Posts Tagged ‘Danish cartoons’

Back door blasphemy prosecution in Liverpool

20/03/2010

manicstreetpreacher reports on the latest case of religious views receiving special treatment.

I bet you thought that the UK finally did away with blasphemy in 2008?  The National Secular Society held a party featuring gay actor Ian McKellen reading aloud James Kirkup’s poem The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, which was the subject of “Scary” Mary Whitehouse’s prosecution for blasphemous libel against Denis Lemon, the editor of Gay News in 1977.  A ridiculous anachronism finally buried in these progressive times, right?

Well, think again.  Harry Taylor, 59, from Manchester was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court on 3 March 2010 of causing “religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress”, which carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence, by leaving obscene material depicting figures from Christianity and Islam in the multi-faith room at Liverpool John Lennon Airport on 2, 26 November and 12 December 2008.

Taylor, who labelled himself a “militant atheist” admitted placing the items in the prayer room on three separate occasions, but insisted he was simply practising his own religion of “reason and rationality”.

Taylor told jurors he had left the items in the room in memory of “his hero” John Lennon before reciting the words from the song Imagine.

He said: “The airport is named after one of my heroes and his view on religion was pretty much the same as mine. I thought it was an insult to his memory to have a prayer room in his airport.”

Giving evidence in his own defence, Taylor admitted being “strongly anti-religious” after being treated badly by the Catholic brothers as a boy growing up in Dublin.

The first reaction of the airport chaplain, Nicky Lees, was to call the duty manager and the airport police, saying that she was “insulted, deeply offended and alarmed” after seeing one of the cartoons Taylor left:

Taylor, who is due to be sentenced on 23 April 2010, also left some of the infamous Danish cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed and one of a pig excreting sausages labelled “Qur’an”.

The story has been very well publicised in secular circles, with entries appearing on the websites of the NSS, the New Humanist, MediaWatchWatch, The Freethinker and the Greater Manchester Skeptics Society.  Comments have been decidedly mixed.  Many agree with NSS president, Terry Sanderson, who said:

This is a disgraceful verdict, but an inevitable one under this pernicious law. It seems incredible in the 21st century that you might be sent to prison because someone is ‘offended’ by your views on their religion.  The blasphemy law was abolished three years ago, but it lives on under the guise of religiously aggravated offences and is several times more dangerous.

However, plenty of bloggers who have disowned Taylor as a fringe lunatic.  Paul Sims on New Humanist concluded:

If free speech has its limits at the point where it becomes something like harassment, surely Taylor’s behaviour was fairly close to that line?  But at the same time, it hardly seems like something worthy of a jail sentence.  Certainly at the age of 59 he should have known better (and for that matter have better things to be doing with his time).  If he had an objection to the airport prayer room on account of his own “religion of reason and rationality”, why didn’t he express it rationally and write a letter?

I was in two minds on whether I should support Taylor.  On the one hand, he seems to be a bit of a crank.  There is a time and place for talking people out of their faith and there are ways and means of doing it.  Perhaps leaving deliberately provocative cartoons in a prayer room is not the best way to go about it.

But then again, I’ve spoken about Wahhabi extremists brainwashing their children into becoming suicide bombers at a university Islamic society hosted event in front of a crowd mostly wearing headscarves and was very nearly lynched for it, so what do I know?

While I don’t agree with Taylor’s methods, I think this is an appalling infringement of free speech.  Taylor didn’t kill anybody or even threaten violence.  That’s a vast improvement on what happens when religious people get annoyed straight off.  He expressed a view.  He made his true feelings known.  He challenged presupposition and dogma.  As the controversial film director Ken Russell once pointed out, subtly does not work on people these days; if you kick them in the balls, you’ll find you have their complete attention.

Cartoons of pigs excreting sausages labelled “Qur’an”?  I’ve read the book for myself and quite frankly, “excremental” is rather kind. I am insulted and offended every time someone tries to tell me that these books are miraculous and can only be explained by the authorship of the all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing Thing That Made The Things For Which There Is No Know Maker.  Is anyone going to demand a criminal prosecution for “religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress” to remedy my hurt feelings?

…slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush…

– Koran 9: 5

Update on Douglas Murray’s I2 debate on Islam in Europe

10/03/2010

Yesterday, I posted the YouTube videos of Intelligence Squared’s debate on whether “Europe is failing its Muslims” held in London on 23 February 2010.  Douglas Murray has commented further on the debate on his Telegraph blog with these scathing remarks:

The debate has been edited down for broadcast.  My one gripe about this (except for the BBC’s inevitable censorship of my criticisms of the Muslim Council of Britain among other government-paid Muslim-groups – as reported by the Evening Standard here) is that they cut one crucially relevant case study I gave.

One of the two clerics who whipped up hatred against Denmark around the world, in the wake of my colleague Flemming’s commission of depictions of the historical figure Mohammed, arrived in Denmark from Lebanon in the 1990s.  He went to Denmark because he has a disabled son.  The country which he came from could not look after his child but he knew that Denmark would.  And it did.  He repaid the society by inciting hatred and violence against it.  When such cases can be repeated ad nauseum, it should hardly even have to be pointed out how obscene the motion Flemming and I found ourselves debating really was.

It is grotesque to argue that Europe has failed its Muslims.  It has been made repeatedly obvious that it is Islam that has failed Europe, indeed that it is Islam that has failed Muslims.  I am delighted that the audience in the hall on the night agreed.  And that most of the audience around the world who have emailed me since transmission – currently including people from as far afield as Nigeria, Pakistan and Iraq – appear to agree with that too.

The extracts in the debate transcript to which Murray refers are as follows.  Firstly, the maniac cleric who organised the cartoon protests against the country that gives him state benefits:

They also receive all the benefits, thank you, all the benefits, all the benefits of the welfare state.  Sure there are things that people have got wrong, but it’s not a bad sign I would suggest, that people who come to this country with nothing, receive, in this country, National Health Service, receive welfare payments.  Let me give you two examples quickly.  Raed Hlayhel, a Danish Imam, one of the two incidentally that started the worldwide protest against my co-panellist, arrived in Denmark in the 1990s, he arrived there from Lebanon because his son was disabled, and he knew that Denmark would support his son.  Denmark did.  How did he repay it?  By organising worldwide riots, lootings, murders and burnings.  However, Denmark paid for his son.  What happens in Britain?  We have jokers, I hope that most of you’ll agree with this, like Anjem Choudary, of the now, finally banned group Al-Muhajiroun, Islam4UK, who for years has been sitting here, on the welfare state, taking money from tax payers in this country, supporting his children, his wife and anyone else, whilst plotting and hating the people of this country.  We have been paying people here, who hate us.  I’d have thought that was an example of some considerable generosity, I’d say suicidal generosity, but there we go.

The former head of the Muslim Council of Britain supported the death penalty for the World’s most famous apostate and critic of Islam, while the current head doesn’t seem to be much better:

We’ve also had, from the Muslim communities in Europe a terrible failure of leadership.  It’s striking to me that the Muslim Council of Britain, for instance, in this country, the last leader of that organisation said that death was too good for Salman Rushdie for the crime of writing a work of fiction.  The current head of the Muslim Council of Britain, who I think if not here tonight, is certainly coming to dinner afterwards I see, seems not to be able to condemn stoning in all circumstances, for all time.  I don’t know why even people paid by the government many millions of pounds can’t do this.  Last year, when the Gaza operation began, paid people, including the heads of the Quilliam Foundation, a government funded organisation, signed a letter, co-signed a letter to the British Government saying that unless the British Government distances itself from Israel and American foreign policy, they couldn’t promise that other members of their religion mightn’t step outside the political process.  What other organisation, what other religion blackmails the British state like this?  Does any other minority in Europe behave like this?  No, ladies and gentlemen, none.

