Tag Archives: islam

Waking Up After Charlie Hebdo

CH Cartoon

As the latest outrage to peace, liberalism and free speech draws to a close in Paris, with at least 17 innocent people lying dead, one thing must be shouted through the fog of confusion that is inevitably already infecting media and social media commentary; an issue of major concern in the aftermath of this horror is not a consideration for the possible hurt feelings of anyone with regards to the contents of satire, cartoons and so on.  No one has the right not to be offended in a liberal society.

Due to the avalanche of usage, I must once again briefly deal with the word ‘Islamophobia’.  Islam is a set of ideas written in the Quran (the Islamic holy book, dictated allegedly by Allah) and the Hadiths (the sayings and the actions of the Prophet Mohammad).  Therefore, the word ‘Islamophobia’ actually implies that the liberal world is irrational if it dares to criticise a book, which is bad enough, but in reality it is always deployed in such a way as to imply bigotry against all Muslims.  There are two crimes here; the conflation of criticising ideas with bigotry, and the downplaying of actual anti-Muslim bigotry, which is abhorrent.  The intention of course, is to stifle debate.  The word’s very purpose is to frighten everyone into silence.  We must all reject it if we wish to honour the bravery of those who were killed defending freedom of speech in the offices of Charlie Hebdo.  Human beings have rights that deserve respect, books or ideas do not.

The correct and necessary response to the nightmare in Paris, is to make a stand against this assault on liberalism by publishing the above cartoon.  We must spread the risk.  Below, Ayaan Hirsi Ali explains why:

Video Link

 

“I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”

– Stéphane Charbonnier, editor of Charlie Hebdo, who was murdered in Paris on Wednesday.

 


2014 – Another Year In Denial

ISIS

So it’s been another big year for religion.  As such, it’s almost impossible to list all of its ‘achievements’ but below are some ‘highlights’:

In terms of wars, we’ve seen the growth of ISIS as they conquered large areas of Syria and Iraq, murdering, enslaving and raping tens of thousands of people in the process, and beheading four western journalists and an aid worker. We’ve witnessed yet another outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine, resulting in the deaths of approximately 2,200 people, many of whom were innocent non-combatants. There has been a continuation of the bloodletting in the Central African Republic between Christians and Muslims, causing an unknown number of civilian casualties – but 5,000 is considered a very conservative estimate. Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamic group, have moved on from hit and run attacks to holding territory in the North East of the country, displacing over half a million people while doing so, and murdering at least 2,000 just between January and June of this year (a total number for the whole year is unknown), to say nothing of their habit of kidnapping and raping pre-pubescent girls by the truckload. Finally, the fight against the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan continues to rage, with atrocities a regular occurrence, the worst of which we learned about only 2 weeks ago when 132 school children were shot and killed with automatic weapons at a school in Peshawar (9 teachers were also killed). Of course, though I will not make the case here, one could also argue that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is in part religiously motivated. Certainly much of Putin’s disdain for the West is linked to our increasingly secular, humanist and moral outlook that flies in the face of his professed and apparently sincere Orthodoxy.

With regards to religiously inspired terrorist attacks on Western soil, in the last few weeks alone there have been deadly strikes in Ottawa, Canada, in Nantes, France and in Sydney, Australia.

One thing that should instantly leap out at you from the above information is that this is truly a global struggle, with every continent regularly falling victim to attacks by individuals or armies high on religion. Last year of course, we had to endure the assault on the oilfield in In Amenas, Algeria, the Boston Marathon bombing in the US and the vicious murder of Lee Rigby on the streets of London, England, to name but three corners of the globe forced to mourn the loss of innocents.

