Dear fallen idol

I don’t know if anyone really cares about your latest heart-to-heart; your apology, if you can call it that. For whatever it is worth, it is not me — nor your brothers and sisters in humanity at large — to whom you owe words of penitence or remorse. These are just words of desperation; the clamour of the ego, seeking to be loved once more. If the common folk have turned their backs on you, no matter; rejoice in those that still run to your aid, embracing you, indifferent to all that has come to pass. There is no need to say sorry before all the world in a video meant to go viral. Just make amends with those you wronged.

Say sorry to those you called mythomaniacs, whom you denied knowing until you could deny it no more. Say sorry to those you wounded — physically and emotionally — in those self-proclaimed moments of weakness. Say sorry to the divorcees you saw as prey, to be befriended at their most vulnerable. Say sorry to the women you hunted on social media, in those long-lasting moments of weakness, whom you threatened with legal action, dispatching fake legal correspondence from fake lawyers with made up names and made up credentials, steamrollering them into silence.

You understand our disappointment on the moral issues, you tell us, simultaneously reassuring us that God has forgiven you, and therefore that we should forgive you too. But as I say, these moral issues are between you and your Lord, and anyone you have wronged along the way. What do you want from your brothers and sisters in humanity? Vindication? To pronounce that it does not matter, that we all sin, and are all equally culpable? Well perhaps that works for some people. But the thought that keeps on recurring in my mind is this:

“What if you are a predator? What if this is your whole life’s work? The driving ambition behind the celebrity lifestyle as orator, author, academic, activist and radical defender of the voiceless? What if it is true that you are a cunning manipulator who has spent decades hunting, selecting prey easily undermined, hiding behind the image of the softly spoken sage: that cherished defender of women’s rights, champion of the disenfranchised, campaigner against violence, master of education, hope for the hopeless.”

For me, it all comes back to a populist screed you penned half a decade ago, in which you courted controversy and won the hearts of millions. With a few strokes of the pen, or fingers rapping on your keyboard, overnight you were celebrated all over, embraced for speaking the truth to power, everywhere defended for your radical stance, articulating the sentiments of the masses. And in that instant, the woman who stood against you was vanquished, her complaints put back in the box. You reached a settlement and she went away. There were no apologies then to your brothers and sisters in humanity for moments of weakness in which your behaviour fell far short of your ideals. No, for at that moment, they were your armoury, your shield, and suddenly you had been transformed, from modernist reformer rejected by the hardliners, to hardline activist, prancing before a brand-new audience who would cement a brand-new narrative that cast you into role as number one enemy of the state.

Which nicely brings us back to your quasi-apology, because it is all there: the political machinations of the state, intent on bringing a good man down, enticed by the taste of honey, entrapped by conspiring women, working with his enemies to silence him for good, and remove from the community their foremost defender and advocate. The video sounds like this: “I am sorry, but…”

Yet for believers — at least anyone grounded in their faith — that longwinded but provides no justification or excuse for the moral issues so flippantly discussed. After all, the moral dimension is central to the path; this active way towards achieving a state of safety and health. Perhaps that is why your plea simply falls on deaf ears. Islam starts from the outside and goes inward. First you become a Muslim, then you struggle to become a Mumin. The first sign of a Mumin is that when you see something harmful, you remove it.

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