Opinion: Fitna

What is the matter with Chris Huhne? On the great freedom-of-speech versus right-to-offend argument, he has always struck just about the right note – for instance, on Holocaust denial and the Danish Cartoons. But now his judgement appears to have deserted him when last week he backed the decision of the British government to exclude a Dutch politician for the unforgivable crime of saying something nasty about Islam. Coming on the twentieth anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the timing could hardly be worse.

There’s really nothing quite like a religious question to upend our political and moral intuitions and reduce any sort of reasoned argument to rubble. So it was that Chris declared Fitna to be “definitely inciting people to violence,” on the Today programme. Definitely inciting people to violence? It is true that the 17 minute film does contain endless incitements to violence. The trouble is that all the incitement is coming from the mouths of Muslim clerics. It is also true that these images are interleaved with some fairly offensive written statements. But they are mostly quotations from the Koran. Could it be that Chris got a bit confused?

Jo Swinson fared a little better on Any Questions by distancing herself from Chris and acknowledging that Fitna did not in her view incite violence. But then she drifted off into some fairly banal platitude. “Any text can be twisted,” she said. “If you want to pick and choose, you can actually create something horrific out of any text that you like.” Any text, Jo? I’d love to see a version of Fitna based on the Liberal Democrat constitution. You could juxtapose a statement about freeing people from poverty, ignorance and conformity, with some beard and sandals imagery maybe. Enough to incite anyone to violence, I’m sure you’d agree. Could it just be that some texts are in fact nastier than others?

It’s a common objection of course – that the offending quotations have been “taken out of context.” But what I’d like to know is precisely what context would make all the misogyny, homophobia, and violence contained in our various sacred texts acceptable? If we wish to read either the Bible or the Koran “in context,” then it might first help to understand who wrote them – to wit, primitive men who would be completely outshone in knowledge and understanding by a modern twelve-year-old with access to Wikipedia. No, the people who are truly taking the holy books out of context are called Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. who claim that these writings are the “word of God” – whether it be that they believe this literally or in some ambiguous manner.

I don’t think I much care for Geert Wilders. His political hero is Margaret Thatcher – that is rarely a good sign. His perfectly reasonable desire to move freely between nations is undermined to some extent by his own anti-immigration politics. He should know that you can’t defeat an ideology by erecting physical barriers and pulling up the drawbridge. Calling for the Koran to be banned is totally daft. It would be quite impossible, even assuming such a thing were desirable which it isn’t. But I do share one thing in common with Wilders, namely that I am not prepared to read the Koran and pretend that it means the exact opposite of what it says, for the sake of some political expediency.

The Koran reads like an apartheid manual. The dichotomy between the believers destined for paradise, and the unbelievers (i.e. me) destined for the eternal torments of Hell, is set up on almost the very first page. In case you weren’t paying attention, this sentiment is then repeated ad nauseam throughout the text. It is what makes the Koran fundamentally divisive and means that it will never form the basis for any “global peace and unity.” The reference here is to an event which Nick Clegg attended last October in which he shared the same platform with a Holocaust denier, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and a one-time supporter of the Rushdie fatwa, among others. Strange but true. Here was Nick’s justification on that occasion:

Of course I don’t agree with the views and opinions of every speaker at this event. But I do believe in free speech. I do believe in an open society where disagreements are aired and expressed, not ignored and suppressed. The best way to undermine a liberal society is to undermine the freedom of expression which we all enjoy, and I will never ever do that.”

Fine words indeed, but in the light of the Fitna debacle we could now stand accused of grotesque double standards. Nick shares a platform with some of the finest Islamic fruitcake on offer, but Chris wants to ban Geert Wilders for calling a spade a spade? I think they really ought to get together and straighten this one out.

What is missing from this debate is any objective sense of what is and is not offensive. By any objective analysis (as opposed to one clouded by religious metaphysics), the Koran is more offensive than The Satanic Verses, the Danish Cartoons, and Fitna all combined. Hundreds of deaths ensued from these and similar controversies, all the mayhem emanating from Islamic extremists, and yet bizarrely it is now Wilders who stands accused of inciting violence. How has it come to this? It is as if we have reached a place of logical and rhetorical insanity from which there appears to be no immediate escape.

