I recently published this piece on The Muslim News.
What once could not be said about any ethnic or faith minority, is now legitimate and meritworthy when said against Muslims.
It’s been a pretty bad few weeks. The war in southern Lebanon and the total devastation of the country’s infrastructure set a pretty depressing backdrop to the subsequent events. The death upon death in Lebanon was re-packaged by Condoleeza Rice as “birth pangs.” In mid-August air travel and the airports came to a standstill in the wake of the foiled attacks on flights from London to the US. Travellers are now facing stricter safety measures on travel, and the episode has re-injected fear and hatred for Muslims into the general population.
In the run-up to the days marking the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, George Bush decided that the War on Terror was the wrong war. The latest war was the War against Islamic Fascists. I carried out an unscientific poll of a group of my flabbergasted friends and colleagues who felt that this new terminology was an oxymoron (a George-Moron?), a contradiction in terms, designed to create an image in people’s minds that Muslims are fascists. It’s not a meaningful term, nor a helpful term they told me. It’s too muddled up with Italian history. And, most worryingly of all, it is part of what now seems to be open season on Muslims. It seems you can say anything you like these days about Muslims without being held to account.
The Pope got in on the act and decided to quote an “erudite Byzantine emperor” of the 14th century who was having a discussion with a Persian Muslim. The emperor said “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Pope insisted this was a quotation given in an academic discussion. But he put the idea out there. And just like creating a connection between Islam and Fascism, it adds to the acrid atmosphere building up against Muslims.
The Pope is a religious leader, and spiritually and politically he should have known better. Despite his subsequent comments that this connection was not his intention, his speech actually used the idea of violent conversion as something to reject as it is against the nature of man. He juxtaposed this caricature of the violent Muslim against the conceptualisation of Christian doctrine being based on reason and in accordance with the nature of man. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, was impressed and agreed wholeheartedly.
There was rightful condemnation from around the Muslim world. The Pope did indeed need to be corrected. And when the Pope starts sending out signals against the followers of another faith, we know that there is trouble brewing and we need to nip it in the bud. On the whole Muslim protest was peaceful, measured and well-conducted. But in a few places the protests smacked of Muslims jumping up and down on their turbans again, and a couple of churches were attacked in Nablus. It made me cry. We need to learn to select our weapon of choice wisely – this is a war of ideas, and we need to combat it with ideas.
The Evening Standard – well-known for its anti-Muslim views – surpassed itself and published a rabid hate-filled piece by Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of the Barnabas Fund. He writes: “Contemporary Islam has burst out of its colonial restraints. Once colonialism removed power, jihad and territorial control from Islam, it was left a benign force focusing on prayer and good deeds. But contemporary Islam has reverted back to early Islam, with all its theological rage against the non-Muslim world”. What a lot of imperialist nonsense. Colonialism as a force for good in managing the primitive violent Muslims who don’t know better? Early Islam having theological rage? I refer both the Pope and Dr Sookhdeo to the Crusades parts 1 to 9 (and beyond) as examples of colonialist attitudes and theological rage. The thing that made me laugh, albeit at the irony, was the statement by the Barnabus Fund that says, “We reject utterly any implication that our literature stirs up hatred against Muslims”.
Dr Sookhdeo also rails against Muslim schools, claiming that he doesn’t believe they can live up to the “noble tradition” of Christian and Jewish faith schools. To paraphrase him, mosques teach Muslims to hate everyone else, and Islamic law is mediaeval and unalterable. He sprinkles his toxic poison liberally: “I believe Islam needs different treatment from other faiths because Islam is different from other faiths.”
And therein lies the rub. It’s now OK to say whatever you like about Islam and Muslims because they are being seen as different. Not quite the same. Not at all the same, in fact. The voices that were once whispers are now recognised and applauded for saying that Muslims are violent people, that they are evil, uncontrollable, the cause of all terror and the source of all our woes. Already people are pulled aside for wearing headscarves, for having tufty beards, for being brown in colour. Names are scrutinised for sounding Muslim, and their owners subjected to investigation. This scary world is one that we already live in.
These loaded comments, blanket discrimination and characterising of Muslims is dangerous. For Everyone. And Everyone needs to be worried. In a sick Orwellian fashion they are building up a portrait of a Muslim villain, a de-humanised monster that lives in our midst. A scapegoat and a legitimate target. Will the next step be for Muslims to carry identity cards with little yellow crescents on them? Let’s not go down that road again.