Sheikha Moza bint Nasser al-Missned, one of most influential women in the Arab world, attacks ‘double standards’, comparing Charlie Hebdo with Chapel Hill
Muslims face dehumanisation when western countries apply double standards, the wife of the former emir of Qatar has warned in an unusual and critical public intervention from a senior royal in a wealthy Gulf state.
Sheikha Moza bint Nasser al-Missned, one of the most influential and high-profile women in the Arab world, also questioned distinctions between “moderate” or “liberal” and “conservative” Muslims and insisted that it was wrong to say that Islam was “stuck in medieval times”.
“Why is it that world leaders gathered to march in defence of Charlie Hebdo, while the Chapel Hill murders were shrugged off as a parking dispute?” she asked, in a reference to the killing of three Muslim students in North Carolina in February. She was speaking at St Antony’s College, Oxford, on Tuesday.
“At the same time we are confronted with double standards. Why is it that apologies are offered when Europeans are mistakenly killed by drones but only silence follows when innocent Yemeni and Pakistani children and civilians are killed by the same drones? Why do Muslim lives seem to matter less than the lives of others? If they matter at all. I believe this dehumanisation is cultivated through a process of Muslim-phobia.”
Moza is the second of the three wives of the former emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the mother of the current emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad, and the head of the Qatar Foundation.
Alongside a genuine interest in Islamic civilisation, there existed a fear of real, living Muslims, Moza said: “For example, a Muslim is first and foremost identified as a Muslim, rather than simply a human being. Whether they are Pakistani, Malaysian, Senegalese, or even British-born, their multiple identities are levelled under a constructed monolith of Islam.
“Let me remind you, however, that Islam has never been monolithical, but has from the start been a vast container for diverse cultures and ethnicities. The homogenisation of Muslims into a fearful and unknowable ‘other’, separate from the beauty and nobility of Islam and its civilisation, is at the root of Muslim-phobia.”
Islam had been used from all sides, she said. “The radical militants put forth a version of Islam devoid of its spiritual content and subtlety of interpretation, nothing more than a violent political slogan,” she said. But neo-orientalists and libertarians “defame Islam, and the prophet, in particular”.
It was wrong to use the word “medieval” to describe the actions of radicals, she said. “But why do we insinuate that somehow those who are perpetuating certain acts of violence do not belong to our age? That somehow they are not modern? It is a naïve refusal to accept our collective responsibility. Isis is as modern as Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. They are all products of our age.”
And she issued a stark warning about how “activism can quickly change to militancy” in the wake of failure to replace autocratic leaders in the Arab spring – an object of the Gulf state’s policy of supporting Islamist groups during her husband’s reign. “Debate is needed,” she said. “Violent repression is not.”
Qatar, the world’s wealthiest country in per capita terms, has huge investments in Britain. It has also endowed two chairs at Oxford University: the chair of contemporary Islamic studies and the chair of Islamic art. Moza was speaking at the opening of the new Investcorp building at St Antony’s College, designed by the Iraqi-born architect Dame Zaha Hadid.