Predictably, England has been getting its knickers in a twist over “that murder”. For the record, a couple of young lads armed with kitchen knives and a meat cleaver hacked a squaddie to death in the middle of the street and in broad daylight. As murders go, it’s hard to imagine worse. Both lads must be deranged (let’s face it, you’d have to be deranged to do that to anyone, in any circumstances, for whatever reason) but they are black and muslim to boot, and that was enough to spark off one of those waves of mindless, blood-curdling vindictiveness in which the English gutter press excels. And not only the press: in the space of a week, violent attacks on muslims and their property went from a handful to over 160.
Generally speaking, I don’t follow the details of stuff like murders and kidnappings. They have no impact on my world view. Shit happens. So several days went by before I resigned myself to reading up on the gory details of what I had to admit was not just another murder.
Ignoring press claims, I first tried to find out whether or not those two guys actually had claimed to be acting for religious reasons. The one who was filmed talked about “an eye for an eye…” but that’s a common enough expression. According to the Sun, they shouted, “We swear by almighty Allah,” but the Sun is not what I would call a reliable source. One of them at least has been active in the distribution of “extremist literature”, and appears to have, or to have had, jihadist leanings, sure. But as far as I could make out, neither of them claimed at the time of the crime to be acting in the name of islam. So you’re left with two severely deranged young men who committed a horrendous murder and were stupid enough to do so in public. End of story. The reactions of the Sun, the EDL and the BNP say more about England than about islam.
In the meantime, however, judging by the number of arrests that have been made, it begins to look as though those two young men might not have been the only ones involved; and the emerging groupthink appears to be jihad inspired. I’m not taking any of that as read, by the way, basically because experience tends to indicate that you can’t believe a word the fucking police say. But let’s run with it for the time being.
That changes things significantly. My view is that, if that is the case, then whether we liberally thinking, open minded people like it or not, the worldwide islamic community has to accept part of the blame. Like you, I have no doubt that the vast majority of muslims are law-abiding citizens who just want to get on with their lives; but they know that within their church there is a jihadist tendency capable of planning and executing the most extreme violence; and as a community they have failed to root out that tendency. They’ve also acted very stupidly at times – scenes of Arabs dancing in the streets when the Twin Towers went down didn’t do much for their image, and might even have prompted a reasonable person to wonder about the extent of tacit support for the jihadist minority.
At this point, enter Seumas Milne in the Guardian, with a timely reminder that there’s a fucking big elephant in the room:
…almost nobody in public life mentions the war. The reason cited by the alleged Woolwich killers – the role of British troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terror – has been mostly brushed aside as unseemly to discuss. Echoing his predecessors, the prime minister insisted the Woolwich killing was “an attack on the British way of life”. London mayor Boris Johnson declared there could be “no question” of blaming British foreign policy or “what British troops do in operations abroad”.
Ah yes, the war – a small matter of several hundred thousand civilians killed by British and American troops in pursuit of their masters’ geo-political objectives. Can an under-educated, religiously indoctrinated, almost 100% muslim population be forgiven for confusing an attack on their country with an attack on islam itself? Of course they can. Indeed it would be surprising if they didn’t. So blame also goes to British foreign policy and the US “war on terror” – both of which, especially as far as Iraq is concerned, have been total failures. This is stating the obvious.
Before looking at further elements, it might be a good idea for me clarify my personal position on religion in general.
It’s really quite straightforward. I respect your right (whoever you are) to believe in a god of your choice. I respect your right to have a place of worship (as long as my taxes are not used to pay for it) and to practice the ritual aspects of your religion in that place of worship and in your home. I respect those rights and I would fight to defend them.
But don’t expect me to respect your religion as such because in my opinion your religion (I’m thinking of the big three) is not worthy of respect. It’s intellectually dishonest, socially manipulative, potentially murderous, and sexually discriminate. That’s my opinion and I ask you to respect it. Furthermore, I reserve the right to say what I think, to mock the social phenomenon that your religion is and to say things about it that you find offensive. Because your religion is about what you believe, whereas my opinion is about what I think. What you think as a christian (for example) is of no interest to me because it is by definition biased and irrational, and therefore totally irrelevant to the world I live in.
So far so good. Where it gets complicated is in deciding the extent to which people should or should not express their religion in public. Living in rue du Simplon, I often saw orthodox jews in their black uniforms in the street, but I never felt at ease in their presence, knowing the extent of their vindictiveness towards the Palestinians; I would see women draped in black from head to foot and I’d feel anger, not towards them but for a religion which denies women the right to live their lives fully; I’d see orthodox Christians with great silver crosses round their necks and I’d feel like reminding them that the catholic church is the worst mass murderer the world has ever seen. Now, I’m quite prepared to recognise that there’s room for debate here: my extreme sensitivity to other people manifesting their religious allegiance might say more about me than it does about the rights and wrongs of the case; I might be, as the man said, the only one in step. But when it comes to mixing personal religion with public office, I have no such doubts. When I saw that the English police had adopted a uniform hijab for muslim policewomen I had to check the date to make sure it wasn’t April 1st. The very idea is so obviously stupid, it beggars belief! The whole point of police uniforms is to make all coppers look the same; the uniform says, “I represent the law of the land and I’m the same for everyone.” But, before she even opens her mouth, the first thing a woman in a hijab says is, “I am a practicing muslim.” For an anonymous woman in a Paris street, that is one thing; for a policewoman, it’s another, and it’s obviously, screamingly wrong.
Practicing muslims in England (those who claim to pray every day) number about 800,000; that is 1.5% of the population. Clearly, the tail is wagging the dog. How did this situation come about?
I think there are two threads: one has to do with “communities” and the other with religion.
The English way with immigrants, rather than seeking to integrate them into the English way of life, has always been to encourage them to form communities and to express themselves as such. That was the case in the 60s and 70s, with Enoch Powel banging on about the “West Indian community” or the “Pakistani community” and rivers of blood, and it’s still the case today with the EDL frothing at the mouth over the “muslim community”. But note the change of “label”. West Indians and Pakistanis were referred to by their origin. When the Bradford yobs got pissed on a Saturday night and went out “Paki-bashing” nobody thought to call it muslim-bashing. Today, no one knows or even cares where the muslims come from – they’re muslims and that’s all that counts. Why? Well, obviously because of the emergence of violent, integrationist islamic movements over the last 30-40 years. Muslims have become the West’s general purpose scapegoats.
Now, I’m all for people forming associations. It gets them talking to each other and can be a way of encouraging them to recognise their responsibilities. Associations have their limits though, because by definition they are not based on the General Good: they seek to further their own interests. If, for example, the residents of your street were to get together and demand, say, better street lighting, the council would listen politely and then tell you to piss off – not in as many words of course: “You have to see the situation in terms of the bigger picture… Budgetary restraints apply to all parts of the borough…” The thing is, when the association takes the form of a religious community, no one dares tell them to piss off. Why? Because everyone is intimidated by the fear of appearing to be intolerant – after all, you “must respect religion”. That is – not to put too fine a point on it – utter bullshit; but it’s not done to say so. In other words, there is a second elephant in the room. In this respect, by the way, England is doubly handicapped because unlike other Western states, it has an “established church” and therefore cannot tell muslims to pipe down without appearing to favour anglicans.
So – am I in the wrong ball park? I think not. That murder was horrendous and the EDL’s reaction is shocking. But it would be a mistake to think the issues are clear-cut and easy to solve. Any progress will have to be hacked through a prickly tangle of lies and hypocrisy which is currently guarded by those two fucking elephants.