Bunting meets the Sheikh

Is there any more to say about Madeleine Bunting or The Guardian after this oh-so-respectful piece based on her interview in Qatar with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi?

Widely regarded as the foremost scholar of Sunni Islam, he is a man with many enemies and many more admirers, and that might be the least of the contradictions that surround him.

Have you ever noticed that when journalists are trying to gloss over the worst characteristics of repellent people, they always mention their “contradictions”?

Bunting buys in to the Livingstonian thesis that Qaradawi is actually some kind of moderate seeking tolerance and understanding between Muslims and the outside world. She would no doubt be shocked to learn that thousands of Arab and Muslim liberals last year called for an international tribunal “to prosecute individuals, groups, or entities including, but not limited to, Muslim clerics who issue religious edicts (fatwas) inciting terrorist acts.” And they specifically cited Qaradawi as one of those clerics.

Unlike the Arab and Muslim liberals, Bunting seems to accept without question Qaradawi’s famous distinction between suicide murders of Israelis and other nationalities.

He maintains that Palestinian suicide bombing is targeted at combatants (something his critics would strongly dispute). “Sometimes they kill a child or a woman. Provided they don’t mean to, that’s OK, but they shouldn’t aim to kill them. In every war, mistakes are made and non-combatants get killed and usually military commanders come forward (as in the case of the US) and apologise – why can’t they accept others do the same?”

I wonder if the parenthetical “(something his critics would strongly dispute)” was added by a nervous editor. If not, I wonder if Bunting is among those critics. She never makes it clear.

After touting Qaradawi’s commitment to “female education and employment,” Bunting gingerly touches on his support for wife beating (for reasons not entirely clear, she puts the word beating in quotes) and what she politely calls the “issue” of gay rights. She fails to note that among the rights Qaradawi opposes for homosexuals is the right to live.

He may not like US foreign policy but he is happy to launch into a long list of the many attributes of western development that he admires: scientific and technological advances come top. Qaradawi and western governments have a strong mutual interest in the struggle against Islamic extremism; he is as anxious as any western government to ensure young Muslim men don’t blow themselves up on tube trains, or hijack planes. He abhors the traducing and corruption of the faith that such actions expose, and says so to his audience of millions of young Muslims.

By this time, apparently, Bunting has forgotten all about Qaradawi’s teensy little exception for Israeli Jews. Israel doesn’t have tube trains, but obviously Qaradawi is not “as anxious as any western government” to prevent Hamas terrorists from blowing themselves up on buses in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem crowded with men, women and children.

The fact that the audience is still listening to this ageing scholar, is due to his independence of mind – and it is precisely that which, to western sensibility, can make him an uncomfortable ally.

That darned old western sensibility. Always getting in the way of cross-cultural understanding.

(Via Norm, who has some comments of his own.)

UPDATE by David T:

Gene asks “Is there any more to say about Madeleine Bunting …”. Probably not. Nevertheless, I have written a piece on Bunting’s interview with Qaradawi. I’m not opening comments on my article: feel free to discuss it here.