Yvonne Ridley, Peddling Islam in Tennessee


by Rebecca Bynum (Feb. 2008)


According to Yvonne Ridley, who spoke at Vanderbilt University on Jan. 17th, of the approximately 60,000 immigrants and refugees living in Davidson County, Tennessee, about one third (or 20,000) are Muslims who have settled in Nashville. The Ridley speech was sponsored by the Islamic Center of Nashville and the Muslim Student Association at Vanderbilt. Both organizations have roots in Islamic fundamentalism (see here and here) and both seem anxious to portray Islam to the rest of the community as a religion of peace, tolerance and pluralism.

Ms. Ridley is a British journalist who converted to Islam after she was captured and held briefly by the Taliban shortly before the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. By any objective standard, Ms. Ridley is an Islamic radical.

Referring to President Bush and Prime Minister Blair she said, “Their brand of extremism brought us 9/11, the London bombings, Madrid and other carnage around the world,” andI know 9/11 had a huge impact on the world, but it wasn’t really the start of something … it was the continuation of a legacy of US imperialism and its fear of Islam.”

She has warned Prime Minister Blair to “stay away from our areas” meaning the Muslim enclaves in England. She has also exhorted the Muslim community to “boycott the police and refuse to co-operate with them in any way, shape or form.”  She has referred to the moderate Muslims academics who advise the Prime Minister (and who have suggested that British Muslims may nurse a false sense of grievance) as “rancid, spineless Uncle Tom house-slaves” who have “castrated themselves in their bid to please the government.” In her speech to the 2006 Global Unity and Peace Conference in London Ridley said,

The new slaves of the West criticize Islamist parties and governance by shari’ah. I call them the Happy Clappies. They are being flown in by the Government from the US, Canada, Yemen and Mauritania to preach a diluted form of Islam.

The end result of all this has been a dilution of the deen of Allah, a weak and pacified Islam willing to accept the status quo in which Muslims are oppressed and subjugated; an Islam in which Muslims condemn the actions of their brothers and sisters who courageously resist occupation and oppression with whatever they have.

She defended the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, when members of his own family distanced themselves from him after the 2005 bombing in Amman in which 60 people were killed and injured. And after the Chechen Muslim leader Shamil Basayev (the architect of the Moscow theater takeover and the especially heinous Beslan school massacre) was killed, Ridley wrote that Basayev was “loved and adored by many” and that he had become a Shaheed (a martyr for Islam) and was therefore assured a Muslim paradise. Here are her words:

However, for me personally, the arrival of this sad news provided one of those awful coincidences which make you shudder and reminds you of your own mortality … you see moments earlier I had been leafing through a manuscript of his unpublished work called a Book of a Mujahiddeen. The paragraph I was reading said: “A Mujahid is looking closely into a child’s eyes, for they are the ones that get to see the world without sorrows. When a Mujahid wants to know whether someone beside him is trustworthy, he tries to see it with the eyes of a child.”

Basaev led an admirable fight to bring independence to Chechnya and resorted to targetting Russian civilians in the latter years of his struggle to try and bring the plight of the Chechen people to the wider world. He will probably be best remembered for masterminding the siege of the Moscow Theater and then the taking hostage of the children at a school in Beslan which sent shudders of revulsion around the world when both plans went tragically wrong.

On both occasions there were scores and scores of civilians deaths and injuries, but the overwhelming numbers of civilian killed actually died because of the actions of Russian troops who bungled rescue raids on both operations. No one could share the pain and loss of the Beslan parents more than Chechen mothers … let’s not forget that 42,000 Chechen children have been slaughtered in the last decade by Russian bombs and shells.

Ms. Ridley is openly aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood (the women’s wing is called the Muslim Sisters) and refers to the Brotherhood
as a “disciplined intellectual organization” which has the potential to be “a shining power to lead the Middle East.” She even traveled to Egypt to campaign for the release of Brotherhood members held on terrorism charges. Said she, “The Muslim Brotherhood has an honorable and just cause, and enjoys strong public support which will enable it to withstand the [Egyptian] government’s oppressive campaigns against its members.” She is also an avid reader of Sayyid Qutb, a founding intellectual in the Brotherhood, who was hanged by Nasser in 1966. She even met with Qutb’s sister, Amina, during her Hajj. She is also a great admirer of Hassan Al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and the grandfather of Tariq Ramadan whom Caroline Fourest has exposed as a master of “doublespeak” as he tirelessly promotes the cause of Islamic domination while claiming to be a reformer. Likewise Ridley is said to admire the work of Zeinab al Ghazali, a female founding member of the Brotherhood and clearly a fanatic, who was also imprisoned by Nasser and for whose book, Des jours de ma vie, Ramadan wrote an introduction.

