Was I ever ahead of the curve on this one. Last October, when I was still assistant managing editor of the American Spectator, we ran a piece on the website by Kathy Shaidle (of Relapsed Catholic fame) about Irshad Manji, the Toronto-based writer who had just written the book The Trouble With Islam.
According to the article, Manji is "Canada's most famous Muslim lesbian feminist." Shaidle interviewed Manji on day ten of her Canadian book tour and speculated that the author would be a big deal when she launched her American tour this January. My favorite bit from the piece was a quote from Manji's website. An angry correspondent wrote in with the following:
Do you think that just because you have a mind, you should use it? Desist and apologize for your blaspheming ways while you still have a chance. People like you should not exist. It is no wonder there is a hell. Enjoy your short stay in this world, for God only knows what is coming for you.
Fast forward to this month, well over a year after the Shaidle piece. The December 20 issue of Newsweek has a piece by an alphabet soup of staff writers. Titled "Rocking the Casbah," the article talks about the efforts of female Muslims to reform Islam -- from Manji to GetReligion favorite Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Newsweek identifies Manji and Ali as the two loudest voices in a growing chorus, though it doesn't identify many other singers in the choir. The authors admit that "their message and their lifestyles are so far from the torpid Muslim mainstream they're almost in the desert." However, it is "precisely because" (not just "because") Manji and company are "taking such radical stands," that there is some hope they might create "space for more moderate voices to be heard and accepted."
The only thing is, Newsweek presents very little evidence that this is in any way likely to happen. Ali is famous for renouncing Islam and speaking out against the growing influence of the religion in the Netherlands, as waves of immigrants challenge the post-Christian status quo. She is currently in hiding under 24-hour police guard, because she cooperated with Theo van Gogh's auto-fatwa of a film.
Manji has an audience, but it's mostly made up of Western liberals and conservatives, who are concerned over the clash between "modernity" and Islam (though her book is available to download in Arabic for free). She has hired a bodyguard, replaced her regular windows with bulletproof glass, and the Globe and Mail got hold of a letter from her book publisher to the Canadian government asking for police protection.