I hope not to write again about Islam for a while, having already written three pieces since the Charlie Hebdo killings. I aim that this will be the last for a while.
But, suppose that, in a poll of British UKIP voters, a quarter had shown support for violence to achieve their ends. You can bet that the BBC would broadcast that statistic with the highest condemnation, painting the whole UKIP party as extremist.
Well, in the BBC’s poll published today, out of 1000 British Muslims who were asked, two hundred and forty four disagreed with the statement that “acts of violence against those who publish images of the Prophet Mohammed can never be justified”. Scaled to the British population that is 800,000 Islamic believers who think that violence against those who merely draw cartoons can indeed be justified.
How did the BBC present this finding? Its headline was “Most British Muslims ‘oppose Muhammad cartoons reprisals’.”. Is the idea that most Muslims are not violent now sufficiently remarkable that it becomes the headline? Are we so used to the idea that Muslims are violent that saying that they are not so is now news? Or is this spin, aimed at avoiding emphasis on the fact that a whole quarter of the British Muslims are sufficiently extreme that they do indeed accept violence against what is mere speech?
Note the BBC’s word “reprisals”, which didn’t feature in the actual wording of the poll. “Reprisal” means the “act of returning an attack”, and its use implies that violence is somehow an equivalent retaliation to drawing a cartoon.
The BBC’s report continues with analysis by Sima Kotecha, who declares that: “Islam is a religion of peace and love — not violence”. OK, but a quarter of British Muslims don’t agree.
She then quotes a young man saying: “We’re all being branded as extremists in this country”. Might that be because a quarter of you are extremists? If a quarter of UKIP voters or any other grouping accepted violence as a response to critical speech, you can bet that the whole group would likewise be branded extreme.
Kotecha continues: “an overwhelming majority [of Muslims] have said they’re angry that their interpretation of Islam has been eclipsed by an extreme ideology that is too often projected in the media”.
And yet the poll reports that roughly half of British Muslims agree that Muslim clerics who preach violence against the West are not out of touch with mainstream Muslim opinion! If a large component of mainstream Muslim opinion supports violence against the West, then why is the blame on the media for reporting it? Surely, if Muslims are angry that Islam is often regarded as an extreme ideology, then their anger should be directed at the fairly large fraction of their own Islamic community who do indeed hold to an extreme and violent ideology.
If any other group in UK society harboured such views in such significant fractions they’d be condemned far more harshly. Yet the BBC does its best to obfuscate that basic point.
The BBC’s report continues with a student at Bradford College, Samaia Aslal, saying that: “It is up to the rest of British society to stop looking at us as some kind of threat, to accept us”. Surely it is far more up to the Islamic community to stop being a threat!
Surely it is up to them to stop accepting violent and intolerant ideologies in their midst, and in their mainstream, and instead to accept that free speech and satirical cartoons are a normal and laudable part of Western freedoms!
To be fair, the poll says that 95% of British Muslims feel loyal to Britain, that 93% think Muslims should always obey British laws, and that 94% would report anyone planning a violent attack to the police. Such attitudes are a strong foundation for a shared future. But that future has to involve acceptance of Western ideals of freedom and pluralism, and a rejection of the idea that anyone has the right to lash out violently just because they are offended, or just because others do not respect their religion the same way they do.
This poll has revealed that a worryingly large fraction of the British Islamic community holds to a violent and extremist version of Islam. If the non-violent majority of Muslims are really upset at the way Islam is portrayed and regarded, then their anger should be targeted at the sizeable numbers in their midst — not a “handful” of extremists but a full quarter — who support violence to back up their intolerance.
The peaceful-minded Muslims are in the best position to change Islam, and it needs to change from an ideology with a strong totalitarian streak to one that lauds the peaceful and tolerant acceptance of free speech.
To quote Maajid Nawaz: “This will require not just the voice of Muslims, but the whole of civil society standing in solidarity with those Muslims who are brave enough to challenge extremists in their midst. Islam is an idea: like other ideas, it must be open to scrutiny. But supporting secularism and challenging Islamism is not fighting “Islam”. It is moving from extremism to liberal pluralism.”.