Prof. Aghajari's crime? Daring to say that Islam and clerics' statements about Islam are not the same thing, that each generation has a right to read and interpret the Koran without fear. For that, Aghajari has been condemned in Iran as an apostate, and the penalty for apostasy in Islam is death.
Meanwhile, at about the same time, New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd was touring Saudi Arabia, mesmerized by what she saw as the internal contradictions of Islamic repression: "Frederick's of Hollywood-style lingerie shops abound, even though female sexuality is considered so threatening that the mere sight of a woman's ankle will cause civilization to crumble," she ponders.
The sight is a challenge to the deepest presumptions of elite American women of a certain age, who raised themselves to believe that an orgasm was a revolutionary act of liberation, and who as adolescents engaged in portentous battles with their parents for the right to wear miniskirts. Saudi Arabia, Dowd decides, is a society "torn between secret police and secret undergarments." Fellow New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was even worse, apparently spending his precious visa in Saudi Arabia going up to veiled Saudi women and asking them why they did not show him a little leg.
What is it with these stereotypical puerile Americans -- ignorant, provincial, obsessed with sexual license as the marker of human liberty?
Every human society has a dress code, including our own, and the puzzlement over the idea that Muslim women can wear a veil and still enjoy sex is particularly embarrassing. It is also extremely dangerous to the larger and important task of helping Muslims who want to modernize. Elites who claim to want to promote a better understanding of Islam should start by realizing that democracy and human rights do not require sexual libertinism. To suggest that in order to modernize, Muslim societies need to embrace the worst of the trashy commercialism of Western culture is not true and deeply self-defeating.
Meanwhile, back in Tehran, students set up a wooden post and rope, attaching a sign: "His crime was revealing the truth." An Associated Press photo shows one brave Iranian woman student approaching a barricade of Iranian police. Clothed head to toe in full, modest Islamic dress, her hair completely concealed beneath a scarf, she points one finger at the soldiers.
To me, she looks just fine.