Saturday, 5 February 2011

Why David Cameron Is Right...And Wrong

Go here to read the full text of David Cameron's speech at the Munich Security Conference.

In places, the Prime Minister says some genuinely good things. His impassioned, if narrow, criticism of "state multiculturalism" is welcome, as is his basic understanding that the Islamic threat comes not just from terrorism, but from Muslim political advocates who advance the same goals as the terrorists by non-violent means:

At the furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of Sharia. Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist worldview, including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values.

Cameron falls down when he makes the common claim that jihadists want to impose "an interpretation of sharia", as if there were a "moderate" school of sharia that rejects jihad against unbelievers, the execution of apostates, stoning, and sacralised discrimination against women and non-Muslims (for the record, there isn't), but on a basic level he got this part right.

Elsewhere, though, Dave gets it seriously wrong on many levels:

We have got to get to the root of the problem, and we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of where these terrorist attacks lie. That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism. We should be equally clear what we mean by this term, and we must distinguish it from Islam. Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority.

So the Prime Minister wants us to distinguish between the Islamic ideology and the ideology of "Islamist extremism". But he defines the "true" Islamic ideology by referring to the existence of peaceful Muslims, NOT to the actual doctrinal basis of the Islamic ideology, namely the Qur'an and the Sunnah.

The Qur'an says all of the following and more:

“And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers...And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.” (2:191-93)

“Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home). Unto all (in Faith) Hath Allah promised good: But those who strive and fight Hath He distinguished above those who sit (at home) by a special reward.” (4:95)

“Tell those who disbelieve that if they cease (from persecution of believers) that which is past will be forgiven them; but if they return (thereto) then the example of the men of old hath already gone (before them, for a warning). And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah.” (8:38-39)

“Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (9:5)

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the Jizya [non-Muslim poll tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (9:29)

“Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth...” (9:111)

The hadith says all of the following and more:

Sahih Bukhari

“Allah's Apostle said: 'I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah.” (v.1, b.2, no.25)

“Allah's Apostle was asked, 'What is the best deed?' He replied, 'To believe in Allah and His Apostle (Muhammad).' The questioner then asked, 'What is the next (in goodness)?' He replied, 'To participate in Jihad (religious fighting) in Allah's Cause.'” (v.1, b.2, no.26)

Sahih Muslim

“When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them...If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah's help and fight them.” (b.19, no.4294)

“It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Sa'id Khudri that the Messenger of Allah said (to him): Abu Sa'id, whoever cheerfully accepts Allah as his Lord, Islam as his religion and Muhammad as his Apostle is necessarily entitled to enter Paradise. He (Abu Sa'id) wondered at it and said: Messenger of Allah, repeat it for me. He (the Messenger of Allah) did that and said: There is another act which elevates the position of a man in Paradise to a grade one hundred (higher), and the elevation between one grade and the other is equal to the height of the heaven from the earth. He (Abu Sa'id) said: What is that act? He replied: Jihad in the way of Allah! Jihad in the way of Allah!” (b.20, no.4645)

This is the "Islamic ideology". If it sounds to you exactly like an "extremist" ideology, then you will instantly understand where Cameron has gone wrong.

Cameron also errs when he makes a separation between Islamic religious and political ideology. In actual fact, Islam is both a religion and a political system. Witness the writings of Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi (d.1979), one of the most influential Muslim thinkers of the twentieth century. Maududi believed that “Islam is a revolutionary ideology and programme which seeks to alter the social order of the whole world and rebuild it in conformity with its own tenets and ideals.” Specifically, “Islam wishes to destroy all States and Governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam regardless of the country or the Nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a State on the basis of its own ideology and programme”. Maududi taught that “Islam is not merely a religious creed or compound name for a few forms of worship, but a comprehensive system which envisages to annihilate all tyrannical and evil systems in the world and enforces its own programme of reform which it deems best for the well-being of mankind.” Muslims must wage jihad against unbelievers, the purpose of which “is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system and establish in its stead an Islamic system of State rule.”

Was Maududi just an "Islamist extremist"? Cameron might say so, but this understanding of Islam as a "total way of life" that encompasses both the spiritual and the political enjoys widespread acceptance throughout the Islamic world, as I explained here. So my point is that when the Prime Minister tries to claim that "political Islam" exists on its own as a separate entity to "real Islam", he is making a crippling mistake that prevents us getting to the root of the problem. The existence of Muslims around the world who do not practise political Islam does not make the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur'an, as well as fourteen centuries of tradition and deeply entrenched societal attitudes, go away.

Cameron's ignorance shows up again a little further on in the speech:

This highlights, I think, a significant problem when discussing the terrorist threat that we face. There is so much muddled thinking about this whole issue. On the one hand, those on the hard right ignore this distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism, and just say that Islam and the West are irreconcilable – that there is a clash of civilizations. So, it follows: we should cut ourselves off from this religion, whether that is through forced repatriation, favoured by some fascists, or the banning of new mosques, as is suggested in some parts of Europe . These people fuel Islamophobia, and I completely reject their argument. If they want an example of how Western values and Islam can be entirely compatible, they should look at what’s happened in the past few weeks on the streets of Tunis and Cairo : hundreds of thousands of people demanding the universal right to free elections and democracy.

The point is this: the ideology of extremism is the problem; Islam emphatically is not.

What Dave fails to grasp is that democracy is only as good as the values of its participants. And in the case of Egypt in particular, it is very clear that there is widespread support for violent, draconian sharia punishments among the Muslim masses. Participation in free elections is relatively meaningless without the elected parties being willing and able to provide genuine freedom and equality to the citizens they govern. Again, if Cameron knew anything about Islam and sharia law, he would have to admit that Islam itself is the problem, because its values and its assumptions about the nature of freedom, governance, equality and human rights are markedly different from our own.

Take, for instance, some of the values he delineates further on, during his explanation of the minimum requirements for cooperation with British Muslim organisations:

So we should properly judge these organisations: do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separation?

Islam denies equality of rights to women and to non-Muslims. Furthermore, the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam sets itself up as an alternative to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and states explicitly in many places that all human rights are subject to the dictates of sharia law. In summary, the result is that Islamic concepts of human rights violate the actual human rights of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience across the board.

So yes, Mr Cameron, Islam empatically is the problem. It is a very serious problem that will persist all the while our political leaders continue to make half-formed assumptions about its character and origins.

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