Islamic Totalism


WhipForget that the Maldivian girl sentenced to a hundred lashes for sleeping with a man is fifteen. Forget that she allegedly admitted to having consensual sex in the course of accusing her step-father of rape. It is hard, I know, but do it for a moment as the fact is that if she had been eighteen and the product of a loving family the pain would be as real as the whip dug into her flesh, and the embarrassment as awful as she slumped before her captors, and it would be just as ludicrously unsuitable a response to what was at worst an ill-advised personal choice. The government claim to recognise that she is a “victim” yet she is not just of a victim of her stepfather – if indeed her accusations were correct – but of the brutal and irrational system of sharia law, and this would be true of anyone who faced this judgement.

One hundred and four people, of whom ninety three were women, were ordered to endure a hundred lashes throughout the course of 2011. This, disturbingly, was a low number of sentences compared to previous years. The victims have been known to be so distressed that they pass out and require hospitalisation.

Navanethem Pillay, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited the nation and asked its governors to revise their policy. The Islamic Minister, Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, dismissed the notion by observing that it had been drawn from the Quran and insisting that “a tenet of Islam cannot be changed”. As I have explored before, governors of these beauteous yet bedeviled islands heed the demands of religiopolitical officials and organisations, who have formed a culture where Islamic literalism is so supreme that heretics are not driven out have been forced to apologise or commit suicide. Even as the government’s spokesman admits that it is averse to the latest sentence, then, he says, “Since this is an Islamic affair we don’t want to unilaterally say things”.

This punishment for this crime is, as Dr. Bari states, mandated by the Quran and scholars such as those of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America affirm that it is still considered to be a tenet of Islamic law. There are reformist perspectives on matters of behaviour and belief but they have been accepted by a minority of believers. This explains my annoyance when I see commentators like Mehdi Hasan insist that “extremism” is to Islam what the BNP is to Great Britain. It is in blatant defiance of the state of opinion among the authorities and adherents of the faith, and obscures the magnitude of the reform that would be needed to eliminate atrocities of the kind so many promote.

Not that we should bear imperial illusions about the chances of this happening, still less of our prompting it. The religious can decide for themselves. Yet we should exclude the beliefs of fundamentalism, and let governments know that if they want aid, trade or tourism they should struggle to minimise the worst of its practices. The latter, of course, is especially relevant now. It would seem unpleasant to bear one’s back to the Maldivian sun in the knowledge that halfway across the island someone may well be having theirs whipped.

HedegaardLars Hedegaard, a Danish writer who has been critical of Islam and Muslims in the West, is reported to have survived an assault by a gunman whose bullet flew past his ear. Hedegaard is said to have punched him, causing him to drop his weapon and flee the scene. The nature of the incident cannot be asserted with absolute confidence but it seems probable enough that we can ask if it represents the continuation of a pattern.

God, I wish it didn’t. Unfortunately, you would have to have been living under a boulder to be too surprised by this. The list of people who have insulted, opposed or questioned Islam and Muslims in their words and then faced violence in response is daunting. Theo Van Gough was butchered in the street. Kurt Westergaard was forced to hide with his 5 year-old granddaughter as an axe-wielding thug rampaged through his house. The offices of Charlie Hebdo were bombed. The publishers of Sherry Jones were burned. Lars Vilks has faced the plots of terrorists; an arson attack; an assault and at least one egging. All of this, let us remind ourselves, was because these people drew cartoons, made films and published novels.

I am sure that there are people who would explain this not as religious supremacism but as the response of embattled people to persecution. This explanation collapses underneath the weight of the objection that violence against real and supposed heretics and blasphemers is more prevalent in nations where Islam is dominant. Never mind a place like Pakistan, where people are often killed for challenging blasphemy laws as well as for blaspheming. In the Maldives Ismail Rasheed could be stoned and stabbed; in Indonesia Alexander Aan faced a mob attack; in Nigeria, a man was macheted to death after he mispronounced a name and it sounded blasphemous.

European governments, of course, amid this irregular war against the freedom of expression, have been busily extending restrictions on speech to cover that which is held to be insulting and offensive. Hedegaard himself was fined about £600 for anti-Muslim statements that a blogger chose to publish. That people can say foolish and unpleasant things is undeniable. I do not know Hedegaard and cannot judge whether he tends to fall within or outside of this category. This, though, hardly matters. Opinions can be ignored and gunmen can’t, and when you are in the vicinity of both it is not hard to judge which should be your priority.

It is vital that these thugs be frustrated in their desire to live free of criticism and questions. As we have observed before, people have taken the fear of being offensive to heart. It it true, of course, that it would be pointless and mean to set out to wound people. Hypersensitivity, however, should not be indulged or it will not have to adapt. Where indulging it would constrains intellectual progress and threatens social harmony it has to adapt. Others have censored themselves for fear of risking their own necks. This is understandable – I am very attached to my neck – but it is also unwise. Allowing the hypersensitive to remain comfortable feeds their sense of entitlement. It will only make them angrier when your ideas and values inevitably clash. And, besides, cases like that of the Nigerian or the girl in Pakistan whose “blasphemous” misspelling prompted riots are evidence that trying to be polite need not save one from outrage.

That words alone can defeat the violent is, of course, delusive. This conflict is the inevitable consequences of unchecked multiculturalism and the grimmer business of excluding theocrats and supremacists from and within our societies remains crucial. Yet words are important. The more that good-natured satire and critical scrutiny is applied to religions the more their followers will accept that intimidation is a blunt and unwieldy weapon in the cause of facing it. Others are likely to find critiques so unanswerable that they are forced to adapt their creeds to fit new premises, and where the fundamentalism has been punctured the aggression deflates.

It is far from rare to hear commentators in the West being described as “brave” merely for expressing opinions that are slightly unorthodox. In facing pejoratives and, perhaps, the occasional insult many of us appear to seem that writers are being courageous. If we are so sensitive to the verbal assaults that people can endure after expressing their opinions we should appreciate the scale of the horror wrapped up in the fact that people assert a view and then be faced with eggs, axes, bombs and gunmen.

Sufi LibyaThe burning of Sufi manuscripts by Sunni radicals in Timbuktu is the latest event in a campaign of iconoclasm. Ansar Dine, the Salafi organisation that has been terrorising Mali in recent times, has been imposing its abhorrent orthodoxy on the ruins of numerous sacred mosques and mausoleums in what represents the cultural equivalent of genocide.

Mali is in the news now, of course, but the erasure of the heritage of Sufism from the region is widespread. Shrines, libraries and mosques in Libya have been destroyed to the helplessness or indifference of authorities and the enthusiastic applause of Saudi clerics. Civilisations that took centuries to build are being despoiled in a matter of weeks.

In Tunisia, dozens of shrines are said to have been torched in the last year, and gatherings of Sufis have been assaulted by violent Salafists. In Egypt, believers have had to form human shields around their shrines to protect them from harm. One of them, the Sheikh Zuwayed Mausoleum, has faced three attacks in the last years: two bombings and one rocket-propelled grenade. The Arab Spring, to use an unoriginal but apt phrase, has turned into a Sufi winter.

