Posted on July 13, 2004

We Must Be Allowed To Criticise Islam

Will Cummins, Telegraph (UK), July 11, 2004

In the time of Marcus Aurelius, Christianity was a growing force within the Roman Empire. His ministers asked him if the state should join the non-Christian majority in attacking the new religion, or seek to protect it. The Emperor’s reply is found in his Meditations. The state’s response to Christianity, he said, or to anything else, should be determined by one simple question: “What is the thing in itself? What does it do?”

Today, the Government faces a similar dilemma regarding Islam. In response, the Secretary announced plans last week to make vilification of Islam a crime. He insisted that his law to “ban incitement to religious hatred” was meant to defend every faith. However, only Muslims have asked for immunity. The legislation would “close a loophole”, David Blunkett observed, because inciting hatred of people on racial grounds is illegal in the UK, but inciting hatred of them on the grounds of belief is not.

The problem is that a virulent hatred of Muslims can no more be racism than a virulent hatred of Marxists or Tories. Nobody is a member of a race by choice. Such groups are protected from attack because it is unfair to malign human beings for something they cannot help. However, nobody is a member of a community of belief except by choice, which is why those who have decided to enter or remain within one are never protected. Were such choices not open to the severest censure, we could no longer call our country a democracy.

It is a red herring for supporters of Mr Blunkett’s law to say that Muslims should be shielded by the race laws because Jews and Sikhs are. It is the racial persons of Jews and Sikhs that are protected, not their beliefs. In any case, Sikhism and Judaism are race cults which actively discourage converts. It is almost impossible to become a member of either religion unless you are racially Jewish or Punjabi. They are diametrically opposed to inclusive ideologies like Christianity or Islam, which seek to convert everybody.

Some propose special protection for Muslims by saying that Islam is a racial identity because three of the four schools of Islamic law enjoin faithful Muslims to murder anyone who wishes to leave the faith, thus limiting every Muslim’s freedom of action. But is this a point in Islam’s favour? And is this the sort of religion we want to throw people into prison for condemning?

To argue that Islam should have special protection because it is a “religion” while Marxism or Conservatism are “merely philosophies” is equally specious. All that divides a religion from a secular ideology is something whose existence — supernatural support — is disputed by adherents of the latter. To privilege supernatural belief-systems by law would be to impose the view of the faithful about this on everyone, the situation that prevailed in the Middle Ages. This time, it is Islam, not Christianity, that New Labour wants to impose on Christendom.

A society in which one cannot revile a religion and its members is one in which there are limits to the human spirit. The Islamic world was intellectually and economically wrecked by its decision to put religion beyond the reach of invective, which is simply an extreme form of debate. By so doing, it put science and art beyond the reach of experiment, too. Now, at the behest of Muslim foreigners who have forced themselves on us, New Labour wants to import the same catastrophe into our own society.

In a recent television panel, Iqbal Sacranie explained why the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the organisation he leads, had pushed for this legislation. The British should be allowed not to believe in Islam, he said (thanks, Mr Sacranie!), but they should not be permitted to “criticise” it.

Ken Livingstone has gone even further. On Wednesday, the Mayor of London welcomed to City Hall the Qatari divine Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, according to the MCB “an Islamic scholar held in great respect throughout the Islamic world”.

Basing his teaching on Islam’s holiest texts, Dr al-Qaradawi has urged his fellow Muslims to beat their wives; to use child suicide bombers to kill female and infant civilians; to murder Jews, homosexuals and British servicemen; and to colonise, desecrate and usurp Christian Rome.

Mr Livingstone said that the newspapers that had condemned Dr al-Qaradawi for such views “showed why this legislation [Blunkett’s] is necessary”. It was the critics of Dr al-Qaradawi’s beliefs, Mr Livingstone insisted, who were, as the Muslim Association of Britain put it, “the image of evil”. Dr al-Qaradawi, a mainstream figure in a major religion, had endorsed Jew lynching and wife beating: Mr Livingstone seemed to imply that, like Islam, such activities should therefore be above criticism.

This brings us to the nub of the issue: the fact that Islam’s teachings are completely unlike those of other faiths. The Government shows no sign of understanding this. Defending his proposed legislation, Mr Blunkett, for instance, said: “It applies equally to far-Right evangelical Christians as to extremists in the Islamic faith.” But what “far-Right evangelical Christian” has ever proposed or endorsed anything as horrifying as what the moderate Muslim regards as normal?

In Roman Polanski’s film Chinatown, the villain, John Huston’s “Noah Cross”, murderous tycoon, asks the private detective character, played by Jack Nicholson: “Exactly what do you know about me, Mr Gittes?” “Mainly that you’re too respectable to want your name in the papers,” Gittes replies. “Course I’m respectable!” Cross exclaims. “I’m old! Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough!” The same is true of religions.

Our rulers know as much about Islam as Gittes knows about Cross: that it has been “around long enough” (since the seventh century); that it “doesn’t want its name in the papers” (except on its own terms); and that it is sanctified by the principle, central to multiculturalism, that any civilisation, however repulsive, has the same value as any other, however benign, and is entitled to protection and praise simply by virtue of existing.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase Noah Cross in his warning to Jake Gittes: “You may think you know what you’re dealing with, Mr Blunkett — but, believe me, you don’t!”