On September 8, 2007, the liberal Arab e-journal Elaph posted an interview with prominent Arab liberal Lafif Lakhdar by MEMRI Chairman Professor M. Milson. In the interview, Lakhdar outlined his views on Muslims in Europe, Islam and humanism, and Islamism versus secularism, among other topics.
Lafif Lakhdar has been a firsthand witness to many important moments in Middle East history. He was active in the FLN in Paris in the early 1960s, and later became a close advisor to Algeria's first president Ahmed Ben Bella. In 1970, he accompanied the PLO from Jordan to Beirut, and became a prominent figure in Lebanese left-wing circles. Later, disillusioned by the Lebanese civil war, he broke with the left and returned to Paris, where he lives to this day.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
European Muslims Should Adopt Universal Values In Order to Revive and Renew Their Own Tradition
"Menahem Milson: What is the meaning of the ideological struggle we see raging today among Muslims in Europe?
"Lafif Lakhdar: Two basic tendencies are struggling against one another within European Islam. The first is the tendency that holds fast to Muslims' cultural independence with regard to European societies, and retains Islamic traditions in their entirety – among them those that conflict with the major universal humanistic values of European societies, such as equality of the sexes, secularism, and individual liberty.
"The second tendency, and the one to which I subscribe, demands the opposite: the cultural assimilation of European Muslims and of those [Muslims] living in Europe into the European societies, and the adoption of [European] universal civilizational values in order to revive and renew their [own] traditional values, most of which are no longer in conformity with the times.
"This assimilation, which is necessary, does not mean that they have to abandon their spiritual values or the best of their social values or their history. It only means that they abandon those traditions that are in contradiction with the values of the International Declaration of Human Rights and the other U.N. conventions that derive from it, such as the Convention on the Elimination of [All Forms of] Discrimination against Women, and the conventions on children's rights and the protection of minorities.
"What gives cause for hope is that, according to the latest survey, the Muslims with the highest percentage of cultural assimilation in France are the Tunisians. This is due in large part to the quality of Tunisian religious education, which has nothing of the culture of hatred for 'infidels,' but rather a culture of moderation that Tunisians absorb through [both] the religious and the political discourses. Unfortunately, this is rare in the lands of Islam."
I Have Demanded the Abrogation of the Koranic Verse on Wife-Beating
"MM: Could you be specific about what you mean when you speak about traditions that conflict with human rights?
"LL: The Islamic values that conflict with human rights, and which Muslims everywhere, and in particular those in Europe, where women enjoy nearly full rights, accept, are, for example, disdain for women and the beating of women, as Koran 4:34 commands: 'Beat them.' I have demanded the abrogation of this verse, i.e., that it not be put into practice, because it is no longer in conformity with the universal values of the age. This year, the Islamic Tunisian historian Mohammed Talbi also demanded its abrogation.
"Likewise, we Muslims need to stop considering the proliferation of children as a religious obligation. We need to stop depriving non-Muslim women married to Muslim men of their rights to guardianship over their children and of inheriting from their Muslim spouses and children. We need to stop the sexual disfigurement of girls through circumcision. We need to stop insisting on women's inequality to men in civil rights, and on polygamy, which is a catastrophe for Muslims in their countries and in the diaspora.
"In France, there are 30,000 polygamous families… with an average of 14.5 children in each family. The rate of [children] failing in school among them is very high, as are the rates of marginalization and delinquency. [On the other hand,] the average [school] success rate among families with no more than five children is close to the general French average."
"In Truth, There is Only… One World Civilization"
"The Islamists often present the counter-argument 'You want to destroy us from the root!' I am conscious of the people's need to be connected to their historical roots, but I propose to Muslims that they maintain a symbolic tie to their roots – for instance, celebrating their holidays and putting into practice their spiritual values. At the same time, I propose that they develop an organic tie with modern civilization, that is, democratic institutions and modern humanistic values and sciences. There is no future for Muslims if they remain outside of [this framework], and particularly if they are against it.
"In truth, there is only… one world civilization. But there are a number of cultures that cannot be accepted [into it] unless they make their traditions, which are at times barbaric, conform to the values of human rights.
