What Mehdi and Mo haven’t learned from the West Wing

Mehdi Hasan, (@mehdirhasan)  the Huffington Post UK’s political director, wrote a very interesting piece in the New Statesman a few days ago, You can read it here. The title of the piece was “What Islam-bashers can learn from The West Wing’s Aaron Sorkin” and in it he quotes Baroness Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) who in turn quotes a bit from the West Wing where President Jed Bartlet takes on a Christian evangelical radio presenter by quoting back at him some of the more ridiculous sins and punishements from Exodus. It is a great bit of TV which I urge you to watch it, which you can here.

Mehdi uses this to argue, rightly in my view, that as he puts it “Rigid, context-free literalism is the bane of every religion, not just of Islam” and further that “both the Islamophobes and the Islamists are guilty of a literal reading of the Quran“. He also with commendable honesty admits that “it would be disingenuous of me to deny that, these days, Muslims are more prone to literalist interpretations of their holy scripture than most“. I have to say I thought it was a pretty good piece and I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Later, on twitter I was also pleasantly surprised to see Mo Ansar  (@MoAnsar) also praising the piece, calling it excellent in fact.

So why was I surprised? Well prior to this I had not seen anything from either of them that would indicate that they did not take the Koran to be the literal truth, so I was kind of surprised but very pleased. I, rather rudely, butted into their conversation to ask them to clarify, or as I put it “I liked the article too. Are you both saying that the Bible and Koran should not be considered literally true?“. I didn’t get a reply from Mehdi but Mo replied “Even that is too B&W. Some parts yes, some no. It is about deep thinking, context, understanding, scholarship” Oh dear I thought, the dreaded context word had appeared, but he did say yes and no so I tried again “Fair point but you would agree some parts are factually incorrect. Yes?” – silence fell. I made a couple more comments and gave up.

Now I’m sure Mehdi and Mo are very busy people and their timelines will be much busier than mine so they might just not have had time to reply, or maybe they just didn’t want to, or any of many other reasons.

Sadly though, I think there may be another reason. While both of them are happy to criticise literalism in Christians and “Islamophobes” they are somewhat more reluctant to declare themselves as non literalists in public.

The point is if you are not willing to say publically that there are parts of the Koran that are not literally true then you ARE a literalist and part of the problem rather than the solution. And, by the way liberal use of the words “context”, “nuance”, and “scholarship” don’t help they just disguise the fact that you are not willing to say something is factually incorrect.

Later still someone else joined the conversation, they told me there was no “no midway in Islam” its all or nothing. I suggested that many may not agree with him. He replied that “there is a word in Quran for them ‘hypocrites‘ “. I suggested that maybe we should agree to differ on this.

You can see the whole twitter exchange here.

Now I don’t know if that last tweeter is or is not a literalist but I suspect it is because of his, and others, disapproval that Mehdi and Mo will not explicitly say that they are not. I also think that as long as people with their influence wont “come out” as it were other progressive, non-literalist Muslims will be reluctant to do so.

To read more about these kind of problems try reading this great piece about Evolution and Islam and this.

I may have got this all wrong and if Mehdi or Mo want to comment or indeed a full right of reply that would be great.

But I have to say. If you can’t point to something , somewhere, in the Koran and say

“That is not literally true”

then you are a literalist. And as we know “literalism is the bane of every religion

Added 06-01-2014

Many people have pointed out to me that Mehdi, in a debate with Richard Dawkins, appeared to say that he believed that Muhammed had literally split the moon in two and ridden on a winged horse which doesn’t really square with an attack on literalism. You can see that bit of the debate here and the whole debate here. It is worth listening to.

Added 04-02-2014

Neither Mehdi nor Mo have so-far broken their silence. I would normally just let it drop, but not this time. The bit of “The WestWing” quoted ridicules literalism, and  Mehdi’s original piece (praised by Mo) calls literalism “the bane of every religion” and also attacks “Islamophobes” for assuming that Muslims were literalists. That’s a bit rich if you can’t point to a single bit of the Koran which you don’t consider literally true!

So I’m going to keep nagging. I’m going to tweet them every day asking for a responce. It probably won’t work but hey, we’ll give it a go.So long as I change the date at the end Twitter will let me send it forever!

If you want to joint in – the text of the tweet I’m sending is this:

Dear @mehdirhasan @MoAnsar Are you literalists? No? – What, in the Quran, is not literally true? http://wp.me/p2VFXw-5L  #DailyNag 03/02/14

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12 Responses to What Mehdi and Mo haven’t learned from the West Wing

  1. ek chakkar says:

    Good post!

