Islam and Europe

In the week before the Swiss voted on banning the construction of minarets the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group (which is where the UK Tories sit) and the British Council did their bit to entrench a bit of prejudice by putting on a debate in the Parliament on “Islam and Europe”.  I had the misfortune of attending this event and to come face to face with the likes of Douglas Murray. 

Douglas Murray, the widely credited political commentator, came off by far the strongest in the debate.  This is a travesty of the highest order as he presents such simplistic arguments (albeit in a clever and articulate way) that anyone with even the slightest grasp of Islam should have been able to expose him.  None of the panellists managed this.  I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert on Islam, or even a follower of the faith.  What I am, is somebody who can see that having a debate about “Islamic culture” and “European culture” is so overly simplified that it borders on being useless. 

There is clearly a debate that does need to happen, and this is how to reconcile potentially antagonistic aspects of cultures within a given geographic location.  We can see that honour killings for example are clearly incompatible with western understandings of liberalism and human rights.  Murray went to great lengths to represent some actions of some people who purport to act in the name of Islam as being representative of Islam as a whole.

This argument should be quite easy to show as being flawed.  Just as the opinions put forward by George Bush in the name of Christianity might sit uncomfortably with lots of practicing Christians, so an individual Muslim in the public eye may well act in a way that is abhorrent to many millions of Muslims.  This first point was at least partially raised, that people interpret faith in many different ways and can use it to justify all sorts of actions (from invading countries to habitually helping the poor!).

The point that was not raised (to my utter shock) however was that theologically Islam is extremely diverse.  It is a truism that Liberal Quakers and the Catholic Church represent two very different schools of Christian thought.  In the western media and in every day life however there is a lot of loose language around different schools of Islamic thought.  The most often quoted is that of Wahhabism (thanks in large to people’s connections with it and Bin Laden). Often this is blurred with inherently violent forms of Islam such as Jihadist Salafists.  It cannot be stated clearly enough that there is nothing inherently violent about Wahhabism.  There is something inherently conservative, but this is vastly different from violence.

There is nothing within Islam that suggests that it cannot be compatible with human rights and western understandings of liberalism (See the writings of An-Na’im http://www.law.emory.edu/aannaim/). What is apparent, is that an absolute understanding of Islam as one distinct religion (opposed to a series of theological schools of thought messily brought under one banner – like nearly all the world’s big religions) can be used to either justify the complete compatibility of Islam and western standards, or (if you so choose) it can be used to argue that they are inherently antagonistic. 

By arguing that any religion (including Islam) is inherently peace-loving is short-sighted and plays into the hands of those who would wish to paint a faith as intolerant (like Douglas Murray for example).  We all have a responsibility to engage with the worlds religions, even when we are starting off from a level of ignorance.  If we do not explore alternative religions and see the potential within them for moving towards a progressive future we will alienate those who wish to work for a better future through a religious framework.  Equally we leave ourselves ignorant to argue against those who wish to paint any given religion as being intolerant.

I happen to agree with Douglas Murray when he comes out with comments like “Mary was probably a Jew who told a lie” and “Mohamed probably did not write the Koran” (he actually said these things in the Parliament sessions), but I would have at least two responses to such comments :

  • Firstly I would have to question what he hopes to achieve by making such inflammatory statements and
  • Secondly I would suggest that he leaves himself alienated from billions of people who see their religion as their primary moral guide.  If Mr Murray is genuinely interested in building a better world he is going about it in a very strange way.  How can you build a better world when you have just insulted half of its population?

Instead of showing themselves to be progressive minded individuals the ECR and the British council have shown themselves to have little academic (let alone political) credibility.  If you are interested in this, do not be afraid to go and ask about it in your local mosque and be honest that you do not know much about Islam but you are interested. 

I am no expert, but even I can see that Douglas Murray is a short-sighted populist.  Let’s not stigmatise people because of the actions that are undertaken in the name of their faith.

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6 Comments

Filed under EU politics, Far-right politics, Human rights, Religion

6 responses to “Islam and Europe

  1. Martin Whiteside

    Great posting Steve – and good reply by Calum. Keep it flowing.
    Martin

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  2. Richard Hode

    “Lets not stigmatise people because of the actions that are undertaken in the name of their faith.”

