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
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
“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
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."