    Hasan and Ansar are the type of people we want to see leading reform within Islam in the West: they love the faith and are articulate about the nuances. So, stimulating responses like your blog post are exactly the challenge to which Hasan and Ansar should rise. Perhaps they can, one day, genuinely see that religious doctrine of the past has little to no place in today’s world. As I view it, it means that they can be culturally Muslim… without being dogmatic.

  2. Dave Watts says:

    Thank you,
    I share your hope. One day . . .

  3. Terego says:

    Mo leading reform? Ahh… I’d say he really isn’t the guy you want leading anything.

  4. Mark says:

    Ansar is well-known for a number of things. His unequivocal support of the Quran; his claming up when in a corner; his denial of certain things being in the Quran. In some ways, I wish everyone would simply ignore him, because he comes across as a cross between David Icke and Katie Hopkins, but also has that media voice where so many realise he spouts rubbish. So we can’t ignore, and that’s annoying.

    • Dave Watts says:

      I agree, but I really don’t think either of them are actually literalists. I also think neither of them have the guts to explicitly say so. They daren’t endanger their carefully created images – hence the total silence when a straight answer would endanger that image. I think this does a disservice to the people they claim to speak for.
      They are also subject to the perfectly normal human fear of Islamist violence that silences so many.
      I can forgive that for most people but not those who make a living as “commentators” but haven’t the guts to comment when it counts.

  5. tamimisledus says:

    There is no choice for a muslim. muslims have to be literalists. The koran is the absolute true word of allah, revealed to mohamed who cannot have lied because he is the most perfect muslim – for a muslim that means most perfect human being. For a muslim to deny the literal truth of the koran would be to set himself/herself as denying the truth of islam and set himself/herself as superior to allah. And the koran makes it quite clear what would happen to anyone who does not submit to allah. muslims need the literal koran, for with it muslims are able to claim their absolute right to own and lord over every part of the world, and all that goes with it.

    • Dave Watts says:

      Hi, thanks for the comment.
      Is that really true, or is it part of the myth about all Muslims being the same.
      For example, I don’t know if Maajid Nawaz is a literalist, but I very much doubt it. What makes him rare, in my opinion, is having the courage to speak out on things. Many more are afraid to. That’s why I think it is important for people like Mehdi and Mo not to go silent when asked a straight question.
      I also think it’s important to realise that it is possible (I think)to believe the Koran is genuinely the word of God without believing every word is literally true.
      I think Islamists conflate the two (probably deliberately) to shut people up.

      • tamimisledus says:

        Hi Dave,
        Some of my concerns with your response.
        If we were debating some trivial issue, then a casual, if inadequate, response such as you gave would be of little consequence. But we are not – we are debating an issue which is of fundamental importance to the future of all humanity. So I have to take serious issue with your comment.

        “myth about all Muslims being the same” There is no way that you can derive this from my statements.
        Of course that it not the point of making the suggestion. The point is to distort my words which can easily be refuted, as opposed to actually providing some kind of argument.
        This suggestion then has the further benefit that you can make me appear stupid. A subterfuge to invalidate my argument by implying that my argument needs no refutation, it is just the rambling of idiot.

        Of course such suggestions do nothing to refute my argument, In many cases the supporters of muslims and islam, by making these suggestions (or even outright assertions), feel that they have already won the debate and do not feel the need to proceed further in the argument. As an aside, such comments are often linked with accusations of Islamophobia – not only is the presenter of the argument stupid, s/he is also deranged – just another ploy to avoid having to provide a rational argument. (To be clear I am not suggesting that you have or would adopt this specific tactic.)

        If they do attempt a refutation, feeling that they are already won the debate, they may then present some faulty refutation – yet again showing that they don’t have a real refutation at all.

        In this instance, you do not attempt to deal with any component of my argument. This seems to be the substance of your argument:
        You make some positive comment about Maajid Nawaz. This has nothing to do with whether he, or any other muslim, is a literalist or not.
        You then make some unsupported statement “it is possible to believe …”, which I interpret as “.. possible for some people to believe …”. You yourself don’t even seem that confident in that statement. Maybe some people can believe this, but that is not the argument I was making. The argument was that all muslims are literalists.
        And then, you muddy the waters by making some unproven statement about Islamists – a vague term in itself.

