by Hugh Fitzgerald
If you google “Islam” and “news” this week, you will pull up from the Internet the inspiring story of Esma Voloder, who has just been declared Miss World Australia 2017.
Here is her message to the world:
My heart is full Gratitude and joy overtook me last night as I was crowned @missworldaustralia 2017 at @grandhyattmelbourne Last night re-affirmed that dreams really can become realities. We have all heard this and some of us have been fortunate to not only think it, but truly know it… though it has never prevented the doubt that creeps up on us… it is faith in the best outcome provides us with the strength and motivation to do our best and continue striving. So many people I would like to give a whole hearted thank you to- My family for your love and support. Miss World Australia team and @pageantqueenaus (Miss World Australia director) for your kindness, understanding, faith and trust in me. The judges who represented diverse and relevant elements and industries in Australia that I admire- from an organisation dedicated to helping those in need and giving women opportunity, comedy to keep us light hearted, fashion that keeps us feeling who we are, health and fitness which equips us with the energy to chase our dreams and send positive messages, and reality which showcases bravery to be who we are in front of a large audience. To @phuketpearls for the stunning crown inspired by the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge-it is so appreciated and considerate of you to have incorporated iconic Australian culture into your carefully handcrafted masterpiece, it is so beautiful and I love it dearly <3 The @hugthailand for your partnership and hospitality- I am so very excited to travel to the land of smiles once I have an extra big one to bring to your country @ozwearaustralia , @novoshoes and all our other sponsors for their generously donated gifts (products, thoughts, hospitality and love) . Each time I received something I felt so spoilt and meeting some of you has been a pleasure you are all so infectious and it really does translate in your products. Thank you for having myself as your ambassador. It has been a blessing to raise funds under #beautywithaprpose and for @varietyaustralia . Thank you Australia- for giving me a home and opportunity to do good #missworldaustralia2017
So far, so breathtakingly banal.
This crazed, cliche-filled stream of naively covetous consciousness, by this pretty and mindless girl, who is grateful to, and is full of love for, practically everyone, begins with her heartfelt thanks — in the manner of someone accepting an Oscar at too great a length — to her family, for their “love and support,” to the Miss World Australia team for their “kindness, understanding, faith, and trust in me,” to the judges “who represented diverse and relevant [?] elements [?] and industries in Australia that I admire,” “from an organisation dedicated to helping those in need” and “giving women opportunity, comedy to keep us light hearted” and “health and fitness which equips us…” — possible spokeswoman for gym equipment? — “with the energy to chase our dreams” and “send positive messages” [?] and “reality [?] which showcases our bravery [?] to be who we are.”
But there’s not just this blend of nonstop nonsense and banality. There’s also the shout-out to, product placement for, the sponsors, for all the gifts they’ve lavished upon her, from “ozwear” to phuketpearls for providing her with a $58,000 necklace, and to an entire country, Thailand, for its “partnership and hospitality,” which she hopes to visit (and of course she will, it’s all part of her deal) — would-be tourists, please take note of her endorsement — just as soon as she can learn to give a smile big enough for that “land of smiles.” And then a last little incoherent thrust: “you are all so infectious [!] and it really does translate [!] in your products [!]. Thank you for having myself [English is not her strong suit] as your ambassador.”
But that’s not the main reason to deplore Ms. Voloder’s newfound fame. She doesn’t just want to be a brand ambassador for pearls and ozwear and tourism in Thailand. She wants to be a brand ambassador for Islam, the faith she was born into and which, she assures us, has been getting a bad rap. Included in her acceptance speech was this:
“The Islam that I know, that is in the Qur’an, I don’t associate that with any acts that are occurring around the world. People tend to blame religion for the atrocities that are happening, but if we do that we take responsibility away from the individuals.”
“A lot of things have been misconstrued about Islam. I feel that a category has been created that is not really what the Qur’an actually promotes. I believe Islam is about peace, unity, prosperity and inclusion.”
The Islam that she knows may be in the Qur’an, but only in the most misleadingly abridged of versions. Shall we yet again, as we always must on such occasions, remind her of 9:5 and 9:29 and 8:12 and 3:151 and 47:4 and 98:6? Is it possible that her eyes glazed over when she came to those verses, or did she somehow manage to ignore them and more than a hundred others like them, that command Muslims to fulfill the duty of violent Jihad against the Infidels, until such time as they are everywhere subdued, and Muslims rule, everywhere?