Edmund Standing also posted a very helpful reply to my original post with two pieces by Daily Mail and Spectator journalist, Melanie Philips, exposing the two faces of Tariq Ramadan.    In fact, Ramadan is a master of Islamist doublespeak who is in league with the jihadists:

Ramadan has been banned from entering the US because of his alleged association with extremists.  The Geneva Islamic Centre, with which he is closely associated, has been linked to terrorists of the Algerian FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) and the GIA (Armed Islamic Group).  A Spanish police report claimed that Ahmed Brahim, an al-Qa’ida leader jailed in Spain, was ‘in frequent contact’ with Ramadan, a claim he has denied.

Yet the Swiss activist has not only been allowed into Britain but is ensconced at St Antony’s College, Oxford as a research fellow and is much lionised by the British establishment, appearing at security seminars on Islamism and even serving as an adviser to the British Government on tackling Islamic extremism…

Ramadan’s message is highly seductive to a Western world terrified by Islamic radicalism.  For Ramadan preaches the comforting message of an unthreatening Islam that can accommodate itself to modernity and to the West.  He does so in a charismatic style combining high intellect, a winsome French accent and impossibly hip glamour.  To the desperate British establishment, the picture he paints so beguilingly of a way out of the Islamist nightmare has made him into the rock star of the counter-terrorism circuit.

But closer scrutiny of what he actually says – and perhaps even more importantly, does not say – suggests the talented Mr Ramadan is an Islamist wolf in moderniser’s clothing.  To the Islamic world he says one thing; to credulous Western audiences quite another in language that is slippery, opaque, manipulative and disingenuous…

Behind the honeyed words about reform and tolerance which have entranced his Western fan club, Ramadan has consistently lined himself up with the forces of obscurantism, intolerance, hatred and violence.

The first association he set up in 1994, the Muslim Men and Women of Switzerland, promoted confrontation and stirred up tension.  He wrote the preface for a compilation of fatwas by the European Council for Fatwa whose president, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has said human bomb operations in Israel and Iraq are a religious duty…

The desperation to embrace this most devious ‘reformer’ is gravely misplaced. Truly moderate Muslims are undermined and indeed endangered by Ramadan at every turn.  Far from offering a way to modernise Islam, he proposes instead to Islamise modernity.

I was tempted to comment on Ramadan in the original piece, but left him out for fear of making the post too long.  However, these articles do not surprise me all.  Anyone who reads Standing’s blog and Harry’s Place will know that so-called “moderate” Muslims usually have a dark side to them.  Ingat Bunglawala and the Muslim Council of Britain anybody?

As I railed in my post on religious moderates, the central tenants and texts of Islam simply do not invite moderation in any way shape or form.  Anyone who argues that the Koran and the Hadith are compatible with 21st century secular society is simply playing “hide the ball” with people who are ignorant of their contents.  Alternatively, they are as brainwashed as those head-scarfed Muslim women in the audience.  It seems that the only way Islam can be “liberalised” is to abandon it altogether.

Finally, I was one of the people from around the world who emailed my support to Murray after seeing the debate.  I received a charming email  in reply thanking me for blog post.

Intelligence Squared debate: Europe is failing its Muslims

09/03/2010

Douglas Murray has a new fan in manicstreetpreacher.

I concluded my review of the Hitchens/ Fry debate on whether the Catholic Church was a force for good in the world by ever-so-slightly lamenting that they went after too a soft target and suggested that next time they should debate the same motion in respect of Islam.

I am pleased to report that I have had my wish granted in a manner of speaking and now post the edited highlights of a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared in association with BBC World News and the British Council: “Europe is failing its Muslims?” that took place at Cadogen Hall, London on 23 February 2010.

Speaking for the motion

Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Islamic Studies and Senior Research Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford and prominent Muslim commentator.  (Homepage)

Petra Stienen, former Dutch diplomat who worked for more than ten years in the Arab world in the field of development cooperation, human rights, refugees and migration; currently works as a Senior Advisor in Social Development for BMC management consultancy.

