Islamophobia: A new word for an old fear - Part II

1. Islam seen as monolithic and static rather than as diverse and dynamic
Closed views typically picture Islam as undifferentiated, static and monolithic, and as intolerant of internal pluralism and deliberation.  They are therefore insensitive to significant differences and variations within the world of Islam, and in particular they are unable to appreciate that there are tensions and disagreements amongst Muslims.  For example, they ignore debates about human rights and freedoms in Muslim countries and contexts, and about appropriate relationships between Islam and other world faiths, and between Islam and secularism.  In short, debates and differences which are taken for granted amongst non-Muslims are neither seen nor heard when they take place within Islam. 

Sweeping generalisations are then made about all Muslims, in ways which would not happen in the case of, for example, all Roman Catholics, or all Germans, or all Londoners.  Also, it is all too easy in these circumstances to argue from the particular to the general – any episode in which an individual Muslim is judged to have behaved badly is used as an illustrative example to condemn all Muslims without exception.

Diversity within Islam, as also diversity within other religions, is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional.  Some of the differences within a religion are doctrinal, to do with interpretations of historic beliefs, the nature and role of symbols, the authority of scripture, the authority of leaders.  Others are about forms of worship and organisation.  Others again are about lifestyle, cultural customs and personal morality, and about views of politics and social justice.  Further, there are of course well-known differences in all religions between the ‘observant’ or ‘committed’ (whether ‘from the cradle’ or ‘born-again’) and the ‘nominal’ or ‘cultural’.  Further, in Islam as in all other religions that there are overlaps between religious and non-religious differences.  Often the latter are more significant in determining how conflicts arise and develop, and how they are managed or resolved.  Secular differences which have an impact on religious affiliation and practice include differences of status, caste, wealth and social class (historically, as is well known, the distinction between church and chapel in England was linked to social class), of ethnicity (as for example in Northern Ireland, or in the former Yugoslavia between Catholic Croat and Orthodox Serb), of national, regional, linguistic or cultural identity (as at the time of the Reformation in Europe, and frequently since), and with regard to gender issues and roles, the role and authority of elders, access to education, the social control of the young, and the urban-rural divide.  The following list summarises some of the differences and diversity which are ignored or over-simplified in much Islamophobic discourse. 

•    between the Middle East and South Asia, Iranians and Arabs, Bosnia and Chechenia, Nigeria and Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh;

•    between Muslims who are profoundly critical of the human rights records of certain Muslim countries and those who maintain that such criticisms are merely symptoms of Islamophobia;

•    between different interpretations of specific terminology, doctrines and injunctions in the Qur’an and Islamic traditions;

•    between the perceptions and experiences of women and men;

•    between older and younger generations, particularly in the Muslim communities of Western Europe;

•    between members of different social classes;

•    between a wide range of political movements, parties and projects which have little in common with each other apart from the tendency of their opponents to label them as fundamentalist;

•    between major strands and paths in the twentieth century, for example between Sufism and Islamism, or between the movements known as modernism and revivalism. 

A consequence of ignoring differences and diversity within Islam is that criticisms in the British media of countries such as Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia are understood as coded attacks on Muslims in places such as Bradford, Birmingham or Tower Hamlets.  Later in this chapter we quote a brief satire in the Sun newspaper which combines an attack on Pakistani-background people in Birmingham with references to Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, Colonel Gaddafi and Ayatollah Khomeni.

A recurring phrase in the Western media nowadays is ‘fundamentalism’.  It is not, we believe, a helpful term.  In a lengthy footnote at the end of this chapter we provide a brief history of the term, recalling that it was coined as self-definition in the first instance by a strand within Christianity and only much later, almost as a metaphor, to criticise aspects of Islam.  It is emphatically not a term which Muslims themselves ever use for purposes of self-definition, and the ‘fundamentals’ in Islam to which it claims to refer are of a different order from those to which it refers in Christianity.

2. Islam seen as other and separate rather than as similar and interdependent

Closed views see total difference between Islam on the one hand and the non-Muslim world, particularly the so-called West, on the other. Islam is ‘other’, with few or no similarities between itself and other civilisations and cultures, and with few or no shared concepts and moral values.  Further, Islam is seen as hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world, with no common roots and no borrowing or mixing in either direction. 

The alternative, ‘open’ view sees similarities and shared values, as also incidentally shared problems and weaknesses, and also many kinds of interaction.  In the open view it is impossible to assert that – for example – Islam is ‘East’ and Europe is ‘West’ (or ‘Judeo-Christian’), with no inter-connections or commonalities.  On the contrary, the open view stresses that there are close links between the three Abrahamic religions.  At the same time it acknowledges that there are significant differences between Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and that each has its own specific outlook on what these differences are, and on how they should be managed.

3. Islam seen as inferior not different

Claims that Islam is different and other often involve stereotypes and claims about ‘us’ (non-Muslims) as well as about ‘them’ (Muslims), and the notion that ‘we’ are superior.  ‘We’ are civilised, reasonable, generous, efficient, sophisticated, enlightened, non-sexist.  ‘They’ are primitive, violent, irrational, scheming, disorganised, oppressive.  An open view rejects such simplifications both about ‘us’ and about ‘them’.  It acknowledges that Islam is distinctively different in significant respects from other religions and from ‘the West’, but does not see it as deficient or as less worthy of esteem.  Us/them contrasts, with ‘them’ seen as inferior, are typically expressed through stories – anecdotes, rumours, gossip, jokes and news items as well as grand narratives.  In a later chapter we recall the power of stories in the media.  In the meanwhile some examples of such stereotypes and them/us dualism are summarised in non-narrative form below.

4. Claims about otherness and inferiority

•    That Muslim cultures mistreat women, but that other religions and cultures have outgrown patriarchy and sexism.

•    That Muslims co-opt religious observance and beliefs to bolster or justify political and military projects, but that such fusing of spiritual and temporal power is not pursued in societies influenced by other religions. 

•    That they do not distinguish between universal religious tenets on the one hand and local cultural mores (for example, those of rural Pakistan) on the other, but that a similar failure to distinguish between universal faith and local culture does not occur in other religions.