In a sane universe, something like the following would make sense:

In response to the threat of religiously motivated violence, the world’s 2 billion atheists, along with the moderate faithful and the many leaders across the West in particular, are decrying these outrages against humanity in no uncertain terms. They are highlighting the obvious link between some religious texts and the actions of certain groups and individuals and demanding that these scriptural passages are universally rejected as simply wrong and pronounced as incompatible with a desire for a peaceful, moral and tolerant world. They are not only insisting that all religious leaders drive through reform from within their communities but furthermore are doing all that they can to intercept the passing on of terrible ideas to the next generation by attempting to ensure that every child receives a modern, secular education, free from religious dogma. Finally and more generally, the separation of church and state is being steadfastly defended and reinforced.

Unfortunately however, we appear not to live in this sane universe, but one parallel to it, where truth and logic are strangers. Here is David Cameron’s response to the massacre of 132 children in Peshawar:

“There is not a belief system in the world that can justify this sort of appalling act. I think what this shows is the worldwide threat that is posed by this poisonous ideology of extremist Islamist terrorism. It is nothing to do with one of the world’s great religions – Islam, which is a religion of peace.”

Here is US president, Barack Obama, on ISIS:

“ISIS is not Islamic because Islam is a religion of peace.”

After the self-appointed Iranian Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis, a man previously known for his habit of writing crude letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, walked into the Lindt Café in Sydney (incidentally, an establishment I have visited myself) with a shotgun and a black flag with the Shahada (the Islamic declaration of faith) written on it, and murdered two innocent people and shot a policeman in the face, Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, spoke these words:

“(Man Haron Monis) is a deeply unstable person with a long history of violence and mental illness… I guess one of the encouraging things is there are less and less of people trying to explain and justify terrorism in the name of religion.”

This mindless currying of favour with the public, rather than making nuanced arguments, is not only popular with politicians; some celebrities are also big fans, as was demonstrated recently by ‘Affleck-gate’. In the video below, mediocre American actor Ben Affleck loses both his marbles and his manners when he calls comedian Bill Maher, and author and neuroscientist Sam Harris “gross” and “racist” merely for articulating some of the undeniable intolerance and inequality that exists in parts of the Muslim world toward women, free-thinkers and homosexuals:

Video Link

At this moment in time, there appears to be no discernible plan at all by Western politicians to find a way out of the circle of violence.  I’m sorry to have to sign off the year on such a low.

 

“Islamophobia; a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.”

– Someone on Twitter


The War On Terror And Why We Should Care About Everyone

world

Over the past few days I’ve had to endure numerous tweeters and bloggers pondering whether the west should intervene in Northern Iraq, predicated upon concerns over cost, imperialism, what we might hope to achieve, how long it might take, the lives of our soldiers – almost everything in fact other than what ought to be worrying us; the lives of those poor Iraqis who are being starved, shot, beheaded, crucified, buried alive, raped and so on by the tens of thousands.  Of course, it goes without saying that if a group like ISIS took control of northern Europe for example, everyone in the developed world would know why America, let’s say, should intervene militarily, as indeed they did in June 1944.

But I think what has made this latest catastrophe in Iraq particularly unpalatable to me is that public opinion only seemed to turn in favour of air strikes against ISIS when it became apparent that Christians were being threatened in large numbers.  I thought perhaps I ought to check a calendar in case I’d entered a parallel universe where the year was 1400.  Having the love of Jesus in your heart sure seems to harden it in ways unfamiliar to myself at least.

So why wouldn’t the West help people in need if they have the resources to do so, regardless of the skin colour, nationality or religious belief of those who are in danger?  Why do we seem to have more concern for people who were born within the same lines drawn by other people (not God) on a piece of paper, or for people who worship the same God?  Why do we proudly boast about this?  For me, these questions run to the heart of the problems the world is currently facing, whether the subject is the economy, poverty, climate change or terrorism.  For sure we cannot hope to prevent scenarios such as that in Iraq re-occurring unless we begin to come up with the right answers to these questions – or in other words, until we begin to acknowledge what our responsibilities really are.

