Anthony Flew #2 (from Free Inquiry magazine)

Date: Mon 11 Nov 2002 - 01:10:16 GMT

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    It has long been obvious that the same Islamic predispositions - an inability to come to terms with state secularism, religious pluralism, and universal adult suffrage, of which the mirror image is a visceral longing for the hermetic and exsclusive theocracy of traditional Islam - has been forming the attitudes of the Muslim immigrant population of Western Europe, especially Britain, in much the same measure as they have those of Muslims elsewhere, confronted with democratic pluralism. A general statement of the Muslim position will be found in Sheikh Shabbir Akhtar's Be Careful with Muhammed: the Salman Rushdie Affair (13). This is far more than just a defense of the Muslim stand in that affair. despite the author's protestations to the contrary, it is difficult to see it as other than an implicit justification of the Muslims' right to set up an Islamic theocracy in Britain as being what he considers to be the only solution to the problem of the Muslim theocrat's irreconcilable confrontation with secularism. He says:
    "Yet one needs to rise above one's ethnocentricity to see what cultural memories the democracy evokes in the Muslim mind. For theocracy is as precious to Muslims as democracy is to Westerners..." I myself have no difficulty at all in understanding "what cultural memories theocracy evokes in the muslim mind." But, as usual refusing to heed calls for political correctness, I insist on saying that I have myself no sympathy whatsoever for the egregious arrogance of this demand from recent immigrants into my native land. If they truly find life in a secular state intolerable, why do they not now return to the Islamic states from which they came rather than demanding that the host country make radical constitutional changes to accommodate them? It is characteristic of a secular, pluralist democracy that all religious beliefs are tolerated as long as they remain, within reason, within the limits of personal belief and do not impinge unduly upon those who do not share those beliefs. Or, to put it another way, while religious beliefs are tolerated, religious practices and institutions may not necessarily be accorded the same freedom if they conflict with the law or constitution of the wider state. But this "live and let live" approach is apparently unacceptable to many Muslim spokesmen, of whose attitudes the following quotation is typical: "The implementation of Islam as a complete code of life cannot be limited to the home and to personal relationships. It is to be sought and achieved in society as a whole." Those words were preached from the minbar of bradford, England's mosque. A well-known imam in France is reported as preaching to the effect that, "There can be no government contrary to what god has revealed" (in the Qu'ran). He concludes that it is the duty of every Muslim to overthrow every power "which governs in contravention of that which God enjoins and (to bring about) the erection of the Islamic state." In more moderate terms, but to the same effect, Sheikh Shabbir Akhtar says:
    "Our inherited (Islamic) understanding of religious freedom, of the nature and role of religion in society, is in the last analysis being fundamentally challenged by the new religious pluralism in Britain." Behind this, too, surely lies the plea articulated by Jinnah, that Islam must be protected from the consequences of democratic pluralism. Perhaps the most direct expression of Muslim defiance of western-style democracy is the following, uncompromising statement issued jointly by the two most representative Islamic organizations in Britain, the Islamic Academy of Cambridge, and the islamic Cultural Centre of London. This statement insists that the Muslim community:
    "cannot commit itself to follow all 'current laws' however antireligious these laws may become through democratic means" (emphasis supplied). Quotations are given to illustrate Muslim attitudes of discontent with state neutrality towards Islam; a visceral objection to living under pluralist dispensation; an inability to accept the authority of democratic decision-making when this conflicts with revelation; and a refusal to contemplate the possibility of Islam existing simply as a personal belief system, shorn of its political and social institutions. Such quotations could be multiplied indefinitely. They are clearly constants of the Muslim world outlook whether in the context of post-imperial India, Nigeria, the Sudan, or Muslim settlement in Western Europe. The nature of this world outlook can be further elucidated by expounding the views of Dr. Kalim Siddiqui, director of the London Muslim Institute. He became locally nototious by publicly calling for Muslims to murder salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, an indisputably criminal offence for which, since he was an Arab Muslim, he was of course neither arrested nor prosecuted. Siddiqui is the moving spirit of an international Islamic tendency inspired by Ayatolluh Khomeini's Iranian Revolution. The aims of this tendency are set out as follows:
    " eliminate all authority other than Allah and His Prophet; to eliminate nationalism in all its shapes and forms, in particulae the nation-State; to unite all Islamic movements into a single global Islamic movement to establish the Islamic State; to re-establish a dominant and global Islamic civilization based on the concept of Tawheed [the unity of Allah]." Nationalism, the nation-state, and democracy for Siddiqui represent Kufr, literally infidelity but equivalent in modern context to atheism. Thus the greatest political Kufr in the modern world is nationalism, followed closely by democracy ("sovereignty of the people"), socialism ("dictatorship of the proletariat"), capitalism, and free elections. and "modern Kufr has disguised itself as science, philosophy, technology, democracy and 'progress.'" On the contrary, the "political party framework as found in Western 'democracies' is divisive of the society and therefore does not suit the Ummah"
    (the world-wide Islamic community). He concludes that "one Ummah must mean one Islamic movement, leading to one global Islamic State under one Imam/Khalifa [Caliph}." For Siddiqui, "there is no compatibility whatsoever between Islam and the west" and the Islamic Movement "regards the west as totally incompatible with Islam." The notion that a Muslim may live under the government a of non-Islamic nation-state and still practice his Islam as a personal belief system is apparently unacceptable to Siddiqui, for "A Muslim can neither live the 'good life' on his own nor pursue 'personal taqwa' [faithfulness to Allah] in isolation." Dr. Siddiqui concluded one of his published essays with the following rallying cry, addressed to his fellow Muslims among whom, one must assume, are those in Britain:
    "Just as the power and influence of kufr in the modern world is global, so are the bonds of faith and destiny of the Muslim Immah. History has come full circle. The global power of kufr waits to be challenged and defeated by the global power of Islam. This is the unfinished business of history, so let us go ahead and finish it." The achievement of Siddiqui's aims certainly does not exclude armed force: "Lightly-armed muttawi [faithful to Allah] soldiers who go out to fight and die for islam are more powerful than the heavily- armed professional soldiers who fear death." Moreover, the odds are in Islam's favor: "with a population of almost one billion and with infinite sources of wealth, you can defeat all the powers." It is therefore possible for the Muslims to bring about
    "the total transformation of the world." Dr. Siddiqui is particularly scornful of the compromisers who have been trying to prove Islam compatible with their secular ambitions and Western preferences, and contemptuous of those who seek to set up "a liberal and democratic nation-state with a few cosmetic
    'Islamic' features."