Speaking against the motion

Douglas Murray, writer, journalist, commentator and head of The Centre For Social Cohesion, a Westminster think-tank dedicated to studying extremism in the UK. (Homepage / Telegraph blog)

Flemming Rose, editor of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published the notorious cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed.

Moderator

Zeinab Badawi, television and radio presenter.

The iTunes podcast can be downloaded here.  The YouTube videos begin below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Voting results

Before After Change
For: 327 249 + 2%
Against: 320 346 + 18%
Undecided: 218 84 – 20%

While the spectacle does not compare to Fry or Hitch in the oratory stakes, this is still a very entertaining and heated debate.  I hope Intelligence Squared release the full tape sooner rather than later.  For now, we’ll to make do with the full 1 hour 45 minute transcript which contains some very amusing exchanges.

The subtitle to this post may have given it away, but the standout in the debate was most definitely Douglas Murray.  The man generates as much vitriol as praise and on this showing it’s not difficult to see why.  His red-raw, no-holds-barred criticism of the core of Islam was as daring as anything by Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens.  While he attracted boos and whistles from the Muslim audience members, the fact that the vote went his way after being slightly down in the initial vote shows that outspoken commentators like Murray say what  many people think privately but are too afraid of offending religious sensibilities to make it known.

Murray’s write-up of the debate on his Telegraph blog says it all:

The fact that Flemming was my number two wasn’t publicised in the run-up to the debate because of the security threat around him.  Just last October two men were arrested in Chicago for another alleged plot to murder him.  And on the first day of this year an axe-wielding Somali Muslim broke into one of the cartoonist’s houses and attempted to decapitate him.  So there were more police than usual and Flemming and I had more burly security men than we usually would for a discussion.

In a way this proved a lot of the argument that Flemming and I were making…

[O]ne of the most striking aspects of the evening was that the Muslims who turned out en masse, rallied by certain organisations, let themselves down appallingly. Continually cat-calling, jeering and hissing.  They made a very bad impression.

What was most striking of all however was the level of complete denial.  I pointed out that the reason Europeans often associate Islam with violence (as Ramadan complained) is that Islam is often associated with violence.  I pointed out that it wasn’t Sikhs or Buddhists who flew the planes into the twin towers. This was welcomed by an extraordinary level of anger.  I don’t know, maybe some of them thought it was Jews who did it.

A number of headscarf-covered women stood up to criticise what I had said about Islam’s despicable record on women’s rights and tried to claim that the Koran and Islam are just great for them.  Levels of denial like this bode very ill.

The reason so many Muslims like to blame Western societies for all the ills of the world is that it means they never have to engage in self-criticism or even self-analysis.  The result is that what problems do exist will not be dealt with.  No good can ever come from lies, and as last night’s debate showed, a lot of young British Muslims are living lives based on the most deadly concoction of self-pity, wilful blindness and outright delusion.

Feel free to spare us of our delusions with more like this, Douglas.

UPDATE 10 MARCH 2010

Click here for further comment and reaction to the debate.

Of Moderates

10/01/2010

manicstreetpreacher lets you in on what really makes his blood boil.

By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally.

– Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and The Future of Reason

A lovers’ tiff

I read this post a few days ago on Edmund Standing’s blog (also cross-posted on Harry’s Place) regarding Norwegian “liberal” Muslims who have come out in support of Kurt Westergaard, one of the Danish cartoonists who caricatured the prophet Muhammad and provoked the fury of Islamists on an international scale in 2006:

A liberal Norwegian Muslim organisation named LIM (Equality, Integration, Diversity) is standing up for free speech and against Islamism.  Shakil Rehman of LIM has spoken in defence of republishing the notorious Jyllands-Posten cartoons in the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen…  Now LIM have challenged the Islamic Council of Norway (IRN) to organise a demonstration in defence of free speech, not that they think this is likely to happen…  Rehman is unimpressed with arguments about it being ‘offensive’ to depict Muhammad…  Muhammad is not God, says Rehman, and he is not above criticism…

Before I go any further, I must make clear that Standing is a personal friend of mine and we see eye-to-eye on a great number of issues.  In fact, he has been an important source of advice and support and without his example I would not have done as much as I have in the one year I have being writing this blog.  Standing has written some truly excellent pieces on the Old Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, the “value” of theology, the Qur’an, the far left’s abuse of the language of racial prejudice and Rage Against the Machine’s UK Christmas Number 1.