The status quo is nothing new.  Flagrantly misguided and irresponsible (to say nothing of outright mean and selfish) attitudes toward the wellbeing of other people have been writ large in recent years.  There is almost unanimous agreement that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq was a terrible mistake, and that now we have cleared Afghanistan of Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps, we should leave and allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, as they surely will.  In Iraq, we are currently witnessing what happens if a tyrannical regime is ousted, advanced weaponry is stock piled, and then the liberators leave before properly securing it – i.e. before ensuring that a nation has its infrastructure fully rebuilt, its army well trained and its governance stabilised.

The truth is that the events that have led to the ISIS incursion are almost comical.  All that was needed to avoid it was a change of emphasis.  We should have prioritised actually doing a good job for the people of Iraq.  One can only wonder what conversations take place amongst ordinary Iraqis with regards to the Allied effort over the past 25 years.  For sure it’s too awful to even try to estimate how many lives might have been saved, including those of Allied soldiers, had we finished the job the first time around in 1991.

So firstly, I want to reiterate unapologetically that I think it is a good thing that we (finally) freed the Iraqi people from the tyranny of the Baathist regime, which essentially held Iraqis hostage to the will of the Hussein crime family for the worst part of 30 years, while continuously threatening the borders of neighbouring countries.  The oil money went straight into the pockets of Baath party thugs or was paid out as rewards to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers – clear evidence of sponsorship of international terrorism by the way.

Though millions in Iraq lived in squalor due to 12 years’ worth of crippling sanctions imposed by the West in order to curtail Saddam’s military ambitions, he built countless palaces and mosques of ever increasing grandeur.  Freedom of speech was non-existent, thousands were being murdered regularly at Saddam’s behest to crush any hint of rebellion, and WMD’s were being vigorously sort after from North Korea and other pariah states.  Having gassed 250,000 people with chemical weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan, no one should be under any illusions as to whether Saddam would have used such weapons again had he managed to get hold of them – the only debate should be where – or where first?

As for those types predisposed toward spouting inane drivel about the so called stability in Iraq under Saddam, maybe they might pause to ask themselves whether the families of the million and a half or so who died in the wars he started with Iran & Kuwait miss ‘that’ stability.  What a shame it is that we didn’t have the nerve or the will to win the peace after winning the war.

Perhaps even more astounding is the insistence that Allied forces leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, regardless of the situation and in spite of the fact that the current Afghan government has nowhere close to the means required to defend itself against a resurgent Taliban.  Why would anyone believe it to be a good thing for Afghans to again be exposed to such feudal brutality?

Mullah Omar’s men ruthlessly enforce Shari’a.  If a woman is raped in Afghanistan, they are immediately in even more danger the moment their ordeal of sexual assault is over because they are very often brutally punished for the perceived dishonour they have brought upon their menfolk by having sex out of wedlock – and sometimes they are stoned to death for it.  All women are forced to live their whole adult lives in a cloth bag with only a thin slit to look out through and they are forbidden from gaining an education or having a professional career.   Those who are caught attempting to defy these suffocating restrictions are most commonly attacked by having acid thrown in their faces, causing hideous disfigurements and occasionally death.  As if having their public lives mandated isn’t bad enough, Afghan women also have their home lives decided by other people.  Their husband is chosen for them (and the husband-to-be’s family pay a dowry, which equates to them paying for their son to rape an often pre-pubescent girl) and women must be a virgin on their wedding night or face violent reprisals from their communities, essentially meaning that they can never experience a loving relationship or have sex with someone of their own choosing.

I cannot think of any endeavour that should be more pressing upon our consciences than to try to protect the women of Afghanistan from having to live this reality, yet it seems to be almost an article of faith that we should leave them to the mercy of pious men as soon as possible.  Why aren’t feminists angry?  If nothing else, in an environment such as this, what does anyone imagine might be the mind-set of the next generation of men who are raised to subjugate women and only read one book?  Doesn’t anyone think that this might become a problem for us again one day?

We really do have to stop being so tribal.  We really must stop thinking of ourselves as British or American, as Christian or Islamic or whatever.  It’s meaningless.  Every life must be considered equally important for its own sake.  That might shake some people’s sense of identity but just think; instead we could identify ourselves with something far grander – the whole of planet earth.