I’ll leave the last word to Kenan Malik speaking on the World Service last week about the Rushdie affair:

It seems to me that the critics of Rushdie lost the battle in the sense that The Satanic Verses continued to be published, but to a large degree they have won the war in that we have come to accept broadly that the giving of offence is wrong, and that makes the writing culture much less rich than it should be. We’ve got a very constrained culture when it comes to questions of what you can say, what you can do, and what you can write.”

I fear that Malik may have this about right. The late Ayatollah Khomeini still casts his long and malevolent shadow. The Satanic Verses is freely available; they say it is a terrific novel; I must read it one day. But the overarching political climate appears to have evolved into one which places all religion, but especially Islam, beyond criticism, parody, or censure. Unfortunately that is a criticism, parody, and censure which some of us feel has never been more essential since the events of 9/11. Perhaps one day my fellow liberals will wake up to this, and I won’t have to come on here and bat for the far right again.

In the meantime, the final score is as follows – Geert Wilders: quatre points, Jo Swinson: trois points, Chris Huhne: nul points.

* Laurence Boyce is a Liberal Democrat member and occasional contributor to LDV.

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122 Comments

  • I spoke to a friend the other day who has watched the Wilders film who described it as a simplistic and unpleasent. This doesn’t mean it should in anyway be banned but it would be nice to see the criticism be a bit more even handed in this debate.

  • While I can certainly agree that the article was a little more vituperative than was strictly necessary, I must wonder what the Koran would need to contain before Wit would think criticism of it was acceptable. The impression I got from your post Wit was ‘How dare Laurence Boyce say what he thinks on the blog of a party devoted to free speech’. Like it or not, the Koran does contain passages which are distinctly illiberal – are we to pretend they’re not there?

  • “Calling for the Koran to be banned is totally daft.” No, it is not not daft, it’s oppression. You are standing up for a racist who would revoke the civil rights of Muslims in their own country. It would seem that you hold the same primitive view of Islam that Wilders has, so maybe that is why you you are so keen to minimise the poison in his film. You seem to me to be like many Liberals on this issue, wearing your commitment to free speech on your sleeve whilst leaving your brain out of gear.

  • Foregone Conclusion 17th Feb '09 - 3:57pm

    The fact is that very few of us, either liberal, fascist, or whatever, actually have an understanding of Islamic theology. This is mainly due to the shockingly poor level of teaching of any non-Christian faiths in our schools, particularly faith schools.

  • But the article very particularly does not say Muslims are violent people. It merely says that the Koran can be read as an incitement to violence in a way in which other texts cannot. This seems to me to be a fairly clear point. I would like to make a distinction between anti-Islamic polemic and anti-Muslim polemic. Criticising a religion as embodied in its texts and scriptures is acceptable, criticising all of its adherents because of the actions of a few of them is not. I do not believe Boyce has done the latter. Admittedly, the article isn’t written well enough to make this distinction as clear as it should be.

    And Norman – please don’t conflate support for absolute free speech with support for anyone who may possibly use it.

  • Excellent post Laurence, good to see you back.

  • Wit and Wisdom

    I absolutely agree that the Koran contains some dangerous passages but the evidence of the nearly 2bn muslims around the world is that the great majority of them are no more violent thatn anoy other group, which suggests that muslims are just as capable of filtering out the bad stuff as anyone else is.

    Which is the whole point. Your argument supports the position that most people are good in spite of their holy texts, not because of them.

    If you truly believe, as the texts demand, that they are the word of god, then by “filtering” you become a heretic and are by that very act doomed. Doesn’t that make the extremists the more honest and consistent?

    For an understanding of what the Koran (and the Haddith) say I recommend the books of Ibn Warriq, a secular Koranic scholar.

    The Koran is a really nice and friendly book when dealing with fellow believers. Once you get onto non-believers, and those that don’t follow it’s commands (e.g. gays, liberal women etc) it quickly turns extremely nasty.

