Anthony Flew #1 (from Free Inquiry magazine)

Date: Mon 11 Nov 2002 - 01:10:15 GMT

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    Islam's War Against the West: Can It Abide a Secular State?

    by Anthony Flew

    In his letter inviting me to contribute to this issue of FREE INQUIRY, the editor referred to "the thesis expressed by Paul Kurtz, Ibn Warraq, and others "that the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., 'were profoundly religious acts'"; it went on to say that I had "made predictions about the likelihood of religious terrorism that have proven horribly correct". Indeed I had (1). But why does anyone pretend that these were not profoundly religious acts when Usama Bin Laden himself insists that they were? (2) With the general public the main reason for this pretense is presumably a nearly if not quite total ignorance of Islamic teachings. But any responsible politician in any of those Christian or post- Christian countries that since World War II have been subjected to substantial immigrations from Muslims must, whatever the extent of their knowledge of the teachings of Islam, feel a heavy duty to do all they can to spread the conviction - at least among the members and descendants of those immigrants - that Usama bin Laden's terrorist war against the United States and its allies is radically incompatible with the actual teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. But free inquiry is not a political journal. Our concern here is, therefore, solely with the truth. And the truth is that whereas Christianity, for the first three centuries of its remarkable expansion in the face of successive persecutions, made all its converts by peaceful individual persuasion, Islam already during the later years of the prophet's own lifetime - from the time of the move from Mecca to Medina - was gaining most of its converts in consequence of military victories (3). And after his death Islam soon showed itself to be - in post-Marxian terms - the uniting and justifying ideology of Arab imperialism. This beginning has had, as we shall see, lasting consequences for the relations between Islam and all other religions. When in 1920 Bertrand Russell visited the USSR - decades before the Politburo found it convenient to present itself as the protector of the Arabs - he discerned similarities between Bolshevism and Islam:
    "Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the french Revolution with thise of the rise of Islam"(4); and "Marx has taught that Communism is fatally predestined to come about; this produces a state of mind not unlike that of the early successors of Mahommet"(5). So Russell himself concluded: "Mahommedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world. What Mahommedanism did for the Arabs, BVolshevism may do for the Russians"(6). As a clear, commendably honest, and altogether authoritative epitome of the totalitarian character of Islam, consider this manifesto issued in Leicester, England, on behalf of the Islamic Council of Europe:
    "The religion of Islam embodies the final and most complete word of God...Departmentalization of life into different atertight compartments, religious and secular, sacred and profane, spiritual and material is ruled out...Islam is not a religion in the Western understanding of the word. It is a faith and a way of life, a religion and a social order, a doctrine and a code of conduct, a set of values and principles, and a social movement to realize them in history."
    [emphasis supplied] In this we have a statement that satisfactorily transcends all differences within and between various Muslim communities, such as those between Sunni and Shi'a, or between the so-called fundamentalists and their opponents. The term fundamentalist is anyway in the present case peculiarly inappropriate. It is derived from the title of a series of tracts - The Fundamentals - published in the United States in 1909; and it is defined as the belief that the Bible, as the Word of God, is wholly, literally, and infallibly true - a belief that, notoriously, commits fundamentalist Christians to defending the historicity of the accounts of Creation given in the first two chapters of Genesis. To rate as truly a Christian it is by no means necessary to be in this understanding fundamentalist. It is instead fully sufficient to accept the Apostles' and/or the Nicene Creed wholeheartedly. But in order to be properly accounted a Muslim it is essential to be a fundamentalist with regard to (not the Bible but) the Qu'ran. It was his recognition of the truth of those last two heavily emphasized sentences of that statement made on behalf of the Islamic Concil of Europe that provoked the conservative prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, in the last week of September 2001, boldly to insist that "We must be aware of the superiority of pur civilization, a system that has guaranteed the well-being, respect for human rights and - in contrast with Islamic countries - respect for religious and political rights." Just as son as they learned that Berlusconi had uttered these words, a bevy of European politicians rushed forward to denounce him. The Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, said, "I can hardly believe that the Italian prime minister made such statements." The spokesman for the European Commission, Jean-Christophe Filori, added: "We certainly do not share the views expressed by Signor Berlusconi." Italy's center-left opposition spokesman Giovanni Berlinguer called the words of Berlusconi "eccentric and dangerous". Within days he was effectively forced to withdraw those politically most incorrect words.