Ridley’s television program “The Agenda” was taken off the Islam channel in Great Britain after she refused to shake hands with a visiting Saudi Prince. This was probably due to her Brotherhood sympathies. “The Agenda” is now being carried by Press TV which is funded by the government of Iran.

Ridley has described her viewpoint as “pretty much in line with Hamas” and has described Israel as “that disgusting little watchdog of America that is festering in the Middle East” and furthermore that her political party, the Respect Party, “is a Zionist-free party… if there was any Zionism in the Respect Party they would be hunted down and kicked out. We have no time for Zionists,” and that both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are “riddled with Zionists.” Ridley’s first husband was Daoud Zaaroura a former PLO colonel. And yet she warns[I]f any of those Zionist idiots continue to try and paint me as an anti-semite I must warn you … one of my closest friends is one of Britain’s best defamation lawyers. Oh, and she happens to be Jewish (for some reason most of the best lawyers and hairdressers are).” Point taken.

When she arrived in the United States for her talk in Nashville, Ridley was detained by the authorities for 13 hours (it is unclear at which airport she was held). It looked for a time as though she would be deported back to England and an email was sent out to that effect, but eventually she was released and arrived at Vanderbilt only 30 minutes late for her presentation. Curiously, there was no advertisement in the local papers about the event, only postings on the websites of the sponsors, the Islamic Center of Nashville and the Muslim Student Association at Vanderbilt. Emails alerting members to the event were also sent out by the Nashville Peace and Justice Center. So clearly the audience was pre-selected and limited.

The scheduled topic was, “Islamophobia: The New Anti-Semitism,” a talk you can see here, but upon our arrival we found that the topic had been changed to “From Captivity to Conversion,” which turned out to be almost completely non-political.

Ms. Ridley was introduced by Dr. Awadh Binhazim (pictured seated with an unidentified local man), memorable for his participation in a forum on the Danish Muhammad cartoons, who informed us of his role as “faculty advisor to the Muslim Student Association” although he is not on the faculty at Vanderbilt, and that he is also the Muslim Chaplin there in a addition to being the President of Olive Tree Education which now gives classes on Islam at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Binhazim is also an associate professor of pathology at Meharry Medical College who specializes in animal models of human diseases. He has special training in retro-viruses and toxicological pathology, although, according to his curriculum vitae, he hasn’t published a scientific paper for the last 7 years. Born in Kenya, he comes to Nashville with a veterinary degree from King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia and an M.S. from the University of Nairobi. He acquired his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in comparative pathology in 1992.

Also on the stage panel was Dr. Jawaid Ahsan, a neurologist who works as at pharmaceutical representative and who regularly organizes community outreach programs for Islam in Nashville. He informed us that no direct questions would be taken, but all questions had to be submitted in writing. Note cards were passed out by smiling, hijabbed young women for this purpose. The women in the audience were split approximately half in hijab, half without, so the audience was probably about 50% Muslim.

After “Sister Yvonne” took the podium, Ridley portrayed herself as one who had been entirely ignorant of Islam and Islamic culture when she smuggled herself into Afghanistan. Her story consisted of a series of mad-cap cultural misunderstandings – Lucille Ball in a burqa. It was quite a performance. There were some, naturally, who were taken in, hook, line and sinker. The following is from an email sent by Bill Humble of the Nashville Peace and Justice Center:

It was apparent to me, as she spoke to a full house, that the main intent of her story was to dispel the many myths and fallacies that so many of us Westerners believe about the Islamic religion.

According to Ms. Ridley, the vast vast majority of Muslims are kind and loving people, just as the vast vast majority of Christians are kind and loving people, and that it is only the people around the “fringes” of both religions (I noticed that she steered away from the use of the word “fundamentalists”) who are bent on “blowing them away in the name of the lord,” (a quote from the late Jerry Falwell.)

Much of her speech was used to enlighten us to the fact that Muslim women are really very liberated, contrary to what we hear so much in the mainstream American media.