•    That they are literalist in their interpretation of scriptures, but that analogous literalism is found only on the fringes of other faiths. 

•    That they have difficulties in sending representatives to meet external bodies, but that issues of political representation and legitimacy are unproblematic in other religions. 

•    That they are compliant and unreflective, but that other religions and societies have their healthy internal debates and diversity.

5. Islam seen as an enemy not as a partner

Closed views see Islam as violent and aggressive, firmly committed to barbaric terrorism, and implacably hostile to the non-Muslim world. Islam was once, said Peregrine Worsthorne in the early 1990’s, “a great civilisation worthy of being argued with”.  But now, he continued, it has “degenerated into a primitive enemy fit only to be sensitively subjugated” [4] .  When our consultation paper was published in February 1997, he again asserted that all Muslims, all over the world, approve of terrorism and atrocities perpetrated against the West, and implied that they are morally inferior to Christians:

“How would Islam react if Saddam Hussein, out of the blue, succeeded in dropping a nuclear bomb on Israel?  Would the Islamic people as a whole recoil in horror, or would they be dancing in the streets?  Based on what we know of the Islamic world’s reaction to the earlier atrocities of Saddam, I think we can guess at the answer.  Just as not one reproach was heard from a single mosque about these atrocities, including genocide, so there would be not one word of reproach from a single mosque if he incinerated Tel Aviv by a sneak nuclear attack.  Nor, in all likelihood, would there be any more if a city belonging to the great Satan, America, were to suffer the same fate ... Contemporary Islam ... is a truly frightening force.  When Nazis erupted in a Christian country, the other Christian countries combined to smother that evil.  The other Muslim countries have done very little to smother either Saddam or the Iranian Ayatollah and still less to put down terrorism.  To worry about contemporary Islam is not mad.  It would be mad to do otherwise.” [5]

We wish to consider this statement in some detail, particularly since it was written in direct response to something written by ourselves and since it received high-profile publication.  There are four main points we wish to make.  First, a semantic point which may at first sight seem rather trivial but which is in fact of considerable importance.  Mr Worsthorne appears to use the word ‘Islamic’ as a synonym for ‘Muslim’ – not only are all ‘Islamic people’ Muslims but also, in his view, all Muslims are ‘Islamic people’.  If indeed this is his meaning, his key statement is simply false.  It is absolutely not the case that all Muslims admire the policies of, for example, Saddam Hussein, or that all approve of the activities of terrorist organisations.

However, it may be that the author is using the word ‘Islamic’ to refer to what is sometimes known as ‘political Islam’ as distinct from ‘religious Islam’.  The more usual term, if this is his intention, is ‘Islamist’ rather than ‘Islamic’.  It refers to all political movements, including democratic movements committed to the rule of law as well to terrorists and to oppressive regimes, which maintain that they are motivated by Islamic principles.  The use of the word ‘Islamic’ to refer to terrorism or to oppression is deeply offensive to the vast majority of British Muslims.  In any case it is untrue to claim that all Islamists have a single political outlook.  It is, however, accurate to observe that some Islamists support terror.  If (if) that is all that Worsthorne is saying, we have no dispute with the content, as distinct from the tenor, of his argument.

Second, the equation of some Muslims (those who support terrorism or run the governments of certain countries) with all Muslims is an example of what we have called a closed view of Islam, even if the statement about some Muslims is accurate.

Third, it is no doubts true that “not one reproach was heard” from Muslims about Saddam’s atrocity by Mr Worsthorne himself.  But this is a comment on the western media’s failure to report such reproaches, not on their actual non-existence.  In point of fact, to repeat, very large numbers of Muslims, both in Britain and throughout the world, regularly express disapproval of terrorism perpetrated in, and justified by, the name of Islam.

Fourth, we wish to emphasise that our concern throughout this report, as also in the consultation paper to which Mr Worsthorne was responding, is with the situation of British Muslims, and with the impact of Islamophobia upon them, not primarily with issues of geo-politics.  There is a place, both in Britain itself as well as in the world more generally, for robust disagreements about the policies and programmes of Islamists. But, particularly within Britain, it is important that such disagreements should be conducted within the parameters of what we have called here an open view of Islam.  The absence of an open view, and the expression on the contrary of closed views, systematically acts to the disadvantage of British Muslims.  This is our fundamental point.  It is on this point that we should welcome further debate with Mr Worsthorne, and with others (of whom, we readily acknowledge, there are many) who hold the same views as he.

It is no accident, some commentators have suggested, that the recent demonising of Islam began at much the same time that the “evil empire” of communism receded as a real threat.  Western political and popular culture required a new enemy, an implacable other, to replace the Soviet Union.  Also, it is cynically if plausibly claimed, the western armaments industry needed a new enemy. 

Be that as it may, it is certainly the case that Islam is depicted in Islamophobic discourse as wholly evil, wholly bent on – to recall an influential phrase used by Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard University – “a clash of civilisations”. [6]  The impending war will be with foreign states, the argument runs, and also there will be “waves of boat people”, all of them Muslim, descending on the shores of Southern Europe and “there will be riots in the cities of Europe with much bloodshed” [7] . 

When Prince Charles called for bridge-building between Islam and the West, in a speech on spirituality and science at Wilton Park in December 1996, there were widespread Islamophobic criticisms of his views in the press.  Most coverage ignored what he had said about modern science and about spirituality, and focused instead on topics he had not referred to at all, such as immigration or aspects of geo-politics.  An article in the Daily Telegraph, for example, headlined ‘Prince Charles is Wrong – Islam does threaten the West’ implied that Prince Charles’ proposals should be rejected since “many British Muslims ... feel, first, members of the worldwide Muslim community and only secondly members of British society” [8] .  The quotations below express the perception that Islam is essentially a threat, both in the world at large and within Britain in particular.  They mention Islam as a successor to Nazism and communism, and contain imagery of both invasion and infiltration.