  • Andy – let’s be fair here, they do want to. But thankfully the Warhammer fundamentalists tend to never leave their mum’s basement. The ones you see in Games Workshop are the ones who pick and choose parts of the rule book to suit themselves.

  • While I agree that Wilders has the right to speak his mind, & that there are homophobic & misogynist tendencies within Islam (as with Christianity) which should be opposed, there’s another story that Lawrence Boyce seems to have missed & Geert Wilders certainly has.

    I wonder whether people of this type have ever actually met any Muslims.

    Islam is not some monolith, & it is the mistake of the “left-wing” offence-takers (who are not genuinely left-wing, just idiots), the jihadists, & the likes of Wilders & Mark Steyn to assume it is. I doubt whether these people have met a Muslim in their lives.

    There are pronounced liberal & reforming tendencies within Islam. They deserve our support. This can be brought about by a secular state without tolerance for the Blair/Brown idiocy of listening to religious “leaders”. Treat religious believers as we treat atheists, as individuals who don’t need to be patronised by suggesting that they all follow the will of someone who asserts that he (because it’s always a he) is the representative of a “community” (a word which is going to be filed alongside “hard working families” in the litany of phrases I loathe).

    Women who do not want to wear a veil, refugees who flee theocracy & are glad to live in a secular state now, free thinkers, & so on all exist within the “community” that the Rowan Williamses, Geert Wilderses & Omar Bakri Mohameds view as a lumpen body.

    Is this not the essence of liberalism, that we view them as individuals?

    I will agree that there should be restrictions on immigration partly for reasons which aren’t relevant to Fitna, also as many who live here are not integrated, & if you haven’t digested a meal you’d better stop eating in case you throw up altogether…

    As for Wilders’ suggestion that the Koran be banned, it is ridiculous rubbish from a philistine. I have yet to read the Koran, but I am quite familiar with the English Bible (& am an atheist), which I think it is a landmark book of enormous significance without which one struggles to understand our literature & culture. In Muslim countries the Koran is viewed in a similar way. I think they should all be wead more widely, despite not believing a word any of them say.

    You could infer that I’m a woolly in between being shot by all sides & doomed for failure. That would be true if it weren’t for the millions of Muslim liberals & potential liberals who are out there as potential allies & can undermine jihadists from within Islam.

  • My comment is in limbo. Is there any chance of this being sorted & that? It is one of my better efforts, I reckon. Am always glad to talk about schaith like this.

  • david brough (lovemaker) 17th Feb '09 - 5:39pm

    “I despair of LDV sometimes”

    You could always just stop coming here then. My eyes would stay dry.

  • Well I haven’t really been here since Christmas. You’re right, I shouldn’t have bothered.

    Laurence Boyce.

  • Seriously, get a life.

    When you’ve quite finished with the personal attacks you might bother to read what I’ve said, instead of lumping me in with the “blogosphere” crowd. Do you want people to think you are the apologist equivalent to Wilders?

    I never once referred to “Islam”, I referred specifically to its texts. “Islam” is whatever people choose at a time and place in history to make it. Just as Christianity is.

    During the crusades Christianity was a jihadist prone bunch of devout leaders that believed god wanted them to conquer and slaughter their way to supremacy; not unlike many of their islamic equivalents today.

    Much of Islam at that time was a pretty benign, tolerant, enlightened (comparatively) and, importantly, secular society which was going through it’s scientific golden age (some of which still forms the basis of much of today’s science).

    The reason Islam and the middle-east aren’t at the forefront of knowledge and the centre of science is because the priesthood started imposing their will again, closing centres of learning, removing the secular nature, the freedom of enquiry and expression and the right to contradict scripture and became more pious. Those once scientifically advanced cultures in the middle-east have been essentially at a scientific standstill since.

    The balance swung the other way with the Christian nations. They became more secular, more free and open, and science blossomed; as did tolerance and liberalism.

    Now those two diverged cultures are colliding.