It’s hard to know what Mr. Humble meant by this. Ridley offered nothing but her own impression that according to the Qur’an women are equal in “spirituality, worth and education” plus an anecdotal story about a woman she met in Afghanistan who declared British and American women are “all so pathetic” because they have only one or two children and declared, “when you run out of soldiers, I will be producing more.” It is interesting to contemplate how Mr. Humble and Ms. Ridley could possible think that women who consider themselves to be breeding machines for jihad, are “liberated.” Ridley also made the claim that the reason one Afghan girl wasn’t a doctor was because of lack of funding for the school rather than the widespread and well-known intimidation, on Islamic grounds, against education for girls. Mr. Humble continues:

There was a lengthy Q. and A. period at the end. The questions were written on cue cards and then read to Ms. Ridley by the moderator [Dr. Binhazim].

My assessment of her story was pretty much summed up by the first question which was: “In my travels around the world in the US Navy, I think the most important thing I learned is that ‘on the ground,’ people are people. At some level we are all, first of all members of the human race, regardless of our nationality, religion or race. Your speech is a reminder to me of this beautiful truth. Would you say that this is an accurate assessment of your own experience?”

She began her answer with: “Whoever asked that question (actually it was myself) is obviously an experienced world traveler and an astute observer of human nature.” I agree.

Then the last question of the evening was: “What can we Americans do to help the women and children of Afghanistan?” Her answer was, and I’m paraphrasing here: “The same thing you can do to help extremely impoverished people all over the world; Stop bombarding them with bombs and start bombarding them with aid.”…….HERE HERE!!!

Mr. Humble is obviously easy to please. Deflecting the slightly more difficult questions (remember the questions were filtered through Dr. Binhazim) Ridley was just as masterful. To the question, “Do you consider the Taliban as terrorists?” she gave a long lecture on moral equivalence. Margaret Thatcher once called Nelson Mandela a terrorist, “you can’t look at the Taliban as one group,” etc.

To the question, “What should Muslims do to stop terrorist attacks on non-Muslims?” she replied that we have to “look at history” and there (behind every Muslim terror attack) is a “British man with pencil drawing a map.”

Ridley also explained the reason she walked away from Christianity was that she saw “those people” (meaning Israeli soldiers) using the statue of the virgin Mary for “target practice” during the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Pope didn’t condemn them (the Israelis) until later. She explained, “If the Church won’t stand up for Jesus, what will they do for me?” Not withstanding her bizarre version of the events of those days, it is evident that her idea of religion concerns more the power of the earthly realm than that of the spiritual one, which made her a perfect candidate for “reversion” to a faith in which earthly power is the “primum mobile.”

It is also plain that the Muslim Brotherhood in America has made a conscious decision to follow the lead of Tariq Ramadan in Europe and opt for the soft sell with regards to promoting Islam in America. Rather than allowing Ridley to delver her usual firebrand address on Islamophobia, she was presented as an example of a satisfied customer, even a celebrity spokeswoman: “I use Islam and it works for me. It can work for you too.”

When Dr. Ahsan asked Ridley to explain why Christians should not be afraid of Shari’a Law. Ridley sweetly replied, “Shari’a is already here. And you didn’t even notice.” She even suggested that a televised “Judge Judy” for Shari’a would be a good idea because then we could “actually see it in operation.”

Ridley maintained that Muslims “are bad ambassadors” for their faith and should “defend it more robustly.” Then she launched into a mini-tirade against those Muslims who intervened for leniency for the British teacher in the Sudan Muhammad teddy bear case. She said that a Christian woman “living tax-free” (meaning jizyah free) in a Muslim country should have known better than to name a teddy bear Muhammad. Evidently she thought the 40 lashes and a year in jail should have remained as punishment because she said, “Muslim leaders should have stood firm.”

Furthermore, she side-stepped the issue of barbaric punishments in Islam by quoting what was told to her by Cat Stevens (Yusef Islam), “Islam is perfect, but people who practice it are not.” And therein indeed lies the problem. Islam is a substitute for the spiritual, a substitute for God (perfect spirit). Muslims claim to be obeying God’s will, when in fact they are only obeying Islam. So, notwithstanding the need for separation between the political and the religious in Islam, on a deeper level, it is the separation between God and Islam that is missing.

That is something “Sister” Yvonne Ridley and others, both within the Brotherhood and outside, who are addicted to earthly power, will never understand.

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Rebecca Bynum contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.

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