The World’s Nightmare

– Cartoons in the British press, autumn 2001

Muslims of the world unite

Bin Laden is depicted as a spider inviting every Muslim in the world to join his network. The words ‘Muslims of the world unite’ (echoes, of course, of the Communist Manifesto) are woven into the web. ‘Won’t you come into my parlour,’ runs the caption, ‘said the spider to the fly.’ (Full bibliographical details to be added.)

World in ruins

Bin Laden’s Islamic turban and beard mutate into a mushroom cloud hovering over a world in ruins. ‘One man’s dream, says the caption, ‘the world’s nightmare.’


In his cave in Afghanistan, Bin Laden is shown creating clones of himself in test-tubes, each complete with turban, beard, big nose and enigmatic facial expression.


Bin Laden has destroyed New York and has replaced the Statue of Liberty with a statue of himself. He holds a bomb in one hand and in the other, instead of a torch, a tablet of stone with words dictated by Allah, entitled Terrorism. The word Liberty has been removed and thrown into the water, and replaced by Depravity.

Give it time

A triptych shows Yasser Arafat, Gerry Adams and Osama bin Laden. They have facial features in common (particularly their big noses). The first two, it is said, have changed from being BAD to being GOOD. Bin Laden is still BAD but he smiles confidently and says ‘Give it time’. One day, the implication is, he will destroy the West by holding sway within the West’s own heart and mind.

Feeding off the host

British Muslims are shown all dressed like bin Laden and engaged in a demonstration near the Houses of Parliament. ‘Death to America,’ says one of the placards. The caption indicates that the demonstrators are parasites and explains with a dictionary quotation what this means: ‘… feeding off the host … providing no benefit’.

Feeding the cat

A white British housewife talks over the garden fence to her Muslim nextdoor neighbour, the latter clad today in an all-enveloping burka. ‘Will you feed the cat for me?’ asks the Muslim. ‘I’m off to Afghanistan to fight the evil Americans.’

6. Perceptions of Islam as a threat: Some columnists’ views

“At least as dangerous”

“Muslim fundamentalism is at least as dangerous as communism once was.  Please do not underestimate this risk ... at the conclusion of this age it is a serious threat, because it represents terrorism, religious fanaticism and exploitation of social and economic justice.” (Willi Claes, Secretary General of NATO) [9]

“Chief threat to global peace”

“Muslim fundamentalism is fast becoming the chief threat to global peace and security as well as a cause of national and local disturbance through terrorism.  It is akin to the menace posed by Nazism and fascism in the 1930s and then by communism in the 1950s.” (Clare Hollingsworth, defence correspondent.) [10]

“Different civilisation”

“The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism.  it is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.” (Samuel Huntington, Harvard University.) [11]

‘There will be wars’

We do not know who primed and put the Oklahama bomb in its place;  we do know that they were, in the fullest meaning of the word, fanatics.  Unlike most of us, they do not in the least mind being killed;  indeed, they are delighted, because they believe that they are going to a far, far better place … Do you realise that in perhaps half a century, not more and perhaps a good deal less,  there will be wars, in which fanatical Muslims will be winning?  As for Oklahama, it will be called Khartoum-on-the-Mississippi, and woe betide anyone who calls it anything else.  (Bernard Levin, columnist.) [12] *

*(Muslims had in fact no responsibility for the Oklahama bombing.)

Muslims are a threat to our way of life

“All Muslims, like all dogs, share certain characteristics. A dog is not the same animal as a cat just because both species are comprised of different breeds. An extreme Christian believes that the Garden of Eden really existed; an extreme Muslim flies planes into buildings - there’s a big difference.” (July 25, 2004)

Muslims are a threat to our way of life
Author By Will Cummins (Telegraph Jul 25, 2004)

A Tory platform hostile to Islam
Do the Tories not sense the enormous popular groundswell against Islam? Charges of “racism” would inevitably be made against the party but they would never stick. It is the black heart of Islam, not its black face, to which millions object. The Conservatives would be charged with cynicism and expediency: look who would be talking!

But unlike the “Nazi-Soviet Pact” that the feminist, pro-gay Left has forged with Britain’s Muslims, a Tory platform hostile to Islam would be neither incongruous nor immoral. An anti-Islam Conservative Party would destroy the BNP as quickly as Margaret Thatcher despatched the National Front in 1979 when she warned that, unless immigration was curbed, Britain would be “swamped” by “an alien culture”. Infinitely more is at stake now.

The Tories must confront Islam instead of kowtowing to it, Will Cummins, The Daily Telegraph, 18 July 2004

Certain characteristics

All Muslims, like all dogs, share certain characteristics. A dog is not the same animal as a cat just because both species are comprised of different breeds. An extreme Christian believes that the Garden of Eden really existed; an extreme Muslim flies planes into buildings - there’s a big difference.
Muslims are a threat to our way of life, Will Cummins The Daily Telegraph, 25 July 2004

Highly indignant

The Crusades – for which the Pope has apologised to Islam (he did so again last week), rather as an old lady might apologise to a mugger for trying to retrieve her purse – were simply an attempt by medieval Christians to get their homelands back. Spain, Sicily, and parts of the Balkans were recovered. Palestine wasn’t, though the Muslim colonisers there – who are no more “native” to the Holy Land than the European Jews who removed them – were largely ejected in 1948. It goes without saying that today’s Muslims – who, unlike today’s Westerners, are very proud of their history of imperialism – are highly indignant at being parted from this stolen property.

