What do members of the British Muslim community and members of the right-wing of the Conservative Party (and perhaps of the UK Independence Party) have in common?
Nothing whatsoever, most of us would respond, blithely assuming that the two groups are tarred with such very different political and social brushes that they are not only antithetical but represent two of nature’s implacable enemies.
But are they?
I ask the question in the context of a recent (ICM) poll of the social attitudes of British Muslims. It found that half of those polled would like to see homosexuality criminalised. Forty per cent asserted that women should be obliged to obey their husbands (leaving the question of what should happen to them if they didn’t, unasked). One third – surprisingly even more in the younger age group – believed in polygamy. No question was asked, as far as I can tell, about corporate or capital punishment, but it is probably reasonable to assume, given their attitudes on those other points, that a significant minority would be in favour of restoring both – the former to schools, the second to the sentencing options of British courts.
On each of these points, with the obvious (?) exception of polygamy, I doubt that the response of most Conservative Party stalwarts, certainly of its right wing, would be much different.
Public opinion, of left as well as right, is still I understand enthusiastically in favour of bringing back hanging (formally abolished in 1956) for murder, if not for all murders, for those of a more heinous nature. As for the lesser physical punishments I still often hear people say – and not always those of the oldest generation – that a cane applied to the buttocks of persistent miscreants at school would ‘sort them out in a hurry’, as it supposedly did in days of yore. The same people usually believe just as ardently and for the same reasons that a return to mandatory military service would be a Good Thing.
My father, bless his soul, believed wholeheartedly in all these Good Things, and others unmentionably worse, and not only in his younger days but right to the end of them. Sometimes he’d joke that his greatest regret about my admittedly dismal scholastic performance and the days of a misspent youth was not that I had been frequently whacked on the backside but that perhaps I had not been whacked frequently enough, or indeed hard enough. And since my rear end had been insufficiently bruised and battered for my own good, then on leaving school a two year stint in the army would have been the Very Thing to get me back on the rails from which he (and my teachers) felt that I had so conspicuously fallen.
I draw attention to the similarities between devout Muslims and devoted Tories, not in order to cast Islam in a favourable light but, on the contrary, to point out that Islam and the political right, in their mindless yearning to return to precepts of decency that our society has rejected as uncivilized, are one side of the same coin. The more extreme elements of Islam – the beheaders, stoners and floggers of ISIL obviously, but also others on the mad fringes of that mad faith – are hundreds of years behind the rest of us. Even the more moderate elements of Islam are a century adrift – or, to give them the benefit of any doubt, at least half a century.
Sadly, though, so are those on the nuttier fringes of the Conservative Party and other radical political organizations. To that stratum of petrified wood one might safely add, from the United States, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, not to mention – although I will while I’m at it – their sympathisers and in some cases financial mentors, among the countless agencies of Christian Fundamentalism.
So, let us not pick on the poor Muslims, as misguided and brainwashed as we may believe them to be, but on all those quaint old-fashioned hypocrites who share their Islamic brothers’ yearning for the revival of misbegotten methods of oppression, cruelty and misogyny.
In other words, a plague on the lot of them.