"The first tendency [I spoke of], which is actively promoted by the French Islamists and the traditionalist imams – and they are the overwhelming majority – is the dominant one in European Islam. [In fact,] this tendency rejects the appellation 'European Islam,' preferring the appellation 'Islam in Europe' in order to emphasize its cultural independence from the societies in which it lives…"
The European Media Favor Tareq Ramadan Over Secularist Muslim Intellectuals
"MM: From where does the tendency opposed to assimilation draw its strength?
"LL: The tendency opposed to assimilation draws its strength from four basic factors:
"1) The religious discourse – Friday sermons, preaching, private Islamic schools, and the media – is under the monopoly of the supporters of this tendency. Even the European media – the audio-visual media in particular – which looks to be provocative at any price – presents the supporters of this tendency on any and every occasion. [They present] people like Tareq Ramadan, and it is rare for them to present Fathi Bin Salama, or Malek Chebel, or Taher Ben Jelloun, Ghaleb bin Sheikh, [former] Marseilles mufti Soheib Bin Sheikh, Yousef Siddiq, George Trabishi, Hashem Saleh, Mohammed Arkoun, or myself, and dozens of other secularist Muslim intellectuals.
"The Arab media, like Al-Jazeera, Iqra, and Al-Manar [TV], which have a large audience among European Muslims, act in the same manner. The supporters of the secularist tendency are blocked out of these media. 'The Opposite Direction,' the most popular program on Al-Jazeera, has been boycotting me ever since I refuted, on the last show I was on, the claims of the Holocaust deniers. And [Saudi] Prince Khaled Bin Sultan banned me from writing in [the Saudi-owned international Arab newspaper] Al-Hayat in 2001, after I insisted, during an Al-Jazeera program, on the necessity of intervention by international civil society to stop the stoning of Muslim women in Iran.
"2) The second factor is the petrodollars that flow to the supporters of the tendency opposed to assimilation, so that they can have their own press, translate Al-Qaradhawi's books into European languages, and send preachers to the suburbs and all the French cities to stuff the minds of Europe's Muslims with their anti-assimilation propaganda and their incitement to violate the values of human rights.
"3) The third factor is that the organization of Muslims in Europe, and especially in France, favors the tendency opposed to European Islam's assimilation into European societies over the tendency that demands its assimilation."
The Jurisprudence of Al-Wala W'Al-Bara Divides Humanity Into 'Believers' and 'Infidels,' With the Only Relationship Between Them Being War
"4) The fourth factor is the jurisprudence of al-wala w'al-bara, [which states that] allegiance [must be] limited to believers, and [declares] total renunciation of the infidels (polytheists, Jews, and Christians). This jurisprudence is what played a role in forming the religious culture of Europe's Muslims, especially first-generation ones, since they learned this in their countries, from primary school through higher [education].
"Today, this is the jurisprudence broadcast by audio-visual media such as Al-Jazeera, Iqra, and Al-Manar [TV[, which have a large audience among Europe's Muslims. It is [also] spread through Islamist and jihadist websites. The mujahid Sheikh Ayman Al-Zawahiri wrote in his book Knights under the Banner of the Prophet that the spread of the slogan of al-wala w'al-bara among the masses of the Islamic nation is Al-Qaeda's main goal – and not the liberation of Palestine, 'despite its being dear to us.'
"[Al-Zawahiri writes:] 'Making the masses of the Islamic nation understand al-wala w'al-bara will require a long time, and our enemies will not give us that time. Therefore, we must use jihad in Palestine as a means of making the Islamic nation understand al-wala w'al-bara' – in other words, [making them understand] that the Jews and the Christians are our enemies and that we must treat them as enemies, through jihad against them, until we either make them accept Islam, or finish them off…
"Al-wala w'al-bara divides humanity into 'believers' and 'infidels,' with the only relationship between them being [one of] hatred and jihad – that is, war. It divides the world into 'the abode of Islam' and the 'abode of war.' The abode of war, ever since the Crusader wars, has been Europe, and the abode of Islam's relationship to it has been hatred of it and jihad against it. [Al-wala w'al-bara also requires] the total renunciation of the 'infidel' inhabitants' religions, their customs in clothing and food, and their institutions, sciences, and values. [It] considers Muslims who imitate the infidels to be apostates who must be fought and killed.
