AFTER the end of the First World War, Churchill said: ‘The whole map of Europe has been changed . . . but as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again.’
As we start to leave the societal deep freeze of the past year, we could be forgiven for thinking something similar about the equally relentless sectarian troubles between the Western world and the large – and rapidly growing – Muslim minorities within it.
The issue around the recent Batley protests has been largely framed as one of free speech and how far the right to offend is allowable in a supposedly free society. Whether or not the teacher concerned could have been more sensitive in the material he showed his pupils, the sight of the Muslim ‘community’ showing up mob-handed in a threatening protest, quickly forcing the school into a grovelling apology and the teacher concerned into hiding, was nauseating. As you might expect, the vast majority of our representatives and institutions failed to see it that way, including the Prime Minister, the teaching unions and most MPs, conspicuous by their absence once again. The huge temptation will be for our decadent elites once again to give ground, in the hope that the problem of Islam can be made, somehow, to go away.
In fact, the issues go far, far deeper than offence to some strands of Islamic belief caused by a few drawings of Muhammad: it is the offence caused by the very concept of freedom itself.
The reasons for this antipathy lie deep within theology. Whereas the Christian West developed concepts of the natural world governed by set laws, with humans uniquely given free will by God, in Sunni Islam (the branch of Islam followed by 80 per cent of the world’s Muslims) Allah wills the entire universe afresh from moment to moment – the laws of cause and effect simply do not exist. Moreover, any free will humans possess is severely restricted. To deny these doctrines is to diminish the glory of Allah and is a serious heresy.
These concepts have catastrophically damaged the development of many Islamic societies compared with Western ones in recent centuries. Plainly the lack of a concept of cause and effect makes the study of science and the natural world extremely difficult. Secondly, although we have no evidence that human free will does exist, there is a great deal of evidence that belief in its existence is essential for a flourishing society: psychological studies of fatalism show that it brings both torpor and moral corruption – after all, if everything is preordained why bother trying, and if you do wrong it’s not really your fault. The result is that much of the Muslim world is relatively static, watching from the sidelines as others power ahead. Naturally enough this causes resentment, insecurity and a sense of grievance, for which the West and particularly Jews are often blamed.
Furthermore, contempt for the notion of individual autonomy, the concept that will is concentrated in a single being, explains the fascistic tendencies of many Muslim societies and communities. Political organisation is often focused around ‘strong man’ figures such as the ranting, bullying mufti in Batley last week, ever eager to exploit real or imagined grievances. Even if it was theologically speaking relatively easy to do so, such hotheads have no vested interest in reforming their doctrinal position because that would dilute their power.
Of course, it should go without saying that it would be both morally wrong and intellectually ridiculous to deny that considerable diversity of thought exists within Islam, let alone to demonise Muslims generally. Nonetheless, it is equally wrong to ignore the fact that these theological and cultural tendencies are both widespread and deep-seated, particularly within the fundamentalist Deobandi strain of Islam dominant in many of Britain’s south Asian communities.
As the demographics of Western societies continue rapidly to shift, these realities cannot no longer be ignored. Whatever the short-term costs – and they may be very substantial – the nettle has to be grasped now. That means real leadership, from someone who has the cojones to stand up to the fundamentalist doctrines not just within Islam but those of the liberal establishment: someone who has the guts to proclaim that diversity is not always a strength, that not all cultures are equal or even desirable, or that the demands and tenets of fundamentalist Islam can either be accommodated or tolerated in Western Christian societies for one moment longer.