    “Are undertaken?” By whom else but the practitioners of that “faith?” When Mohammedans commit one outrage after the other while living in the West (not even considering how they are killing each other like flies in their native lands,) then it is time to curb the Mohammedan sneak-invasion of Europe. We have struggled hard in the West to throw off the Catholic yoke that caused untold misery for centuries. Religious-inspired torture and burnings were the order of the day until we managed to pull the poison fangs of the Catholic Church. Are we now to consent to a 500-year setback to accommodate the Mohammedans who are fleeing their own countries only to bring their absurd religion into the West? The sight of the Mussulmans going ape over the Danish editorial cartoons should provide a warning to those who are able to see the threat that the Mohammedan religion presents to the secular West. Or can anyone imagine riots in Europe because a newspaper published sarcastic cartoons about Jesus? It would elicit a disinterested yawn, if even that.

    I realize that liberals and other self-fancied humanity-lovers are ignorant of European history. The Mohammedans tried several times to conquer the continent only to be rebuffed and sent packing. The liberals may even have conveniently forgotten how the Mohammedan armies surrounded Vienna and catapulted the heads of their beheaded captives into the city to terrorize the Viennese, but not everyone has forgotten, nor should they. I applaud the Swiss for defending their culture against the Mohammedans and hope the theme is taken up by other countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, places that suffer from a virtual invasion of Mohammedans clinging to their primitivism, their desert bloodlust, and their perverse drive to impose their own laws in defiance of the host countries that have most generously given them refuge.

    In particular, the imams should be curbed. If the Swiss want another effective measure against the sneak-islamization of their country, they should severely curtail the activities of imams and other Moslem religious leaders. It is mostly the imams who stir trouble in their mosques. England in particular seems to have been infested with several imams who preached jihad and promoted terrorism.

    The best way to counteract this is to closely supervise the Moslem clergy. For example, they could be required to report weekly to a monitoring agency, carrying a report of their weekly activities, signed by the board members of their congregations. Law-abiding people who insist on having an imam to guide their religious observance should have no problems with such supervision. As recent history has shown, imams can be deadly weapons when they preach jihad to their disaffected followers. Like the potentially deadly weapons they are, imams should be closely supervised to make sure they are safe.

    Be afraid, be very afraid of the alien presence, egged on by their bearded old men and their murderous religious fanatics. Mohammedans go home!

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    • Calum

      Intoxicating stuff Richard. Just as downing half a bottle of whiskey would, the teat you’ve been suckling on has impaired your vision and blunted your reason. I suggest you get back on the wagon dude.

      It’s precisely this sort of witch hunt that we liberals saved The West from ‘500 years ago’. Your wild fantasies are as indiscriminate as the suicide bombers that rip Pakistan to shreds. If you cared about the culture you’re convinced is under mortal danger, you’d not be part of the problem. But you are.

      Firstly, ‘Mohammedans’ are not the hitch. Rather, blame lies with blind extremists and reactionaries unable to deal with the multicultural societies the modern era has ushered in (take a mirror and have a good long look at yourself buddy – don’t worry, you can still change!).

      Secondly, no one has forgotten Vienna. We just got over it. After all, it was more than 450 years ago! You should quit living in the past, maybe you’d understand the present a little better (the same can be said for the suicide bombers… notice a pattern emerging here bud?).

      Finally, monitoring clergy won’t solve the problem. This type of surveillance is a counter-intelligence technique and does not prevent radicalisation. In fact, it requires radicalisation to have already taken place in order for targets to be readily identifiable. It’s an inappropriate tool designed for a different era (like I say, you’re living in the past man).

      If we are going to beat this thing, and save our societies and our values, we need to root out the reactionaries and haters on all sides (yes, that’s directed at you too Hodey) and extinguish their inflammatory messages. Long live liberalism (and our peace poles!).

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  3. Yes, I most certainly did mean do NOT be afriad. It is now in there. Do not hesitate to point out typos like that. Some people might get the wrong impression. I am glad you enjoyed the blog!

    S

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  4. Mike

    Steve, there should be the word not in the second last paragraph! “do not be afraid” etc otherwise very interesting. I hope Mr Murray has the grace to take on board what you are saying without retaliating!

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  5. Calum

    Great post mate. I’m going to be really, really simplistic: Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and arguably Turkey. Islam is a European religion too and has been for over a thousand years (I’m including Al-Ándalus in that cal-cu-lation). That makes it an essential part of “European culture”. It seems to me that the problem lies with people, not religion.

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