    The moral from all that british material is absolutely clear. If we are to understand the nature of islam, and to meet and overcome the threat that it presents to the entire Western world, we have now to abandon assumptions that were sufficiently realistic when we were dealing with earlier threats to that world. Before World War II, for instance, it was common to speak of the United States as a tri- faith country.During that war a popular song insisted that the "Siths and the Jones, the kellys and Cohns" were all equally committed to the war effort of the U.S.A. That was their country as Americans, regardless of their present religious beliefs or the countries from which their parents or grandparents had originated. After that war, President Eisenhower made a remark that my theologian father thought could only have been made by an American president: "Everyone must have a religion, and I don't care what it is." Such indifference was all very well, indeed properly presidential, at a time when the United States had no significant number of Muslim citizens. Certainly it is possible for people professedly committed to aggressively incompatible religious beliefs to live together in friendly toleration. But this is achieved only by the more or less conscious and explicit abandonment of those of their pretended beliefs that would make such friendly and tolerant cohabitation impossible. So the possibility of such cohabitation is irrelevant to the question of what the relevant teachings of the Qu'ran actually are. But because of these possibilities of friendly cohabitation it was not preposterous for President Bill Clinton to say in 1994, in an address to the Jordanian Parliament:
    "After all, the chance to live in harmony with our neighbors and to build a better life for our children is the hope that binds us all together. Whether we worship in a mosque in Irbid, a Baptist church like my own in Little Rock, Arkansas, or a synagogue in Haifa, we are bound together by that hope." It was not preposterous for President clinton to say this in an address to the parliament of a country of which almost the entire population is Muslim. For Jordan - unlike, for instance, Iraq and saudi Arabia - does have an effective parliament, and its king at that time was a man who had made peace with israel and succeeded in defeating a terrorist offensive against his own country (14). But for an account of the actual teaching sof the Qu'ran and of their great and growing threat to western civilization it will be instructive to attend to a warning from an earlier century. Sir William Muir's Life of Mahomet, based on original Muslim sources, appeared in Edinburgh in four volumes between 1856 and 1861. muir's judgment on the life, which was to be repeated over and over again by subsequent scholars, was based upon a distinction between its earlier Meccan and later medinan period. In Mecca, Muhammed was a sincere, religiously motivated seeker after truth. In Medina, Muhammed the man showed his feet of clay, and was corrupted by power and by worldly ambitions. Muir went on th say that so long as the Qu'ran remained the standard of Islamic belief certain evils would continue to flourish:
    "Polygamy, divorce and slavery strike at the root of public morals, poison domestic life, and disorganize society; while the Veil removes the female sex from its just position and influence in the world...Freedom of thought and private judgment are crushed and ahhihilated. Toleration is unknown, and the possibility of free and liberal institutions is foreclosed (15)." Muir's final judgment was:
    "The sword of mahomet and the Coran [the Qu'ran] are the most stubborn enemies of Civilization, Liberty and Truth which the world has yet known (16)."

