There are a tiny number of Arab and Muslim intellectuals who have expressed admiration for Israel. What does this admiration mean? Do we take its numerical percentage as a sign of its significance? Say a hundred pro-Israel Muslims out of 1.4 billion Muslims, so less than.00001% of the total, i.e., less than a fraction of a statistical error?
Or do we take it as the tip of an iceberg of an opinion that cannot express itself in an honor-shame culture where honor has been defined in terms of hating Israel, and therefore every expression of pro-Israel sentiment represents something far more significant, something that, just in order to exist, must fight heavy cross-winds. In other words, it’s the easiest thing to be pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel in the Muslim world; it takes great courage and intellectual integrity to fight that consensus. Just as we should weight Israeli self-criticism differently from Palestinian demonization in our efforts toassess the information we get from the Middle East, so should we weigh pro- and anti-Israel sentiments in the Muslim world.
The case of Salah Choudhury, the Bengladeshi journalist who is now fighting for his life against charges of sedition, treason, blasphemy and espionage, raises yet another dimension. In addition to the peer-pressure of an honor-shame culture – so strong it can drive mothers to kill their daughters – there is also the matter of violent intimidation, whether state-sponsored (as in Choudhury’s case) or supported by a fatwa that operates at the grass-roots level. Just as Islam considers that apostates deserve death, so does this religion exercise enormous threats of and execution of violence against those it considers guilty of betraying the cause.
When one considers the joint threat of social and economic ostracism on the one hand and threat of violence on the other, even the slightest expression of support or admiration for Israel in the Muslim world needs to be factored at, say, 100,000,000 times the significance of an anti-Israel sentiment that is so easy and so (seemingly) cost-free for Muslims to express.
In honor of Choudhury’s struggle – I urge everyone to sign the petition on his behalf – I post here the reflections of another courageous Muslim, exiled Iraqi writer Najem Wali, who followed her intellectual instincts and went to visit Israel.