Sunday, 17 February 2008

Islam in the West

For a couple of months now over on Stephen Law’s Philosophy Blog, we’ve been having an extended debate with Ibrahim Lawson, the headmaster of an Islamic school. The whole thing began because Ibrahim had said, on Radio Four:

IL: The essential purpose of the Islamia school as with all Islamic schools is to inculcate profound religious belief in the children.

INTERVIEWER: You use the word "inculcate": does that mean you are in the business of indoctrination?

IL: I would say so, yes; I mean we are quite unashamed about that really…

INTERVIEWER: Does that mean that Islam is a given and is never challenged?

IL: That’s right…

Not surprisingly, Stephen commented that this was a dangerous theory of ‘education’. Ibrahim replied, defending his position on the ground of his absolute certainty of the ‘truth’ of his own faith, and the discussion has rumbled merrily on all around the houses ever since. Ibrahim is a former Anglican convert to Islam and, like many converts, ‘more Catholic than the Pope’. He sees Islam through a rose-coloured lens of personal mysticism as a pathway to union with Allah, and appears unconcerned about the collective social, cultural, political, and legal aspects of Islam which worry non-Muslims far more than its devotional attraction for individuals like himself. Indeed, he determinedly ignores repeated requests to confront these issues – which are surely relevant to what he teaches his pupils – and on the rare occasions when he deigns to address them, brushes them aside as trivialities, pooh-poohing the notion that to teach his religion is ’unquestionable’ might be in any way socially divisive.

If Islam were indeed no more than a mystic ‘inner path’ for the Faithful, there would be no cause for alarm. But of course, Islam is far more than that. It is a fiercely self-justifying and aggressively proselytizing faith which comes with an inextricable array of theocratic baggage aspiring to control all aspects of individual and social life and, most menacingly, replete with numerous injunctions to the Faithful to dominate the ‘infidels’ and subjugate them to the world ummah [community of believers]. Ibrahim himself has said that he would welcome the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate [political rule] in Britain. When challenged about this, he replies consolingly that from his perspective, Islam is compatible with our democratic society “given the circumstances” [that Muslims are currently in a minority in British society] - although he doesn’t think the latter is the best option, because “Islam is actually a far better, more humane, just and civilised system of governance than secular pluralism”! He also sees little if any prospect of sharia law and other Islamic practices being imposed as legal jurisdiction in Britain “at the moment”. [This was before the Archbishop of Canterbury kindly informed us the other day that he views it as “unavoidable”.]

I find little comfort in such hollow, because meaningless, assurances. It is becoming glaringly obvious that devout Muslims are incapable of renouncing – even if they wished to - the Koranic injunctions to establish an Islamic society wherever they happen to be, because if they did they would be apostates and liable to the death penalty in the eyes of their fellow–Muslims.

If I am wrong about this, theologically or practically, no doubt Ibrahim or some other authoritative Muslim voice will correct me. If I am not wrong, the question is, as Lenin said, ‘What is to be done?’

Furthermore, the nub of the problem posed by Islam in the West is that its strident claims are always presented with a subtext of implicit and, on an increasing number of occasions, actual violence. Consequently, it is next to impossible to discuss the merits of Islam as a faith, or the social aspirations of Muslims in Europe, in a calm, detached manner. As I said to Ibrahim in one of my responses to his posts, “you cannot convincingly claim that Islam is not responsible for the evil done in its name, but should be credited with the virtuous things Muslims do. Religious belief is either a genuine motivation or an excuse: it cannot be both.”

“I am not [Ibrahim countered] prepared to be drawn on the kind of contentious issues which might force me to be more explicit than is advisable in a world where many people look at each other with daggers in their eyes.”