Standing has a gift for trawling the darkest reaches of the Internet in his spare time when the rest of us find it depressing enough to read the BBC News homepage.  The result has been a devastating report for The Centre for Social Cohesion which cuts through the British National Party’s attempts to clean up their politics and exposes them for the racist, anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi scum that they are (download PDF).  Even before we began corresponding, I kept some of his articles in a hard-copy folder alongside Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and (he’s not going to thank me for this next one!) Johann Hari.

However, the concluding paragraph of Standing’s post really made me see red:

Islam, as Rehman shows, can be ‘liberalised’ and can co-exist peacefully with liberal European culture.  Just as Jews no longer stone disobedient children, and Christians no longer burn ‘heretics’ at the stake, so a future is possible in which Muslims in Europe are as ‘European’ as anyone else.

I get it.  So, Muslims are capable of common sense and rationality as much as anyone else and are well able to cherry pick their appalling holy book to exorcise the nasty bits that do not sit well with 21st century Western secular society, right?  Let’s not forget that this is coming from someone who has written of the Qur’an:

I am at a complete loss as to understand how anyone can hold such a high opinion of a book which, it turns out, is so crude, so blatantly a product of a specific time and place, and so filled with childish threats and superstition.  Reading the Qur’an is an arduous task, for in translation at least it is not a book whose literary style naturally commands admiration in the reader; in fact it is an exceedingly tedious book, made up of a collection of disjointed and often self-contradictory texts, filled with tiresome repetition of certain key phrases and themes, and brimming over with threats of torture and torment for those who will not accept its authority…  I hope to demonstrate… quite what a divisive, primitive, and insulting book it actually is…

While Jews may no longer think it acceptable to stone their children to death for drunken insolence, many of them still think it is perfectly kosher to slice off the foreskin of their days-old infant boys in a procedure done without the use of anaesthetic which would otherwise require the subject’s expressed or implied consent in law.  This is clearly one piece of Bronze Age parenting that has survived the Enlightenment.  Similarly, most Christians do not torture or burn heretics at the stake, although they would look rather blushed if you told them that Augustine and Aquinas – still two of the leading lights in theological seminaries the world over – endorsed such practices in their writings.

Islam: the fringe is the centre

Last year I read my copy of Arthur J Arberry’s English translation of the Koran in full and it was an appalling experience.  I started to write my own opinion on the Koran for this blog, but I can’t bring myself to complete the piece, because the prospect of re-reading the central text in greater detail is utterly unpalatable.  On page after page the reader is informed that God will administer a painful chastisement in Hell, Fire or Gehenna to non-believers.  It’s not like we have a choice in the matter either.  The Koran oozes with a particular sinister brand of predestination that would make John Calvin raise an eyebrow: God has blinded and deceived those whom he chooses into disbelief and there is no way that they can save themselves.

In 2007, two years after a well-to-do group of young British Muslims blew themselves up on London transport and took many innocent people with them in the process; Ed Husain published The Islamist, an autobiographical account of how he was transformed from his parents’ moderate Muslim upbringing to become an extremist bent on the Islamisation of the world as a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir.  As is so often the case, it was only the love of a good woman that brought Husain back from the edge.

I have great praise for Husain’s book.  It is a touching story about how an otherwise sane and rational individual had his mind poisoned by religious dogma.  However, I do have one caveat.  Husain fails to address the intrinsic violence and tribalism in the Koran and the Hadith.  He cherry-picks passages that portray his prophet in a favourable light, while ignoring those that show he was in fact a medieval butcher.  Someone who has not read the Koran for themselves would come away thinking that Hussein’s descent into fundamentalism was a perversion of “true Islam” and that he simply “fell in with the wrong crowd”.  My own experience of the central text shows that exactly the opposite is true.