She may not “associate” the Qur’an “with any acts that are occurring around the world” (by this she is demurely alluding to terrorist acts by Muslims, of which there have been more than 30,000 since 9/11/2001), but apparently many of those who commit these acts do not agree. Some of them chant Qur’anic verses on uploaded YouTube videos showing the decapitation of Infidels, or the blowing up of enemy vehicles. Others show the warriors of the Islamic State, marching through Mosul or Raqqa under the black flag of Islam, with the Shehada written on it, apparently associated by these warriors not with peace but war. And the two killers of Drummer Rigby, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, converts to Islam who after their attack proudly held up their copies of the Qur’an, even quoting passages about violence — is it they who have misunderstood Islam, or is it Esma Voloder? What was it that that vastly learned Shi’a theologian, Ayatollah Khomeini, did not understand about Islam when he issued his many calls for making war on the West and, especially, on the archenemies Zionists and Americans? Was his successor Ayatollah Khamenei calling for “peace” or “unity” or “inclusion” when, a few weeks ago, he called for a Jihad against the hated Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir? Was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-appointed caliph of the Islamic State, showing an ignorance of the “real” Islam when he so often called for “jihad,” or for ‘more jihad” or for “tornadoes of jihad to erupt,” with not the slightest doubt that he meant endless war against the Infidels? Like the Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, al-Baghdadi has had extensive theological training. He obtained a BA, MA, and PhD in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad. Is it possible that all three were misinformed by their teachers about the true peaceful Islam, the only kind of Islam that Esma Voloder recognizes?
Esma Voloder, of course, has plenty of distinguished company in her certitudes. Tony Blair, who claimed to never be without his copy of the Qur’an, once praised that book as “practical and way ahead of its time. The most remarkable thing about reading the Koran – in so far as it can be truly translated from the original Arabic – is to understand how progressive it is.” His successor David Cameron knew Islam, the real Islam, could do no wrong, so that after the killing of Drummer Rigby, he quickly denounced the attack, describing it as a “betrayal of Islam.” Theresa May has repeatedly called Islam “peaceful” after every terror attack — not just at home, but to an American audience in Philadelphia — and described the Muslim attack on Westminster Bridge as a “perversion of Islam.” Barack Obama has said, repeatedly, that “Islam is a religion that preaches peace.” His predecessor George Bush produced his own variations on the theme in a series of treacly Iftar messages: “Islam is a vibrant faith. Millions of our fellow citizens are Muslim. We respect the faith. We honor its traditions. Our enemy does not. Our enemy doesn’t follow the great traditions of Islam. They’ve hijacked a great religion.” And “Islam is a faith that brings comfort to people. It inspires them to lead lives based on honesty, and justice, and compassion.” And “all Americans must recognize that the face of terror is not the true faith — face of Islam. Islam is a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. It’s a faith that has made brothers and sisters of every race. It’s a faith based upon love, not hate.”
For Pope Francis, who has somehow managed to overlook 1400 years of war against Christians by Muslims, “all religions want peace” (this was uttered shortly after an 85-year-old priest had his throat slit) and “Islam is peaceful” and the “Qur’an is peaceful” and “Muslim terrorism does not exist.” How many times must he say it, in how many variations on the nonsensical theme, to make you believe it? Credo quia absurdum — this should be the motto repurposed for this Pope — “I believe because it is absurd.”
Just repeat the Pope’s prescription for World Peace and Interfaith Outreach ad libitum, and surely something good will eventually come of it. Or will it? Lots of people in the Western world have wagered not just their own reputations, but the survival of their own peoples, on some version of the ever-more doubtful notion that Islam is about “peace, unity, prosperity, and inclusion.”
Esma Voloder has her precious crown, her ozwear, her phuket jewels, her endorsement deals and brand ambassadorships locked in, with many more no doubt to come. But she wants to do something for the good of everyone. She wants to promote Islam. Pro bono, apparently. She claims, and she may even believe, that Islam is all about “peace, unity, prosperity, and inclusion.” Though Muslims have been purveyors of taqiyya since 680 A.D., I don’t think that’s necessarily the case here. She sounds like a political naif who is simply repeating a line she has been fed. But perhaps I am being too kind. Whether she is misinformed, or deliberately deceptive, given her new position as Miss World she will undoubtedly have many occasions to tell interviewers her understanding of Islam. As always, such an interview will make even a minimum of sense only if the interviewer has properly prepared to question her by reading the Qur’an, and some of the hadith and sira. It won’t be time wasted; as a central subject of the age, Islam is here to stay, and anyone who has actually learned something about it will find many occasions on which such knowledge will come in not just handy, but indispensable.
Such an interviewer ought first to allow Esma Voloder to have her pollyannish say, all about “peace, unity, prosperity, and inclusion.” She should then be asked what verses in the Qur’an she thinks support her view of peace, or unity, or inclusion? Could she recite a single such verse? If she offers 5:32, make sure to insist on reciting 5:33, and explain how it modifies 5:32. And if there are some verses (early, Meccan) she manages to recall, remind her of the doctrine of abrogation, which she undoubtedly will never have heard of. Then suggest that there are quite a few verses in the Qur’an that help explain the dozens of military campaigns Muhammad took part in, just in the last ten years of his life. What does Esma Voloder make of this verse (read out 9:5)? Or this (read out 9:29)? Or this (read out 47:4)? Read them slowly. Explain that there are more than a hundred such verses in the Qur’an, and that you’ve posted them at your website, to which you then provide a link. Piqued by Ms. Voloder’s display of confusion, which will be obvious as soon as she tries to explain away just those three verses quoted by the interviewer, others will want to check out these and other Qur’anic verses for themselves. And with that link,you’ve made it easy for them.