To which I responded: “Well! You have indeed let a very large cat out of the bag [or described the proverbial elephant in the room]. The reason why candid discussion of religious and many other issues is increasingly inhibited in contemporary Britain is, quite simply, FEAR of the consequences of saying what one really thinks – especially as the daggers don’t remain in peoples’ eyes but increasingly take the form of violent aggressive action by bigots against those who dare to differ from them. I trust you will agree that such unbridled visceral hatred and intolerance, whether religious or secular in origin, is the root cause of many current social ills.”

The above was written before we read this week of angry Muslims rioting in the streets of Copenhagen shouting “Freedom of speech is like a plague!” [What does Ibrahim teach his pupils about freedom of speech, I wonder?]

In an interesting recent post on his blog 'Political, Human, Environmental Respect', Jose asks whether Western hostility to Muslims is prompted by racism, bigotry, or a sense of self-defence? He concludes that it is primarily the last, because of increasingly vociferous demands from immigrants - mostly Muslims - for special treatment. "In my opinion [Jose says] the main cause of the resentment of our populations regarding aliens is not something that can be called racism or bigotry. It is a feeling of self-defence which our authorities have not been brave enough to ease up by applying the Law with all its consequences. Those of any religion or race who live in our countries must respect the Law as we do and must get the punishment the Law metes out in all cases it contemplates."

I agree with Jose, and commented: "I think one of the main reasons why many 'post-Christian' Europeans find Muslims indigestible as immigrants is that Islam is 700 years younger than Christianity, and most Europeans are ignorant of their own religious history. Six or seven hundred years ago, most Christians believed fervently, and often literally, in their version of faith, just as Muslims do today. There were bloody religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, and persecutions of heretics which we now consider to have been barbaric.

"To do Muslims justice, they are - whether ‘extremists’ or ‘moderates’ - much more serious about their faith than most Christians are today. In an interesting article about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent speech on sharia law, the sociologist Frank Furedi says, quite rightly, that 'Islam appears to motivate and inspire people in ways that most ordinary Anglicans find difficult to comprehend.'

"The problem is literalism, and until Islam evolves to the point where its doctrines are viewed by its adherents in a more metaphorical light, there is bound to be friction between opposing concepts of life which are obviously incompatible.

"So I agree with Jose that the nub of the hostility towards Muslim immigrants is more one of self-defence against an ideology that challenges our more evolved European way of life than of racism or bigotry. The peaceful resolution of these frictions is one of the most urgent tasks of the 21st century."


Aurora said...

Anticant, interesting thoughts on the extremism shown in this situation. On most points I agree with you though the rising trend to lump all religions together under one category is alarming to me as a Christian considering the rising (understandable) bile against Islam. Christianity is not seeking to take over the political sphere as Islam is. And at the same time, I don't believe that Christianity is waning either. IT may be in the U.K. (which is of course your own frame of reference), but it's actually the fastest growing religion in the world, particulary far from the lazy, laissez-faire type religious attitude of the likes of the Ayatollah of Canterbury. In China, 10,000 people a day are converting to Christianity. When you look at the world outside our reference frame of the west (which looks to be imploding) to the rising world, Christianity is on the rise. Let us see how it will affect the new empire (as it affected the one that is dying).

anticant said...

Freedom to worship or to disbelieve as one wishes is an important component of a free society. But religion as a personal creed is one thing; religion pushing a political agenda in the public sphere is quite another. Organised irrationalism making 'exceptionalist' claims on behalf of particular religious groupings is nowadays visibly damaging the body politic and the best interests of Western society as a whole.

I think religion is something we will have to agree to disagree about, Aurora - but after all, we still live in free countries [just about!].

See my earlier posts: 'Does Reason Matter?' and 'Does the Existence of God Matter?'

Jose said...

Christian, Islamic, Judaic, etc beliefs are all of them respectable, but this respect should be shown too by those professing them towards the body politic of each and every country and towards each other and the laws emanated from them. Faiths are personal. This is proved by the quantity of branches which have sprouted from the trunk of those religions mentioned above.

To add to what is already known, I am not against what the Archbishop of Canterbury has stated about Islam, provided those changes be approved by the parliament in a democratic way. In fact my view is that he is not wrong on how the situation should progress.