"The jurisprudence of al-wala w'al-bara forbids living in the abode of war for more than three days, unless this is necessary for trade, medical treatment, or studies 'in useful branches of science that are found only in the lands of the infidels.' But [even this] permission to live in the infidel lands is contingent upon the Muslim remaining devoted to his religion, taking pride in it, and hating the infidels.
"Saudi students learn: 'If you live in the infidel lands – in order to receive medical treatment, for studies, or for trade – you must harbor hatred for them while living amongst them.' Islamist refugees in Europe carry with them fatwas that allow them to live in the abode of war out of necessity, on the condition that they do it harm.
"The difficulty Muslims have in assimilating into non-Muslim societies is due to this culture of hatred, which they imbibe in the schools and from the media in their countries. Thus it is necessary to stop training the European Islamic religious cadres in this autistic and racist jurisprudence, which is an expression of the ethnocentrism so widespread among primitive tribes and peoples."
On the Difference Between Cultural Pluralism and Cultural Insularism
"MM: Why do you reject the thought of cultural pluralism and communitarianism?
"LL: The [kind of] cultural pluralism that means peaceful coexistence among cultures joined by the common denominator of rationalism and humanism is a benefit to humanity. The rejection of communitarianism – i.e. the insularism of each religious group and the violation of the common human [denominator] – is the rejection of the jurisprudence of terrorism. It is the rejection of the jurisprudence of al-wala w'al-bara, which demands that Muslims 'love themselves only' and 'hate the infidels.' [The rejection of communitarianism] is the rejection of the hijab, and this [in itself] is the rejection of al-wala w'al-bara.
"The Al-Qaeda jurisprudent Al-Qahtani wrote in his book Al-Wala W'Al-Bara that [the principle of] al-wala w'al-bara demands that the Muslim 'strive to establish God's word on earth and the rule of the shari'a over every situation.' The hijab, being an application of the shari'a laws of dress, is a symbol of the shari'a's rule over every Muslim's daily life. It is also a symbol of the inferiority of the Muslim woman who is 'deficient in her mind and in her religion'; and it is a symbol of her body being something shameful that must be covered as one covers things shameful. Is there any humiliation to women greater than this humiliation?"
It is Crazy to Think that the Mosque Can Be Brought Into French Schools, When the French Took the Church Out of Them in 1905
"MM: Is the hijab really a religious obligation in Islam?
"LL: The pro-hijab propagandists from the French Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters among those living [in France], all of whom are thoroughly infused with the jurisprudence of al-wala w'al-bara, [become] autistic when they plug their ears against the proofs [that argue] against the hijab.
"[For instance,] Sheikh Al-Azhar Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi [issued] a fatwa to the Muslim women of France and Europe [allowing them] not to wear the hijab – this according to the principle of Islamic jurisprudence that 'necessity makes licit that which is forbidden.'
"In addition, the great Egyptian jurisprudent Justice Muhammad Sa'id Al-'Ashmawi, in his book The Truth on the Hijab and the Authoritativeness of the Hadith, expressed his view that the hijab was obligatory only for [the Prophet] Muhammad's wives. Similarly, the famous Sheikh Gamal Al-Banna, the brother of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna, said: 'Islam did not impose the hijab on women; the jurisprudents imposed the hijab on Islam.'
"But in a secular society like France that has separated religion from state, it is meaningless to get into a discussion of jurisprudence. The discussion must be legal and political.
"As for the legal: French secular law rejects religious propaganda in the schools. And the hijab, in one of its meanings, is religious propaganda for a [certain] political-religious orientation – that of Islamism.
"As for the political: 67% of French citizens reject the hijab, according to the polls. It would be suicidal, in a democratic country like France, to not comply with the will of the French citizens who reject religious propaganda in the schools. The representatives of the Muslim minority must be crazy to think [they can] bring the mosque into the French schools… when the grandfathers and fathers of these French people took the church out of the schools in 1905 with the secular pact (pacte laique). Such an attempt would be an inadmissible revolt against French secularism."