Dr Williams, beware of false prophets, Will Cummins, The Daily Telegraph, 4 July 2004

Forced themselves on us

A virulent hatred of Muslims can no more be racism than a virulent hatred of Marxists or Tories. Nobody is a member of a race by choice. Such groups are protected from attack because it is unfair to malign human beings for something they cannot help. However, nobody is a member of a community of belief except by choice, which is why those who have decided to enter or remain within one are never protected. Were such choices not open to the severest censure, we could no longer call our country a democracy.… A society in which one cannot revile a religion and its members is one in which there are limits to the human spirit. The Islamic world was intellectually and economically wrecked by its decision to put religion beyond the reach of invective, which is simply an extreme form of debate. By so doing, it put science and art beyond the reach of experiment, too. Now, at the behest of Muslim foreigners who have forced themselves on us, New Labour wants to import the same catastrophe into our own society. “We must be allowed to criticise Islam”, Will Cummins, The Daily Telegraph, 11 July 2004

Mr. Will Cummins writes distorting facts about Islam in Sunday Telegraph;

“…three of the four schools of Islamic law enjoin faithful Muslims to murder anyone who wishes to leave the faith, thus limiting every Muslim’s freedom of action”, he wrote in an article published on 11th July, 2004 entitled “We must be allowed to criticise Islam.” In his most recent article entitled “Muslims are a threat to our way of life” published on Sunday Telegraph 25th July 2004, Mr. Will Cummins compared ‘Muslims to dogs’ and called Britain ‘Islamo-fascist’. His previous articles explicitly incite religious hatred, ‘All but an infinitesimal minority of our Muslims are peaceable and law abiding’ he stated in the article of Sunday Telegraph 18th July 2004”.

We learnt that Sunday Telegraph writer was in fact the Press officer of the British Council - the agency who has been working to promote Britain within Muslim World and was celebrating diversity of British culture. This fact was revealed by the Guardian last week, the author of a number of poisonous articles against Islam and Muslims which appeared in the Sunday Telegraph in recent weeks, is indeed Harry Cummins, Press Officer of the British Council. Writing under the pseudonym “Will Cummins”, Harry Cummins compared Muslims to Dogs and argued that it is Islam’s ‘dark heart’ rather than its ‘dark face’ that people should fear. For an individual with such appalling views and racist tendencies to be occupying a prominent position in the British Council, which promotes Britain and its culture to the Arab and Muslim
world, is repulsive. Will Cummins, seems to relish making vitriolic statements about Muslims.

“Do the Tories not sense the enormous popular groundswell against Islam? Charges of “racism” would inevitably be made against the party but they would never stick. It is the black heart of Islam, not its black face, to which millions object.” (Sunday Telegraph July 18, 2004)

“Now, at the behest of Muslim foreigners who have forced themselves on us, New Labour wants to import the same catastrophe into our own society.” (Sunday Telegraph July 11, 2004)

“Christians are the original inhabitants and rightful owners of almost every Muslim land and behave with a humility quite unlike the menacing behaviour we have come to expect from the Muslims who have forced themselves on Christendom, a bullying ingratitude that culminates in a terrorist threat to their un-consulted hosts.” (Sunday Telegraph July 4, 2004)

I believe that these sentiments are clearly designed to provoke readers of the Sunday Telegraph into hating British Muslims and their faith. This ignoble endeavour is, of course, utterly at odds with the purpose and mission of the British Council which is to encourage understanding and build ties between different peoples.

You can read some of Will Cummins writings in the Telegraphs

  1.. “The Tories must confront Islam instead of kowtowing to it”

  2.. Will Cummins articles can be downloaded from the following links
“Muslims are a threat to our way of life;sessionid=D5P01UD5EORIDQFIQMGS



  3.. “We must be allowed to criticise Islam”

  4.. “Dr Williams, beware of false prophets”

5. Sunday Telegraph Anti-Islam Columnist: A British: Council Employee

An article by Anthony Browne was published in weekly Spectator (24 July 2004)
Spectator Cover Story : The Muslims are Coming - 101k

Spectator magazine (UK) 24 July 2004 has a lead article by Anthony Browne, a well known London Times journalist, arguing that: “Islam really does want to conquer the world. That’s because Muslims, unlike many Christians, actually believe they are right and that their religion is the path to salvation for all”.

We are absolutely stunned that a mainstream journalist can get away with
sparking such religious hatred. Anthony Browne’s cover article in the Spectator 24/7/04 (see below) prompted the following ignorant reaction illustrating for the umpteenth time the consequences of the unfair portrayal of Islam within the media:

“…a demonstrative, indulgent, obsessive, hateful, judgmental religion that leads by religious inspiration POLITICALLY… judicially perverse, teaching wife battery, death by a 1000 cuts, beheading, (often of innocent bystanders), demeaning of women, the hatred of Israel, and the west who stands in the way of a war with Israel. The 6th day war, the denial of Jews a homeland, suicide bombers, a prophet-leader who bedded a 9 year old girl….(Mohammad)”

The article incited this hatred by comparing Islam’s teachings to Hitler’s behaviour, and to add insult to injury, Times journalist Anthony Browne arrogantly states:

“There’s no plot… Islam really does want to conquer the world. That’s because Muslims, unlike many Christians, actually believe they are right, and that their religion is the path to salvation for all.”

Nobody who is in the influential spotlight of the media should be able to get away with comments that, time and again, add fuel to the fires of anti-Muslim hatred.

• Anthony Browne’s ignorant and inflammatory article relies on misinformation from notorious Islamophobes such as Bernard Lewis (Spectator 24/7/04).

• If Islam is as bad as he portrays it, why would thousands of Westerners be freely choosing to convert to Islam, as he mentions?

• Anthony Browne’s belief in freedom of religion was preached 1400 years ago in the Qur’an: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2.256)

• The Qur’an also teaches: “God does not love the aggressors” (2.190).

• It is only natural that people should want to share what they believe is beneficial with others – whether this is Christianity, Islam or Atheism. Indeed many British churches run ‘Alpha courses’ for this purposes, and Jehovas Witnesses offer their message door to door.

• Anthony Browne seems unaware of the fact that Christian missionaries operate freely in many Muslim countries across Asia and Africa – Bangladesh being just one example. The restrictions imposed by tyrannical regimes such as the US- and UK-supported Saudi royal family are completely un-Islamic.

• Browne also seems unaware that the 1988 Education Act requires that Religious Education and Collective Worship in state schools must be “mainly Christian”.

• Is Anthony Browne implying that because Muslims allegedly want to “take over the world” that the “persecution and mass murder” of Muslims would be justified?

