Friday, 10 September 2010

Islam: an open letter to a friend



My friend,

You asked me recently if I would disagree with you in saying that Islam was a contemptible religion. The short answer is yes, I do. I’ll explain my reasoning in a bit but I assume that your question was brought on by the comment I left on your blog about the Reverend Terry Jones and his proposed immolation of the Koran? Let me remind you of what I wrote;

I cannot see this as anything other than a stupid provocation by a stupid man, one that would have put American lives at risk. He is free to practice his religion; he is free to condemn Islam, if he so wishes; he is free to burn a sacred book in his benighted stupidity; he is even free to ignore the consequences of his pointless gesture, since abandoned. I personally want no part of this man's Kulturkampf

Straight away I have to say that I distrust the self-righteously intolerant; I distrust all those who know, within a shade of a certainty, that they are right and everyone else is wrong; I distrust people like Professor Richard Dawkins, the Ayatollah Khamenei and I distrust the Revered Terry Jones. No, more than that: I despise this mediocre man and his cheap stunt, given undue significance by the media at a sombre moment in the American calendar, one that is now bound to inspire imitations by people even more stupid and deluded than he is.

Then there is the issue of burning books, any book, which for me conjures up the ugliest historical associations, of ignorance and murderous intolerance. The Nazis burned books, the Inquisition burned books: these are the precedents here. You and most other educated people are doubtless familiar with the words of Heinrich Heine – “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people”, words that happen to be inscribed on Yad Vashem, the memorial to all those who died in the Holocaust. I wonder, though, if people know where the words are from. Do you know? Well, they are from his play Almansor; the burners are the Inquisition and the book being burned is the Koran.

I wrote a brief piece a couple of years ago to which I gave the headline The Paradox of Islam. Here is part of what I said;

There is so much to admire in Islamic culture and history; in their architecture, their philosophy and in their art. When Europe was only just emerging from what was once widely known as ‘the Dark Ages’, Islam was moving steadily towards the fullest expression of a unique civilization. I’ve seen the Mezquita, the former mosque in Cordoba in southern Spain, built when the old Moorish kingdom of al-Andalusia was at its height, and it truly is breathtaking.

Cordoba and Baghdad were shrouded in light when London and Paris were little more than settlements of wattle and daub. It’s thanks to Islam, to Islamic scholars, that much of classical literature made its way into the modern world. It wasn’t Islam that invented murderous intolerance; that dubious honour belongs to Christianity.

You know my politics; I do not say these things because I’m a liberal or a cultural relativist. I’m right-wing and conservative, and from my perspective there is indeed much to admire in Islamic culture, with its emphasis on family, community and tradition, things that are dying away in the west.

My blog on The Paradox of Islam continues as follows;

It’s as well to remember, though, that militant Islam is not an aberration; the religion has always carried the sword, in the one hand, and in pen, in the other. It’s really a matter of degree. Arab civilization, in particular, has been in relative decline for centuries. The period when it was at the forefront of human progress is long gone. The advance of western imperialism in the nineteenth century, and neo-imperialism in the twentieth, was the occasion for what might be referred to as ‘great reappraisal’; that things had got so bad because Islam was not Islam enough. The emergence of the conservative Wahhabi movement and Islamic Jihad are but two symptoms of this phenomenon.

Yes, there are monstrous dimensions to contemporary Islam, just as there are monstrous dimensions to contemporary Christianity. You know very well how outraged I feel over the treatment of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery. I think the present Iranian regime is one of the worst on the planet, perfectly vile, perverse and evil in its politics, its sense of morality and in its interpretation of religious law.

More widely I share a common sense of outrage against the perpetrators of 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London. I remember the latter vividly. I was away at school, my last term, and I spent several desperate hours trying to make contact with family and friends in London, in tears for a good bit of the day.

Do I condemn Islam; do I condemn a whole faith community for this? No, I do not, no more than I condemn Christians for Oklahoma, Omagh or for the outrages perpetrated in Baghdad in the wake of the war brought on by the Blair-Bush Axis. There are some 2 billion Muslims in the world. To condemn them all because of their religion, to describe their religion as ‘contemptible’, to burn their sacred books is for me both dangerous and senseless. It’s as well always to maintain a sense of proportion, to condemn what needs to be condemned and to praise what needs to be praised.

Besides, I have many Muslim friends, people I know from university, as cultured and as tolerant as any I have ever met. It was through blogging that I met the poet Rehan Qayoom, who offers comment here from time to time and on my Facebook page, a gentle, civilized, educated and a pious man in the best Islamic tradition.