Now, whenever I see “moderate” Muslims on Newsnight calling for their ilk to come out against extremism and saying that Islam does not mandate such things, I know they being disingenuous.  The actions of the 9/11 hijackers may not be typical of all Muslims, but they were a perfectly rational interpretation of the Qur’an and the Hadith.  The recent case of Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian man charged as the Christmas Day Detroit underpants bomber, who was a former head of University College London’s Islamic Society and lived in a £4 million house while studying, is further proof, if any were needed, that Islamism is not a movement where the poorest of the poor have risen up against the ills of the Israeli government and US foreign policy.

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.

– Koran 9: 5

There’s no such thing as “moderation” in religion

I also find Standing’s closing paragraph to be unintentionally patronising to Muslims by applauding them for their liberal approach.  It is like praising a Roman Catholic for admitting that he does not really believe that the Pope is infallible, which shows Standing’s position to be intellectually untenable.

Those passages about insolent children and homosexuals being stoned to death are as canonical as love thy neighbour as thyself.  Religious moderates simply apply their humanistic morality to ignore those unsavoury passages on the grounds of the “context” in which they were written.  However, they do not have the courage to admit to it.  And Christians, please don’t tell me that Jesus rescinds the barbarism of the Old Testament, because he doesn’t.  If anything, the New Testament ramifies much of the Old Testament with Jesus beginning the Sermon on the Mount that he has “not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but fulfil” and “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5: 17 – 18).

I have to concede that religious moderates are far better than religious extremists.  They are not blowing themselves up in marketplaces or flying planes into buildings.  However, one of the most startling ideas to have come from the New Atheists is that religious moderates are actually fuelling fundamentalism by creating a taboo of criticising religious faith as much as social and political ideas.  The Christian dogma that Jesus will return to Earth trailing clouds of glory and judge humanity for 2,000 years of sexual indiscretion may be a ridiculous belief to a non-believer (and certainly a promise that is long overdue!) but it would not on its face appear to be a mandate for extremism.  Until you realise that there are fundamentalist Christians hard at work in the Middle East attempting to incite Armageddon among the warring factions to bring about the return of their Messiah.

In a recent Intelligence Squared debate I attended featuring Richard Dawkins and A C Grayling, theist panellists Charles Moore and Richard Harries denounced “mad creationists” in response to a question I asked.  Fair enough, but are their beliefs regarding the resurrection and the Second Coming any more rational?  Surely these involve scientific claims regarding the decomposition of corpses and human flight without the aid of technology.  Why shouldn’t we laugh at them when they espouse these beliefs?  If Harries was so offended by Dawkins’ comparing the likelihood of the existence of the God of Abraham with leprechauns, he should have spent the rest of the evening defending the claim that Almighty Zeus sent his only begotten son Perseus to Earth via a virgin birth to rid humanity of Medusa and the Kraken, and then he would have realised how much we – believers and atheists alike – really respect religious claims.

I know that Lord Harries is not a creationist.  Indeed, he has supported Richard Dawkins in the fight against creationism entering school science classes.  I am sure he doesn’t take stories such as Noah’s Ark and Sodom and Gomorrah literally and thinks that there is a link between metrological and seismic phenomena and human morality.  Doubtless he disagreed strongly with his colleague in the Church of England, the then Bishop of Carlisle, who’s verdict on the July 2007 floods in Northern Yorkshire was that they were divine retribution were punishment for homosexual marriage.  But if Harries ever said or wrote in public condemnation of the Right Reverend Graham Dow’s decidedly Old Testament take on the bad weather, I have yet to discover it.

If the moderates do not police their religions, then the atheists will be forced to.