Ms.Voloder will have a hard time explaining away these verses, but make her task harder still. Even before she can offer the “these-verses-have-to-be-put-in-context” excuse, the interviewer should proleptically note that “the usual way” these verses are dealt with by Muslim apologists is not to forthrightly acknowledge them, but instead to “contextualize” them, to pretend they apply only to specific enemies from 1400 years ago. “But,” the interviewer can add, “both the glosses provided by the most eminent Qur’anic commentators, such as Ibn Kathir, and the behavior of Muslims themselves over the past 1400 years, show that these verses were meant to be prescriptive, applicable for all time, and not merely descriptive, applicable to a particular time and place and enemy.” And if that interviewer is in a take-no-prisoners mood, even with one so winsome and mentally helpless as Esma Voloder, then let Esma be asked yet again, by way of summary so far, to explain why Muhammad’s life is so full of war, assassinations, mass decapitations, and the Qur’an so full of commands about conducting violent Jihad against, striking terror in the hearts of, the [Infidel] enemies, if Islam is all about “peace, unity, cohesion”?
And then it may be time to demonstrate, in the most telling way possible, how little Esma Voloder knows about Islam. Leave the Qur’an — the point about its sinister contents has been made — and raise the issue of the Hadith. Ask Ms. Voloder if she has ever read them, if she knows why the Hadith are so important to Muslims. If she answers that she has “never’’ read because she didn’t think they were that important, or still worse, had never heard of them, that will make her look not just ignorant, but idiotic. If she answers “yes” or “well, some of them,” take this as the moment to recite the usual horrifying list of events in Muhammad’s life that Muslims would prefer you never find out about: Muhammad’s marriage to little Aisha, the murders of Asma bint Marwan, Abu Afak, and Ka’b bin al-Ashraf, the rape (as it must be called) of the Jewish girl, Saafiya, by Muhammad on the same day he had her father, husband, and brother killed, the torture and murder of Kinana of Khaybar, the killing of the 600-900 prisoners of the Banu Qurayza. Don’t spare Ms. Voloder; ask sweetly, but ask, if she is familiar with any or all of these events in the life of Muhammad, just as you had asked her earlier about those Jihad verses in the Qur’an. Either she will have to admit to knowing about them, and then have to explain them away (just how do you explain away Aisha? Asma bin Marwan? Saafiya? Kinana?) as best she can, which makes her look both sinister and foolish, or she will claim she was not aware of those particular hadith, which leaves her looking merely foolish. And then ask if she is aware that Muslims consider Muhammad, the man responsible for that list of atrocities that have just been recited, as “al-insan al-kamil,” the Perfect Man, and “uswa hasana,” the Model of Conduct. Given what you have just told her about Muhammad, would she describe him as the Perfect Man? What can she say?
And then, just one last question for beauty queen Ms. Voloder. Ask her to imagine herself walking down a street in Saudi Arabia or Iran or Afghanistan or Pakistan, her hair loosely flowing, as she wears it in Australia, her makeup and dress just the same as she had for her Miss World competition, with her shoulders bare, or dressed as she does for her work as a criminal profiler. Then ask her what she thinks would happen to her, wearing that sort of getup, in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. We all know she would at the very least be yelled at, perhaps beaten by the mutawwa (religious police), even possibly taken into custody to be charged by the state, or might well have to endure both curses and beatings administered by outraged Muslim vigilantes. And don’t even ask what would happen to her in those countries if she dressed as she would have had to for the swimsuit component of the Miss World competition). She cannot deny the likelihood of such mistreatment. Doesn’t that at least give Ms. Voloder a moment’s pause as Defender of the Faith? And shouldn’t that be enough, along with those 30,000 acts of Muslim terrorism since 9/11 for which she can find no convincing explanation in Islam, to create, among the handful still wanting to believe her, more than a little doubt?
Interviewers need to ask, over and over, about three things she will have difficulty deflecting or obfuscating. They must ask about the apostasy law of Islam - the rule that anyone who leaves Islam MUST be killed (having first made sure to look up the relevant hadiths, and read Patrick Sookhdeo's Freedom to Believe, and Ibn Warraq's Leaving Islam, and Zwemer's "The Law of Apostasy in Islam"; and ask her, point blank, what would happen to her if she decided to publicly leave Islam and publicly declare herself to be atheist, or to have embraced a different faith. And they must bring up the subject of the blasphemy law - citing the case of Asia Bibi, and the case of Salman Rushdie, and the murders of Theo Van Gogh and of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, and inquire sweetly what she thinks of it all, and video her reactions (and later, play back her response, her facial expressions, frame by frame if needs be). Since her name is Esma, she can be told - with the references - the story of Asma Bint Marwan, and asked: was Mohammed right to approve the murder of that strong Arab woman, that cheeky poetess who dared to make fun of him, and criticise him, and rally her tribesmen to resist him? She should also be asked what would happen to her if she chose to marry a man who was not a Muslim, WITHOUT demanding that he convert.
Give her a break. She's Australian. English is not her first language.
Luther K Rakestraw
In photo which is Chrissy Mac?