Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Two Cheers For Polly Toynbee

This has to be a lifetime event as singular as the coming of Halley's Comet: I'm actually finding myself applauding a Polly Toynbee column! Non-Grauniad readers should think of what it would feel like to read a Maureen Dowd column and say "how profound!" to understand the enormity of what I'm saying.

What is the rationalist to do? Atheists, feminists and anti-racists are paralysed by Islam. Whichever way they turn, they find themselves at risk of alliances with undesirables of every nasty hue.

Last month, the website of an organisation called the Islamic Human Rights Commission made me the "winner" of their "Most Islamophobic media personality" award. It has caused me a bombardment of emails of both extreme pro- and anti-Islamic poison, each one more luridly threatening than the last. The occasional note of reason from moderate Islamic groups is so weak it hardly makes itself heard. I had challenged the legitimacy of the idea of Islamophobia and warned of the danger to free speech of trying to make criticism of a religion a crime akin to racism. I pointed out yet again that theocracy is lethal. Wherever religion controls politics it drives out tolerance and basic human rights. The history of Christianity has been the perfect exemplar, a force for repression whenever it holds any political sway. It only turns peace-loving when it is powerless.

People led by some unalterable revealed voice of God cannot be tolerant of the godless. At present it is Islamic states that head the danger list - though the dread power of southern Baptists in US politics endangers world peace, as do extreme Jewish sects holding power in Israel. Women are always the main victims, since extreme religions express their identities through male priestly supremacy and disgust of women.


The government wants to make incitement to religious hatred a crime, caving in to a vociferous Muslim campaign, although it is unlikely to make a spit of difference to these rabid religious enmities. (If the government really wants to foster religious harmony, it should abolish all religious schools, not build more.) To reassure outraged rationalists, ministers say that only a couple of people a year are expected to be prosecuted under it. So, why bother? That will inflame the religious even more as they refer case after case, expecting the law to protect their right not to be offended by mockery or criticism. They want religion placed in a realm beyond ordinary argument - and it is beginning to happen.

Fear of offending the religious is gathering ground on all sides. It is getting harder to argue against the hijab and the Koran's edict that a woman's place is one step behind. It is beginning to be racist for teachers or social workers to object to autocratic patriarchy and submission of women within many Muslim communities. Islamic ideas that find the very notion of democracy incompatible with faith are beginning to be taken seriously by those who should defend liberal democracy.

Of course most Muslims are not extremists. They speak of the peacefulness of their faith - as most religious people do. But they still too rarely speak out against terror when they should be combating their own extremists and being seen to do it. Moderate groups protest often against arrests of Muslim terror suspects, while the Muslim Council of Britain has sent out just one tepid call to mosques to cooperate with the police. Moderates excuse, rather than refute, the many ferocious verses calling for the blood of infidels in their holy book, verses that justify terror. Both the Koran and the Bible ought to be banned under the new law, since both are full of God's incitements to smite unbelievers.

It is bizarre how the left has espoused the extreme Islamist cause: as "my enemy's enemy", Muslims are the best America-haters around. The hard left relishes terrorism: a fondness for explosions and the smell of martyrs' blood excites their revolutionary zeal, without sharing a jot of religious belief.

More alarming is the softening of the brain of liberals and progressives. They increasingly find it easier to go with the flow that wants to mollify Muslim sentiment, for fear of joining the anti-immigration thugs who want to drive them from the land.


Expecting a terrorist attack on Britain soon, this week the Muslim Council of Britain and chief police officers are preparing a booklet for Muslim households, warning them to prepare for a backlash. If these grim events happen, it will be more important than ever to keep a rational perspective on both the Muslim community and its back-lashers. Fellow-travelling with terrorism, either within the Muslim community, or by the left and woolly minded progressives, will not serve.

It will be more important than ever to stand like Voltaire, ready to defend Muslims, their right to be here and to practise their beliefs against the growing swamped-by-aliens talk that Anas Altikriti warned against on these pages last week. But if he wants to stop the right "smearing and demonising" Islam, it would be wise to be more outspoken against its deformed branch that fosters terror. Muslims must also accept the right of others to criticise religions without smearing any critic as a racist.
Amazing - no loony left identifying with the "oppressed" speakers of "uncomfortable truths" in the manner of a Ken Livingstone, no relativizing away of the points of difference between Muslim beliefs and the liberal democratic tradition, no blaming AmeriKKKa for the nastiness of so much Islamist rhetoric or the accompanying silence of the "moderate Muslim majority", no talk of radicalism and unacceptable practices being confined to "a tiny minority." For a Grauniad opinion columnist, this is about as good as it gets, and coming from Ms. Toynbee, this article is beyond perfection.

There's a lot of talk going on around the blogosphere right now about the hateful excesses of certain sites I've vowed never to link to, and I've repeatedly said my piece about the need to refrain from simple-minded "Muslim=Evil Raghead" nonsense, but it cannot be denied that the way Islam is currently practiced by a sizable fraction of its adherents is simply irreconcilable with a free and democratic order, just as the way Christianity was practiced 500 years ago was irreconcilable with such an arrangement, and one must have the freedom to point this out without being lumped as an "Islamophobe" with the likes of the BNP or the Little Green Fascists.