“The hooded hordes will win”

“You can be British without speaking English or being Christian or being white, but nevertheless Britain is basically English-speaking, Christian and white, and if one starts to think that it might become basically Urdu-speaking and Muslim and brown, one gets frightened and angry … Because of our obstinate refusal to have enough babies, Western European civilisation will start to die at the point when it could have been revived with new blood.  Then the hooded hordes will win, and the Koran will be taught, as Gibbon famously imagined, in the schools of Oxford.  (Charles Moore, editor of The Spectator.) [13]

Charles Moore: ‘Time for a More Liberal and “Racist” Immigration Policy’, The Spectator, 19 October 1991.

Islam wants the whole world to Submit

Islam means “submission” (not “peace”) and it is the aim of Muslims (“those who have submitted”) to make the whole world submit. The teaching seems not to envisage the idea of Muslims as a minority, except as a temporary phenomenon. The best that non-Muslims - in Britain that means Sikhs and Hindus, as well as Jews and Christians - can hope for is that they be treated as “dhimmis”, second-class citizens within the Islamic state.

Islam is not an exotic addition to the English country garden
By Charles Moore (Telegraph: 21/08/2004)

Charles Moor interview with Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams
(Telegraph: 12/02/2003)

Charles Moore talks to Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth Palace

Q: You praised the people of Uganda for their constant invocation of God. We have in our midst people who take that very seriously, Muslims. Yet most of the violence in the world seems to relate to the Muslim world. Sometimes it is perpetrated by Muslims and sometimes in the name of Allah. What do you make of it and how optimistic and pessimistic do you feel about Islam? What can you say to Muslims in Britain?

A: There have been times in history when the most serious conflicts in the world have clearly been sustained by Christians. One wouldn’t really want to draw too many conclusions from that or about Muslims.

I’m very conscious in this country of the eagerness of most people in Muslim communities to distance themselves from the terrorist rhetoric, I think with deep sincerity. There is a difficult question coming up in many Muslim communities, it has come up in Egypt particularly, which is how to think through a Muslim theology and morality and politics which is faithful to the Koran but which can work outside a classic theocratic model of Muslim society.

There are people thinking a lot about that and it is a very long question. And I would be sorry if that whole discussion was pre-empted or aborted because people rallied round in defence of an Islam they saw was threatened by others.

Q: What happens if the Muslim world is not going the way you want? It’s quite depressing isn’t it?

A: I don’t know. I think it is very very varied. You have large number of Islamic extremist groups around the place, you have a large number of Islamic politicians struggling very hard to redress the balance.

Q: How would you characterise Islam? How does it strike you?

A: It’s a religion whose primary focus and interest is about unity, the unity of God and the unity of the faithful community under God. That is one of the great Arabic words, Tawhid, which comes up again and again in Islamic thinking. And that integrating vision is a universal vision of a community under God.

It is one community under one God. That is what has given Islam its moral power and passion through the centuries. Whereas Christianity has, I think, been more inclined to ironies and paradoxes, which has made the Muslims very impatient with us.

The man with blood on his hands is not Blair but Zarqawi
Chalrles Moor (Telegraph: 25/09/2004)

Whatever the outcome for poor Ken Bigley, this horrible sequence of events should surely provoke the West to get tougher, not to back off. In particular, we should push much harder against the claims by Zarqawi and his kind that there is anything justified by religion in their actions. The videos of the murders include Koranic chants. Imagine if we saw film of “Christian” terrorists playing Onward, Christian soldiers as they beheaded their victims. Is there a bishop in the West that would not condemn them without equivocation?

Yet even now, one finds too few Muslim leaders who speak out without qualification. Yes, most do condemn, but in the same breath they attack the occupation of Iraq, the policy towards Palestine, the refusal of Cat Stevens’s entry into the United States, or whatever other grievance occurs. It may be legitimate to make these points, but not in that context. Religion is invoked here, and it is religion that should find its true voice. When will we hear a fatwa emerging from the UK Council of Mosques or, better still, from the sheikh of Al Azhar university in Cairo, the intellectual centre of the Sunni Muslim world? When will it be stated on authority that men like Kenneth Bigley’s kidnappers have no warrant for thinking that their deeds will bring them to paradise, but rather risk hell?

If Bush loses, the winner won’t be Kerry: it will be Zarqawi
By Charles Moore (Telegraph 23/10/2004)

There is a global problem with Islamism……….. Kerry compares terrorism to prostitution - a permanent affliction that can be mitigated, but no more. You can move a few tarts off the street, introduce more clap clinics, insist on curtains in the red light district, but in the end, the oldest profession regroups. It’s a very French attitude, and it reflects a truth about human nature. But prostitutes, unlike Islamist terrorists, are not determined to destroy our way of life (in fact, they have strong conservative motives for keeping it ticking along). You can’t say to Osama bin Laden, as you might to Madame Claude: “You’re entitled to your little ways, but just be discreet about it, will you?” His little ways are death, our death. It’s him or us.

We are entitled to act against bin Laden - it is unlikely he will turn up in court
(Telegraph 25/10/2001)

Tony Blair on the war, Muslims and morality in Government. Interview at No 10 by Charles Moore, John Keegan and George Jones

Mr Blair underlined his concern to win over moderate Arab and Muslim opinion for military action. But he rejected suggestions that Muslim leaders had not been forthright enough in making clear that Islam should not be used as a justification for September 11, 2001.

Early on in the conflict, Mr Blair studied the Koran in an attempt to have a better understanding of Muslims. He disclosed that he had also been studying the Old Testament - and believed that passages in both the Koran and the Bible were being used by Islamic and Christian fundamentalists to justify their actions.

“Like the Old Testament, the Koran was recited at a particular time. There is a particular history surrounding it of the battles fought at that time.

“In the same way, if you go through the Old Testament you will find examples of the most bloody battles. I was looking at a passage the other day about Jehu (Second Book of the Kings, Ch 9) and the slaughter of many people in the name of the Lord.

