17 January 2015 – Douglas Murray– The Spectator

The West’s movement towards the truth is remarkably slow. We drag ourselves towards it painfully, inch by inch, after each bloody Islamist assault.

In France, Britain, Germany, America and nearly every other country in the world it remains government policy to say that any and all attacks carried out in the name of Mohammed have ‘nothing to do with Islam’. It was said by George W. Bush after 9/11, Tony Blair after 7/7 and Tony Abbott after the Sydney attack last month. It is what David Cameron said after two British extremists cut off the head of Drummer Lee Rigby in London, when ‘Jihadi John’ cut off the head of aid worker Alan Henning in the ‘Islamic State’ and when Islamic extremists attacked a Kenyan mall, separated the Muslims from the Christians and shot the latter in the head. And, of course, it is what President François Hollande said after the massacre of journalists and Jews in Paris last week.

All these leaders are wrong. In private, they and their senior advisers often concede that they are telling a lie. The most sympathetic explanation is that they are telling a ‘noble lie’, provoked by a fear that we — the general public — are a lynch mob in waiting. ‘Noble’ or not, this lie is a mistake. First, because the general public do not rely on politicians for their information and can perfectly well read articles and books about Islam for themselves. Secondly, because the lie helps no one understand the threat we face. Thirdly, because it takes any heat off Muslims to deal with the bad traditions in their own religion. And fourthly, because unless mainstream politicians address these matters then one day perhaps the public will overtake their politicians to a truly alarming extent.

If politicians are so worried about this secondary ‘backlash’ problem then they would do well to remind us not to blame the jihadists’ actions on our peaceful compatriots and then deal with the primary problem — radical Islam — in order that no secondary, reactionary problem will ever grow.

Yet today our political class fuels both cause and nascent effect. Because the truth is there for all to see. To claim that people who punish people by killing them for blaspheming Islam while shouting ‘Allah is greatest’ has ‘nothing to do with Islam’ is madness. Because the violence of the Islamists is, truthfully, only to do with Islam: the worst version of Islam, certainly, but Islam nonetheless.

Last week, a chink was broken in this wall of disinformation when Sajid Javid, the only Muslim-born member of the British cabinet, and one of its brightest hopes, dipped a toe into this water. After the Paris attacks, he told the BBC: ‘The lazy answer would be to say that this has got nothing whatsoever to do with Islam or Muslims and that should be the end of that. That would be lazy and wrong.’ Sadly, he proceeded to utter the second most lazy thing one can say: ‘These people are using Islam, taking a peaceful religion and using it as a tool to carry out their activities.’

Here we land at the centre of the problem — a centre we have spent the last decade and a half trying to avoid: Islam is not a peaceful religion. No religion is, but Islam is especially not. It is certainly not, as some ill-informed people say, solely a religion of war. There are many peaceful verses in the Quran which — luckily for us — most Muslims live by. But it is by no means only a religion of peace.

I say this not because I hate Islam, nor do I have any special animus against Muslims, but simply because this is the verifiable truth based on the texts. Until we accept that we will never defeat the violence, we risk encouraging whole populations to take against all of Islam and abandon all those Muslims who are trying desperately to modernise, reform and de-literalise their faith. And — most importantly — we will give up our own traditions of free speech and historical inquiry and allow one religion to have an unbelievable advantage in the free marketplace of ideas.

It is not surprising that politicians have tried to avoid this debate by spinning a lie. The world would be an infinitely safer place if the historical Mohammed had behaved more like Buddha or Jesus. But he did not and an increasing number of people — Muslim and non-Muslim — have been able to learn this for themselves in recent years. But the light of modern critical inquiry which has begun to fall on Islam is a process which is already proving incredibly painful.

The ‘cartoon wars’ — which began when the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten published a set of cartoons in 2005 — are part of that. But as Flemming Rose, the man who commissioned those cartoons, said when I sat down with him this week, there remains a deep ignorance in the West about what people like the Charlie Hebdo murderers wish to achieve. And we keep ducking it. As Rose said, ‘I wish we had addressed all this nine years ago.’