In other parts of the Islamic world sectarian conflict and terrorism has led to innumerable deaths among Shia minorities. The Shia of Quetta in Pakistan, says Danya Hasan of Human Rights Watch, “live under siege”. This month a suicide bomber walked into a snooker club and killed 82 people. Last week the latest in a series of attacks on places of worship and residential districts in Iraq claimed 23 lives in a village north of Baghdad. Even in Indonesia Shia houses have been burned down and their occupants relocated.

Islamic sectarianism, like the assaults on Christian civilisations in the region, is destroying hundreds of lives and thousands of years of history. Yet despite the scale of the damage these attacks are causing, and despite the magnitude of the hatred they are built upon, and even despite the fact that sectarian stirrings are eerily prevalent in Britain, one hears little of them in mainstream commentary. People have become suddenly energised by Mali but this is because it is the object of a war. Libya, which is still being thought of as a great success, and Iraq, which has been forgotten as an embarrassing failure, are on next to no one’s lips. As for Pakistan, well, that is too damn depressing for most people to think about.

Where, though, I wonder, are the people who tend to fret about “Islamophobia”? You would think that this would be of interest to them. The supremacist assumptions, demonisation of minorities and eliminationist assertions of the resultant hatred meet and exceed all of the criteria for the anti-Muslim bigotry they strive to diagnose. That they ignore it is a consequence of the selectivity with which they perceive perpetrators but also has something to do with the unpleasant fact that the supremacist intolerance it is evidence of confirms some of the fears that they dismiss as dangerously unwarranted.

SenegalThe most depressing cases of anti-Christian persecution tend to occur around Christmas. Believers have looked forward not merely to one of the most reverential days of their faith but to a time when they enjoy the companionship of their loved ones; the ease of relaxation and the pleasures of the fruits of year’s struggle. Yet some people cannot deal with others being happy, and conspire to ensure that it is a miserable day.

In Saudi Arabia police are said to have arrested dozens of Christians, as well as a few of their Muslim friends, for “plotting to celebrate Christmas”. Not content with merely holding their snearky celebrations, these devious conspirators are alleged to have indulged in the drinking of alcohol! What shock must have passed through the hearts of these devout officials as they realised that these people had the startling audacity to try and have fun.

In Indonesia, meanwhile, believers hoped to celebrate with an open-air service. Other locals had different ideas. “More than 200 Indonesian Muslims,” we’re told, “Threw rotten eggs at Christians.” Rotten eggs sound disgusting, and by God they are, but they are less repugnant than the form of projectiles that a mob of 600 fanatics hurled at an Indonesian church earlier in the year: they chose bags of urine. Perhaps these are different people or perhaps they thought that they would cut their victims some slack over Christmas.

Boko Haram’s idea of giving somebody a break, of course, is to let them die quickly. The Nigerian terrorists swept down on churches during their Christmas eve services and massacred twelve people. Reverend Matthew Man’Oso Ndagoso has asked Christians to forgive these militants but this goodness of spirit shows no sign of touching the hearts of the men of the group who have killed thousands since their inception.

One of the nicer stories of the year was the release of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who had been sentenced to death on the grounds of apostasy. The Iranian churchman, religious groups are claiming, was returned to jail on the 25th of December as the authorities “claimed he had been released several days too early” and must “serve the remainder of this time”. If this is true, I find it hard to believe that it was coincidental that they came to this decision on Christmas Day. Jailing the man, who would have been looking forward to his first Yuletide with his family in three years, would thus be an example of vicious sadism.

The one touching story that I can offer up comes from Sufi Senegal, where believers outside Dakar Mosque have been selling trees and dolls to help their Christian compatriots to enjoy the day. I would not, of course, demand that non-Christians celebrate Christmas any more than I would feel compelled to celebrate Diwali, Ramadan and Hanukkah. Yet it is not insolent to say they should leave them alone. It is atrocious that this can be too much to expect.

It is, I’ll admit, at least party because a representative of the Council of Ex-Muslims has been so kind in linking to my previous essay that I took so violently against the treatment of such proud apostates in a piece on the Islam apologetics website “Loonwatch”. “You don’t hear about Councils of Ex-Christians, Ex-Jews or Ex-Buddhists,” says its author. No but, then, you rarely hear of Christians, Jews or Buddhists who wish harm or death upon apostates. While Muslims are not united in doing this, millions do. This, for example, is from the Pew Research Center…

Apostasy

Large numbers of Muslims in Britain agree. This is from Living Apart Together

Apostasy Britain

People of a liberal persuasion must be acquainted with charges of prejudice so try this one for size: we in the majority of people that do not live with the knowledge that a sizable proportion of humanity and, indeed, our compatriots believe that we should die should be careful before claiming that people who do are being silly.

The author links to an article by the atheist As’ad Abukhalil, who notes that while Islamic nations sometimes threaten death upon apostates none have actually killed them. This is true and fair enough to note but if a state claimed that it would execute opinion columnists I doubt Mr. Abukhalil would be completely reassured by the knowledge that it did not really kill them. Something terrible must be going on regardless.

Such is the case here. Apostates are intimidated to such an extent that they cannot assert or explore their ideas. Consider Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor who was jailed and forced to bear the thought of a sentence of death for the “crime” of apostasy. Consider Ismail Mohammed Didi, a Maldivian who hung himself after protesting against threats and shunning that he had endured after rejecting his faith, or his compatriot Mohammed Nazim who declared that he was not religious at a public lecture and faced “comments of hatred” before being arrested. Consider Alber Saber, who will spend the next three years in an Egyptian jail for doing nothing more than, it is claimed, uploading a blasphemous film to a Facebook account.

Also consider the millions who will not face state oppression or private intimidation but will live within the constraints of their creed not because of enthusiasm or enlightenment but because they were not allowed to question its premises and were never exposed to books and people who might have inspired doubt. Consider all this because it demonstrates the significance of such an identity. It defies those who believe that they should not exist and appeals to those who have assumed that they cannot exist. I might have nothing in common with such people besides a mutual lack of devotion towards Muhammad but I can appreciate the need for them.

Theocracy in the UKIt has long been argued and implied that the threat posed by radical Muslims to our continent takes the form of terrorism. The New Statesman’s Daniel Trilling, in his analysis of the “counter-Jihad” movement, granted that there was a “tiny grain of truth” to their beliefs: “the existence of Islamist terror”. Bob Lambert, an ex-undercover policeman who was briefly taken seriously as a counter-terrorism expert, even argued that we should not criticise doctrinaire Islamists as they are valuable allies against Al Qaeda.

We have all heard of berobed firebrands proclaiming that the flag of Allah will be raised above 10 Downing Street but they are dismissed as fringe lunatics. The failure to treat the underlying ideas with any seriousness is an error. In mosques and universities across the nation they are being expressed and adopted in all seriousness.