For France, Respecting Muslims' Religious Freedom to Beat Their Wives and Circumcise Their Daughters Would Require It to Violate Human Rights
"MM: What would be your answer to those who say that forbidding the hijab in French schools is a 'violation of religious freedoms?'
"LL: …Religious freedom and personal freedom are legally and morally tied to responsibility, and the responsibility here is respect for French positive law and human rights – the respect that was decreed in the preamble to the 1946 Constitution. For France, respecting [these] religious freedoms for Muslims would require it to violate its law and human rights. It would have to allow, for instance, a Muslim to beat his wife, circumcise his daughters, and apply shari'a corporal punishment. Respect for religious freedoms is not absolute. It is conditional upon respect for positive law and universal humanist values.
"The French Muslim Brotherhood protested that the hijab law was against women's individual liberty. This is a claim that does not hold up.
"First of all, the number of girls who wore the hijab was 1,200, according to Interior Ministry statistics. After discussions between these girls and their school principals, all but 240 girls removed the hijab; it seems that these 240 clung to the hijab on the advice of their families, who hold sympathies for the French Muslim Brotherhood.
"Since the number of French Muslim girls is more than 350,000, it is clear that the hijab-wearers are a minority and that they – or, more probably, the Islamists who use them – want to impose the hijab on French law, on the French Constitution, and on the majority of French Muslim women.
When Bourguiba Abolished Polygamy in Tunisia, The Majority of Women Were Opposed
"A great number of Muslim women have internalized the Islamic jurisprudence, which was written by men and for men. This is what one French sociologist called 'symbolic violence,' meaning that the victim – in this case the Muslim woman – accepts the view of her executioner.
"When Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery, the slaves didn't accept this – they refused their freedom. Should Lincoln have respected their individual freedom and taken back the abolition of slavery because the slaves had internalized it?
"When [Habib] Bourguiba abolished polygamy and unilateral divorce [in Tunisia] in 1956, the majority of women rejected these laws and voted against him in the local elections. Should Bourguiba have taken back this law and left women victims of obsolete Islamic jurisprudence?
"In 1964, Saudi Arabia abolished slavery, but most of the slaves refused their freedom. Should Saudi Arabia have taken back the abolition of slavery out of respect for the individual liberty of the slave?
"A decision is legally and morally legitimate when it aims to increase people's dignity and to make them less subject to the traditions of their religious or ethnic group. The abolition of slavery, the abolition of polygamy and unilateral divorce, the banning of the hijab in schools, and the banning of female circumcision increase the dignity of slaves and women, and make them less subject to their obsolete traditions, which the collective conscious of slaves and Muslims – male and female – have internalized. The forbidding of the hijab increases women's dignity…
"[Forbidding the hijab] restores esteem to a woman's body. How so? A man's body is partly shameful – from the navel to the knee. A woman's body is shameful in its entirety, apart from the face and the hands. Muslim women aren't equal to Muslim men even in the value of their bodies!
"One French psychoanalyst thinks that French Islamists demand [that women wear] the hijab because a woman's hair makes them think of hair she has elsewhere, and this inflames their passions. This reduces women to sex. In this case, the hijab would then be an absurd solution to the Islamists' sexual repression.
"The subconscious meaning of this is that every woman with her hair uncovered is a whore whom any Muslim is entitled to violate. This is why the Islamic jurisprudents forbade Muslim slave girls to wear the hijab, and likewise non-Muslim women – i.e., Muslims have the right to violate them whenever they want. This was the meaning of the hijab among the priests of Babylon in the 18th century B.C.E.! The woman who covered her hair was a free woman who belonged to a free Babylonian man, and no one else was allowed to violate her – whereas the woman whose hair was uncovered was a lowly woman whom it was licit to violate! Thus the historical, sociological, anthropological, and psychological meanings of the hijab all point to a denigration of women's dignity."