Since Terry Jones emerged, blinking into the light, more and more details of this unpleasant individual and his own perverse interpretation of religion have trailed along with him. I’m sure he will sink back into the dark from whence he came, a minor provocateur, not a prophet, one of the nameless legions, one of the rough beasts, its hour come round at last, who slouched towards Television to be born.

33 comments:

  1. Hi Ana,
    That's a fair analysis.
    Thank you for not generalizing Islam.

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  2. I think Otto Neurath of the Vienna Circle wanted an index of forbidden books (anything metaphysical or religious). Much as I sympathize with the general aims of the logical positivist movement (and with poor old Richard Dawkins come to that) I certainly side with your sentiments here. I don't aspire to reach your rhetorical heights however. More fitting for a pilot like yourself!

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  4. And thank you, Harry. It's always nice to see you here.

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  5. Who is flying today, Mark, on wings rather than words. :-)

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  6. Ana, a superb piece of writing and I can not take issue or disagree with a word or sentiment of it.

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  7. Anastasia

    You put the case for the defence with your customry skill, wit and passion.

    I, too, have known muslims who appeared to be reasonable and decent people. However, it is obvious that many of them are anything but civilised and it it these we should be worried about.

    Concerning Adam's fiery atheism, I am puzzled at anyone's being enraged by someone who does not exist.

    I can't claim to have had any dramatic revelation of God's presence, but I have seen and felt enough to be convinced that Christianity is the one true path to God. This does not mean that I rule out people from other faiths getting into Paradise. I'm sure plenty will.

    It's true that mediaeval islam outshone European Christendom, but that was a while ago now and one cannot live on past glory alone.

    Also, this civilisation owed much to Persia and India in the East and Byzantium in the West. While not decrying islam's achievements, not much of their culture was truly original.

    I believe that even the Koran was essentially culled from other faiths.

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  8. @Mr. Garrie's One Nation, I agree with most of what you say. Gee! Am I a militant something?

    The problem is, that it is almost impossible for those "true believers" or "fundamentalists" to separate the criticism to their beliefs from their individual existence.
    I personally am not fond of any cultural ideology or religions. they represent mediocrity by my opinion. I see brilliance of humanity only within individual geniuses' ideas through history. It is because their ideas influenced cultural ideology, or impact key moments of history, history could move forward. That's why Europe could move forward and China/Islamic countries's could not.

    "You say Islam emphasises community and 'family' values and indeed it does do. It emphasises a value system that is based on a sexual hierarchy."
    Totally agree! China has the same seemingly "great family traditional value" which I LOATHE because it is completely based on sacrificing individual's freedom.
    Yes, from here, I am a militant individualist, if not an atheist.
    How sad/mad/dangerous it is Ana?!:-)

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  9. I like to make my point on history more objective. I said history moves forward because of genius individuals' impacts, this point of view, however can only apply for recent couple of thousands years. Of course, cultural ideology, religions or any other type of collectivist beliefs played much more important role in earlier history progress.
    But again, it is 21st century and many people still don't used to change. If people are afraid of some fundamental "attack" on their belief systems, which means repudiating/destroy completely something they have been holding for thousands years, they are going to stay behind.

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  10. one thing i may not agree with Mister Garrie's One Nation about the comparison of all the religions - the reason that Islamic countries seem to be the most aggressive against human right is not because of it's extreme doctrine, but the fact that there have never been a counter force (humanism, rationalism, etc.) existed in their history.

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  11. and... what is more dangerous than the cold war is religious war!

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  13. David, yes, we should always worry about extremism, about contemporary forms of barbarism.

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  14. Yun yi, not mad, sad or dangerous. :-) As I mentioned to you before I'm presently reading a new book on the Great Leap Forward. The details are heart-breaking. China was effectively turned into a vast concentration camp. I had no idea just how bad it was.

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  15. Tikno, that's one thing we certainly do not want.

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  17. It's about a mindset, about all black on one side and all white on the other. It's a new Manichaeism, something that may, very possibly, bring on Armageddon. Jones is a symptom of a more general disease. Sorry, that's it; I'm passing no more comment on an individual I find wholly contemptible in his shallow self-publicising opportunism.

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  18. I remember your original post on the subject Ana, and I think this open letter more than echoes my feelings on the subject. Superbly expressed and I agree with it wholeheartedly.

    My two daughters are a few years older but share your views. They have Muslim friends from school and university and as they point out to me, it is your world and theirs, and I am more than happy to leave in at some point in your capable hands. I doubt they would thank my generation for declaring "war" on some two billion Muslims, most of whom are most certainly not our enemies.

