Let’s revise the famous opening sentence of Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto to state there is a real peril, instead of a spectre, haunting the West — the peril of acquiescing to the Shariah-based demands of the Islamists.

At the top of the Islamist demands is to make defamation of religion a punishable offence. Since Judaism and Christianity are open to criticism, even ridicule in free and secular societies of the West, such a demand is to make an exception for Islam.

The trial of Geert Wilders in Amsterdam for offending Muslims indicates the extent to which Holland, one of the most open European countries, has tilted in the direction of becoming a “Shariah-compliant” society.

Holland is not alone in this effort to appease the Islamists. Across the West, a chill has fallen over the fundamental right to think and speak freely about Islam like any other subject of public interest.

The not-so-curious fact that the mainstream media remains silent by not exposing the travesty in bringing Wilders to court for expressing his thoughts on Islam — it also remained silent by not publishing the Danish cartoons that incited a large number of Muslims around the world to rage and commit acts of violence — is proof of how great is the peril of western societies conceding de facto or de jure to Islamist demands for Shariah-based rulings.

There is terrible irony in this. Muslims remain the first victims of a Shariah-governed society, and the imposition of Shariah is the primary cause of the contemporary retardation of Muslim countries.

But the Islamists have succeeded in making the argument that the faith in, and the practice of, Islam is confined by the Shariah, and anything outside of it is non-Islam.

This argument deliberately obscures the fact that the Shariah is a legal system devised under Arab supremacy during the last three centuries of the first millennium and it was based on a reading of the Qur’an that reflected the prejudices of that age in history.

The Shariah is not merely outdated, it is mostly redundant for any Muslim society straining to be relevant to the demands of the modern age of science and democracy.

Muslims struggling for democracy and freedom understand best that Islam cannot be reduced to the Shariah, and their progress demands the eventual abolition of the Shariah.

Mohamed Charfi, professor emeritus in the law faculty in Tunis and a former education minister in Tunisia writing as a modern Muslim, explains how the Shariah is contextually bound to the thinking of the ancient and medieval world and, consequently, resistant to any reform.

Charfi writes the Shariah or “Muslim law is based on three fundamental inequalities: The superiority of men over women, of Muslims over non-Muslims, and of free persons over slaves.

It recognizes the maximum advantages in the case of a free and rich Muslim male, and the fewest rights in the case of a non-Muslim female slave … Muslim law is therefore fundamentally discriminatory.”

Hence any Shariah compliance by the West undermines the struggle of Muslims for reform of their societies and defeat of the Islamists.

And placing any constraint on freedom of speech means in effect colluding with the Islamists.