Islamic totalism poses a different but nonetheless grave threat to that of Islamic terrorism. This is the idea that Islam offers not merely a religion but a complete sociopolitical order; one that Muslims are commanded to impose across the globe. This is quite a widespread opinion among Muslims but one that most believers have little enthusiasm for pursuing. If hudud punishments are established they might be pleased but if they are not they are liable to be too wrapped up with their jobs and families to care. Many clerics, though, and like-minded activists, are far more inspired by this theocratic dogma and seek to talk other believers into sharing their conviction.

A heterogeneous but nonetheless coherent class of theocrats has been pursuing this goal in Britain; with great energy and largely unopposed. I have been observing it over the past couple of years and write this in the hope of emphasising that if we are going to avoid social conflict it is necessary to wise up and to start talking back.

Jihad

Islamic totalists are always keen to tell you that they oppose Al Qaeda. In most cases, I do not believe they are being dishonest. Why they oppose Al Qaeda, though, is another question and an interesting one.

There are two main forms of violent jihadism: defensive jihad and offensive jihad. The former entails the protection of Muslim communities from attack and oppression. Islamic totalists almost unanimously argue that this is a duty on all Muslims. The standards they expect from supposed defenders, one must note, are disturbingly low, and the Muslim communities they argue require defence tend to be those most infused with their oppressive ideology. Murtaza Khan, head of the Islamic Da’wah Centre, then, has said that “all respect goes to” the Taliban; a movement that has little support among the common Muslims of Afghanistan, presumably because of their fondness for killing them.

Offensive jihad, meanwhile, is violence intended to further Islam. Islamic totalists often uphold the righteousness of this endeavour, yet argue that the conditions of the modern West are such that it is not applicable to our circumstances. Haitham al-Haddad, for example, has claimed that only an Islamic state could justly take such action. Others have argued that the fighting of Muslims in the West would be legitimate but that they are so weak they would have little chance of success. In the words of Abdur Raheem Green, such a conflict would “cause only harm and no benefit”. It is good that such people do not intend to launch into conflict with us but it remains palling that they think it would be legitimate nay virtuous to fight us merely to propagate their faith. A man who said that he would fight me if it was not raining and he was dressed in different clothes would still be my opponent, and people who cleave to these opinions remain our enemies.

Sharia

Muslims,” Abu Usamah, an American born Imam, has said, “Shouldn’t be satisfied with living in other than the total Islamic State.” He and his comrades are unsatisfied, and they have designs on our nation. Murtaza Khan has insisted that “the hudud of Allah [will] be implemented in the twenty first century”, and Haitham al-Haddad speaks fondly of the “the Islamic Republic of Britain”.

What might such a nation be like? Islam would reign supreme and all whose opinions diverge from it would be oppressed. “The Jew and the Christian,” in Abdur Raheem Green’s words, “[Would] know that they are inferior and subjugated”. Apostates and heretics would be killed. Atheists can only imagine their treatment.

Brutal puritanism would be enforced. Adulterers and gays would faceslow, painful death by stoning”. Gays, of course, or “sodomites” as Green has called them, are a predictable object of fear for these people. (“Not even animals behave in that manner!” Murtaza Khan has claimed. Actually, many do.) Musical instruments would be prohibited, and women would not be allowed to sing. This, in the words of Bilal Philips, who was a favourite of several British mosques until he was barred from entering the nation, would “keep the sensual atmosphere of the society to a minimum”.

These clerics fear sensuality like arachnophobes fear spiders. Free mixing between the sexes, Alomgir Ali of the Tayyibun Institute has said, should be “prohibited…out of the fear that it will lead to haram”. While the opinions of these men can be misogynistic their lack of faith in male restraint is downright misandrous. So worried is Ali by the sexual urges of men that women “must not be perfumed and scented”. Indeed, they should “stay quietly in [their] homes in order to prevent those who have a sickness in their heart from being lustful”.

In the home, in the view of Sheikh Assim al-Hakeem, “the man is in charge of the woman” and “disciplines her if she goes astray” because “men are superior to women”. In this Sheikh’s opinion, as in that of Haitham al-Haddad, who saysthe earlier is the better”, “it is permissible to marry a child”. These men both feel that such young girls should have already undergone genital mutilation. When Al-Hakeem was invited to Leyton Mosque it was to speak on “Harmony in Marriage” and when Al-Haddad spoke at Leyton Sixth Form College it was on the question “Does Islam Oppress Women?” That, friends, is black comedy.

The state that these clerics hope to establish, then, is one that serves the purposes of joyless, brutal male Muslims. This would be convenient for them but no fun for anybody else.

Supremacism

As is heavily implied by their enthusiasm for killing and oppressing people who disagree with them, Islamic theocrats tend to hold non-Muslims and, indeed, Muslims with different interpretations of Islam from their own in disdain at best and hateful contempt at worst. Assim al-Hakeem tells his followers to feel “enmity and hatred of the kaafirs” and Abdur Raheem Green has gone so far as to proclaim his indifference to their deaths.

Resembling non-Muslims in their behaviour is a grave fear of theirs. Murtaza Khan, for example, warned his followers that Muslims have become “Jews in our clothing, Jews in our eating and Jews in everything”. The shame of being like a Jew is, it seems, great to him. Separation from the kaafir is the policy they uphold. Al-Hakeem insists that Muslims should “not befriend them” and Khan warnsnot [to] greet them”. If they feel such hostility towards us they are allowed nay welcome to leave.

There are, of course, lamentable features of our culture and the only thing that I could say in its defence is that it beats a culture where music is banned and heresy criminalised. These men, though, exaggerate its worst features for effect. Green has claimed in apparent seriousness that most British girls have lost their virginities by the age of thirteen. There are only a few places in the world where the defilement of young girls would be expected and they do not tend to be secular.

Some of the most fervid bigotry of these preachers is reserved for particular ethnic and religious groups. As Khan’s paranoid proclamations might have suggested, Islamic totalists tend to have low opinions of the Jewish people. Abu Usamah, for example, thinks that they, along with Christians, are “enemies of Islam”. Abdur Raheem Green agrees, saying that “the Jews” are “terrorists”. Hussain Ye, a one-time adviser to Green’s Islamic Education and Research Academy, has ranted that Jews are “the extremists of the world” and “kill because they are the chosen people”. The fate of the Jews in Malmö is evidence of the danger of this bigotry.

These men can reserve their greatest anger for Muslims whose beliefs diverge from their own. Khalid Fikry, an Egyptian cleric who is named as the author of a gushing tribute to Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Blind Sheikh, has given talks that rail against Shia Muslims. They are, he says, an “ignorant kaafir sect” and “the greatest allies with the Americans, as well as with the Jew”. This makes themone of the worst and greatest enemies against our Ummah”. When the Islamic Society of London Metropolitan University invited Fikry to give a talk they prepared themselves for him by “liking” the Facebook page “The Reality of Shia”, on which one is told that Shia Muslims are an “evil cult” that “feed off…blood”. Considering the rate at which Shia Muslims are killed in nations like Pakistan and Iraq this sectarian demagoguery is a grave matter.