There was a time when villages battled against each other, before realising it was counterproductive.  Later, whole regions, such as counties in England (Yorkshire against Lancashire for example) used to fight.  Then people turned their suspicions on neighbouring countries until, at least in the developed world, it became obvious that millions of people were dying for nothing, exemplified never more so than by the pointless bloodbath of The First World War.  Finally now, we have entered a new era – often controversially termed the clash of civilisations.  But with thousands of nuclear warheads in existence, most with a destructive force 30 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (just imagine the catastrophe), we really cannot afford to continue to be so childish or short sighted any longer.  We must start to think of ourselves primarily as members of the human race, with mutually shared goals to survive, flourish and minimise suffering.

Of course I’m not suggesting that we should intervene immediately everywhere that tyranny exists.  In many circumstances, thankfully, diplomacy is the best option.  However, we must get to grips with the fact that sometimes such a human emergency can unfold that immediate, decisive action is the only correct and effective course of action.  Turning a blind eye is not a moral choice.  Doing nothing does not mean that nothing happens, it just means that something else happens.

How long will it be before a crude nuclear device reaches our shores?  Many experts put the timeline for such an eventuality at less than ten years.  We are in much more danger than a lot of people seem prepared to acknowledge and isolationism is not the answer.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not western intervention that offends the likes of ISIS & Al-Qaeda, it is the uncovered face of a woman, homosexuals, the continued existence of Israel, and non-Muslims.  The extremists have been murdering dissenters for over a thousand years.  As Sam Harris pointedly asked: “What sanctions did we have in place in the year 900 AD?”

Check out the recent Vice News videos regarding ISIS on YouTube.  These people are truly terrifying and they mean business.  Here is their latest report:

Video Link

Our goal must be to encourage the formation of more stable, democratic governments and thus allow educated, secular communities to flourish.  This will undoubtedly take a very long time.  But we have no choice other than to commit to this path because the alternative is to un-movingly watch mass graves being dug from afar and await the next assault on our homelands?


A True Expression Of Faith

Gaza

Fantasy, by comparison, is the drunken bore to reality’s life and soul of the party.  It’s Lennon’s sugar-coated ‘Imagine’ to Dylan’s biting ‘Masters of War’.  Fantasy is merely the representation of the limits of our imaginations.  Reality doesn’t require imaginations though, and it certainly doesn’t acknowledge man’s limitations in this regard.  The briefest of excursions into the worlds of biology, physics, & cosmology in particular, will reward you with information about this life that will leave you breathless.  Fairy tales are a poor substitute, trailing behind, clinging to the coat tails of truth.  Facts inform and inspire fiction, but the reverse is impossible.  How fascinating it is then that so many seem to have so much disdain for evidence based decisions.

It may sound as if I have something against ‘make believe’.  I really don’t.  I love a good story.  This truth about me gives rise to just another item on the list of reasons why I hate religion.  Religion survives on the myth that we all need to pretend sometimes.  Of course we don’t – but occasionally it’s fun.  The godly tarnish, dare I say poison, even this.

For sure being hostage to our imaginations is the least of fantasy’s crimes – it’s when it becomes a tool of fascism, used to justify genocide, murder, rape, torture, cruelty to animals and all the rest of it that we have to worry.  When grown-ups with access to guns and rockets start to believe, and I mean really believe that their wishes will come true, predicated only on certain behaviours, it really matters what these behaviours are and where the reasoning for them comes from.

And so it is that there are now only two clocks running in Israel and the Palestinian territories; one is what we might depressingly call the annihilation clock.  That is to say the moment when one side decides to go all in and commit the very worst of crimes.  The other is the atheism clock.  The moment of clarity when everyone in the region (and elsewhere) realises that even a two state solution is one more than is actually necessary.  It’s not clear yet which one of these clocks will rundown fastest.  Either way, what is clear is that while we wait for the ticking to stop, we will have to witness thousands of children being blown to pieces, interspersed with periods of calm where we’re all hoping that one side doesn’t look at the other the wrong way again.

