Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A Reaction of Revulsion

In recent days I have read a great deal in the media about the average Muslim's response to ISIS, and listened with interest to a number of Islamic scholars explaining why they reject the 'Caliphate'. Their response to the excesses of the psychopaths of ISIS/ISIL/IS and one or two other fundamentalist groups is interesting. In fact it suggests, strongly, that the many followers of Islam are getting tired of the agenda being set by those on the extreme conservative end of their Faith. One item which leaped out at me this morning provides a case in point.

A Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Leicester (which is one of the 100 or so branches experimentally using 'Halaal' chicken) had banned its staff from issuing alcohol based finger wipes on the grounds this 'might offend their Muslim customers'. Islamic scholars there have reacted strongly, pointing out that their faith does NOT forbid the use of alcohol as a disinfectant, in medical preparations and one or two other applications. They were quite upset that someone, presumably not themselves a Muslim, would make that decision as it simply lends fuel to the fires of anti-Islamic feeling in many quarters. Unfortunately, they are the victims of Politically Correct attempts to meet what outsiders perceive as 'requirements' of their faith. The same thing happens again and again with health and safety matters, and with the same result. All such pettiness does, is stir up antipathy toward what is perceived as a 'killjoy' problem.

Returning to the subject of the response to ISIS, I have noted with considerable interest the assertion of an Oxford based Imam, who points out that the Qu'ran actually forbids forced conversion. Chapter 2 verse 256 is quite specific on this, and is reinforced in Chapter 109 verse 6 which makes clear that everyone should be free to worship as they please. Chapter 22 goes further, and states that Christian and Jewish 'Places of Worship' must be respected and honoured. According to Dr Taj Hargey, the Qu'ran actually forbids killing 'unbelievers' and provides only two reasons a Muslim may take up arms to defend themselves. These are, to 'resist religious persecution' and because they are being driven from their homes. Since no western country 'persecutes' Muslims for their faith, their 'jihad' against the West is rendered invalid.

The Council of Muslim Scholars in the UK has recently issued a 'fatwa' - essentially a 'legal opinion' in Sharia Law - which is echoed by similar declaration from Grand Muftis in several other countries (the Grand Mufti of a country is the senior 'law' expert in Sharia Law) and condemns the beheadings and the war on other Muslims and faiths.

I note too, that there are many younger Muslims commenting in 'social media' that they do not think they should have to continually 'apologise' for their religion, yet that is, in itself, a reaction to the excesses of the extremists. A case of 'they are not acting in my name, therefore I should not be associated with them'. In one way, this is an encouraging sign, but it should also flag up the fact that many in the west do make that association, and think that every Muslim is an extremist. Let's be clear, the vast majority of decent, law abiding, Muslims are not potential terrorists, just as the vast majority of those who belong to and practice the Christian Faith, Buddhist, Hindu or any other religion are likely to become militant terrorists because of their beliefs.

In an excellent article in The Guardian, entitled The myth of religious violence, the author, Karen Armstrong, traces the rise of the present trend in Muslim communities to adopt a 'puritan' style in dress, eating and so on, is a reaction against attempts to push religion out of the public domain by secularists. She mentions Kemal Ataturk's 'secularisation' of Turkey, with his bans on headscarves, burkhas, face veils and so on, citing these as one reason there is now a reactionary swing to the opposite extreme. Western 'imperial' powers fell into the same trap in Muslim lands they occupied, often imposing western models and ideals on cultures completely at odds with them - and no we reap the backlash. You cannot 'impose' change - you have to persuade a populace, and often that takes a lot longer than the 'modernisers' like. So they impose their ideas, riding roughshod over traditions, heritage and cultural issues - and are then surprised when the meet resistance, or outright rejection.

In Ms Armstrong's view, the attempts to impose westernism and liberal secularism in Iran (Persia), Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, gave the fundamentalists the opening they needed to seize the 'moral high ground' from the moderate voices within their faith. ISIS is the ultimate extreme of that.

The one ray of hope in this is that their extreme behaviour, their blatant use of murder, rape and torture to achieve their ends is turning more and more of their coreligionists away from such behaviour and belief. No, we will not see the collapse of Islam as a world faith as a result of this, but we may, just, have reached what Sir Winston Churchill would have described as 'the end of the beginning'. More and more I see Muslim Scholars sticking their heads above the parapet and denouncing violence, denouncing some of the more fundamentalist utterances and preaching against such actions. Among those who practice that religion there are wider debates beginning to take place as well. Among them many of the practices that have developed under the umbrella of Islam in places such as Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and others.

Among the things that caught my eye this morning in the article concerning 'alcohol' in Islam, is the fact that many Muslim scholars argue that the Qu'ran does not forbid drinking alcohol - it forbids drunkenness. Many people will not know that until the late 1950s, alcoholic beverages were freely available in almost every Muslim country. Indeed, wine lovers will be familiar with the wonderful flavour of wine made from the Shiraz grape - and Persia was one of the largest wine producing countries in the Middle East. Much of the beautiful poetry of the great 12th Century Persian poet, Umar Khayyam, celebrates wine and the pleasure of drinking it.