I shall now discuss the various platforms that Islamic totalists have used in their energetic efforts to advance their ideologies.

Mosques

The Mosque is, of course, the centre of religious activity for Muslims. Many British Mosques might host speakers with noxious opinions but what is more disturbing is when Mosques are effectively turned into castles from which the propagation of unpleasant and dangerous opinions can be overseen. This has been achieved on notable occasions.

Abu Usamah is the Imam of Green Lane Mosque. In 2007 Channel 4 documentary Undercover Mosque recorded Usamah preaching supremacist theocratic dogma. He insisted that his words were taken out of context but his deeds as imam of the Mosque, among other things, belie this claim. In 2010 it invited two Saudi clerics, Sheikh Faisal Al-Jassim and Sheikh Abdul Aziz As-Sadhan, to preach despite the fact that the former had said Muslims should “fight all kafirs” and “make governance in the earth according to the sharia of Allah” and the latter had blamed “the Jews” for “every disorder and fierce war”. These men’s opinions were pointed out to the officials of the Mosque who shrugged and invited them back again. The “visiting scholars” that they boast of on their website still include Al-Jassim and As-Sadhan, as well as Abdur Raheem Green, Murtaza Khan, Assim al-Hakim and Bilal Phillips.

Leyton’s Masjid-al-Tawhid, meanwhile, is effectively a base camp for the sort of men that I have been describing. When Islamia Village, a conference featuring such clerics as Abdur Raheem Green, Abu Usamah and Asim al-Hakeem, was cancelled the mosque flung open its doors. Its upcoming winter conference, held on 25th, will feature Murtaza Khan and Hamza Tzortzis of the Islamic Education and Research Academy. I can think of few places I’d less like to be on Christmas.

Courts

There are alleged to be dozens of sharia councils at work in the U.K.. These, which arbitrate on marriages, divorces and disputes regarding children, offer clerics the sense of being in an Islamic state.

If this sounds unfair, consider the officialdom of the Islamic Sharia Council, the largest Sharia body operating in Britain. Maulana Abu Sayeed, the President of the Council and a man who’s been charged with involvement in war crimes in his homeland of Bangladesh, has claimed that rape is “impossible” within marriage. Suhaib Hasan, Secretary of the Council, was recorded by Undercover Mosque preaching that “the Khilaafah” will have “political dominance”; institute “the chopping of the hands of the thieves, the flogging of the adulterers and flogging of the drunkards” and wage “jihad against the non-Muslims”. Haitham al-Haddad, the man who represents it in the media, is familiar by now.

The courts allow Muslims to live at least somewhat independently of the state. Hundreds if not thousands of marriages are conducted in such institutions without being legally registered. What makes this especially problematic is the fact that the judges often discriminate against women. Suhaib Hasan was recorded by the Guardian discussing an at least somewhat abusive marriage with a wife. “He has hit me in the past,” she said, “He hit me once.” “Only once?” He asked with an unpleasant chuckle. “So it’s not a very serious matter.”

Stories of abusive discrimination abound. Charlotte Proudman, a barrister and blogger, wrote of talking to a Muslim woman who was trying to escape a forced marriage. “Despite countless emails, letters and telephone calls to the Sharia council,” Proudman wrote, “[It] refuse[d] to provide Nasrin with an Islamic divorce”. The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation have alleged that sharia courts in some mosques have officiated marriages involving underage girls.

Da’wah

There is no reason to be in this country,” a British-born cleric Abu Abdissalam has asserted, “Except for dawah.” It is important not to think that there need be something baleful about evangelism. Yet there can be. Some of these preachers have openly cast their work as a propaganda campaign. Abdur Raheem Green suggests that as a younger man he went to fight with the mujahideen in Afghanistan but was told by the men who would become the Taliban that, “If you want to help us go back to England and give da’wah and call people to Islam”.

Green, if this is true, has proved himself worthy of their hopes. He is chairman of the Islamic Research and Education Academy, which is an ambitious dawah organisation that I have written of before. As well as touring the Islamic societies of British universities, and even cropping up in the odd school, they have offered retreats and evangelised at public events. Their ideas might be archaic but their presentation is modern. They have even grasped the virtues of shameless self-promotion: issuing press releases; goading big-name bloggers and even piggy-backing on the success of the Olympics. Their ambitions are international as well. They have a branch in Canada; have been to nations as far-flung as Norway and Qatar and recently completed a tour of Africa that took them to Uganda, Mozambique and Malawi.

Their work is designed as much to promote Islam as political ideology as personal faith. Hamza Tzortzis, a young, enthusiastic and articulate colleague of Green’s, often rails against the ills of secular society in what a critic observed was “worthy of the Daily Mail”. In its place, he promotes the “Islamic view of human rights”. This entails a system of sharia law and hudud punishments, though the canny Tztorzis skirts around discussion of its gravest implications. Their advisers are further proof of the crudeness of the ideas that lurk behind sophisticated presentation: they have included Al-Haddad, Bilal Philips, Hussain Ye and Abu Abdissalam.

Universities

In 2011 Malcolm Grant, Provost and President of University College London, insisted that campus extremism is a “non-issue”; something that “doesn’t exist”. This, as I have written previously, is a myth. The watchdog Student Rights – a useful source on this issue if, given their association with the warmongering Henry Jackson Society, a somewhat unreliable one – has long been documenting the enthusiasm Islamic societies have for preachers such as those mentioned in this essay, most of whom are regular features of British campuses.

Whole societies can be devoted to theocratic propagandising. The ISOC of City University, for example, was analysed for a report by the Quillam Foundation, which alleged that it had been “an incubator for extremist, intolerant and potentially violent” ideas and behaviour. The ISOC of London South Bank University, which has given a platform to men like Abdur Raheem Green and Murtaza Khan, was found to have uploaded videos of the sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki nine times in a three month period between this year and the last.

Islamic Societies are overseen on a national level by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies. FOSIS, as it is known, has been described in the media as “anything but radical” yet it has worked closely with Haitham al-Haddad and Abdur Raheem Green and his colleagues at iERA. Its London Chair is a man who surreptitiously attends extremist conferences; seeks guidance from totalists like Bilal Philips and has promoted the words of Muhammad Al-Munajjid. It is not a monolithic organisation but it is clear that its officialdom are at best apathetic in the face of theocrats and at worst supportive of them.

Media

While I suspect that none of you have made a habit of watching the God Channel or Ramadan TV between the football and Peep Show on a Sunday evening, there exists a thriving media industry that serves the faithful. Muslims are no different, and can choose from a range of television channels and radio stations. Some of these, regrettably, have offered platforms to the worst theocratic propagandists.