Contra the political leaders, the Charlie Hebdo murderers were not lunatics without motive, but highly motivated extremists intent on enforcing Islamic blasphemy laws in 21st-century Europe. If you do not know the ideology — perverted or plausible though it may be — you can neither understand nor prevent such attacks. Nor, without knowing some Islamic history, could you understand why — whether in Mumbai or Paris — the Islamists always target the Jews.

Of course, some people are willing to give up a few of our rights. There seems, as Rose says in his book on the Danish cartoons affair, The Tyranny of Silence, some presumption that a diverse society requires greater limitations on speech, whereas of course the more diverse the society, the more diverse you are going to have to see your speech be. It is not just cartoons, but a whole system of inquiry which is being shut down in the West by way of hard intimidation and soft claims of offence-taking. The result is that, in contemporary Europe, Islam receives not an undue amount of criticism but a free ride which is unfair to all other religions. The night after the Charlie Hebdo atrocities I was pre-recording a Radio 4 programme. My fellow discussant was a very nice Muslim man who works to ‘de-radicalise’ extremists. We agreed on nearly everything. But at some point he said that one reason Muslims shouldn’t react to such cartoons is that Mohammed never objected to critics.

There may be some positive things to be said about Mohammed, but I thought this was pushing things too far and mentioned just one occasion when Mohammed didn’t welcome a critic. Asma bint Marwan was a female poetess who mocked the ‘Prophet’ and who, as a result, Mohammed had killed. It is in the texts. It is not a problem for me. But I can understand why it is a problem for decent Muslims. The moment I said this, my Muslim colleague went berserk. How dare I say this? I replied that it was in the Hadith and had a respectable chain of transmission (an important debate). He said it was a fabrication which he would not allow to stand. The upshot was that he refused to continue unless all mention of this was wiped from the recording. The BBC team agreed and I was left trying to find another way to express the same point. The broadcast had this ‘offensive’ fact left out.

I cannot imagine another religious discussion where this would happen, but it is perfectly normal when discussing Islam. On that occasion I chose one case, but I could have chosen many others, such as the hundreds of Jews Mohammed beheaded with his own hand. Again, that’s in the mainstream Islamic sources. I haven’t made it up. It used to be a problem for Muslims to rationalise, but now there are people trying to imitate such behaviour in our societies it has become a problem for all of us, and I don’t see why people in the free world should have to lie about what we read in historical texts.

We may all share a wish that these traditions were not there but they are and they look set to have serious consequences for us all. We might all agree that the history of Christianity has hardly been un-bloody. But is it not worth asking whether the history of Christianity would have been more bloody or less bloody if, instead of telling his followers to ‘turn the other cheek’, Jesus had called (even once) for his disciples to ‘slay’ non–believers and chop off their heads?

This is a problem with Islam — one that Muslims are going to have to work through. They could do so by a process which forces them to take their foundational texts less literally, or by an intellectually acceptable process of cherry-picking verses. Or prominent clerics could unite to declare the extremists non-Muslim. But there isn’t much hope of this happening. Last month, al-Azhar University in Cairo declared that although Isis members are terrorists they cannot be described as heretics.

We have spent 15 years pretending things about Islam, a complex religion with competing interpretations. It is true that most Muslims live their lives peacefully. But a sizeable portion (around 15 per cent and more in most surveys) follow a far more radical version. The remainder are sitting on a religion which is, in many of its current forms, a deeply unstable component. That has always been a problem for reformist Muslims. But the results of ongoing mass immigration to the West at the same time as a worldwide return to Islamic literalism means that this is now a problem for all of us. To stand even a chance of dealing with it, we are going to have to wake up to it and acknowledge it for what it is.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 17 January 2015

