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The Nature of the Beast

A fly on the wall in the office of the Communications Secretary this morning may have heard some choice words this morning.  Many of them would have been uttered by the secretary himself, Mr. Eric Pickles.

The cause would have be the response to the letter sent yesterday, by Pickles and his minister, one Lord Ahmad, to 1100 mosques and Muslim leaders asking them to convince young Muslims that extremists had “nothing to offer them”.  The letter ended, reasonably, “We welcome your thoughts ….”

Well, they received a few thoughts with a promptness that might be best described as intemperate.  Submitted by the Muslim Council of Britain, the thoughts were to accuse Pickles and Ahmad (himself a Muslim, by the way) of “ratcheting up tensions”, and went on to complain, in the form of a rhetorical question, “Is Mr. Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society?”

Well, yes. 

And if evidence should be required, then the Muslim Council’s response provided it. 

Now, it may be that the Council was right to be miffed that Pickles, by addressing the imams directly, had failed to observe certain niceties of protocol, but that is a minor matter.  In the event, the Council’s attack tends to explain why Pickles decided to bypass that particular channel of communication.   

The government can be forgiven for thinking that it can’t win for losing.  A few other western governments may well feel the same way.

If the Council represents the moderate voice of Islam, then heaven help us all.  (I use the invocation in its figurative sense.)  Its petulant reaction underlines an essential problem: the supposed moderates of Islam nearly always qualify their attacks on extremism with a countervailing attack on government, and society in general.

Why couldn’t the Council have considered its position in a measured way and agreed, in some polite form or other, that something ought to be done to deter the brainwashing of its younger adherents, rather than firing off a churlish reply by return post suggesting that the government was part of some fascistic conspiracy against the religion?   The only conclusion most of us can reach is that when push comes to shove, the Council, along with other supposedly moderate elements of The One True Faith, yet again finds it more politic to play the oppression card.

Muslims in Britain are plainly no more oppressed than Catholics or Zen Buddhists, or Seventh Day Adventists – least of all by official agencies that constantly proclaim the virtues of multiculturalism. 

Islam, it is true, is becoming increasingly resented.  But that is because the rest of us are sick and tired of reading over their breakfast toast and marmalade every morning that Islam is once again complaining of alleged outrages against a faith in whose names real outrages are committed around the world almost daily.  Islam now almost permanently dominates the headlines, and not just the headlines on the inside pages, mind, but the banner headlines on the front page.  And endlessly filling the television news broadcasts, as well.   

Alright, I’ll come clean.  I despise the religion.  I despise it on any number of levels, spiritual and sociological, you care to name.  I’ll also admit that I would feel the same way about any other religion that forever promotes distorted interpretations of what its good book doesn’t preach.  For years most of us felt pretty much the same way about the Catholic and Protestant divide in Northern   Ireland.  Some of us even have equally strong views about the impasse over Palestinian rights in Israel, by no means all of them supportive of the sometimes repressive actions of the Israeli government.

Most of us, struggling to make sense of a mad world that seems to get madder with each passing year, are exasperated with our rulers, often to the point of despising them.  Responsible societies resolve the issue by voting them out of office when the appointed time comes, without resorting to bombs and beheadings. 

The Muslim Council does not itself, I’m certain, approve of such methods.  If not, then as a body of self-proclaimed moderates, it should come out and say so, and as often as it takes, but WITHOUT qualification, or resorting to the use of desperate, distracting ploys such as red herrings about perceived persecution.

The late Christopher Hitchens (not everyone’s cup of tea, admittedly) was right.  Religion poisons everything.

And, as it so happens, he meant any and all religions.

The sooner religion is relegated from public demonstration to private expression the better. 

Sadly, as history tells us, that is not the nature of the beast.

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