The Islam Channel is perhaps the most extraordinary feat of religious programming, in that it is said to attract almost a million British Muslims. It was censured by Ofcom in 2010 on five grounds, among which was the fact that a presenter employed by the channel justified marital rape. The host that cheerfully proclaimed that she saw no bring problem with “the man feel[ing] he has to force himself upon the woman” was, incidentally, the Women’s Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Elsewhere in the schedules of the Islam channel one can find Abu Usamah, who has enjoyed a platform there for years. Criticism of some of its decision making has inspired little reflection. When the charges that prompted the Ofcom inquiry were raised the Muslim Council of Britain replied that critics were demonising “social conservatism”. Apologetics for rape and the promotion of anti-semitic, homophobic and misogynistic advocates of jihad represent social conservatism? Who knew!

The makers of Ramadan TV, meanwhile, proudly claim that eight out of ten British Muslim homes have viewed their channel at one time or another.  It is effectively a partner to the Islamic Education and Research Academy, broadcasting their documentaries, talks and charity appeals. Hamza Tzortzis hosts The Dawah Show while Abdur Raheem Green and his colleague Yusuf Chambers present The Green and Chambers Show. (No, it isn’t quite Morecambe and Wise, is it.)

Human Rights Organisations

The Islamic Human Rights Commission claims to work “for justice for all”, but has a funny way of showing it. They organise the Al Quds Day Demonstration, and adorn their adverts with quotes from “Imam Khomeini”. Justice, it seems, is not due to the thousands the Ayatollah had killed. The resources they’ve offered to mark the occasion inform the reader that “the greatest evil facing…mankind today is not AIDS, Pollution, or Nuclear War [but] international Zionism”. “It is the Zionist greed for wealth, lust for perverted sex, greed for power [and] domination”, one is told, “That is causing AIDS, POLLUTION as well as threatening NUCLEAR WAR”. Justice, then, is not thought fit for Jews. Or, indeed, the English language.

Cageprisoners, meanwhile, campaigns to “to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror”. There is nothing wrong with campaigning on behalf of suspected terrorists or, indeed, actual terrorists if their treatment is unjust. There is, however, something wrong with sympathising with them. Asim Qureshi, the executive director of Cageprisoners, stood outside the US embassy in London and roared that it was “incumbent upon [Muslims] to support the jihad” in “Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan. To declare such absolute support for Hamas, the Taliban, the IIPB and Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia is to squeeze a lot of unpleasantness into a short speech.

The attitude of Cageprisoners towards the men that they support has been peculiar. They – as, I regret, did I – wrote on behalf of a man named Abu Rideh, who lived in Britain under a control order. Moazzam Begg, the director of the organisation and a former convict of Guantanamo Bay, even claimed that he had worked alongside him in Afghanistan before they fell under suspicion. He was allowed to leave Britain in 2009 but was then claimed to have died in Afghanistan while fighting alongside militants. This was on the less than wholly reliable basis of the chatter on “jihadi web forums” yet Rideh’s friends and supporters did not dispute the claims. They failed to do as much as mention them. Since then, the man has been referenced only once by the organisation, in a piece by the journalist Victoria Brittain that claimed he was “spurred by a burning sense of injustice” and known for his “acts of kindness and generosity to others” yet did not pass mention of the apparent nature of his death.

Cageprisoners have worked alongside the Tayyibun Institute, which is an institution staffed by, among other clerics, Haitham al-Haddad, Suhaib Hasan and a Saudi duo: Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak and Salih al Munajjid. The former is notorious for demanding the execution of heretical Saudi newspaper columnists, and the latter is best known for Islam QA, a website that offers such pearls of wisdom as that waging jihad against [people] if they do not accept Islam or accept paying the jizyah, is obligatory”. Cageprisoners held a meeting with a representative of the institute: Murtaza Khan. They liked him so much that they invited him to address their next annual dinner.

It is important to stress that there is nothing inherently suspicious or disreputable about campaigning against Western human rights abuses. Indeed, when it is done right it can be as admirable as any human deed. Yet there are people who hijack human rights causes in an effort to promote their own agendas. In recent times, it seems, these have included Islamic supremacism.

So…

The opinions that I have discussed in this essay are unpleasant, of course, but one might ask how they are actually harmful. I suspect that the idea that their designs for this nation will be realised is, while not preposterous still less impossible, one that belongs to the realm of futurology. As long as downward trends in non-EU migration and birth rates among Muslims continue followers of Muhammad are not likely to outnumber their kafir compatriots in the near future. Even then, a lot of Muslims would be unlikely to want to establish an Islamic state.

It is a temptation of people who criticise Muslim demagogues to attempt to separate them from authentic Islam. I am not going to do this. It would be monstrously arrogant of me to claim that I have a more sophisticated understanding of Haitham al-Haddad’s faith than he does. These men are neither idiots nor conscious scoundrels. (Though it would not surprise me if they included the odd spook.) Their ideas are rooted in age-old traditions of Islam, and, in many cases, are shared by millions of Muslims abroad and in the U.K.. It is simply true that Islam has remained far more open to totalistic interpretations than other faiths, and I do not think Muslims would dispute this.

It is also true, however, that people can interpret the faith in a different manner. British commentators have often observed that British Muslims are depressingly liable to endorse theocratic measures. It is also true, however, that many do not. Policy Exchange questioned members of this demographic in 2007 and while they found that awful views were awfully popular some of their findings would appall the clerics I have been discussing. 61% of Muslims said they had as much in common with their non-Muslim compatriots as with believers; 59% claimed to prefer British law to the sharia; 49% even endorsed “a major reinterpretation of sharia law to reflect modern ideas about human rights, equality for women and tolerance of religious conversion”. Whether Islam could be shaped thusly is a question that I am not fit to judge but the aspiration, shared by so many people, is heartening.

It is also proof of the especial urgency of opposing these propagandists. A depressing fact that Policy Exchange revealed is that Muslim youths tend to have worse opinions than their elders. While 28% of British Muslims said they would prefer to live under sharia law than British law, 37% of 16 to 24 year-old’s held that opinion. While 49% of Muslims would support the reform of the sharia, 37% of 16 to 24 year-olds agreed. It is no coincidence, then, that theocrats have made such efforts to appeal to the young. They hope to shape the minds of a new generation.

A significant minority of people who share the opinions and attitudes of these men could do a great deal of harm. Let’s face it: people who believe they are surrounded by enemies and evildoers, who deserve to be conquered and, in many cases, killed are not going to do wonders for community relations. They are not merely averse to integration but make their detachment a point of pride. The more people who join them in their camp, the more unbridgeable the gap will become.

To avoid social conflict and cultural stagnation it is important that young Muslims explore their beliefs and, when they are found wanting, adjust them. They must have the freedom to encounter critical perspectives. Theocrats justly fear that education will expand the intellectual horizons of young people as that poses a threat to their narrow beliefs. Heretical notions, then, must be suppressed. This month, a conference on Islam and evolution at Imperial College London had to be cancelled after opposition from members of its Islamic Society. Usama Hasan, a British Imam, was ousted last year after a campaign against him on the basis of his endorsement of Darwinian evolution. When Channel 4 broadcast Tom Holland’s documentary on the origins of Islam he was forced to endure a storm of online abuse from aggrieved Islamists and one Muslim organisation went so far as to demand that the film be withdrawn and apologised for.