Accordingly, I am not prepared to say that a world inhabited only by religious moderates would be a much better place.  That can only be possible in a world with no religious believers at all, moderate or extremist.  Whereas many Roman Catholics may feel uncomfortable with the thought that their Church is lying to people in AIDS ravaged countries in Africa, where around 3 million people a year die of the disease, by preaching the sinfulness and ineffectiveness of condoms, they are inadvertently contributing to the problem by creating a climate in our public discourse that makes it impossible for the Vatican to receive the same level of condemnation that a US president would receive for getting a blow job in the Oval Office.

Moderate atheists and agnostics: more annoying than believers!

I’m an atheist butters like the philosopher Michael Ruse infuriate me more than liberal theologians like Alister McGrath.  Ruse accuses Dawkins of being a poor philosopher and not taking the arguments for God existence seriously enough, but ultimately he agrees with his position on the existence of God.  This is rather like someone in the 1930s saying that while they disagree with Nazism and do not accept the claims of Mein Kampf, they nonetheless respect National Socialism, appreciate its nuances and feel that only a proper and sincere engagement with Nazi philosophy could overthrow Hitler’s regime.

In contrast to Standing’s tolerant approach, my hand-to-throat response was demonstrated by my reaction to a recent edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? Christian apologist to Muslims, Jay Smith, debated Muslim moderate, Muhammad Al-Hussaini, on the Ethical Guidelines for Christian and Muslim Witness in Britain (download PDF), in particular point 6: the requirement not to ridicule or demean other faiths.  I am not the biggest fan of Jay Smith (!), however, the attempts by Al-Hussaini to portray the Koran as a moderate text made me even angrier; especially his quoting of “Let there be no compulsion in religion” at Sura 2 of the Koran.   With my blood still very much up, I fired off a bile-laden email to the presenter and the participants:

[T]he verse constantly quoted from Sura 2 of the Koran by apologists eager to claim that Islam is a tolerant and pluralistic religion, “Let there be no compulsion in religion”, is followed a few verses later with the promise that all unbelievers will dwell forever in the Fire in the next life.  There doesn’t seem to be anything optional about that preachment…

Although I am unimpressed by the gross hypocrisy and double-standards that Jay Smith employs when promoting his own religion over Islam, I agree that the Koran should be “ridiculed and demeaned” at every opportunity, because frankly I am insulted and offended every time someone tries to tell me that it is a miracle of literature that could only have been authored by an omnipotent deity.

As it happens, Al-Hussaini sent me a very civil and respectful response and probably didn’t deserve the full-on MSP treatment that he received.  But the idea that Christians should respect a religion that ineptly plagiarises their own holy book was akin to historian Hugh Trevor-Roper’s reaction to the Rushdie affair:

I wonder how Salman Rushdie is faring these days under the benevolent protection of British law and British police, about whom he has been so rude.  Not too comfortably I hope…  I would not shed a tear if some British Muslims, deploring his manners, should waylay him in a dark street and seek to improve them.  If that should cause him thereafter to control his pen, society would benefit and literature would not suffer.

As Ibn Warraq rightly pointed out in Why I Am Not A Muslim:

Will that “closest hooligan” Trevor-Roper wake up from his complacent slumbers, when those “poor hurt Muslims” begin demanding the withdrawal of those classic Western literature and intellectual history that offend their Islamic sensibilities but must be dear to Professor Trevor-Roper’s heart?

In conclusion – a pragmatic means but far from an end

While Standing may well agree with much of what I have written in principle, he knows that religious faith is not going to be eradicated within our lifetimes and is prepared to play real-politick and endorse religious moderates even if it means making an ideological trade-off.  I certainly see the practical sense in this, but for once I am thinking with my gut and am not yet prepared to compromise my philosophy.  This is one example where integrity is everything for me.  Standing’s approach’s is scarily reminiscent to the “you’ll never get rid of it” line taken by many of the Four Horseman’s atheistic opponents such as Ruse.

And of course if you start thinking like that, you never will get rid of religious faith.  Ever.