  • Wit, you can’t use the actions of a religion’s adherents to argue for the morality of its scriptures. This would mean that every action taken by a Muslim should be seen through the prism of Islam – which, as Asquith very effectively argues above, is a very illiberal stance. It also leads to many apparent contradictions – for every sparing of Jerusalem, you have a Darfur. For every Ibn al-Haytham, you have a http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/02/16/buffalo.beheading/. If you wish to prove Martin wrong, you must do so by telling him why his interpretation of the Koran is incorrect – and you can only do that with reference to the Koran, not those who have read it.

  • Perennially Bored 17th Feb '09 - 6:33pm

    A few notes on the Qu’ran that I think are relevent:

    1. It’s in old Arabic. Hence no vowels. Hence there are some bits where literally no-one knows what they’re supposed to say. Most of them have been worked out but there are one or two still under debate, which include some violence ones.
    2. It’s epically unspecific. Most of it can be interpreted in several different ways, including some of the violence parts that may related to specific raids.
    3. Many Muslims argue that many Islamic laws (whether Qu’ranic or Hadith-based) were specifically revealed/developed to cope with the hardships of a desert-based culture, and they therefore can be safely dismissed.
    4. If you’re not Muslim, all you have to do is pay a tax, and you’re OK. And you absolutely can’t kill other Muslims. So blowing up a tube train including other Muslims and people who pay there taxes is fairly explicitly un-Islamic. You can certainly use bits of the Qu’ran to justify it, but to do so you do have to take them out of the sense in which they were intended (i.e. if they were originally intended as narrative, or for the apostates).

    Lawrence, I have to say I think this post is antagonistic, offensive, and ill-thought out in several places. You could have made just the same points without phrasing it so rudely, and to be honest I don’t see why people are always trying to offend other people.*

    Andy, you say that you can’t judge a book by the actions of those who have read it. If you can’t judge Islam by the Jerusalems of this world, you also can’t judge it by the Ayatollah Khomeneis and 9/11s.

    Asquith – right on about the culture.

    *Obviously I defend your right to say it, but in return you have to defend my right to think you’re a tool.

  • This is a very good post. The only thing I find offensive is Wit and wisdom’s expressed wish to complain to the site moderator and ban it.

  • Jon Copping 17th Feb '09 - 8:53pm

    Laurence I feel that you are to be congratulated for writing a very good post. The sentiment reflects mine entirely.

  • Not a very good post.

    I think this case provides a demonstration of how the making of criticisms is a fine art: it’s vital to score a bullseye with every shot elsewise you only create an opening for your opponents.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Feb '09 - 10:17pm

    Foregone Conclusion


    The fact is that very few of us, either liberal, fascist, or whatever, actually have an understanding of Islamic theology. This is mainly due to the shockingly poor level of teaching of any non-Christian faiths in our schools, particularly faith schools.

    Do you claim there is any better teaching of Christianity? Surveys suggest that most Brits do not know what Easter means to Christians let alone have any more detailed knowledge. Anyone who knew a little Christian theology would know that the New Testament explicitly rules out the idea that the Bible is to be intended as some sort of rule book, but debates like this usually involve people making arguments on the basis that it is.

  • People should not blame schools for lack of information. They can educate themselves if they care enough.

    The working-class autodidacts of the 19th century did not sit around moaning about the fact that they never attended school at all, they taught themselves to read after toiling in manual jobs all day & by their intelligence & effort reached a high standard.

    I take the point that some are not naturally quipped to do this. But almost everyone, certainly including me, could reach a higher level given the work.

  • Laurence,
    are you by any chance getting confused over the difference between not very good and bad?

    It strikes me that there is a similar difference between not banning this film and agreeing with it’s content, don’t you?