Alas, fear not, I’m not about to write yet another analysis of this latest human catastrophe in the Middle East.  I simply wish for us all to admit what the real problem is, if only because that always seems like a good place to start when trying to resolve an issue.  It can be summarised with this graphic:

IsraelPalestine

These pronouncements, which are taken seriously by far too many, leave very little room for compromise or reason to hope that a permanent agreement is achievable.  They’re also why the war has a majority of public support on both sides of the conflict.

I think I must say one more thing.  None of us have done enough to prevent this.  None of us.  We all make concessions to untruth every day.  We all normalise it.  Scientology seems crazy to everyone, but that’s only because it’s new.  It’s no crazier than Judaism, Christianity or Islam.  We should be much more outraged at the miss-education of children, the ritual slaughter of animals, the unashamed resistance to equality for homosexuals, the misogyny and so on, in our own countries.  That’d be a start at least.

As Bill Maher said in his 2008 film ‘Religulous’: “Wherever there is mass delusion, bad things will follow.”

Trojan Horse Is Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

Faith Schools

The more that I read about the situation in some, who knows how many, of the schools around the UK with regards to the influence of religious teachings, the more I become convinced that the relevant authorities have not and will not get a grip of the situation.  And how can they, for not only do the inspectors themselves seem unable to navigate the ground between calling out the teaching of intolerant behaviour and insulting minority groups unnecessarily, but more pertinently, they are working in an environment that makes effective action almost impossible in any case.

The appropriate fear has of course been brought to the forefront of our minds by the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ scheme by hard line Muslims, who are allegedly attempting to infiltrate UK schools, specifically in Birmingham and Bradford that we know about, so that they can indoctrinate children with ‘extremist’ Islamic ideas.

But the real issue here is the very concept of faith schools.  It matters not whether there actually is an organised plot to takeover schools because we do know for sure that children have been repeatedly segregated by gender.  We know that the teaching of evolution is often ignored, instead replaced by a grab bag of creation myths.  We know that sex education is likewise regularly completely omitted.  We also know that some children have been taught that homosexuals should be killed and that women cannot refuse to have sex with their husbands.

Yet for weeks, months, years, successive Governments have been acting as if this is a difficult issue to resolve.  In fact, it’s a little worse than that – the numbers of faith schools have increased year on year.

I will tell you what we can do.  We can demand that every child has a fair chance in life.  We can truly treat all cultures equally by insisting upon the same level of education for all, rather than the slightly insulting notion that learning by rote is ok for some people, but not others.  Religion must be entirely removed from all schools and replaced with classes based on a modern understanding of morals & ethics.  Sex education could easily be a part of this.  As I’ve argued before our societies must teach children kindness, empathy, altruism and so on, with as much vigour as it teaches them mathematics.  But alas, we are still in a world where most seem to believe that morals should be taught by the religious, whose institutions are doctrinally homophobic, misogynistic, anti-scientific and cruel to animals.  What hope can be found there?

Last week Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, sought to move the conversation away from religion and the issue of faith schools by suggesting that the problem was a lack of “British values” being taught in schools.  As if being nice is ‘British’.  And of course, slyly insinuating that people behave badly because they are not British enough is just piling on more divisive rhetoric.  I despair!


Veil Of Confusion

The Home Office Minister, Jeremy Browne, has said today (17th September, 2013) that we should have an open debate about whether the niqab, which is the face covering portion of the Burqa (the all encompassing garment often seen covering Muslim women from head to toe), can be worn in public places.

Absolutely!  By all means let’s have a debate.  But what are those in favour of allowing the niqab to be worn in public likely to say?  They will reliably argue that it is a matter of religious freedom, freedom of expression, and tolerance.  They will tell us that Muslim women who wear the veil do so out of choice.  And they will say that it does more harm to ban it because doing so will be a hindrance to cross cultural relations (in fact the ever feeble Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has already offered this defence of the niqab).