And, on the other hand, a country must be very zealous to uphold its laws at all times.

Aurora said...

I think religion is something we will have to agree to disagree about, Aurora

I always knew that about you and I, Anticant. I don't impose my religion on anybody else though I do talk about it if I can see that the other party would like to discuss it. I don't want that right taken away from me by those who attempt to lump Christianity in with Islam and who want all religion banned.
Communist countries did the same and millions of Christians have been killed and are still being killed as a result. I'm sure you can see why I find this alarming.
Christianity tends to multiply where it is most persecuted by the way.

anticant said...

Jose, I cannot agree with you in this instance. What is required is to remove legal privileges and concessions from all religions - in England, mainly the Anglican church - so that the law of the land applies equally and impartially to all. If things go on as they are, the UK will soon cease to be a 'post-Christian' country, and become a pre-Islamic one. That is not a development I wish to see.

Aurora, I certainly don't want religion to be banned! [Some of my best friends are Christians, as the saying goes.] But I do want it kept out of the political sphere - as did the wise Founders of the American Constitution. Secularism is not the same as atheism; it is about the separation of church and state, which you surely must approve of, given the proliferation of different Christian sects in the USA.

You have only to look at the history of Europe to see the damage done by the mix of religion with politics. Take France, for example, where the privileged position of the Roman Catholic Church in the ancien regime, and its persistent meddling in 19th century right-wing politics, has resulted in a much stronger anti-clerical tendency than would otherwise have been the case.

Jose said...

Well there is not much difference in opinion, Anticant. As you can see I place the responsibility on the shoulders of parliamentarians.

The first step to do what you say is make the British Monarch just that: a Monarch. Nothing to do with Anglicanism.

You gave the example of France because you obviously don't know how things go here, in Spain. The privileges sustained by the Catholic Church along twenty centuries seem to be now on the Agenda of the Socialist party if it wins next general elections. The decision of the Bishops' Conference to meddle in political aspects of our life and trying to influence the outcome of the elections has been the revulsive that has triggered off this statement by the Socialist cupola.

I have my doubts, though, that this is going to change.

anticant said...

I'm not entirely unaware of how things are in Spain, Jose - don't forget a great friend of mine has been living there for the past nine years, and he's very politically savvy.

What does stand out is the glaring misinterpretation by many Americans, and some Europeans, of the reasons for the election of the socialist government immediately following the Madrid train bombings. Far from being a cowardly capitulation to Al Qaeda, it seemed to me to be at least partly prompted by contemptuous anger at the previous conservative government's clumsy attempt to swing the blame onto ETA.

Jose said...

There have been more than one reason for the change to Socialist ruling.

1. The majority of people in Spain demonstrated against the Spanish intervention in Iraq, which the conservative government clearly gave a deaf ear to.

2. The bomb attack in Madrid came to confirm the population's clamour as stated in point 1.

3. Lies by the conservative government before, during and after that war, which culminated by trying to blame ETA for the attacks in Madrid. This was thought by the conservatives as the only chance they had to get the vote in the elections.

4. The Spanish people showed that they were not fools by voting as they did, and mainly by attending the poll stations massively with a minimal abstention.

Emmett said...

The great difficulty with opening up the common law to islamic, jewish or canonical deviations is that one simply ends up clogging the entire legal system with appeals, on specific cases & as to venue; and, loads of litigation, after, demanding re-hearing in other venues. As a Muslim, Christ Almighty, even /I/ can see that this proposal is a crock of shit and the Bishop is off his multi-cultural non-judgemental rocker.

JESUS Christ, use yer God-damn heads just for once! (/That's/ not swearing for me, by-the-by, as it don't mean a God-damn thing in Arabic...but if YOU christian [like Hell!] skunks say stuff like that in English or whatever, it's swearing and YOU'RE for the high jump, tsk!)

s/Grandpa al-'Abroo