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Feb '09 - 10:04am

    To elaborate on my earlier message, Andy Hinton writes:


    The point is, all nice moderate Christians, Muslims, etc. have had to somehow arrive at a decision about which bits of their religious texts to chuck away, which bits just need a bit of “correct interpretation”, and which bits are alright as they are. But where did those decisions come from?

    without an understanding that the very origins of Christianity come from thinking on these lines. One may see it as a group of Jews, inspired by a charismatic rabbi who came to a sad end after annoying everyone with his wise cracks, trying to work out what it is of value on their religion that could be taken and made into a universal religion rather than a tribal one. One in particular, who originally disliked the movement but later saw it as an ideal way to sell a reformed Judaism to the Greeks amongst whom he lived, worked very hard to try and fit it in with some philosophical ideas that were going around at the time. In his letters, which are preserved as part of the scriptures, you can see how a practical argument about the ticklish subject of whether adult converts to the movement needed to be circumcised as the old laws said, evolved into a discussion on the role of those laws. Agreement was reached on these issues after a discussion chaired by one of the original followers of the charismatic rabbi who had emerged as the group spokesman. In a dramatic speech, the chairman announces “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”

    Knowing this ought to be basic general knowledge. Christianity does not arise from the Bible having appeared as if by magic and a religion being invented on that basis. What we call the Bible itself records these discussions. But how many people actually know this? Discussions like this suggest almost none. Most people discussing Christianity from the outside do seem to think the Bible is an undifferentiated mess from which things can be picked out at random from any point.

  • “the Koran is more offensive than The Satanic Verses”

    “I must read it one day”

    Maybe you should read it first before spouting off about it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Feb '09 - 12:01pm

    Laurence,

    I didn’t want to be rude by adding after “Christianity does not arise from the Bible having appeared as if by magic and a religion being invented on that basis” the words “although another religion, called Protestantism, was later created on that basis” because that would be unfair on all but the evangelical “fundies”. Those fundies clearly don’t know really the Bible themselves since they seem ignorant of the passages I mentioned earlier and their implication.

    I am aware that the position of the Koran in Islam is different than the position of the Bible with Christianity. Islam is much more “here’s the book, now base the religion around it”. Most people discussing these issues seem unaware of these distinctions, perhaps because we come from a Protestant culture, loud-mouthed evangelical fundies are very keen on giving the impression that theirs is the only form of Christianity that exists, and the profound ignorance of western culture which comes from our rotten schools means most people here don’t have the knowledge to know why they’re wrong in that.

  • The bible is a hodgepodge of collected writings that a committee (the council of nicea) decided represented the most representative collection of works at that time (400 years after the fact).

    Many of the writings were in ancient greek, WHICHDIDNOTUSESPACINGORANYOTHERFORMOFPUNCTUATION and were therefore open to some misunderstanding. They were multi-generational copies of originals copied by hand by individual scribes, some of whom didn’t even speak the language and were therefore unable to spot mistakes, and others that were followers and inclined to “clarify” parts of the text they copied.

    You also have the problem of defining which bible, leaving aside the myriad of changes, re-writes additions and subtractions over the centuries, you have the fact that the orthodox bible, as opposed to the catholic, contains a different number of gospels, let alone differences in the composition of the other texts.

    If you’re interested in just how the bible came about and how much it has changed since the formation of Christianity you should look up Biblical Criticism, which is the science of doing exactly that.

    Many an evangelical has become a moderate, or even an atheist, by studying how the bible came about.

    “Misquoting Jesus” is a good primer, it’s short and does a good job of introducing the concepts of Biblical Criticism, and literary Criticism more generally, using examples from the gospels.

    The messages in the bible may be good or bad, evil or benevolent, but there is considerable doubt as to whether the message we read today is the same message spoken 2000 years ago.

  • correction: “literary criticism” should read as “textual criticism”

  • “… the orthodox bible, as opposed to the catholic, contains a different number of gospels …”

    I know it’s wildly off-topic, but I’m puzzled as to what you’re thinking of here.

  • My mistake, that should have read books, not gospels, and affects mostly the old testament.

    Here’s an example of the differences: http://www.bible.ca/b-canon-orthodox-catholic-christian-bible-books.htm

    To clarify, by composition of the texts I mean the translation/interpretation used (which affects both old and new testaments), which in some instances can change the meaning of the texts.

  • Martin

    Thanks for clarifying that.

  • “Your description of Jesus as a jew also sounds pretty broad-brushed which takes into account neither the classical divisions between different belief systems nor the developments which they have undergone in the intervening two millenia.”