So is this just about freedom and civil rights?  We must first un-muddy some waters.  Liberty and tolerance do not require one to turn a blind eye to everything.  If they did, we wouldn’t require a police force.  Freedom of speech is a wonderful and precious cornerstone of our culture, worthy of vigorous defence, but we do not allow people to say literally anything, and for good reason.  One cannot incite or threaten violence.  One cannot even incite hate without some constraint.  Would we, for example, allow a media campaign recommending the boycott of all Jewish stores, as was done by the Nazis in the early 1930’s?  Of course not.  We do however allow campaigns for the boycott of certain stores if, for example, it is discovered that their suppliers use child labour abroad or test their products on animals.  The distinction should be clear; the latter is aimed at a faceless corporation that can immediately adapt its ethical behaviour (i.e. switch suppliers), whereas the former targets human beings distinguished only by that which they cannot change and did not choose, such as race, ethnicity or sexuality.

Further to this, we can easily see that we do not allow religion ‘carte blanche’ either.  Liberal societies are all broadly in agreement on the need to resist the imposition of Shari’a – Islamic religious law that often condemns criminals to brutal, medieval punishments and prejudices against woman, putting them at a distinct disadvantage in legal matters, particularly where sex crimes, divorce, domestic violence, child custody or inheritance are concerned.  We do not allow apostates to be murdered, as is demanded by most interpretations of Islamic doctrine.  We certainly do not allow people to be killed for working on Sundays, as the Bible recommends.  Both Yahweh and Allah are clearly for slavery and against homosexuality, but thankfully our laws reflect the opposite view.  So we must do some more thinking – to simply cry (religious) freedom doesn’t cut it.

Is this a feminist issue?  Yes it certainly is, but the other way about to how the argument is often formed.  Make no mistake, the niqab is a garment promoted by men, in the name of Islam, to protect their honour:

“Tell your wives and your daughters, and believing women, to draw their veils over their bodies. It will be better that they should be known as respectable woman.” (Quran 33:59)

Many Muslim men (not all) feel their honour is dependent on how submissive the women in their lives are because they believe, on the basis of religious scripture, that women are essentially their property – objects that can be bought and sold (think dowry – selling their daughters to other men in arranged, forced marriages), objects that must represent and serve the men who own them before themselves, and of course objects used for breeding.  To protect such misogyny beneath a cloak of feminism is an obnoxious insult to the extremely vital cause of real sexual equality.  It is also a form of cultural snobbery, as it suggests that western feminists believe freedom and equality to be indispensable for themselves but not necessarily for Muslim women – the soft bigotry of low expectations.

It is true that some Muslim women defend their right to wear the niqab, but then sadly it is also true that some Muslim women also defend and participate in the forced marriages, honour killings and genital mutilations of their own daughters.  No one of sound moral judgement argues that these are feminist issues.  It’s therefore impossible not to conclude that these women are just scared.  Scared of the men in their lives or scared of Allah – a fictional character whose lines were written by men, all too often with the express purpose of subjugating women.  In this regard, we may also wish to ask ourselves whether our real responsibilities lie with women who yearn for freedom or with those who are glad of their chains.

We also often hear western feminists explain to us that not every woman wants to present the image of herself that the more revealing end of western style clothing can generate.  This is perfectly reasonable of course, but it is remarkably easy not to conform to western ideals, or to otherwise remain inconspicuous, without wearing a cloth bag, with only a thin slit for seeing through, for the whole of your adult life.  Millions of women manage it every day.  However, only Muslim women dress as shown in the photo at the start of this article.  It is the urgent responsibility of all of us to wake up and realise why.  Quite frankly, I find it remarkable that the fact that no one else, anywhere in the world, with a genuine free choice dresses in this manner doesn’t raise more alarm bells.