These men rarely advocate crime but this does not mean they cannot inspire it. When they speak of executing apostates, remember Sophie Allam being forced from her home. When they speak of killing heretics, remember Gary Smith being knifed for teaching religious education. When they insult Christians think of Aslam Parvez being attacked because his daughter married one. When they sneer at women think of Shiria Khatun being abused for wearing trousers. Remember that children are being married off and mutilated; that Jews have been treated as enemies and attacked and that blasphemers often live in fear and sometimes, indeed, die.

It is true that the preachers would not recommend at least some of these deeds, under our current circumstances at least, but if you declare that something is a grave sin and that those who are guilty of it deserve shocking punishments you cannot be surprised if people decide to enact them. If a neo-Nazi claimed that abusing black people would be legitimate under an aryan state we would not think them innocent if their followers did it anyway.

This can make their persistent and, perhaps, sincere disavowals of terrorists hard to stomach. Their endorsement of Islamic armies in foreign wars from Somalia to Afghanistan could evidently motivate Britons to trot off and join them. Yet their hateful attacks on our culture, recommendations of “enmity and hatred” towards our people and insistence that we are deserving of subjugation could also inspire a young hothead to attack us. I do not have evidence that this has happened but I would not be surprised if it did. Say you told somebody that a colleague was a child abuser that you would have jailed or hung if you were in the judiciary. If they went on to attack him you could not evade responsibility by telling your employers that you had told them it would be immoral to punch him. Violence was a plausible consequence of such extraordinary and unmerited demonisation and while you might escape some of the blame if it was unintended you would not be irreproachable.

British institutions have completely failed to oppose these men. Indeed, they have been more liable to elevate or excuse them. The Al-Muntada Trust, which employs and hosts numerous people who hate our guts and wish to subordinate us, has been praised by our elected officials, parliamentarians and peers. When Channel 4 broadcast Undercover Mosque the West Midlands Police, in coordination with the Crown Prosecution Service, took action not against the men featured in the programme but against its creators. They investigated them for evidence of incitement to racial hatred and, finding none, referred them Ofcom. The watchdog rejected complaints against the programme and the police were forced to open their pockets after being sued by Channel 4.

I suspect this has a lot to do with a blinkered universalism that blinds commentators and officials to the cultural differences between different peoples. The panicked and unrehearsed reactions to such unpleasant societal phenomena as kindoki and genital mutilation were evidence of what I’ve informally terms cultural whatthehellavitism – outright ignorance of the fact that people can think and behave in very different ways. Many people doubtless think these men are just eccentric social conservatives.

Another obscurant has been the excessive fear of “Islamophobia”. It must be said that bigotry against Muslims is a dangerous feature of Britain, and that we must strive to oppose its worst manifestations. This is often denied by critics of Islam and its adherents but if a nation was marked, within the space of a year, by assaults on multiple churches or synagogues and violence directed towards numerous Christians or Jews they would not hesitate before describing them as homes of anti-Christian or anti-semitic bigotry. If your attitude is different when targets are Mosques and Muslims you are either blind to facts that contradict your worldview or think that someone’s faith legitimises violence against them.

Yet people have become oversensitive to causing offence or inciting abuse, and their fear of perpetrating such sins of commission have led them to commit a sin of omission in ignoring the phenomena I have described. Others, myself included, have been prejudiced against the notion that the right wing folk they perceive as embodying most of the things are lamentable in politics might be onto something.

The far left have generally been at the forefront of anti-racist activities and have led the organised attempts to fight Islamophobia. Their work has proceeded from the notion that their enemies’ enemy is their friend. Fascists oppose Muslims and imperialists often struggle with them so they are held to be allies in the fight against both. This blinds activists to the vile ideas that they can embody. Chris Nineham, for example, a founding member of the Enough Coalition against Islamophobia, was interviewed last year on the “prejudices about Muslims [and] Islam”. And by whom? The Islamic Republic News Agency.

In 2011 Unite Against Fascism published a book titled Defending Multiculturalism. One of its chapters took the form of an interview with Dilowar Khan, Executive Director of the East London Mosque. “In June 2010,” he said, the EDL “singled out an Islamic conference and mounted a campaign calling for it to be banned for having so-called “radical” speakers”. “This wasn’t true,” he said, “A fact that both the police and the local council confirmed”. The conference featured Abu Usamah, Bilal Phillips, Haitham al-Haddad, Murtaza Khan and Hussain Ye. This essay has hopefully proved that anyone who thinks that these men are not “radical” is either lying or has a hideous definition of the term. To imagine how I feel about UAF allowing Khan spread this claim in their publication, imagine an anti-Islamist group allowing a contributor to one of its books to claim that David Irving, Don Black and Varg Vikernes are not far right.

These people revile efforts to oppose the ideas and practices they have ignored or excused. An enduring feature of the anti-racist Left has been Islamophobia Watch. The site links to news reports, and sometimes adds commentary, and it is true that many of its items feature evidence of disturbing and disgusting hatred towards Muslims. Islamophobia Watch extends its critique, however, to people who have made substantive criticisms of Islam and, indeed, of some of its worst representatives. When Green Lane Mosque invited As-Sadhan and Al-Jassim they were criticised by the Quilliam Foundation and British Muslims for Secular Democracy. Bob Pitt, the man behind Islamophobia Watch, described this as evidence of “malicious sectarianism”. That’s right: opposing people who, according to unchallenged quotes, promote war against people who do not share their faith and blame the Jews for the Holocaust represents “malicious sectarianism”. Such rhetorical intimidation should be laughed back to the 1920s.

A materialisic concern of official apologists is, I suspect, an aversion to irritating our friends the Saudis. Sod the Saudis. It is Saudi training that equips the worst of these aspiring traitors. It is Saudi clerics who are shipped in to spread the darkness that clouds that sorry nation. It was Saudi textbooks that brought anti-Christian and anti-semitic propaganda into weekend clubs and schools. I know this is as futile as advising two schoolboys not to hang out with each other but we really have to stop pretending that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a friend to us. If different oil-rich nations were funding terrorism and promoting extremism Western governments would invade them. I am not promoting this as a strategy, of course, but as far as possible we should be disassociating ourselves from the place.

I have often wondered how the foreign born among these clerics ever got into the nation. At least some of them, it seems, were ungrateful beneficiaries of assistance. Khalid Fikry, now inciting sectarian hatred in our public and private spaces, was granted political asylum. So was Abu Qatada. So was Anas al-Liby. So was Mohammad al-Massari, Omar Bakri Mohammad and Yasser al-Siri. Such people should not be allowed in. If, as 99% of us believe, it is just to deny someone entrance to a country because they are ill-educated or otherwise unemployable it is fair to refuse them if they are unfriendly and dangerous. If people want to establish an Islamic state I urge them to stay in nations where such opinions find favour or, if they live elsewhere, move.