2 Responses to “‘Religion of peace’ is not a harmless platitude”

  1. 1 May

    To the Rise Up Australia Party,
    Firstly, thank you for your party, with its wonderful, much-needed values that reflect truth and decency (often lost in today’s world!).
    I am a former refugee to Australia. The issue of fake refugees to Australia today concerns me.
    I believe in respect and kindness to all. My friends include refugees from Vietnam and Africa. I used to smile at people with the ‘Say YES to refugees’ bumper sticker on their car.
    It is exactly due to me being as I describe above and being pro-refugee, that I came to learn a truth. I want to share this with you.
    I got to know an Iranian family of 17 recent ‘refugees’. Close friends with one of the family members, I asked him ‘So you were persecuted in the Middle East, that’s why you came here?’ He laughed. He told me he left for a better economic future. Once he and one sibling were here, he called the remaining 15 members of his family and explained to them ‘what to say to Immigration to be called a refugee’. It worked. All 15 are now here now. My friend also told me that among the ‘refugees’ of this ethnic group, the husband usually gets on to the Disability Pension, because it’s more money than an unemployment payment, and that the wife then get on to the corresponding Carer’s Pension. He explained that this is done in the Iranian and Afghan communities by going to an Afghan doctor in Prospect who is known to the community, because he ‘knows what to write’ to get people in these communities on to the Disability Pension. Only 1 person of the 15 in this family works, and part-time. I’ve been to social events on a Monday night, where I am the only person deciding to leave when it gets to 12am – because I am the only one going to work. Unfortunately, this is the case for a large majority of today’s Iranian and Afghan refugees. Many also work painting homes or collecting trolleys for money cash-in-hand, all while claiming Disability Pension. I also know that approximately only 55% people trying to be classified as refugees in Australia are deemed genuine refugees. I now know why the figure is so low, and welfare statistics among these two communities so high.
    I am writing to tell you that not all people now called refugees in Australia were ever like my own refugee family and refugee friends. Some of the refugees today are economic migrants posing as refugees (and taking the place of African refugees, for example, languishing in refugee camps in Africa for years, that we could take instead). In these times, people are increasingly selfish and lovers of themselves. Why would that be any different for the people trying to be deemed refugees today? They are not like the Vietnamese, Filipino, Eastern European and South American refugees of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. They are not genuine.
    Regarding my friend, I noticed also that his family and friends all took annual trips back to their homeland, for 3 months at a time, often within a year of being in Australia. I couldn’t understand it at first (before my friend told me his story). My own refugee family were not only not able to go back for almost 20 years, as we could have been jailed for escaping, but we even had no desire to go, after all we’d been through.
    After hearing the story of my friend, I started to wonder. Then the boats arriving in Australia full of only young men started to make me wonder. Where were the women and children, I thought? Surely someone being persecuted and in danger, would not leave the most vulnerable – the women and children – behind! I know of a Czech family who ran through the mountains in winter, their baby in their backpack, border guards shooting at them, to escape from their formerly communist country. I heard the stories of my Vietnamese friend’s father, who spoke of their boats full of families – men, women and children – where daily someone would be thrown overboard, as they had died of dehydration or starvation. I know many other such stories. I tell you, a true refugee will never leave women and children behind. I was not even a toddler when we escaped our former country. My parents did not leave me behind.
    Now I don’t know why this person told me all this. Possibly it was because he knew I was former refugee and assumed my story was similar to his. When I told him my family’s refugee story, he actually exclaimed ‘You were real refugees!’. Saddened by my new knowledge, I could no longer be friends with people able to deceive in such a way, and furthermore, profit from deception. And I wanted to share this sad truth I’d learned.
    I used to think the refugees from Iran and Afghanistan arriving on boats were as legitimate as the Vietnamese boat people in the 70’s and 80’s. (The Vietnamese were real refugees. They had no camps to flee to; they only had their long coastline. And they have made wonderful citizens. A real refugee will work hard, bless Australia for giving them asylum and integrate). Now I think otherwise re today’s ‘refugees’. I believe some are refugees, but the majority are opportunists – economic migrants posing as refugees – using the generosity and kindness of Australian people against them. My Vietnamese refugee friends feel the same – they do not support the false refugees arriving today. And surely we can see the falseness in the high welfare payment usage, the lack of integration into their community. Because I and my Vietnamese and African former refugee friends know this – genuine refugees will grasp the chance they are given with both hands, and with their heart. They will work hard, raise their families, respect Australian society, socialise with all other people here. As the Vietnamese and Europeans and South Americans and many others have done. The Lebanese community in Adelaide (who arrived here as refugees from war-torn Lebanon in the 80’s) have stood up and advised these new arrivals are not genuine refugees. They would not do this to fellow-Muslims, if it was not the truth. That’s why the boats had to be stopped. Today, fake asylum seekers are a real concern to Australians. I no longer vote for the Greens, after years of doing, because of the party’s seemingly blind ‘everyone-is-a-refugee-no-questions-asked’ policy. A dangerous policy. One that let Man Monis into Australia – a fake refugee.
    Lastly, under the UN rules regarding refugees created after WW2, a refugee is to go to the first safe country possible and declare themselves to the authorities. (My family did this). They are then processed and placed in a UN-run refugee camp or in the community until they are processed and a country/several countries offer to take them. (My family did this. Detention centres were once called refugee camps. They’re fine. We lived 2 years in one overseas and, while it was hard not knowing our future, we felt lucky to be safe, to be fed, clothed and housed. Real refugees do NOT burn their own camp – a place they are finally safe from persecution. My family were horrified to see camps burning here). People applying to be refugees are not supposed to, after catching a plane to the safe country of Indonesia, then refuse to go to one of the UN-run camps there. They are not supposed to then pay for a people-smuggler to get them to Australia, to try to force Australia’s hand in taking them, and then one-by-one, bring their family (who they’ve left in supposedly dangerous conditions) here! I think it’s done because our welfare system is so generous. A person who is an opportunist will ensure that end up in a country that has generous welfare. Why did over 200 so-called refugees return to their homelands, once they heard they’d be settled in Papua? How is it they could suddenly return and be safe? A real refugee would have gone to Papua and made a new life. I tell you this because I was once a refugee. We could not have gone back. If we had, my parents would have been jailed, and I put in a state-run orphanage.
    Some people tell lies. It is a fact. We should learn to be wise and discerning enough to be kind to those who truly need it – and not to those who deceive us, no matter how convincing the deception. Let us embrace those who truly need asylum! Like my family needed.
    Thank You,