Ibn Taymiyya Forbade Imitating Jews and Christians, Even in Matters That Would Benefit Muslims
"The orientation that demands that the Muslims of Europe not culturally assimilate into their societies doesn't just demand the hijab; some of them are also opposed to a ban on female circumcision – which is something that is forbidden by French law. They urge Muslim students to demand their own food – halal meat – in school dormitories, to refuse to attend classes on evolution because it opposes the Koran's view of creation, and to refuse to attend philosophy class, because the Muslim jurisprudents outlawed philosophy in the 12th century C.E. [They urge other Muslims] not to dress like the French (i.e. to wear the hijab and white Afghani dress); and they demand that in hospitals, Muslim women be treated only by female doctors, not male doctors, because men – and especially non-Muslim men – are forbidden to see or to touch a Muslim woman's body.
"These demands are inspired by the jurisprudence of al-wala w'al-bara, which forbids Muslims from integrating into non-Muslim societies and from imitating Jews and Christians, 'even in something that is beneficial to them,' as Ibn Taymiyya says in his book Following the Straight Path in Opposition to the Party of Hell, 'for Allah will either give us something equivalent to it or better in this world, or else will give us compensation for it in the next world'.
"The Sunni Muslim Minority… Subconsciously Views the French Majority As Dhimmis Who Have No Right to Rule Over Their Muslim Masters"
"There are two reasons behind the problematic nature of European Islam: the fact that there has been no reform in Islam, and the fact that Sunni Islam has not internalized its minority status [in Europe].
"[As to the first reason:] Islam is still a primitive religion that has not been reformed, as has European Christianity. Nor has it been guided in the right direction, as European Judaism has been.
"[As to the second reason:] Sunni Islam, which has, for the past 15 centuries, been accustomed to always being the ruling majority, still has not taken in the fact that it is a minority in Europe – and in Iraq. One of the principle reasons for terrorism in Iraq is that the Sunni minority refuses to recognize the reality of its being a minority, as well as the resulting fact that it does not have a monopoly on rule over the Shi'ite majority and the Kurdish minority.
"The Sunni Muslim minority in Europe refuses to obey the universal laws and follow the universal values of European societies, because it subconsciously views the French majority as dhimmis who have no right to rule over their Muslim masters.
"It is this mentality that has, to this day, prevented the emergence of a [branch of] Sunni jurisprudence that would provide a theoretical treatment for the condition of the European Muslim minority and would present Muslims with jurisprudential rulings making it easier for them to conform to European laws and values.
"In the Talmud, there is a maxim that advises Jews that the laws of the state in which one lives are valid, obligatory, and apply to all. This Talmudic maxim could be a founding principle for a European Islamic minority jurisprudence that would make the European Muslim feel that he is a European citizen, and not just a temporary resident in the 'abode of war.'
French Muslims Should Follow the Example of the French Jews Under Napoleon
"In truth, the Jewish minority's cultural assimilation into the values of the French Republic presents a precedent that would be worthwhile for French and European Muslims to follow in order to effect their assimilation into the values of the Republic.
"In 1807, Napoleon convened the French Jews' religious establishment, the Sanhedrin, in order to turn the French Jews into 'proper citizens' by bringing Jewish religious law into conformity with French secular values, so that the Jews would become part of the French nation after having formerly been an insular religious community.
"The Sanhedrin responded positively to Napoleon's request, and in 1808 the institution called the Consistoire was established, and it declared that the political aspects of the Torah were no longer valid, since the Jews were no longer a nation.
"In this way, all forms of religious-legal independence were foregone. In practice, [this meant] that marriages and divorces could only be concluded through the civil registry, and mixed marriages were recognized, in accordance with French civil law.
"Thus French Jews were culturally assimilated into modern French society. The result was beneficial to both the Jews and to France, as demonstrated by the historical reality, and this has been recognized by discerning people among French Jews – and first and foremost by Joel Mergui, the head of the Israelite Consistoire for Paris and its suburbs, who recently said of the 1808 Sanhedrin pact with Napoleon: 'This founding pact instituted the Jewish community as an assimilated part of the Republic, and it remained valid for 200 years.
"'(…)The Jews of France demonstrated, under all circumstances, their threefold loyalty as included in the Sanhedrin's reply in March, 1807: 1) loyalty to the laws of the Republic – not only have the Jews of France not put this in doubt or disputed this, but they are even the defenders of these laws and values; 2) loyalty to the nation – the Jews of France have never failed to defend their country; 3) and loyalty to their faith and to their history.'