    Please may I have your permission to send that one into Private Eye, Oranjupan?

  • Anon,
    if you find a request for clarification amusing, laugh away.

  • Laurence,
    I’m not sure it’s wise to accept personal opinions of authorial presenters as dogma.

    I also don’t think it’s wise to confuse a personal opinion of spiritual truth with physical fact.

  • Oranjupan

    You’re really disputing whether Jesus was Jewish? I mean, what do you think he was? Hare Krishna?

  • As Laurence said: a typical way of avoiding rational arguments about religion is to claim the existence of (arbitrary) limits to reason and rationality. For example – ‘there is a “spiritual truth” which transcends reason!’. How do we know this? ‘Oh, we just do—and you can’t even ask that, because otherwise you’re bringing reason back into play’. Of course if someone wants to sign up to such delusion, that’s just fine, but when deployed in a debate it ruins any chance for reasonable argument.

  • I’m not disputing anything, merely trying to point out that in the early first century these things were not as clearly defined as they are today.

    In fact the gospels can be read as a narrative discussion on the question of overlapping identities and the problem of how this issue is dealt with legally.

    Laurence,
    I agree that these issues are capable of overlapping, but at the same time you have to draw the distinctions which show where and when they do and where and when they don’t.

    Which returns us neatly to the case at hand, showing how liberal principals remain consistent even when applied to different situations with different results (or perhaps more accurately because they can be applied to different situations with different results).

  • Julian, I’d rather have a productive debate than a reasonable one.

  • Oranjupan

    “I’d rather have a productive debate than a reasonable one.”

    Brilliant stuff! Keep ’em coming, please do …

  • “Brilliant stuff! Keep ‘em coming, please do …”

    Isn’t this called an appeal to emotion?

  • Paranoid Julian H 18th Feb '09 - 5:38pm

    Just to clarify, I am not Anonymous (!)

  • “If you upend reason, then you can’t have any kind of debate.”

    My, you have been away from LDV for a long time, haven’t you?

  • I expect Laurence meant that religion should be criticised (not banned), and that religious influence on sources of power (such as government) should be attacked. I very much doubt he meant that people should not be free to kneel in their houses and pray to anyone or thing they wish; and of course individuals should not be ‘hurt’ nor ‘persecuted’.

  • “If that motion is not accepted then I am really going to throw all my toys out of the pram.”

    I’m afraid that as threats go that’s marginally less alarming than “I will do such things – What they are yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth” …

    By the way, do you want to ban all faith schools, or just the ones within the state system?

  • Bharat Patel 18th Feb '09 - 7:53pm

    Why should we listen to Lawrence Boyce? What has he ever achieved in life?

  • “My religious upbringing hurt me.”

    So what you’re really saying is “I owe you pain”?

  • “Now why don’t you get a name?”

    I think I could ask you the same question in respect of a life.

  • Hmmm. On reflection, you probably have been asked that question many, many times.

  • “Indeed I have. But always by the same guy called Anonymous.”

    Oh dear. Still not quite got the hang of this anonymity thing, eh?

  • From my perspective, the primary issues surrounding the FITNA controversy are those of freedom and speech and freedom of movement within the EU. Those of us who favour both were winning the argument hands down until Laurence Boyce came along and penned yet another of his anti-religion polemics. The enemies of liberty must be celebrating.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Feb '09 - 11:18am

    quoting Laurence Boyce


    I can place you with a liberal secular family. Here, from a very young age, you appreciate that this life is all there is and you are determined to make the best of it. You understand evolution, and hence where you have come from and why you are the way you are. You are a girl, by the way.

    Oh Laurence, I think there is such an easy riposte to this that I shall give it, even if it’s not entirely the line I’d take personally:

    I can place you in a liberal secular family. Here from a very young age you appreciate that this life is all there is and you are determined to make the best of it. Your are a girl by the way. You are continually given the message that all that matters is that you are sexually attractive and have lots of material possessions. You are pressured into having sex in early teenage years because the boys tell you that’s what sexy girls do and you’ll have no friends and be abused as a “lezzy” if you don’t. You make yourself seriously ill by starving yourself because you are told to be sexy you have to be ultra-thin. You don’t study hard because that isn’t what sexy girls do, the manufactured entertainment that dominates your life just keeps showing you girls who have lots of material possessions because they won fame on some talent show or by taking their clothes off.