Is banning the niqab worth the consequence of creating more tension in our relationship with Muslims here in the West?  We need only ask if it was worth upsetting slave masters by releasing slaves from their chains.  It is difficult to think of a more selfish and lethargic approach to social reform than to effectively say “scenario A is really bad for them, but scenario B isn’t great for me, so let’s keep scenario A.”  The journey we must actually embark upon is a far grander and more ambitious one than that.  With freedom comes great responsibility.

It should be clear to all moral, thinking people that the effacing of women via the niqab (as opposed to the covering of their hair and bodies in the form of the hijab) is a form of violence and oppression against women, and as such has no place in any society, anywhere.

 

“Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.  The grave will supply plenty of time for silence”

Christopher Hitchens


How We Should Not Respond To The Woolwich Terrorist Attack

It seems today that two Muslims have beheaded, or at least attempted to behead, a British soldier in broad daylight on a busy south London road, only a few yards from his army barracks.  As the perpetrators clearly wanted to die as part of their awful act, an effective security response is difficult to imagine – perhaps scrutiny of their digital life will unveil some worthwhile follow ups.  For now, I’m a little more concerned with what we shouldn’t do.

Firstly, condemning all Muslims is phenomenally misguided.  There are quite clearly many good Muslims who feel unable to escape the faith because of family pressures (I know some people who fall into this category), or who are simply unable to face the world without the structure a religious life provides – but who genuinely and wholeheartedly condemn this attack and are kind people in every aspect of their life.  Doubtless there are even some Muslims who may appear devout but actually this only relates to the spiritual element of Islam.  One of the biggest problems security experts face around the world is trying to spot the suicide attacker against this backdrop.  Whilst this observation does provide the foundation for an argument against the harmlessness of moderate religion, what it certainly doesn’t do is provide reasons to express hatred of all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world or to go out onto the streets and begin randomly attacking mosques (as appears to already be happening around the country).

Secondly, we mustn’t allow the enthusiasm of Muslim spokesmen, and misguided liberals, to hijack these events.  Let’s be clear; this attack was inspired by religious hatred and it can be justified by Islamic doctrine.  Here are a few verses from the Quran to get us started:

(2:190-93) Slay them wherever you find them…idolatry is worse than carnage….fight against them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion reigns supreme.

(3:156) If you die in the cause of God, his mercy would surely be greater than all the riches they (the infidel) amass

(3:195-96) Those who suffered for My sake and were slain – I shall admit them to gardens watered by running streams as reward

All the while that Muslim spokesmen and theologians fail to acknowledge the awful moral messages (to say nothing of the terrible science) contained within the Quran and the Hadiths, and so fail to implore Muslims to read the Quran critically as a book that may contain errors, then they are neglecting their responsibilities and they are letting down this and the next generation of Muslims.  Sitting in front of a camera and saying that this type of incident does not represent Islam and that Islam is a religion of peace is nowhere near enough – in fact, as it fails to address the main issues, it doesn’t even count as a start.

On a related point, it is not true to say that the problem is with only a tiny minority – unless you think that a problem only exists at the moment a successful attack takes place.  Study after study shows that almost every Muslim believes that a woman must obey her husband at all times and that homosexual behaviour is immoral.  Meanwhile, well over 100 million globally appear to support suicide bombing, as was most recently reported by Pew and highlighted in another recent post of my own.  These attitudes are well below the curve with regards to what is morally acceptable in the developed world in the 21st century.  And they are at the heart of this conflict.  Muslim spokesmen must start telling the truth about this.  They must say that Islamic teachings have been wrong on these issues.  Only then will we begin to see progress.  Continuing to deny any connection between terrorist attacks and Islamic doctrine and failing to acknowledge that the Quran is not the unalterable word of Allah, will have the same effect it has always had over the past 1400 years.  No effect whatsoever.

Finally we must not allow this event to weaken our resolve.  It is not a further reason to get out of Afghanistan, Iraq and so on.  It is another reason to stay.  Whatever your views on, say drone strikes for example, we should be very clear about the intentions of these compared to what happened today or recently in Boston, USA, when considering the relative moral implications.  A perfect drone strike takes out a military target and kills no one.  A perfect suicide attack intentionally kills innocent non-combatants, often in large numbers and usually including women and children.  Intentions matter.  Western liberals should be confident enough to believe our way of life is not just different, but better.  We should care enough to want to actively encourage it elsewhere.  And we should be ambitious enough to believe we can.