"The French Muslim minorities should do as the Sanhedrin did, and pronounce that they are abandoning [those Koranic] verses that are obsolete and no longer valid for their place and time, and that they are abandoning the shari'a, accepting mixed marriages, and adopting 'the pact of threefold loyalty'.
"It appears that the French Muslim elite has begun to draw inspiration from the French Jewish minority. Ghaleb Bin Sheikh, an important member of the French [Muslim] religious elite, has stated that 'it goes without saying that there are passages in the Koran of a belligerent and aggressive nature… and (we need) to publicly state that the sociological ramifications of this part of the Koran are obsolete.' [As the saying goes,] heavy rain begins with a trickle."
"Cultural Relativism… Is a Nihilist Philosophy"
"MM: Why do some European intellectuals and some English and American newspapers support the orientation that is opposed to Muslims' cultural assimilation in European societies?
"LL: This is a strange phenomenon. In my opinion there are three reasons for it.
"The first reason is [a matter of] ritual: If the right makes a decision when it is in power, or adopts a position when in the opposition, then the left must automatically oppose it – not out of conviction that the decision or position is wrong, but just to differentiate itself…
"Second: a feeling of culpability. A wide swath of European intellectuals is afflicted with what psychology terms moral masochism, that is, an unjustified feeling of culpability. Colonialism arose centuries ago, and like any historical phenomenon, it had its positive and its negative aspects. There is no objective justification for these intellectuals to support the hijab, or the slaughtering of the Feast of Sacrifice lamb in the bathtub, or female circumcision, or exorcising jinns from epileptics, using the Koran and beatings – sometimes to the point of death, as has actually happened in France. This support [for these phenomena] is a sick reaction, the explanation for which lies in [the field of] psychology.
"Third: cultural relativism. This orientation is incomparably more dangerous than the aforementioned two, because it starts out from a philosophical conviction that is nearly predominant not just in Europe, but in all of the West, as well as in the Islamic world.
"The preachers of this [cultural relativism] are the Islamists, who [use it to] justify their clinging to barbaric medieval religious values and practices – such as the claims that 'a woman is deficient in her mind and her religion,' as the hadith says; and that she is unfit for rule, because 'a people who place a woman over them will not prosper,' as another hadith says; and that a woman is 'a perpetual minor,' as Islamic jurisprudence says; and that the dissimilarity between men and women and between Muslims and non-Muslims is an essential one, i.e., that it is a divine decision that was written in the celestial Koran before the creation of men and women and Muslims and non-Muslims.
"Thus, this dissimilarity, which is the product of culture and history, is presented by [the Islamists] as something natural, or rather a universal law that is above discussion, and is above the lives of women and non-Muslims.
"MM: What are the mainstays of the philosophy of relativism, and what are its implications?
"LL: The philosophy of cultural relativism, especially when it claims to be an absolute truth, is a nihilist philosophy that bases itself on: 1) the denial of the existence of any fixed value, in particular the moral and humanist values that serve as a basis of human society; and 2) the equivalence of all values and the equivalence of all cultures – [the equivalence of] primitive, cannibalistic peoples to the cultures of civilized, modern nations…
"Cultural relativists turn historical relativism into an absolute ideological relativism. This is a mistake and a danger. A sound mind recognizes that there are universal human values, such as human rights. If these are not recognized and respected – be it with a minimal recognition – then society becomes Darwinist, with survival for the strongest, and the entire world becomes a jungle, ruled by the law of the jungle, and the boundaries between the values of good and evil disappear…"
 Shaker Al-Nabulsi, Muhami al-shaytan: dirasa fi fikr al-'Afif al-Akhdar, Beirut, 2005, p. 25ff.
 For more on Tunisian religious education, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 339, "Liberal Values in Tunisian Islamic Schoolbooks," March 30, 2007, Egyptian Government Weekly Reproduces Nazi Propaganda Forgery.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 225, "Zionism and Nazism: A Discussion on the TV Channel Al-Jazeera," June 6, 2001, The Upcoming Syrian Ba'th Party Convention: Towards Change or Stagnation.