Others, though, will stay here and others will mature. As Green and others have proved, even bourgeois Englishmen turn into Islamists. Their activities should be opposed. Where it is within the jurisdiction of officials to obstruct their propagandising this should be achieved. Otherwise it is our job. It was good to see a protest greet Abu Usamah when he spoke at Brunel University and such activism should be more widespread. People never seem to have trouble mobilising demonstrations against nationalists and Nazis whose audiences are considerably smaller so there is no good excuse for not taking action here.

This is a matter of pride, not just self-preservation. If a lodger strode into your flat and started deriding the furniture; making plans to replace it with their own and speculating about forcing you to cook their meals and wash their pants you would take it as an affront. The behaviour of these clerics is similarly insulting, and our acceptance of it has demeaned us. Asserting the worth of our culture; the barbarity of their ideas and, crucially, our right to speak about them as we wish should be done with an assurance that proves we are not chumps or chickens.

It is also a matter of basic decency. I write as I listen to Anne Briggs and think of finishing a book that I have been enjoying. Later, I will venture out to help preparations for a Nativity play with a very nice group of men and women. It strikes me that all of these activities would be difficult, dangerous or impossible to achieve nations in like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. I’ll be damned if people in my vicinity get away with applauding the fact.

So, I was listening, as one does, to a talk by a man named Abu Bilal Sanel, issued at the notorious Green Lane Mosque. It was titled “Life and its deceptions” but it could have been entitled “Life is a deception”…

Life in this world in itself is nothing but a delusion. This is the reality of this life – nothing but a deception.

To have listened to much more would have impaired my mental health. Later in the evening, though, I followed a link to an eerie propaganda video that featured industrious theocrat Haitham al-Haddad. He was saying…

Forget about this dunyā - it is really worth nothing. In reality it’s worth nothing…In this life we are just struggling and we are trying to win the battle between ourselves and the Shaytaan.

I’m not the most upbeat of people and am in no place to claim that earthly life is a big ball of fun. Even as a nonbeliever I can also grant that its pleasures can be misleading and a distraction from the search for goodness. With that said, however, I am still repelled by this grim perception of life. Let us ponder the human capacities for pleasure: for hearing beautiful music; tasting succulent foods; smelling wildlife and feeling the body of another. Let us think of our apparent immaterial capabilities: for loving a partner, child or friend; for appreciating nature; for inquiring as to the truth of all aspects of the world. These are far from being guarantees of a fulfilling life but to dismiss them as inconsequential seems bizarre.

These statements do not merely represent a dismissal of earthly pleasure, though, but of earthly pain. Once you understand that Haddad thinks of life as “nothing” it is easier to comprehend how he can demand that repression and suffering be inflicted on people. This, he must believe, is insignificant when you think of the pleasure they will draw from the afterlife if they are kept from Shaytan’s grasp. The cries of young girls, apostates and heretics are easy to ignore when your head rings with the hosannas of the heavenly and the shrieks of those who are consigned to Hell.

I’m not making a substantive argument as to their incorrectness – to do so would require a thorough philosophical response. I did want to marvel, though, at the staggering bleakness of their worldview; a creed that is not so much anti-life as utterly disdainful of existence. The strains of violins; the flight of a bird; the love of a friend; the pain of tortured women. They are “nothing”. Makes you wonder why a God would stive to create this place…

People only like debating when they think they’re good at it. You can take special pleasure from dancing or football if you happen to be talented but they have other virtues that appeal regardless. Once you’ve lost the smugness of perceived superiority, however, all debating is is a parlour game for assholes. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to make a point without being oppositional. So it is as one regards the head-shaking and finger-wagging directed at people who see violence erupt in response to a film and interpret it in an unsympathetic light. These arguments are bound to occur again and so it’s worth dealing with ones you disagree with the most onerous ones soundly.

Jeff Sparrow compares the reaction of protesting Muslims to that of Indian rebels of the 1800s, for whom the news that their cartridges were greased with tallow was the straw that snapped the proverbial humpbacked creature’s spine. This is an example of the irrational generalisation of Eastern misery that I discussed here. It’s frankly insulting to compare the downtrodden sepoys to the well-off Indonesians, free Australians and residents of peaceful Tunisia who’ve been kicking off, never mind to scheming Salafists of Libya and Egypt. The former bear no comparison to the latter. Sparrow’s explanation might retain a touch of plausibility if it such protests were uncommon, or if their targets were only imperial powers. They’re not. We’ve seen them directed against Swedes, in the form of Lars Vilks; Danes like Kurt Westergaard; Dutchmen such as Van Gogh; English people like Salman Rushdie; Frenchmen, represented by the blokes of Charlie Hebdo; Pakistanis like poor Asia Bibi and Rimsha Masih; Tunisians such as Nabil Karoui; Saudis like Hamza Kashgari; Indonesians like Alexander Aan et cetera ad nauseum.

Sparrow continues by comparing the strange film that incited much of this anger to the Protocols, and writes that “no-one’s surprised when Jews…mobilise against some fresh incarnation of that notorious document”. Funny. The Arabic media regularly produces anti-semitic content, from the Jew-hating Palestinian Mickey Mouse to the Egyptian Candid Camera show that disturbed a guest by introducing her to men who claimed to be Israelis. Violent protests? There were none. If Israelis or Americans had taken to the streets and set upon Arabic embassies, though, it’s hard to believe that liberals and socialists would be in such a hurry to contextualise their deeds.

On the day that Sparrow’s article was featured on Counterpunch, by the way, they published “Pol Pot Revisited” by the Swedish anti-semite Israel Shamir. Even as Cambodia’s genocide court continued its exposure of atrocities of that vile little man, Shamir saw fit to claim that “the Pol Pot Cambodians remember was not a tyrant, but a great patriot and nationalist” and insist that we “reassess the brave attempts to reach for socialism in various countries”. He did not, of course, cite any polls that might support this view, or even name a single Cambodian who believed it. I’m not implying that Mr Sparrow is responsible for the opinions of the people his thoughts share space with but if it’s real, ignorance that vexes him he could look closer to home.

Think Progress, meanwhile, writing on the Ayaan Hirsi Ali article I critiqued here, succumb to an annoying habit of liberals – and, in fairness, I’m sure I’ve done as well – which entails the quotation of views as if they’re evidently disreputable when they are not. Hirsi Ali said, as they prissily observe, that…

The Muslim men and women (and yes, there are plenty of women) who support — whether actively or passively — the idea that blasphemers deserve to suffer punishment are not a fringe group. On the contrary, they represent the mainstream of contemporary Islam.

This is, in fact, correct as various Islamic figures have been proving in the last week. The Saudi Grand Mufti, the Imam of Al-Azhar and even the supposedly moderate Prime Minister of the Turks have been demanding that insults against Muhammad be recognised as crimes. Now the head of the OIC has insisted that nations worldwide should “come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression” and criminalise blasphemy. The nations he represents can be so fervid with intolerance that a schoolgirl can be threatened and detained and he’s worked up over behaviour in Western countries? Their response should be a word that’s made up of two letters. It begins with “n” and it’s not “ni”.