  2. 2 Philip

    I have asked this question before — and being blind in matters of public relations it could be very wide of the mark.

    Would it be of any possible benefit to advocate a national plebiscite (is that a non-binding referendum?) giving people the opportunity to secretly record their position regarding Islam etc..

    We know that Islam is anathema to our Constitution. But how many people know? How many people are familiar with the insidious, below – the-radar nature of this (and other) movements?

    A public discussion of Islam vs. the Constitution presumably would give air to facts such as:

    1). Islam crudely borrows from Judaism and Christianity, a pedaeophile warlord’s takeover creed — and the warlord was lord over heathens and animists. The witch-doctor crowd. We have to do with a deviant, quasi- christian cult.

    2). As such, it obviously fires the fanatical tendencies of various tribes and peoples. It’s aim superficially claims to be other-worldly but the only-other-worldliness is the supremacist urge to rule this dying heap of ruins here around us! All its proposed religious content revolves around physical supremacy in the here and now. For instance : We are besieging yonder city. On, fellow, citizens of Heaven! And if we don’t break in today and get our share of loot and females — but perish in the attempt — we don’t perish! Those who honourably die fighting for Allah might not get the virgins when they break into the city, today, but they get them INSTANTO, today, in Heaven. (Whether that’s actually in the Koran, who knows — but it sounds good — if you have never actually been married!) Islam is not a religion, but a religious excuse for the flesh.

    3). Because by definition Islam is a). Submission (Yes — but to whom?) mixed with b). Supremacism (all infidels must die) it is openly and obviously anathema to our society. Everything about it must be open to the most searching scrutiny and its more fanatical practitioners stripped of citizenship. Either Islam with its supremacism stands, or our Constitution stands. They both can not stand. “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion”.

    Why? Because God’s religion is established in human hearts, and no government can legislate it. Phonies introduce people to their imaginary deity at the point of a gun. Is this a message to which Australians might respond?

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