Stop Denying the Obvious
In recent years I have become weary of listening to news of the latest Islamist atrocity followed by leading politicians bleating on about “Islamic State” and their like practising a “perversion of Islam” –“essentially a religion of peace”.
I suspect it has something to do with the innate ability of the British people to exercise tolerance to the point of absurdity, just because we think tolerance is a good thing. Also, since Islam is a Religion having long-distant but vague connections with the Abrahamic and Christian religions, it must therefore be benign: so those who follow it should be respected for their views.
I have long since held the opinion of Islam that it cannot be described as a religion of peace. The evidence to the contrary is slapping us in the face almost every time we switch on the TV News, and yet we are still reluctant to face the facts, and become apologists for the religion. We have become paralysed by so-called Political Correctness, by which we cannot allow ourselves to face the prospect of being accused of either Racism or Islamophobia.
Racism is a stupid word in this context, since Muslims are not a Race. Phobia is an irrational fear of something. I don’t think that fear of Islam is in any way irrational, so I’m not even sure if the word “Islamophobia” is correct.
I should admit that there was a time when I counted myself amongst those who strongly defended the rights of Muslims to follow their religion which (I also believed) was a “Religion of Peace”. But that view was consequent upon my ignorance, and I think that ignorance is widespread amongst those who would aspire to govern this country.
Having subsequently come to an entirely different point of view I was heartened to see my feelings echoed in a book that recently came to my attention: Heretic – Why Islam needs a Reformation Now by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The fact that she and I are “on the same page” is important only insofar as she was born, in Somalia, into a Muslim family, and brought up strictly to observe the tenets of Islam. I therefore think that her opinions are far more important than mine, based as they are on inside knowledge of what it means to be a Muslim. Her views carry infinitely more weight than my own, so I urge people to buy this book and become better informed about Islam.
By the time Ayaan Hirsi Ali had become a teenager she realised that the religion she had been schooled in was repressive, prevented innovation and change, was not subject to debate or analysis, was abusive to women, socially in their 2nd-class citizenship and physically in the practice of female genital mutilation. Against massive opposition from her own family she parted from her religion and fled to the Netherlands in 1922, where she went from cleaning in factories to winning a seat in the Dutch Parliament. A prominent speaker, debater, and writer, she was chosen as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. She is now a fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Her book Heretic .. opens with a paragraph that invites us to fill in the blanks from any number of newscasts that we might have heard in recent years:
On ________, a group of ________ heavily armed, black-clad men burst into a ________ in ________, opening fire and killing a total of ________ people. The attackers were filmed shouting “Allahu akbar!”
Speaking at a press conference, President _______ said: “We condemn this criminal act by extremists. Their attempt to justify their violent acts in the mae of a religion of peace will not, however, succeed. We also condemn with equal force those who would use this atrocity as a pretext for Islamophobic hate crimes”.
Of course, the most recent example you could use to fill in the blanks would be the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. Though if you hark back a few years to their most spectacular evil act you’d also have to change a few words as well to involve aeroplanes and skyscrapers. But I think you see the point she is making.
The author goes on to say ..
For more than thirteen years now, I have been making a simple argument in response to such acts of terrorism. My argument is that it is foolish to insist, as our leaders habitually do, that the violent acts of radical Islamists can be divorced from the religious ideals that inspire them. Instead we must acknowledge that they are driven by a political ideology, an ideology embedded in Islam itself, in the holy book of the Qur’an as well as the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad contained in the hadith.
The really scary thing for us to recognise is that every barbaric act (beheading, crucifixion, burning, amputation &c) carried out by so-called Islamic State, or Al-Quaeda, or Boko Haram, can be fully justified by reference to the Qur’an. Therefore, far from being “un-Islamic”, they are indeed being wholly Islamic!
Now, speaking as an atheist, I have little time for either the Bible or the Qur’an, but there is a big difference between the two. Whilst the Bible is full of bloody and gory exhortations and punishments by God (not to mention a number of stories that can only be described as fantasies), adherents to the Bible, on the whole, do not accept every word in that book as the literal and final Word of God, to be followed as LAW.
On the other hand Muslims who take their religion seriously accept the Qur’an as the final and immutable instructions from God, given to his Messenger Muhammed. It has remained set in the 7th century of Middle-Eastern tribal life, and has rarely been open to interpretation, analysis, modification, query or discussion (except by non-Muslims and ex-Muslims of course). Querying the validity of the Qur’an is simply not an option, whereas for centuries Jews and Christians have deliberated over the interpretation of the Bible, and have in practice (since the Reformation) gradually moved towards a flexible interpretation, even to the point of never referring to certain sections of it. We should acknowledge that in medieval times the practices of Christianity were very similar to what we are now seeing in fanatical Islamism. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is saying Islam needs the same Reformation as that of Christianity, and it’s needed urgently.
In the more extreme Evangelical Christian sects in the USA there are many who do take the whole Bible literally and refuse to recognise the current scientific view of the Universe and our place in it, but even if I lived amongst them, should I openly declare my rejection of Christianity I dare say it would be unlikely that hordes of angry American Christians would rise up and call for my immediate death. But you try converting from Islam to another religion, or question the validity of the Qur’an, or the divine nature of “The Prophet” then you are potentially on Death Row.
I think it is therefore incumbent upon all of us, especially our “leaders” to understand this fundamental difference between Christianity as it is generally practised - having evolved into a 21st century religion (which by the way doesn’t override the secular laws of the land), and Islam – rooted (apparently immovably) in the 7th century.
We in Britain say to our Muslim citizens, “You want a new mosque? OK, build one here.”
Try building a new Christian Church in an Islamic State.
Islam is based not on what good we can do in this life; it is based on the importance of the next life, where you will find a Paradise that is described in great detail, down to the number of rooms and gardens, and how they look, and the number of black-eyed virgins ready to cater for your every need. (Obviously this is a male-dominated Paradise; it doesn’t sound very appealing for women!)
And you can get to this wonderful “next life” by killing all those “pigs” and “monkeys” that refuse to accept the Prophet’s divinity. Western liberal democracy? Freedom of thought? Respect for women? It’s all sinful. There are billions of human beings out there who don’t accept your adherence to the word of Allah through his Messenger, so make a start – just strap this bomb to your chest – Paradise awaits your arrival.
Finally, saying Islam is not a religion of peace is not the same as saying there are millions of Muslims who are not peaceful. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is saying that peaceful Muslims have somehow managed in their own minds to modify or ignore certain central tenets of their Faith. They have contrived to activate cognitive dissonance reduction. These are the people we should be encouraging, instead of constantly trying to make excuses for the atrocities of the radical adherents, by citing things like social deprivation and foreign policy errors made by our leaders.
© Lionel Beck