Pew Study: The World’s Muslims – Religion, Politics & Society

Pew have just released (April, 2013) the results of a study conducted over four years (2008 – 2012), aimed at detailing the attitudes and beliefs of Muslims across the globe.  It is a thought provoking read – the full report is available here:

http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society.aspx

Pew are a global leader in research.  Their mission statement reads:

“Pew is a global research organisation, operated as an independent, non-partisan, non-governmental organisation dedicated to serving the public.  Pew applies a rigorous analytical approach to inform the public.”

With respect to this research, here are the top line details:

The study included a sample size of 50,000 people, spread across 39 countries.  The interviews were conducted in the participants’ homes.

This is Pew’s description of the methods they used to ensure random samples:

“Interview teams were assigned to designated random routes at the block or street level and followed predetermined skip patterns when contacting households. Within households, adult respondents were randomly selected by enumerating all adults in the household using a Kish grid or selecting the adult with the most recent birthday.”

Before I get to some of the points I wish to highlight, it should be noted that the figures below represent the percentage of Muslims in any given country, not the percentage of the total populations, although of course in many countries in this study, this is tantamount to the same thing.  It is worth keeping in mind that the combined populations of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and Indonesia alone equal 700 million people, with approximately 95% in total identifying themselves as Muslims.

To begin what I’m afraid is a most depressing tale, I will include Pew’s own explanation as to why not all results are available for every country:

“In some countries, pre-test results indicated the need to suppress certain questions to avoid offending respondents and/or risking the security of the interviewers. In other countries, interviewers considered some questions too sensitive to pre-test. Thus, not all questions were asked in all countries.

For example, interviewers in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Morocco indicated that certain questions about sexual preference and sexual behaviour were too sensitive to be asked. Questions on these topics were either eliminated or modified in these countries.”

Finding out that your interviewers lives may be at risk simply for asking questions must have been an ominous beginning.

The research dealt with attitudes towards issues including suicide bombing, Shari’a, honour killings, wearing of the veil, sexuality, sexual equality, abortion, western culture and many more.  Below I’m only highlighting four charts, but I would implore you all to view the entire study.

 

For this first chart, the results represent the ‘no’ responses.  So 70% of Muslims in Afghanistan believe men should decide what women wear.  I’ve chosen to include only those countries who came in at under 50% in relation to the question.

 

In this second chart, the results represent the ‘yes’ answers.  I have included only those over 50%.

No selection was necessary to highlight the problem for this third set of results

 

All available responses are also included for my fourth example – the results represent those who answered ‘yes’ or ‘often justified’

 

It’s impossible to exaggerate the alarm bells these results should set off in our minds.  With regards to the question on suicide bombing, the answers for Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Egypt alone represent 100 million people.  It also seems fair to conclude that over a billion Muslims think that homosexuality is immoral.  To say that at least 80% of Muslims believe a wife must always obey her husband, appears on this evidence to be a generous, conservative estimate.

As a snapshot of the levels of tolerance and commitment to sexual equality in Muslim majority communities, this study deals a tragically disheartening blow.  The response from liberal Muslims and non-Muslims alike must be an urgent call for reform.  This can only be initiated by a commitment to honest conversation and a preparedness to critique Islamic doctrine (ideas, not people).  An over willingness to obfuscate the truth or cry ‘Islamophobia’ (a disingenuous term that conflates the criticism of a book with racism ) can only hope to hinder progress.

None of this is a denial of the existence of anti-Muslim bigotry, which is abhorrent, unjustified and must be resisted with every sinew.

Finally, please remember that those who suffer most at the hands of religious fascists are Muslims themselves, especially Muslim women, homosexuals and free thinkers.  I choose to stand with them.  Please join me.