        Before moving to some more positive ways of taking this debate forward, some points for your consideration.

        “Abouheif …. seemed reluctant to state explicitly that the Qur an was not literally true …”

        as quoted in “http://rationalist.org.uk/articles/4051/islams-evolution-problem”

        There is no evidence here “http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/publications/free/no-compulsion-in-religion.pdf” (a document which has some serious credibility issues which I intend to expose) that Usama Hasan, a close associate of Maajid Nawaz, has any doubt about the literal truth of the koran.

        Maajid Nawaz was a muslim who believed that islam is the perfect moral and social system to which all humans should submit.
        Maajid Nawaz was a member of the revolutionary group Hizb ut-Tahrir which wanted to see this islam imposed on the whole world.
        Maajid Nawaz is a muslim who believes that islam is the perfect moral and social system to which all humans should submit.
        BTW, A fifth columnist does not reveal himself. That would invalidate the whole objective behind being a fifth columnist.

        So, Dave, you have several options which you could now choose from in order to further rational debate.
        Amongst these are:

        Show up the faults in the facts or reasoning behind my argument. (Note that this would not automatically show that your own reasoning on this issue was correct, nor necessarily show that my conclusions were incorrect, so choose your argument carefully)


        Provide a rational argument for your beliefs you have asserted on the thought processes of muslims, which at the same time provides a refutation for my assertions.
        I would very much like to see whether such an argument could demonstrate how a proposition could be literally false yet really true. Perhaps you would also be able to demonstrate how anybody could conduct a rational debate under such circumstances.


        Ask Maajid Nawaz to answer “What, in the Quran, is not literally true?”. We could all then assess his answers (if any) and determine whether they were genuine. (You are not going to get an answer from Ansar or Hasan, no matter how many times you ask, not while you are still free to ask, anyway).

        Of course, you are under no obligation to respond at all.
        Equally you can continue as you are, like so many in Western democracies (for lack of a better term). You may put these issues to one side, and continue sleepwalking into a future under the negative influence of islam, where human civilisation regresses to barbarism. Why could this happen? Because there is only one islam (there is after all only one allah at the root of islam), and that is one which is morally and intellectually bankrupt, however varied its external appearances.

        Alternatively, you can find more about the true nature of islam and its core beliefs, instead of relying on the statements of those who have very many good reasons for hiding the truth.
        I suggest you try this to start with

        Remember, it is not just your immediate future at risk, more importantly it is the future of your children and their descendants.


  6. Doesn’t really matter since Mehdi and Mo are both literally deluded anyway. They mistake ancient desert myths spun into a religion whose tenets don’t reflect reality, for reality. They cannot answer the question since Islam is baloney and they both know it, but they have a religious delusion/illusion and careers as professional Muslims to perpetuate. However I shall post the request to irritate this pair of chumps.

    • Dave Watts says:

      I am an atheist, I think all religious people are deluded. However many, probably most, religious people are not literalists and, to put it bluntly, that makes them less dangerous. That is why I think it is particularly important, in this country, for Muslims. If I lived in Alabama I would be worried about Christians.

  7. Dave Watts says:

    That’s a pretty long comment and I’m afraid In my reply I’m going to ignore most of it, I hope I can explain why.
    Your first comment is an esentially theological argument which you think forces all Muslims to be literalists. Your second comment invites me to logically engage with that argument.
    1- I am an atheist. I don’t believe in the Abrahamic God at all. So I have no interest in personally engaging in the argument.
    2 – It doesn’t matter what I believe, I am not a Muslim.
    3 – My experince is that there are people, who call themselves Muslim, who don’t subscribe to your view of what a Muslim must be, They certainly don’t “claim their absolute right to own and lord over every part of the world, and all that goes with it.”
    4 – The fact is these people exist – even if your agrument is correct. Opinions and beliefs are founded on many things other that theological argument.
    5 – Christians used to support crusades, the inquisition, burning at the stake, slavery etc. Now they dont. Religions and religious people can and do change.

    Here are some of those people
    Muslims for Progressive values http://mpvusa.org/
    British Muslims for Secular Democracy http://www.bmsd.org.uk/
    Quilliam http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/

    And here is why, despite the fact that I share your fear of Islam’s potential for barbarism, I am basically optimistic about the future:
    Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of our Nature . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=feuq5x2ZL-s

    I hope that makes sense.


  8. Pingback: Mehdi & Mo – The silence is deafening | Second Thoughts for the Day

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