“You can therefore lift passages out of the Koran as you can out of the Old Testament and ascribe a particular meaning. But it is important to realise that the fundamentalist view of Islam, with all its attitudes towards women, towards freedom of religion, the relationship between the state and religion, all of these are challenged by vast numbers of clerics, scholars and theologians from other parts of the Muslim world.

“We have to confront our ignorance about aspects of Islam from the West’s point of view.”

Mr Blair denied that the proposed new law banning religious hatred would prevent comedians making jokes about religion. But he said there was a gap in the law that needed to be closed. “If you were to have someone get up and say it is essential you go out and kill Muslims, why should that be any less criminal than saying you should go out and kill blacks?” he said.

The reign of terror or the rule of British law?
By Charles Moore ( Telegraph 16/01/2003)

On Tuesday morning, I happened to be talking to someone who is involved in what people call the “intelligence community”. She spoke about the hunt for Islamist terrorists and al-Qa’eda sympathisers. The problem is very great, she told me.

In one way, Islamist terror resembles the Cold War. It is a long-term, worldwide, ideological struggle. In another way, it more resembles the problem with Irish Republican terrorism. Unlike the Cold War struggle, this one involves deadly, but fairly small-scale threats to civilians, rather than nuclear holocaust. As with the IRA, and its relationship with the large Irish community here, Islamists are not supported by most Muslims in Britain, but there is enough sympathy among British Muslims to provide the sea in which the fish can swim. The result, with the IRA, was many deaths for many years. It is reasonable to expect the same with al-Qa’eda and its friends. So, by an obscene inversion, a system designed to give freedom and safety to those who lack it in their own country becomes the chief instrument of destroying freedom and safety here in ours.

Then Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights forbids the removal of people to countries where they might suffer “inhumane or degrading treatment”. New Labour is proud of incorporating this Convention in British law. As it is currently interpreted, it means that we cannot deport the great majority of those whose applications for asylum we reject. You have only to come from an unpleasant country to be allowed to stay out of it, and to stay here.

The solution, then, must be for this country to assert its authority. It should insist on changes to the Convention. For example, it could get a UN declaration that terrorist acts, including their funding and planning, should place their perpetrators outside the protection of refugees. Having asked for changes, Britain should withdraw from the Convention until they are made. It should follow the French example and get a “derogation” from Article 3 to allow deportations on grounds of national security. It should act unilaterally.

An individual country cannot unconditionally extend “rights” to the whole world. If people know that they have only to say the word “asylum” to gain these rights, which is what they will do. For the word to have meaning once again, we have to be able to decide for ourselves who does and who does not come in, and on what terms. It is astonishing that this most basic right of a country has been (undemocratically) taken away.

You start to think when you’re on fire
By Nigel Farindale (Telegraph19/09/2004)

The pro-hunt protesters who invaded the Commons disabused me of this latter thought. They only got through because they weren’t Arabic looking. Al-Qaeda may be mediaeval in its views, but it is post-modern in its methods. There are plenty of white Muslims and some of them are bound to be fundamentalists.

None of the September 11 hijackers had beards, and even Richard Reid didn’t look Arabic - his mother was a white Englishwoman, his father a Jamaican. My guess is the next generation of Al-Qaeda terrorist will look more like the former Editor of The Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore, than Abu Hamza. We are all suspects now and we should all be treated with equal caution.

A very evil, wicked religion

Islam is, quite simply, a religion of war… [American Muslims] should be encouraged to leave. They are a fifth column in this country. Why Islam is a Threat to America and the West by Paul Weyrich and William Lind

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officials. We carpet bombed German cities, and killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.

Columnist Ann Coulter, National Review, 13 September 2001

Muslims pray to a different God …Islam is a very evil and wicked religion …

Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham), speech on NBC Nightly News, November 2001

They want to coexist until they can control, dominate and then, if need be, destroy … I think Osama bin Laden is probably a very dedicated follower of Muhammad. He’s done exactly what Muhammad said to do, and we disagree with him obviously, and I’m sure many moderate Muslims do as well, but you can’t say the Muslim religion is a religion of peace. It’s not.

Rev Pat Robertson, founder of Christian Coalition, CNN, February 2002

Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you.

John Ashcroft (US Attorney General), Los Angeles Times, 16 February 2002

Muhammad was a demon-possessed paedophile…Allah is not Jehovah… Jehovah’s not going to turn you into a terrorist that will try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people.

Rev Jerry Vines, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, speaking at the Convention in June 2002


Was world communism ever such a threat as militant Islam now is? If Islam were to draw a noose about the world, could it be resisted, would its political and economic consequences be worse, would its dominion last longer than the half-century of communism after the Iron Curtain dropped?’ 

Brian Sewell, Evening Standard

Oppressive darkness

Call me a filthy racist – go on, you know you want to – but we have reason to be suspicious of Islam and treat it differently from the other major religions … While the history of the other religions is one of moving forward out of oppressive darkness and into tolerance, Islam is doing it the other way round.  Julie Birchill, The Guardian

Treachery and deceit

Orientals… shrink from pitched battle, which they often deride as a sort of game, preferring ambush, surprise, treachery and deceit as the best way to overcome an enemy… This war [in Afghanistan] belongs within the much larger spectrum of a far wider conflict between settled, creative, productive Westerners and predatory, destructive Orientals. John Keegan, The Daily Telegraph, 8 October 2001

Blind, cruel faith

Islamist militancy is a self-confessed threat to the values not merely of the US but also of the European Enlightenment: to the preference for life over death, to peace, rationality, science and the humane treatment of our fellow men, not to mention fellow women. It is a reassertion of blind, cruel faith over reason.

