I’ve posted before on Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad – a cleric who represents the Islamic Sharia Council in Britain. Here he’s given uncritical interviews; when he travelled to the Netherlands, however, he was greeted with a storm of controversy. It’s alleged that he described the Jews as “armies of the devil” and insisted that Muslims should “should rule the entire planet with this Islamic law”. This, however, he disputes, and in lieu of someone reputable verifying the translation of the Arabic speech it’s drawn from, and more evidence that it’s been justly attributed to him, I’ll agree that this remains unproven. Why not? The things he’s said in English and in public are damning enough.

Haddad is a man of strong opinions: the rigidity with which he holds them in matched by their brutal forcefulness. The range of theocratic doctrines is sadly predictable. Female genital mutilation is legitimate, he thinks; apostates should be executed; women must obey their husbands and if they get slapped around for their troubles that’s none of our business. He might qualify these views by saying they’re only relevant to an Islamic state but, of course, that’s what he’d like to see in England: he believes in making “the law of Islam…dominant in the world” and yearns to seethe Islamic Republic of Britain”. This is, to be clear, no fringe ideologue: he’s a feature of some of England’s largest Mosques; a favourite of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies – which is terribly ironic as they’re in the midst of an effort to cast themselves as the victim of baseless propaganda – and, most creepily, as I’ve said, a leader of Sharia councils. Yes – a man who feels that the autonomy of women is roughly equivalent to that of a pet goldfish is making decisions over people’s lives.

I’m a fan of dialogue; of the open exchange of ideas and opinions, with a view to fruitful conclusions or, at least, mutual understanding and some fun along the way. But one reason I no longer think of myself as a “liberal” is that I’ve become more pessimistic as to how constructive dialogue can be: some views are so rigidly held, and so threatening in their ambitions, that discussion is, at some point, futile, and sometimes they’re prominent enough that mere avoidance becomes impossible. A big tent is still a tent: it needs to have enough shape that it won’t collapse. And societies that want to endure must openly and honestly maintain their limits – literal and figurative. The views of al-Haddad and the trend he represents are proof enough of why, and their marginalisation would be a fine start.

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