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Easily Astonished

This is a guest post by David Thompson

Last year, I wrote a short post titled It’s Okay to Dislike Islam. In it, I argued:

One of the creeping, unanalysed myths of our time is that it is somehow wrong to dislike Islam, or any part thereof, and wrong to take a dim view of its tenets and demands, and wrong to take a still dimmer view of the figure who founded it. I can practically hear the distant tutting and grunts of disapproval. Poor Islam. Poor Muslims. Their beliefs are being mocked. How hurtful. How “racist”. How terribly unfair.

No. It’s not unfair at all. What’s unfair is a demand for unearned deference and a unilateral exemption from the testing of ideas. What’s unfair, indeed despicable, are efforts by Islamic groups to cow dissent and stifle criticism with a well-rehearsed pantomime of victimhood and the projection of false motives. Pretending to be hurt in order to assert one’s will over others, or to gain unreciprocated favours, or to exert control over what others may say and think, is cowardly and malign. Let me say that once again. It’s cowardly and malign.

At the time, I feared I might be stating the blindingly obvious. Thankfully, today’s Independent on Sunday suggests the sentiments above may still, to some, be novel. Peter Popham and Thais Portilho-Shrimpton apparently find it “astonishing” that an author, i.e. someone whose livelihood presupposes a freethinking society, should take a strong dislike to those aspects of Islam, often labelled Islamism, that are explicitly antithetical to a freethinking society:

The novelist Ian McEwan has launched an astonishingly strong attack on Islamism, saying that he “despises” it and accusing it of “wanting to create a society that I detest”. His words, in an interview with an Italian newspaper, could, in today’s febrile legalistic climate, lay him open to being investigated for a “hate crime”.

At this point, perhaps it’s worth bearing in mind just what kind of world Islamist groups wish to share with us, whether we like it or not. Consider, for instance, the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps the foremost Islamist group, which declares its aim as the “widespread implementation of Islam as a way of life; no longer to be sidelined as merely a religion.” In 2004, the Brotherhood’s president, Muhammad Mehdi Akef, told the Egyptian newspaper al-Arabi: “Islam will invade Europe and America because Islam has a mission.” Later the same year, Mehdi described the Holocaust as “a myth” and insisted that, when in power, the Brotherhood would not recognise Israel, whose demise he “expected soon”. Mehdi views “martyrdom operations” in Palestine and Iraq as a religious duty and has described all Israelis – including children – as “enemies of Islam”. The Brotherhood’s literature and website still bears the charming prophesy: “Islam will dominate the world.”

If some among us don’t find the above quite enough to warrant concern or contempt, perhaps we should remember the words of Ragab Hilal Hamida, a Brotherhood MP and former member of the jihadist group Jama’at al-Takfir Wa al-Hijra, who in 2006 told the Egyptian weekly Roz al-Yusouf: “Terrorism is not a curse when given its true [religious] meaning. From my point of view, bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and al-Zarqawi are not terrorists… I support all their activities.” When asked if such statements might reflect badly on the public perception of Islam, Hamida replied, “Islam does not need improvement of its image.”

In light of such statements, and many others like them, what is astonishing is the notion that a dislike of Islamism, or of Islam generally, should invite fears of “hate crime” investigation. As I’ve said before, religious freedom does not entail sparing believers any hint that others do not share their beliefs or indeed find them ludicrous. There is, after all, no corresponding obligation for believers to embrace ideas that are not clearly risible, monstrous or disgusting. But, again, perhaps I’m stating the obvious.

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