Samuel Brittan, : The Financial Times, 31 July 2002

Fifth column

We have a fifth column in our midst… Thousands of alienated young Muslims, most of them born and bred here but who regard themselves as an army within, are waiting for an opportunity to help to destroy the society that sustains them. We now stare into the abyss, aghast. Melanie Phillips, Sunday Times, 4 November 2001

When the Runnymede Trust Commission on Islamophobia published a consultation paper in 1997 it quoted from an article by a prominent journalist. Islam was once, he had said, ‘a great civilisation worthy of being argued with’. But latterly it had degenerated into ‘a primitive enemy fit only to be sensitively subjugated’.  Seeing himself quoted in this context, the journalist immediately published a defiant response. He entitled it ‘I believe in Islamophobia’ and concluded: ‘To worry about contemporary Islam is not mad. It would be mad to do otherwise.’ (Peregrine Worsthorne, Sunday Telegraph, 3 February 1991)

7. Muslims seen as manipulative not as sincere

It is frequently alleged that Muslims use their religion for strategic, political and military advantage rather than as a religious faith and as a way of life shaped by a comprehensive legal tradition.  The Observer article which first popularised the term ‘Muslim fundamentalism’, quoted in the extended footnote at the end of this paper, asserted that Islam had been “revived by the ayatollahs and their admirers as a device, indistinguishable from a weapon, for running a modern state”.  Muslims are assumed to have an instrumental or manipulative view of their religion rather than to be sincere in their beliefs, for their faith is “indistinguishable from a weapon”. 

This image of Islam is often expressed succinctly in cartoons.  In a later chapter we re-print several cartoons from the British press which imply that Muslims use their religion merely as a way of mobilising political support.  A cartoon which first appeared a few years ago in the Washington Post, and which was later syndicated throughout the western press, showed “an Islamic holy man”.  He was presented as an ‘authoritarian ayatollah’ or ‘mad mullah’, as are some of the characters in the cartoons re-printed here later and was considering the day ahead of him. “Let’s see,” he said.  “Things to do today.  I’ll shut the newspapers, kill an adulteress, flog her lover, shoot the Kurds, send ’em some money, assassinate an orchestra, and oh, yes ... mustn’t forget about God.  If he prays, I’ll listen.”  The same view that Muslims are not sincere in their religious beliefs is reflected over and over again in the quotations elsewhere in this chapter.  An open view of Islam, however, shows respect for Muslim beliefs and practices, and tries to understand them rather than dismiss them as devious or insincere.

8. Discrimination against Muslims defended rather than challenged
Islamophobia in Britain is often mixed with racism – violence and harassment on the streets, and direct or indirect discrimination in the workplace.  A closed view of Islam has the effect of justifying such racism.  The expression of a closed view in the media, for example, gives support and comfort to racist behaviour, regardless of whether this was the wish or aim of the journalist responsible.  Islamophobia merges with crude colour racism, since most Muslims are perceived to have black or brown skins, and also anti-immigrant prejudice, since Muslims in Britain are perceived to have alien customs, specifically ‘Asian’ customs. 

The ways in which anti-Muslim feeling may be combined with anti-immigrant and anti-‘Asian’ feeling were strikingly seen in a satire which appeared a few years ago in the Sun newspaper. [14] It is reprinted below.  The paper ridiculed a primary school in Birmingham which had decided to remove images of pigs in the illustrations of the alphabet on its classroom walls, since depictions of pigs were offensive to some of the school’s Muslim (specifically Pakistani-background) parents and children. 

The Sun’s offensive satire on Islam involved a scattergun approach which took in the Middle East much more than Pakistan, and also the whole South Asian presence in Britain as represented by ‘Indian’ restaurants and food.  Further, it was directed at initiatives within the education system to make schools more generous and inclusive, such that pupils of all backgrounds, religions and ethnicities have access to, and may benefit from, the curriculum.

“For far too long we have been teaching English in a white, middle-class, racist, sexist fashion.  If we want to encourage immigrants to assimilate into our society we must help them to learn our language.  For this reason, the Government has decided to scrap the old A is for Apple, B is for Ball, C is for Cat method and introduce a new alphabet tailored to the needs of Muslim pupils.  From next term, all schools will be required to use the following system.

“A is for Ayatollah,          B is for Baghdad,            C is for Curry,

D is for Djabella,            E is for Emir,                  F is for Fatwa,

G is for Gaddafi,            H is for Hizbollah,            I is for Intifada,

J is for Jihad,                K is for Khomeni,            L is for Lebanon,

M is for Mecca,              N is for nan,                  O is for Onion Bhaji,

P is for Palestine,            Q is for Q8,                  R is for Rushdie,

S is for Saddam,              T is for Teheran,              U is for United Arab Emirates,

V is for Vindaloo,            W is for West Bank,          X is for Xenophobia,       

Y is for Yasser Arafat,        Z is for Zionist Imperialist Aggressor Running Dogs of the Great Satan.”

The Sun, 12 November 1991

Hostile views of Muslims are frequently combined with attacks on ‘political correctness’, and on ‘liberals’, the Race Relations Act, and the Commission for Racial Equality.  A columnist says she is happy to accept Muslim customs if she encounters them when on holiday in a Muslim country:

“When I go into a shop in Luxor, and find its keeper bobbing up and down on a prayermat like a demented yo-yo, I don’t interrupt.  I steal away quietly and come back later.  When I’m woken in Aswan at five in the morning by high-decibel wailing outside my window, I don’t yell back.  I plug my ears and try to go back to sleep.  It’s only courteous.” [15]

Having established thus her readiness to respect Islam, she turns her attention to liberalism and political correctness back in Britain:

“With the wishy-washy excuse that ‘it’s their culture’, we are supposed to tolerate idiots slaughtering goats on streets in Kensington, groups of idiots burning books on streets in Bradford and wealthy bigger groups building mosques on streets everywhere (try building a Methodist church in the central square in Riyadh and see how you get on). Inside these mosques they encourage the murder of Salman Rushdie, a British citizen, as decreed by a dead idiot in Iran, but, say the liberals, don’t worry about that: let’s change OUR religious services instead, to make sure WE don’t cause offence.  And so we get schoolchildren denied the fun of singing Christmas carols – and, while we’re at it, let’s cancel the food of British tradition and serve halal food at inner-city council meetings.”

Muslim criticisms of ‘the West’ rejected not considered
Criticisms which Muslims make of Western liberalism, modernity and secularism are frequently dismissed out of hand, not worthy of debate. 