    One especially good way of revealing the practical consequences of Islam's not being "a religion in the Western understanding of the word" but being instead "a religion and a social order, a doctrine and...a set of values and principles and a social movement to realize them in history" is by considering the history of the creation of Pakistan (7). When in India during the 1920's M. A. Ansari was promoting the Nationalist Muslim Party, he did this in the belief that a future whole- continent state of independent India could be religiously neutral, to the extent of accommodating both Hndus and Muslims as equal citizens. But his party failed to win substantial Muslim support. Instead there was among Muslims in India throughout that decade a general retreat from the original idea of all-Indian nationalism towards the eventually realized ideal of the two separate communities of Hindus and Muslims forming two separate independent states. The Muslims in fact opted decisively for an exclusively religious rather than a secular pluralist identity. It proved impossible for Ansari or anyone else to overcome this Islamic predisposition and to persuade the majority of Indian Muslims to be willing to coexist with Indian Hindus in the secular nation state envisaged by Nehru, the leader of the Indian National Congress. Nehru had declared: "There shall be no state religion...nor shall the state either directly or indirectly endow any religion..." As early as April 1929 the Muslim League founder Muhhamad Ali Jinnah ( had opposed that ideal with his Fourteen Points. In these he had insisted that state neutrality was not enough and that it was state support that Muslims demanded. This Muslim position had already been foreshadowed as early as 1870, when varoius imams in Northern india issued a famous fatwa to the effect that India was Dar-al- Islam - "Islamic Territory" - in virtue of the positive protection given to Islamic observance by the laws of the (British) Indian Empire. When in 1906 the newly elected (classically) Liberal administration in London took some very small and tentative initial steps toward the ultimate establishment of an independent, democratically self-governing nation state in India, it began to discover what it was extremely reluctant to learn, that a secular, pluralist state grounded in universal adult suffrage was unacceptable to Muslims. It was and is unacceptable because it is, apparently, contrary to the Islamic dhimma (9). Thius excluded all non-Muslims other than
    "People of the Book" from any political rights whatever. "People of the Book" - mainly if not solely Christians and jews - are tolerated as tribute-paying citizens of an Islamic state, though without any form of franchise beyond their own religious community. In the Indian case, the subsequent course of events is fairly well known. Muslims, having rejected the all-Indian nationalism espoused by Ansari, were unable to reconcile themselves to the prospect of citizenship in a secular, pluralist state. In 1940 the Muslim League, unwilling to tolerate the consequences of the wider franchise that this required, demanded and was given what amounted to a constitutional veto. The eventual independence agreement in 1947 resulted, after a huge amount of inter-communal slaughter (10), in the separation from India of the principal overwhelmingly Muslim areas other than Kashmir, and the consequent emergence of East and West Pakistan. Kashmir was retained by India because its hereditary ruler was a Hindu and Nehru himself was a Kashmiri Brahmin. As for east Pakistan, it eventually became Bangladesh. Since then, whereas India has achieved an unblemished record of democratic self-government, becoming by far the most populous democracy in the world (11), Pakistan and the two other provinces of the former British Empire in which Muslims formed a very substantial majority have not. About Pakistan no more need be said here than that, at the time of writing, a Pakistani academic was under prosecution for the capital offence of defection from Islam. The first communal catastrophe in Nigeria after its independence was a civil war in which the Muslim and animist majority suppressed an independence revolt by the Christian Ibo. In the suppression of this revolt at least a million Ibo lost their lives. When later, in 1973, a military coup overthrew an administration that was said to have been outstandingly corrupt even by Nigerian standards, but which had been elected on an adult franchise that included Christians and animists as well as Muslims, students at Beyero, Kano and other universities in the overwhelmingly Muslim part of the country paraded carrying banners which proclaimed in Hausa, Arabic, and English:
    "Democracy is unbelief: We do not want a constitution, We want government by Qu'ran alone." The second of those "two other provinces of the former british Empire in which Muslims formed a very substantial majority" was what in the days of that Empire was called the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. This has become by far the worst case of all. For, over many years, forces of different kinds from the overwhelmingly Muslim north have been striving by different methods and with different degrees of intensity to subjugate the equally overwhelmingly Christian and animist south. Most recently and most scandalously, the northern authorities have been permitting if not positively encouraging brown-skinned Muslims from the north to enslave blacks, and particularly Christian Blacks in the south (12).

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