If the opening of this and other debates is anything to go by, we may well be seeing the first tentative budding of a refutation of Salafism, Wahabi-ism and other brands of fundamentalist Islam. All I can say, is thank the Lord!

Monday, 8 September 2014

A step too far ...

The German people are, I find, generally pretty tolerant. Politically, they tend to bend over backwards to try not to be 'oppressive' and to tolerate the little foibles and quirks many immigrant communities bring with them. But there are some things they will not give ground on, and one of these is the law of the land.

Like many other European nations, Germany finds itself host to a growing Muslim population, and is quite comfortable with their presence. However, in recent years, a group known as 'Salafisten' have come to prominence, actively driving people to 'convert' to Islam, and agitating for a very strict and conservative form of Islam to be practiced. Where, a few years ago, Muslim women living here hardly ever wore the Hijab or the Burkha, these are now becoming more visible, as are the little 'gazebo' tents at weekends in public squares and shopping centres manned by obviously European young men in Arab dress, sporting the de rigeur Mujaheddin beard, and enthusiastically handing out 'free' copies of the Qu'ran.

However, they haven't confined their activities simply to that. The 'Salafists' are the chief recruiters for the ISIL it appears, with over 400 known 'jihadis' having 'gone East' to fight in Syria, most converts or with strong ties to the 'Salafisten'. Finally, however, according to the Interior Minister of the Bundes government, action is to be taken. The trigger was the appearance on the streets of Wupperthal of orange tabard wearing 'Sharia Police' organised by the Salafists. There declared aim is to enforce Sharia Law on all Muslims in the city - or at least their version of it. This includes women being fully covered, a ban on touching, handling or consuming alcohol or any 'non-Halaal' product, and on 'music'.

Now the Germans are pretty touchy about 'Polizei'. Only someone carrying the authority of the Landestag Ministerium, or a part of the Bundespolizei may use that title, or 'enforce' the law, and, as the Minister made very clear over the weekend, Sharia is NOT the law of Germany, and any attempt to impose or enforce it will meet the full force of German Law head on.

As I said at the beginning, the Germans are generally pretty tolerant, and they pride themselves now on the fact they have developed a system that embraces many different ideas, cultures (to an extent) and religions - but they will not tolerate someone bringing a foreign and alien legal system to their country and imposing it on anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim. Perhaps that is something the UK government and all the various local authority dictators of matters 'tolerant' would do well to emulate.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Recognition of the problem?

It is encouraging to read in recent days that the Grand Mufti of Mecca, the British Council of Muslims, the Saudi King, and now the UAE's government have all come out against the Islamic State terrorists. The Muslim Council and the Grand Mufti have both issued 'Fatwas' (Opinions) condemning the terrorists as engaging in 'Un-Islamic' activities, but, as is always the problem, a 'fatwa' is essential 'advice' and not something 'enforcable'.

It is, however, encouraging, precisely because they set out in detail the fact that the Qu'ran actually forbids many of the things they are doing, including forcing people to convert, murdering them for refusing and desecrating churches, synagogues and shrines. Murder, rape and pillage is forbidden in the Qu'ran, but therein lays a bit of a problem. The two other sources which are often used to 'clarify' the Qu'ranic injunctions, the Hadith and the 'commentaries' however contain passages, and ideas which are frequently used to justify some of the more unacceptable issues in the west, such as the 'Islamic Dress' and forced marriage, etc.

The British fatwa itself is interesting. In setting out their 'opinion' the Scholars review several passages from the Qu'ran, then state inter alia 
5. Based on all of the above: IS is a heretical, extremist organisation and it is religiously prohibited (haram) to support or join it; furthermore, it is an obligation on British Muslims to actively oppose its poisonous ideology, especially when this is promoted within Britain.
The opinion expressed by the Grand Mufti of Mecca has a similar clause, and I note that this theme has been continued by others. Will it stop the IS? There I must express doubts. As other Islamic scholars have stated recently, the Muslim mythology of the 'Caliphate' is a rather idyllic and alluring one, but hardly factual. The original Caliphate was riven with intrigue, several Caliphs were assassinated and internal corruption and abuses were rampant. Nor is there much comfort to be drawn by looking at places like the Yemen, Pakistan, Bangladesh and several other 'Islamic States' in our world today. Part of the problem is that 'interpretation' is highly individual, as there is no hierarchy with authority over all preachers and teachers.

Nor is it helped by the fact that for the last century at least, many of today's Muslim countries have supported, promoted and encouraged 'insurrection' in one form or another to achieve political, territorial or religious aims. Saudi Arabia would look very different had the political power gone, as the British hoped, to the coastal city and agricultural dwellers, and not to the Berber tribesmen of the interior. The first were progressive, and their religious views more liberal than the Berbers who belonged to one of the more fundamentalist wings of the Sunni strand. In the end, the Berber Sauds  got the kingship and the result is the country we see today.