One cannot, of course, explain these men’s responses by claiming that they’re manifestations of anti-imperial rage – or, at least, you’d have to woefully condescending to imagine that such sober and intelligent gentlemen don’t mean what they say. They make little secret of the facts that the defenders of their faith ignore: that they feel that their religion is so sacred as to render disrespect intolerable, and that, in accordance with popular interpretations of its scriptures, they believe it mandates that its precepts be enforced rather than being adhered to as a matter of choice. That hundreds of millions of people think and act on this doesn’t mean their beliefs and deeds can’t also be inspired and influenced by a host of other factors. Yet it’s nonetheless true, and it really does matter.

While I’m largely interested in the response to the film the movie itself provokes worthwhile questions. Not its contents, of course, but its origins. It has to be learnt exactly who produced and funded it; not so they can be locked in the slammer but as if there’s a powder keg lying around it’s worth knowing who’s going to do their utmost to ignite it. The reaction to the reaction also deserves comment but I’ll restrict myself to one point. Ralph Peters, a bloodthirsty man who’s previously fantasised about military attacks on war correspondents, has insisted that the deaths of four Americans be answered with the deaths of four hundred Libyans. No. Just – no. The closest that our armies should get to the Middle East is when the troops have time off and play Medal of Honor. Let’s be more outspoken but less militaristic. More criticism and fewer bombs is not, I think, too nightmarish a vision of the future.

If you’d told me that a Coptic refugee would make a blasphemous film with people including a militant Christian activist and a gay porn star and incite demonstrations by Muslims across the world I’d have said it was an interesting synopsis and I’d look forward to watching it. As these curious events have turned out to be real, though, I can’t help offering my two penn’orth.

Commentators trying to explain incidents of violence or oppression in the Middle East tend to divide between those who emphasise the importance of material and ideological contexts. It’s a false dichotomy. Islamic supremacism inspires people regardless of how comfortable they are but the conditions of their lives make it and elements of it more or less attractive. If your nation has been on the wrong end of a storm of violence provoked by Westerners, say, you’re far more likely to be energised by a doctrine that offers explanations for their deeds and a chance for revenge. There is a myth of Muslim misery, however, which interprets all manifestations of religious anger as cries of a desperate people. Myriam Francois-Cerrah writes

Muhammad is a man whose status in the eyes of many Muslims, cannot be overstated. When your country has been bombed, you’ve lost friends and family, possibly your livelihood and home, dignity is pretty much all you have left.

The largely illusive cohesion of the Ummah can lead people to generalise experiences of some Muslims as being those of all 1.6 billion of ‘em. Here, then, Francois-Cerrah makes an Islamic world that’s pockmarked with conflicts sound like a giant smoking crater. Yet millions of Muslims enjoy lives of peace and, indeed, relative prosperity. Muslims in Tunisia haven’t lost their homes. Muslims in Indonesia haven’t lost their friends and families. If Muslims in Australia or France have seen their countries bombed it comes as news to me. To reduce such people, many of whom have endured no worse hardship than you or I, to something more akin to wounded animals than creatures of reason is, among other things, not a little condescending.

The idea that these are just reactions against Western imperialism attains plausibility due to our media’s heavy coverage of those bursts of outrage directed against Western targets. Yet this is a limited perspective. Violence and censoriousness frequently erupts against local incidents of perceived disrespect. Alexander Aan, born and bred in Indonesia, was attacked and jailed over his nonbelief. Nabil Karoui saw his home firebombed after broadcasting the film Persepolis in Tunisia. Rimsha Masih and family live in fear in Pakistan after the poor girl was charged with blasphemy. The people who bullied this schoolgirl were not pissed off over Iraq.

It’s worth mentioning that relatively few people have been demonstrating. Protests have boasted hundreds of people in countries of millions. The people who’ve been so worked up as to take to the streets are the radical fringe. While the bulk of their countrymen think the film no less obnoxious they’re apparently more worried by their jobs, their families and all their quotidian concerns than some America movie. They believe in a political Islam: in states in which religious precepts are enforced by institutions of government. Thus, we find the Saudi Grand Mufti and Imam of Al-Azhar demanding that insulting Muhammad be prohibited worldwide. This sort of moderate extremism – extreme in ambition; moderate in manner – is no more congenial but at least we can snub and avoid it.

You’ll have doubtless heard of Tom Holland’s documentary on the origins of Islam. I’m not so clued-up as to offer a judgement of its worth. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed casts a few unfair insinuations in his critique – it seems odd to accuse Holland of a “colonial mindset” for observing that pre-Islamic Arabs were considered savages when (a) they were and (b) they were by Muslimsbut he offers substantive points that at the least deserve responses. May the experts debate and the truth be revealed.

Much of the backlash, however, has been obscurantist and hostile. There have been furious responses on Twitter – including diagnoses of Holland as a Jew and fantasies about his being stabbed in the face – but the most disturbing reaction has been that of the Ramadhan Foundation, which launched an extraordinary attack that made a couple of erroneous criticisms, warned that they’d find Islamic scholars to critique the film and then demanded that Channel 4 withdraw it and apologise. Yes – they wanted its withdrawal, and apologies, before they’d even found out if and how it was mistaken.

I can understand why religious people might have been sensitive to Holland’s film. It cast doubt on their most sacred of beliefs and this has to be painful. They believe it was fallacious and to have such a belief misrepresented must be aggravating. Islam hasn’t faced the scepticism Christian ideas have in recent centuries so doubt must, for many, be peculiar. Still, I’m sensitive as well. I’m sensitive to violent and censorious reactions to freethinking. It’s a touchy subject. You see, it’s my fundamental belief that human knowledge advances through the criticism of each others’ ideas and when I see people implying or asserting that their own are too sacred to be questioned I’m liable to become ill-tempered.

You can understand, looking across the world, why these sensitivies might cause me to grow heated. When people who share the violence of the Twitter bullies and the intolerance of the Ramadhan Foundation have power they exert a dreadful philistinic influence. The Iranian fatwa against Salman Rushdie is an infamous example but there have been multifarious more recent cases. After withdrawing copies of Irshad Manji’s heretical polemic from the nation’s stores Malaysian police have arrested its publisher. When Manji toured Indonesia in the spring she was assaulted, while elsewhere on the island a publisher faced outrage after releasing a book that disrespected Mohammad and was forced to apologise and burn all of his copies of it. Alexander Aan was beaten up and jailed for two years. Ismail Rasheed was stoned, stabbed and driven out of the Maldives. The Egyptian Gamal Abdou Massoud will spend the rest of his teenage years in prison. These examples are representative of an allergy to scepticism and irreverence that provokes destructive reactions against the freedom of individuals and the well-being of societies.

People who dislike and disagree with criticism of their religious beliefs are welcome and, indeed, encouraged to defend their ideas against it but those who assume they have a right to be untroubled are going to have to learn to cope with exposure to doubt because people who share the sensitivities I’ve admitted to are not going to become any more tolerant of obscurantism and censorship.

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