  • Laurence Boyce wrote:

    “Would anyone care to argue that we are MORE likely to find creationism and homophobia in a secular family?”

    Homophobia (though not creationism) was alive and rampant in the former Soviet Union and its satellites, where atheism and materialism were part and parcel of the officially sanctioned belief system.

    You don’t have to be religious to be anti-gay; or an atheist or a materialist. But it isn’t too hard for a materialist to argue that homosexual acts have no survival value and are a sympton of bourgeois degeneration.

    Anyway, leftists have now jettisoned their ertswhile (and wholly incincere) espousal of gay rights as they realise there are more votes to be had from Islamic fanatics.

    Oh drat. I’ve allowed Laurence to divert me from the primary issues – free speech and freedom of movement within the EU.

    Laurence, do you think Messrs Huhne and Clegg are more or less likely to abandon their pusillanimity as a result of your intervention?

  • “The Islamic school that teaches that chess is really evil. Apparently, “the person who plays chess is like one who dips his hand in the blood of a swine.””

    Rather odd, considering chess was introduced into Europe by Muslims in the first place …

  • “Yes, but that was so long ago as to be irrelevant. Talking about how good Muslims were hundreds of years ago doesn’t mean much to me.”

    ?

    I’m really starting to wonder whether someone’s put something into the water round here.

    I didn’t say anything about Muslims being “good” hundreds of years ago. I just remarked it was odd that Muslims should object to chess, seeing that chess was introduced into Europe by Muslims in the first place!

  • Well, don’t some Muslims object to artistic representations of the human form – “graven images”? Maybe that’s it.

  • Well, don’t some Muslims object to artistic representations of the human form – “graven images”? Maybe that’s it.

    There you go. There had to be a rational explanation…

  • I’m loving the adverts popping up amid this thread: first of all Muslim dating, and now thehijabshop.com.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Feb '09 - 9:48am

    Margaret Nelson


    If Huhne, and others like him, regard Wilders as a bigger threat than the Islamists, they’re in serious want of a reality check. I’ve watched Fitna. It’s a wake-up call from Holland we should heed, as we tiptoe around Muslim sensitivities in the name of “tolerance”.

    Do you mean “wake-up call” in the sense that people who vote BNP sometimes claim they do it in order to issue a “wake-up call” to the political classes?

    Fitna clearly hasn’t served its purposes, unless those are to wind up Islamic aggression, because the aggressive and over-the-top way in which it has been presented has caused a closing of ranks and a closing of minds amongst Muslims. They have found it too easy to dismiss it as just a piece of anti-Islamic “hate propaganda”.

    Islam isn’t going to go away, so we do need an intelligent debate with its adherents about current very dangerous trends within it, which I do not think are a necessary part of the religion. Somehow we need to get it across that it is possible to be critical of some aspects of the religion or the way some interpret it, without that necessarily meaning we hate the religion and hate all those who find value in it.

    There are people who are both Muslims and Liberal Democrats, and I could hope at least that they could take the lead in that. I find the pusillanimous response from many of these people to issues like this disappointing, but I would like to keep a liberal optimism that free discussion and acceptance of agreement to disagree is the way forward.

    It would have been great of the reaction to Fitna from leading Muslims was “OK, this film says nasty things about our religion, but we believe what it says is wrong, and here’s our argument which shows that” rather than “This is anti-Islamic hate propaganda, condemn it, ban it” (and don’t say anything which counters its message). I am sorry it wasn’t, and I found it frustrating trying to get this message across in the other thread on this issue to some Anonymous poster on the other “Fitna” thread, because the more I tried to be reasonable with him/her, the more s/he just showed that s/he was rather dense and did not seem to understand the principles of liberal argument. But I really hope there are better and more intelligent Muslims than him/her who could see the point.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Feb '09 - 10:09am

    Margaret, you miss my point.

