrenched in Muslim communities.

The high visibility of their actions is often offset by intimidation and even death threats from fellow Muslims who accuse them of self-hatred and airing their community’s “dirty laundry.”


The stories Irshad Manji tells in “The Trouble With Islam” have made her both a best-selling author and the recipient of numerous death threats.

At 14, Manji was thrown out of her madrassa – or Islamic school – for challenging her teacher’s anti-Semitism. In her book, she argues that the schools foster unthinking hatred of Jews and repression of women and homosexuals.

The Toronto-based Manji, who is a lesbian, says the death threats mean she is successfully becoming a gadfly to those who oppose the Islamic tradition of ijtihad, or independent reasoning.

And of course there was the brutal murder of Theo van Gogh by a radical Islamist (which I mentioned in my initial post on this) as well as what happened when Salman Rushdie wrote and had published the unfavorable-to-Islam book Satanic Verses: he was condemned to death by Iranian Muslim clerics and as a result had to go into hiding – which brings to mind the mysterious murders of two Satanic Verses translators (one Japanese and one Italian) that, to my knowledge, have never been solved.

What’s happened here is that Zerbisias conveniently sidestepped the issue of death threats by claiming that “no harm ever came to her [Manji]” in an attempt to prove that rad Islam can be more tolerant than us ‘haters’ on the right. While her claim on the “no harm” part was technically true, her omission was (in my opinion) deliberate because if she’d actually posted the full story, which is that Manji has been on the receiving end of numerous death threats and had security staff in her employ, her point about radical Islamic tolerance would have been nullified.

Oh, those pesky little facts …

Update I: Make sure to check out this interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch politican who had to go into hiding after the murder of Theo Van Gogh.

“Tolerance” my foot, Ms. Zerbisias.

(Hat tip: Jim at bRight and Early)

Also blogging about this: Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred , All Things Beautiful, The Insomniac

Update II: Zerbisias declares that I have gotten “a few facts wrong” :

Actually, Sista gets a few facts wrong — like that Christian magazine bit, and when the rioting actually started — but I forgive her.

The only part of my post that I got wrong was on who published the photos first. I got the timing on the riots right on, as the Guardian link she supplied notes. Apparently to her, a lone demonstration back in October = rioting. The Guardian link makes it clear when the rioting started:

Why did the row take so long to spread?

The dispute attracted scant international coverage and appeared to fall off the news radar after Danish diplomats produced an “explanation” for the head of the Arab League which was due to be distributed among member states. Then, on January 10, a Christian publication in Norway, Magazinet, printed some of the images. There were more diplomatic protests, with Libya and Saudi Arabia recalling their diplomats from Copenhagen, and a boycott of Danish goods started. On January 30, Mr Rasmussen conceded the row had moved on from a theoretical debate about the rights of the press and expressed his regret at the offence caused to millions of Muslims. Separately, the Jyllands-Posten did likewise.

So that was that, then?

Ironically, it appears that that move, aimed at ending the dispute, propelled it on to an entirely different level. A number of rightwing European newspapers believed the Danish were caving in and decided to republish the images to show they would not be cowed. “It is the core of our culture that the most sacred things can be subjected to criticism, laughter and satire,” Roger Köppel, editor of Germany’s Die Welt newspaper, told the Observer. “If we stop using our right to freedom of expression within our legal boundaries then we start to develop an appeasement mentality.” Die Welt put the image of the Muhammad with the fizzing turban bomb on its front page. Papers in France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland followed suit.

That decision sparked angry protests around the Muslim world. Demonstrations turned to violence in Syria, Lebanon and Indonesia where the Danish embassies were destroyed by mobs. There were also protests in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. In Britain, supporters of the extremist Muslim group, al-Ghuraba, marched outside the Danish embassy with placards carrying slogans which included, “Butcher those who mock Islam”, “Behead those who mock Islam” and “Europe you’ll pay, Bin Laden is on his way”. The police, who filmed much of the protest, have set up a special operations unit that will decide whether to prosecute protesters under incitement to violence and murder laws.

As the Guardian piece makes clear, I made no such error in stating when the riots started. Here’s what I said in my original post, which the above backs up:

[…] the rioting over the cartoons didn’t start until a few months later (like about two weeks ago) […]

I was correct on that point.

I’ll concede the point that I was in error as to who printed the cartoons first, but the question is: will Ms. Zerbisias admit to what I believe was a deliberate effort to deceive on her part (as I noted earlier in this post) by omitting key facts about Irshad Manji?

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