Equally interesting is the fact that most of the Gulf States, have Sunni rulers, but largely Shia populations. Should the IS prevail, there could be some interesting problems arising from that as well. It is therefore very encouraging to have the UAE's rulers calling for an 'International Anti-Terrorist Force' to deal with ISIL and, presumably, one or two of their close relatives. I think it will be even more interesting to know who they would put on the list of 'terror' organisations. I rather think there might be a small clash of ideas on that one.

In my view ALL 'terror' organisations are a threat to everyone. I'm sorry to say that however 'justified' the cause may be, those who join them inevitably include the sort of psychopaths we've seen beheading people in Iraq and Syria, and, if they actually succeed, seldom usher in a free and fair society. What is worse, their activities invariably impact on their neighbours, and destabilise those countries. Possibly worse, since terrorists have, to an extent been 'glamorised' in certain societies, they tend to incite others to try an emulate them, so starting a vicious cycle such as the one we currently see.

I am convinced that all 'terrorists' must be suppressed, but, as Mr Hammond has said, it is not just a matter of military action. We have to address and counter the ideology as well - and that will take decades. Still, we have to take one step at a time, and an 'international' anti-terror effort may be a very good start. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A Day To Remember.

Seventy-five years ago today, Neville Chamberlain finally admitted that apeasement had failed, and failed miserably. Britain joined France in declaring war on Hitler's Nazi dominated Germany over the invasion of Poland. Historians will always be sharply dividied over whether or not it could have been avoided had Britain and her allies shown more determination in 1938 over the Südetenland question. The fact is that from 1920 up to 1936 we'd built almost no new warships, cut our armed forces to the bone and even scrapped our tanks. To crown it we'd not invested a great deal in developing what we had - so in 1938 we weren't in a position to make a stand.

Not that we were in much better case in 1939, but at least we'd made a start at re-arming.

War makes very strange bedfellows. Hitler's invasion of Poland was facilitated by the now infamous 'Non-aggression Pact' he'd made with Stalin, a feat that caught western negotiators completely by surprise. But it didn't last and barely a year later, he invaded his 'ally' and thrust the Communists into an alliance with Britain, a perhaps even less likely 'friendship'. I suspect that few realised, on this day as they listened to Chamberlain announcing the failure of diplomacy, that it would engulf the whole world, or that it would take five long years to destroy the evil cancer of Nazism.

Ironic that we now face an ideology as evil, as destructive and as vicious - and are just as unprepared.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Repeating History?

I wonder sometimes at the irony of history. Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland. It began with the bombardment of key installations in Gdansk (Danzig as it was then known) by the pre-dreadnought battleship KS Schleswig-Holstein, actually berthed in Gdansk on the grounds of 'protecting' the German 'minority' living there. Her 12 inch main armament did enormous damage, and her secondary 5.9 inch guns did even more, while in a co-ordinated thrust the army overran border posts and stormed into Pomerania and Poland's western provinces.

My local newspaper yesterday published photographic representations of the front page headlines of several newspapers published that day, and ran editorials pointing out how the propaganda of the period had mislead everyone. Thus, the irony. Reading some of the opening statements beneath those headlines (my abilities with the Sütterlin-style script make it a challenge!), one could be reading the pronouncements currently being made by Mr Putin concerning the 'obligation and need to protect Russian minorities' in former vassal states of the USSR. One could be excused for thinking they were written by the same speech writer.

History has a nasty habit of repeating itself, though not necessarily in the same places, or with the same outcomes. There is almost a feeling of 'here we go again' as western governments desperately try to ignore the rearmament that has been going on in Russia since Putin first came to power, and the naked aggression he has shown in 'reclaiming' parts of the so recently freed countries. Georgia was a trial run, the Crimea showed him just how toothless we have become. Now he's after the eastern half of Ukraine - with almost all the industrial development and the oil, gas and minerals. His air force makes an almost daily habit of entering Finnish airspace, and there are indications he's got his eyes on 're-absorbing' the Baltic States.

All of it using the same excuse used by Hitler in 1939 - to 'protect' the interests of his 'people' living as a minority in a 'hostile' country. The fact that his 'people' are being stirred up by his own agents to provoke a response, and that many of the 'leaders' of their 'popular resistance' movements are officers from the Russian Army is, of course, never mentioned.

That forces me to wonder; if the Ukraine/Crimea is to be Putins 'Südetenland', what will be our 'Poland' trigger to respond? What will be the likely outcome? Mr Putin has already openly warned that he will not back down, and that he will use his nuclear arsenal. Have we the guts to call his bluff? Or will the 'better Red than Dead' mindset hold sway and lead us into a spineless surrender?

Not a pleasant thought at this time of tension ...