    I believe the religion of Islam has flaws, if I did not I would be a Muslim. I believe too that it has got itself in a rut whereby illiberal, nasty and stupid interpretations of it seem to be dominant. I further believe that it has got off lightly in the UK and that many liberals are hypocritical in that they pussy-foot around it and will not criticise it in a way they feel free to criticise other religions – particularly mine. I don’t like the term “moderate Muslim” because I think that may be misinterpreted as “half-hearted Muslim”, but I very much wish that those who have a more thoughtful and liberal interpretation of the religion could take a braver stand and develop and promote that interpretation more. It’s just that I don’t think Wilders’ film and approach has helped in that process.

  • Perennially Bored 24th Feb '09 - 10:22pm

    A couple of Margaret’s points are interesting:

    “Muslim women who’ve fled male relatives threatening their lives in so-called “honour” cases have spoken about how little was done to help them, because it was seen as a “cultural” thing.”

    There’s an interesting recent discussion on this issue over at the F word, at http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2008/02/guide_to_islam
    The post I’m looking at is by Victoria, about a third of the way down. For those of you not clicking through (though you should, it’s a great website), the key paragraph is:

    “I lose count of the number of murder stories that I’ve read in which a woman has been killed by a jealous husband. When such crimes are committed by Muslims, it’s an honour killing. When the same scenario arises in a non-Muslim community, it’s just plain murder (and therefore somehow less abhorrent).”

    I think this is a really good point and very true. I think a lot of the problem here is about misogyny in the police rather than attitudes towards Islam (but that’s another debate altogether).

    “On the contrary, the Qur’an is quite specific about what is “necessary”, and it’s not equality for women, a tolerant attitude towards disbelievers, or forgiveness for apostasy.”

    On the contrary, as I tried to make clear in my previous post, the Qu’ran is not specific about anything. Most of the more restrictive laws come from the hadith or, more often, later judgements by the later Caliphs, particularly Omar, so can be reinterpreted. The fact that many of the currently dominant branches of Islam are not open to such reinterpretation does not mean the entire religion should be condemned; there exist many versions of Islam that are open to reinterpreting some of the more restrictive rules, using logic such as: well, the apostasy rule was designed for a time when people fought in the armies of Islam, and embracing Islam was the equivalent of swearing allegience to a military force, so apostasy was like treason. This isn’t relevent now we live in an age of peace, therefore the rule is no longer relevent.

    Also, there are some very specific rules on treatment of non-believers, which include nothing more than charging them a poll tax, so your comment in that respect is inaccurate.

    “I asked the Muslim speaker if he believed that I’ll go to hell when I die, because I’m an atheist. He wouldn’t answer me, or look me in the eye. If he was a doctor or a fire-fighter, would you trust him to treat everyone equally?”

    Yes, I would. I could also ask you the same question regarding many Christians. I have Christian acquaintances who are convinced I am going to hell because of my lack of faith, and I don’t think that means they are unsuitable to be fire fighters or doctors. How is it any different with doctors?

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Feb '09 - 9:59am

    In response to Margaret’s

    The Bible is also full of nastiness, and while a few deluded fundamentalists may still regard it as their guide for life, Christians don’t, in general, go around threatening to kill anyone who offends them.

    I will re-iterate what I wrote upthread, which is that the Bible has neither the same sort of structure nor the same position within Christianity that the Qu’ran has in Islam. Protestantism, at least in its more strident forms, is an attempt to turn Christianity into Islam by treating it as if it is. That is why I am not a Protestant.

  • Fitna’s idea on the quoted Qur’an verses is skewed (perhaps that was the intention). For example it started by quoting Chapter 8 Verse 60, suggesting this book is inciting violence. Chapter 8 is titled Spoils of War. And verse 60 is just saying be prepared or to spend on defence, as a deterrent from being attacked and most countries do this. Read what the next verse is (61): “but if the enemy incline towards Peace, do Thou (also) incline towards Peace,…”. The general context of the chapter is on the conduct of war, not promoting terrorism.

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