    Extremists yes, but most of us surely understand the difference.

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  19. Araminta, I would like to hope so. Thank you so much. :-)

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  20. Hello Ana,

    I asked constantly on MyT, how go youths of Britain see things. I hope yours and Araminta's views have a wide range.

    Very good piece. I would like to add some points but I lack time now.

    Thank you.

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  21. Dearest Ana
    Thank you for this piece and for your high values that you argue so intelligently. I am proud of you. This blog re-affirms what I saw in you many many months ago on My T. You have real substance (and if I may say), MashaAllah :)

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  22. Thank you, Shermeen. As always your words are appreciated. :-)

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  23. Hello again Ana,

    The cyber-space made me paranoid. I hesitate to comment, because of the "taqiyya" accusations.

    I mean I don't want to sound praising you to earn a sympatiser of Islam. I think you don't know me much. Far from being a nice one, I'm quite nasty when I come across rudeness or hypocrisy.

    Regarding my take on Islam, I have never seen it a tool of domination. Never spoke in the tone of holier than thou. Altough I believe it's the best path to Him.
    As a believer I believe He holds/gives all the results. He holds all the power. Therefore personally I don't tend or try to change the world. I believe the light of faith is delivered only from one heart to another, not publicly. And he is the one who gives the faith. A persons faith is much more important and all the politics of the world.

    I'm trying to say Ana, when I speak I mean what I say. I don't hold hidden agendas.

    As for the points in your blog. I had something in mind when I first read, but all flew away.

    The heavy propaganda about Islam... It makes me sad. I think of the young muslims in the west, not easy for them.
    The animosity and the disrespect makes my (mediterreanan :) )blood boil at times. And makes me think I should quit this blogging bussiness.

    Sorry for lengthy gibberish. I had to take it out of my chest.

    Thanks again for superb blog

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  24. Thanks again, Levent. I always try to speak honestly, with integrity and from the heart. I can do no other. I feel sure you do the same. I know it's difficult sometimes but do try to keep going, no matter the difficulty. Your departure would diminish me, diminish us all.

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  25. Thanks for the love Ana, you are a dear dear friend.

    I am shocked at how misunderstood true and authentic Islam is. Whatever else remains to be corroborated Terry Jones may yet make a pretty penny and find his name mentioned in books and on tomorrow's chip paper.

    The poet Tony Harrison composed a film poem called The Blasphemer's Banquet as a response to the Rushdie fiasco and the subsequent book burnings. In the poem he invited Molière (who his daughter as a child called "Jane Eyre's sister"), Voltaire and others to a banquet of writers who, over the ages, had had their works burnt and invited Rushdie to join him though Rushdie declined. I wonder if he wrote something new about this recent intended burning of the Quran. At the time it was the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who codemed the un-Islamic death Edict and, instead commissioned a book to be written in reply. It was published shortly after as Rushdie: Haunted by his Unholy Ghosts. It was revised in 2006 to include 2 new chapters in the light of 9/11. It is available online at: http://www.alislam.org/books/rushdie/RUSHDIE_Haunted_by_his_unholy_ghosts.pdf

    Once again it was the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who transmitted a much publicised special in which Terry Jones was invited to speak and in which his 10 points in favour of the burning were satisfactorily answered one by one. The promo is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ni63pvtHtvM

    The full program in 7 parts begins at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PDwETFjO0E

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  26. Ana, thanks for letting me know about this post. You've written each and everything really well. This is exactly what I was trying to say in my comment on that other post of yours. You can't judge a large group of people on the basis of the few misguided ones ...

    "Yes, there are monstrous dimensions to contemporary Islam, just as there are monstrous dimensions to contemporary Christianity ... I think the present Iranian regime is one of the worst on the planet, perfectly vile, perverse and evil in its politics, its sense of morality and in its interpretation of religious law.
    More widely I share a common sense of outrage against the perpetrators of 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London ... Do I condemn Islam; do I condemn a whole faith community for this? No, I do not, no more than I condemn Christians for Oklahoma, Omagh or for the outrages perpetrated in Baghdad in the wake of the war brought on by the Blair-Bush Axis. There are some 2 billion Muslims in the world. To condemn them all because of their religion, to describe their religion as ‘contemptible’ ... It’s as well always to maintain a sense of proportion, to condemn what needs to be condemned and to praise what needs to be praised."

    I completely agree with these lines ... and this is the way how everyone should look at things ...

    Keep writing and take care! :)

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