Muhammad, not Muhammad Atta
- We can begin by saying, not only that we respect Muhammad, but that no serious person could fail to respect Muhammad - a unique and luminous historical being. Judged by the continuities he was able to set in motion, he remains a titanic figure, and, for Muslims, all-answering: a revolutionary, a warrior, and a sovereign, a Christ and a Caesar, 'with a Koran in one hand', as Bagehot imagined him, 'and a sword in the other'. Muhammad has strong claims to being the most extraordinary man who ever lived. And always a man, as he always maintained, and not a god. Naturally we respect Muhammad. But we do not respect Muhammad Atta.
-Two years ago I came across a striking photograph in a news magazine: it looked like a crudely cross-sectioned watermelon, but you could make out one or two humanoid features half-submerged in the crimson pulp. It was in fact the bravely circularised photograph of the face of a Saudi newscaster who had been beaten by her husband. In an attempted murder, it seems: at the time of his arrest he had her in the trunk of his car, and was evidently taking her into the desert for interment. What had she done to bring this on herself? In the marital home, that night, the telephone rang and the newscaster, a prosperous celebrity in her own right, answered it. She had answered the telephone. Male Westerners will be struck, here, by a dramatic cultural contrast. I know that I, for one, would be far more likely to beat my wife to death if she hadn't answered the telephone. But customs and mores vary from country to country, and you cannot reasonably claim that one ethos is 'better' than any other.