St. Petersburg, Florida, has just been the host to a summit meeting of secular Muslims. They have put out a final statement of their beliefs and aims, and a resounding document it is too. They have been brought together, they declare, by “a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.” Right. True. Humanly important. They go on to insist that it is proper to criticise or condemn Islamic practices that violate human reason or rights. Finally they address Muslim believers directly : “there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine.” They proclaim that they stand as free and equal citizens with Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is and all non-Muslims. Right again, all of it, and humanly important too.
It is likely that this summit, its fine resolution and indeed its general significance, will not be recognized officially anywhere in the Islamic world. A ghastly combination of one-man rulers, clerics in turbans and secret policemen, will suppress all mention of the summit, not even allowing sarcastic or hostile criticism of it by paid hacks. Absolute power combines with bigotry to keep the teeming millions of Muslims in ignorance.
This will no longer work. The participants at this summit are comparable to the Soviet dissidents who once were also unknown and kept out of sight by the authorities until they were suddenly household names, playing a distinguished part in breaking tyranny. The influence of these free and secular Muslims is similarly spreading unseen but unchecked. In spite of the cruel and backward men who rule their lives, the Muslim masses know that they are oppressed, and they are listening to those who tell them so.
Men and women of high courage and resolution put their names to that resolution. Among them are Ayaan Hirsi Ali who was lately and shamefully driven out of the Netherlands; Nonie Darwish, founder of Arabs for Israel; Wafa Sultan, who scourged Muslim bigotry unanswerably on al-Jazira television; Magdi Allam, who writes in the Italian press; Mithal al-Alusi, the Iraqi legislator who visited Israel and whose two sons were murdered in reprisal; the American Iraqi journalist Nibras Kazimi. Let me further single out the Pakistani Ibn Warraq, author of the fine book Why I am not a Muslim, and also Amir Taheri, the Iranian exile who is one of the best informed commentators on the Middle East. I am not a prophet, but I forecast with confidence that the day will come when the objectives of this handful will be accepted, and their names will enter the history books with honor.