    Anthony Flew is professor emeritus of philosophy, Reading University


    1) They can be found in Paul Kurtz, ed., Skeptical Odysseys
    (Amherst, NY; Prometheus, 2001), p. 377. My earlier paper on
    "The Terrors of Islam" is included in Paul Kurtz, ed. Challenges to the Enlightenment (Buffalo, Prometheus 1994). 2) See, for instance, his 1998 interview with al-Jazeera Arab TV Channel, published in the UK, in The Sunday Telegraph on October 7, 2001. 3) See Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not a Muslim (Amherst, NY; Prometheus, 1995), p. 115, pp. 122-123, and pp. 163-164. 4) The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (London: Allen and Unwin, 2nd ed., 1962) p. 7 5) Ibid., p. 27 6) Ibid., p. 74 7) In doing this I am exploiting a comparative advantage. For I am not only british myself, but my also-British wife was born in Burma, the daughter of a father serving in the Indian Civil Service, an institution of which several of my own father's Oxford friends served. My father-in- law was the first of the senior British officials to say that britain must, as it soon did, do a deal with the burmese Nationalist leader U Aung San, despite his period of collaboration with the Japanese, because he was so clearly an honorable man. The entire surviving family were both proud and delighted that the memorial celebratum for my father- in-law's life was attended by the husband of U Aung San's daughter, Daw Aung San Soo Kyi. She might well have attended herself had she not then been, as she still is of this writing, under house arrest for the offence of winning an election. Muhammed Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), founder of the state of Pakistan. 9) See Mervyn Hiskett, Some to Mecca Turn to Pray (London: Claridge, 1993). Hiskett was a lecturer in Islamic studies in the London School of Oriental and African Studies. 10) There was slaughter of members of the Muslim community by members of the Hindu "community" and vice-versa. 11) It is a matter of fact, and I believe significant, that the only provinces of the former british Empire where the population was and is not White that have matched this achievement are those of the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, which had both been under British rule for over a hundred years and had become enthusiasts for the game of cricket. As a former prime minister of Barbados said, after his party had been defeated in a general election: "The religion of my people is cricket and in cricket the umpire's decision is final." 12) Reliable evidence about this extremely remote and inaccessible area is hard to come by. But there can be no reasonable doubt about the fact of the enslaving of several Christian Blacks in that region. For my friend the Baroness Cox has undertaken several missions to purchase and thus to free such slaves, and has been reproached for so doing on the grounds that such emancipatings, in that nightmare region, actually encourage further enslavings. 13) London: Belew, 1989. 14) His successor shosw every sigh of following in his father's admirable footsteps. On his visit to london in November 2001 he was reported as saying: "The events of September 11 were plainly and simply an affront to all humanity. That is the view of the too rarely heard Arab majority." 15) I should very much like to know how many of those Departments of Women's Studies, which it seems are now to be found on almost if not quite all the university campuses in the USA., students are required to study the impact upon the lives of women of the imposition of the Sharia. If, as I suspect, the answer is very few, then the publication of the findings of research showing this to be the case would surely have a salutatory effect. 16)Vol. I, pp. 503-06.

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