In point of fact there is much debate within Western countries about, for example, the limits of freedom of speech.  Similarly under debate are the claims of religious and theological ideas and beliefs to be taken seriously in public forums, norms of reticence and modesty with regard to sexuality, and moral issues relating to gambling and alcohol.  On this latter point one of our correspondents wrote as follows, commenting on the need for Muslims to play a full part in mainstream affairs:

“In certain areas it would not be wise to try to persuade or expect Muslims to ‘play a full part’ in the prevailing economic and cultural life of the country.  There is, just to mention one example, the major potentially divisive use of lottery money for the funding of literary, cultural and even religious projects, as the millennium celebrations loom.  Far from expecting Muslims to fall in with such aspects of the economic and cultural life of the country, we respectfully submit that the nation will have a great deal to benefit – in terms of the strengthening of the work ethic, family cohesion, physical and mental health, etc – if the absolute Islamic ruling on gambling and alcohol should find resonance in the country as a whole.”

Islamophobia prevents Muslims from being invited or encouraged to take a full part in society’s moral deliberations and debates, and prevents their views from “finding resonance”, as our correspondent put it, in the country as a whole.  At a conference on Muslim community development in 1996 Tariq Modood referred to the respect in which the Chief Rabbi is widely held and looked to the day when Muslim spokespeople will command a similar hearing:

“He does not just talk on Jewish matters nor just to a Jewish audience.  A lot of what he does is aimed at a broad national public ... He is listened to and debated with on that basis, as someone that has something interesting to say ... Insha’Allah a time will come when Muslims will contribute to newspapers, to public debates and to arguments, and will be heard and appreciated, addressing not just Muslim issues but common social, national and international problems ...” [16]

Anti-Muslim discourse seen as natural not problematic
The expression of anti-Muslim ideas and sentiments is increasingly respectable.  They are a natural, taken-for-granted ingredient of the commonsense world of millions of people every day.  This aspect of Islamophobia was illustrated by the quotations above, and is illustrated at length in our later chapter on the media.

It is not only tabloid newspapers which demonise Islam.  There are routine derogatory references in all the British press, and in a range of widely-distributed pamphlets and books.  Even organisations and individuals known for their liberalism and anti-racism express prejudice against Islam and Muslims.  One of our correspondents put the point as follows:

“A deep dislike of Islam is not a new phenomenon in our society.  What is new is the way it is articulated today by those sections of society who claim the mantle of secularism, liberalism and tolerance.  They are in the forefront of the fight against racism and against Islam and Muslims at the same time.  They preach equality of opportunities for all, yet turn a blind eye to the fact that this society offers only unequal opportunities for Muslims.”

Liberalism’s prejudices are seen in particular, the argument continues, in the slowness and lukewarm assent with which the race relations lobby has responded over the years to proposals that discrimination on grounds of religion should be made unlawful and in insensitivity to Muslim concerns and sense of outrage in relation to the Rushdie Affair. [17]  On this latter point one of the century’s leaders of liberal opinion, Stephen Spender, wondered in the Spectator “how far democracy is taught in English schools where there are large numbers of immigrants” [18] .  And he added that he found himself thinking “almost nostalgically of American schools, where children are made every morning to salute the American Flag” and wished that there was “a flag of democracy, symbolising freedom of speech, which children going into English schools were made to salute”.  In context it was clear that the term ‘immigrant’ here meant Muslim, and that Spender believed Muslim children in Britain, as distinct from other children, need special training in democracy and patriotism. 

As in liberalism so also in academia.  One of our correspondents writing from a university referred to the “diss-missiveness of otherwise thinking academics” whenever Islam is referred to in everyday conversation, and located academia within the British climate of opinion as a whole:

“Not only is academia a bastion of orientalism and Islamophobia but also a hothouse of culturally formative influences which spill down through dinner parties and think tanks into political parties, journalism, the arts, popular culture, the professions, local authorities, and everyday thought and encounters in the workplace and on the street.”

Islamophobic discourse, sometimes blatant but frequently subtle and coded, is part of the fabric of everyday life in modern Britain, in much the same ways that anti-Semitic discourse was taken for granted earlier in the century.  Those who urge that it should be countered and reduced have such parallels in mind.  They do not, it follows, underestimate the difficulties before them, or the seriousness and urgency of the task.

The Art of Generosity

Islam as a garden

I think we Muslims need to rediscover the art of generosity. We need to realise that Islam is much bigger than our own, inevitably blinkered outlook, and amenable to multiple interpretations. We need to stop thinking about Islam as though it was some sort of desert where only one arid interpretation dominates.

Instead, we should think of Islam as a garden. Gardens, by the very fact that they are gardens, consist of a plethora of different plants. There are varieties of hardy perennials that flower year after year. Annuals and biennials that have to be planted in season. Plants that provide colours of foliage, or hedges and borders, or climb up fences, or play architectural roles. There are fruit trees, trees that provide fragrant and colourful flowers and trees that fix the soil and provide shade. There are the grasses so essential for the lawns. And what would a garden be without the proverbial birds and bees? And those worms and insects that both enrich the soil and require some form of pest control.

The thing about a garden is that all this truly monumental variety of life exits in symbiosis: nourishing each other and ensuring the overall survival of the garden. Of course the garden has to be tended: the weeds have to be cleared, plants have to be pruned, and we have to make sure that nothing over-grows – that is, no single interpretation becomes an overarching, totalitarian ideology so much that it ends up suffocating and endangering other plants. Not for nothing is the garden the central metaphor of the Islamic paradise!

So, rejoice in manifold interpretations of Islam and in your multiple Selfs. Be impossible. Be traditionalist or modern, Deobandi or Baralavi, Sufi or Salafi – but above all, be generous. Let others flourish as much as you would like to flourish yourself. Let the numerous interpretations of Islam, the vast variety of Muslim cultures, past, present and future, exist in symbiosis as though Islam was a global garden.  As for me, I get a sadistic pleasure out of terrifying people. And I do not have to do anything to achieve it. I just have to be myself.

(Source: ‘Cultivating the Soil’ by Ziauddin Sardar, Emel Magazine, September 200)

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV