While on holiday in Turkey, a few months ago, I witnessed an all too familiar clash of civilisations. While taking what I thought would be a quiet walk to the blue mosque in Istanbul, I came across a sight that would not be out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster that would have Bruce Willis in a leading role. My initial impression was that the Turkish police were preparing for the scenario of an all-out collapse of law and order on the streets of Turkey’s capital. It was as if all the police in the city had been drafted in to the blue mosque area. Full size coaches with police markings aligned the streets of one of Istanbul’s most famous sites, for as far as the eye could see. Long lines of police in full riot gear, armed with tear gas and water cannon truck, were all too visible. Riot helmets were neatly arranged so as to be readily available should they be required. Tourists were blissfully unaware of the situation that would await them when they arrived at the mosque. One elderly American lady, so overcome at the display, grabbed the only recording device available to her and started taking video footage on her ipad.
My initial shock at the scale of police manpower was shortly replaced with an insatiable desire to find out what was behind such a police intrusion in the capital. It wasn’t long before I stumbled on the answer I was looking for. What happened in the next half an hour could only have been described as surreal, and felt as If I had now been dragged into yet another Hollywood blockbuster, this time depicting that of an Islamic revolution. Islamists in the thousands had now congregated around the mosque and chants of Allahu Akbar and raised arm salutes united the masses of an increasingly angry mob. Radical clerics distributed Hamas bandannas and improvised cardboard prayer mats to eager purchasers. My sense of self-preservation was overruled by an even stronger sense of adventure thrill seeking, and rather than leaving swiftly, I started recording the unfolding events. A non-violent stand-off between riot police and protestors remained for most of the day. Just what could have generated sufficient rage and sense of grievance so as to motivate such large numbers of Muslims to feel the need to take such a course of action? To find an answer to this I would have to go to the riot police myself. One such gentleman law enforcer was kind enough to fill me in on what was happening. A parade of Muslims from Sofia who wished to march in Istanbul had been banned under Turkey’s secular constitution. The secular Republic of Turkey, the last bastion of democracy in the Islamic world was now under attack for the entire world to see. The founder of modern Turkey would surely have turned in his grave were he to witness the scenes of Islamic revolt in a country that he took from the hands of clerics and tribal warlords in 1923 and destroying the Islamic caliphate of nations in 1924.
These events should not be under estimated, as Islamic apologists have always used the example of Ataturk (a figure who rightly deserves respect) with the compatibility of Islam with democracy. Despite a secular constitution, Turkey is now governed by an Islamist government. Last week, news broke of a pianist, Fazil Say, who is facing charges of blasphemy for insulting Islam, for comments he made on a twitter post. I have deliberately started with Turkey because many Islamic apologists accuse me of citing the worst extreme examples when dealing with Islam. So in this instance I have made a concerted effort to take the best case scenario. Islamic countries do not get more liberal than Turkey and from here on, the Islamic world spirals uncontrollably into the abyss.
One of the more successful strategies of political Islam has been the coining of the term Islamophobia. A phobia is an irrational fear. It is misplaced caution or undue cynicism. None of the above can apply in any objective manner to those, including myself, who believe that Islam poses a unique risk to society and human wellbeing that are not present in other religions. This is in no way to praise the historic role of Christianity, that for centuries, presided over even more barbarity than Islamic culture, but which was partially reigned in by the principles of the enlightenment, where people were taught to ignore the more violent, misogynistic and homophobic elements of the Bible. It is true to say that both the Bible and Koran mandate the stoning of adulteresses, but we are unlikely to find a British, German or even US court willing to prescribe these edicts as punishments. This is not the situation in many Islamic nations. It is true to say that both the Bible and Koran display misogynistic tendencies that should be considered pathological, however Europe and the US, while not perfect, at least give lip service to the notion of equality of the sexes. Liberal Christians have become so used of the concept of feminism that they are largely ignorant of the misogyny within their religious texts. Western nations enact laws that grant equal pay to men and women. Wahhabi Islam dictates that the evidence of a woman is worth half that of a man, resulting in the female victims of rape being flogged because their testimony does not carry the same weight as that of the perpetrator, as a result she is now accused of adultery.
Several studies have shown that Atheists in the west are more knowledgeable of the Bible than the Christians who proclaim a belief in the divinity of this book. This certainly does not apply to the Islamic world. In many less enlightened Muslim countries, an education consists of mindless route learning of the Koran in madrassas. Vulnerable children are told that it is their duty to ensure the moral purity of their wives, and that slapping them or banishing them to their room constitutes a legitimate punishment for disobedience. Most parents’ worst nightmare would be having their 9 year old girl snatched by a middle aged man, but in tribal Pakistan, selling ones daughter is the best thing that can happen to her, as an early marriage ensures her sexual purity. This is of utmost importance and takes priority over an education or years of sexual abuse. Christian extremists such as Rick Santorum keep their children out of school for homophobic or other equally bizarre religious notions, but Islamic extremists shoot girls in the head for going to school.
What deserves the title of a phobia is our inability to discuss the obvious incompatibility of Islam with civil secular society that has due regard for evidence based human rights. Such societies only exist unthreatened when Islam is a minority religion. It is no coincidence that Islamic societies produce so few Nobel Prize science winners, as religious and cultural dogma is significantly greater than Christian or Jewish societies of similar wealth. If a political regime led to the spectacular failures associated of almost every Islamic society, we would not hesitate to point such faults out. We rightly denounced the racial apartheid of South Africa or 1950s America but accuse those who criticise religions that persecute women, gays and non-believers as being somehow racist. Liberal Islamic apologists say that it is OK to criticise religion but not acceptable to notice differences in the human rights abuses of different religions. This is the equivalent of saying crime is crime whether it be a parking ticket or first degree murder. This is irrational in the extreme.
A 2006 study in Britain found that while a large majority of 91% of British Muslims felt loyalty to Britain, 41% wanted the imposition of Sharia law. 20% had sympathy for the July 7th London bombers. 33% of British Muslims supported the establishment of a worldwide Caliphate or Islamic Council. The statistics of those who support the death penalty for apostates is equally appalling. In Egypt, the figure is as high as 84%
The thorny issue of blasphemy in the Islamic world was again exposed last month with the ridiculous response to the innocence of Muslims film. It would be laughable if it hadn’t led to loss of life. The lengths which Islamists will go to promote the virulent idea of religious outrage was exposed again last week on the RTE programme beyond belief, when Kamel Ghamen, a former Algerian Muslim who has lived in Dublin for 30 years abruptly warned that he will not tolerate insult to Islam. The presenter then asked him what he would be prepared to do about it. His response was that he would go to his solicitor. This response came after all involved agreed the blasphemy law in Ireland was unworkable and as such represented a thinly veiled threat. A similar chilling warning was issued by the Muslim Brotherhood spokesman in Ireland, Ali Selim on RTE’s Prime Time debate when the blasphemy law was originally enacted in 2010. These are not the Islamic extremists; they are the appointed spokesmen for Islam in Ireland. These are the people picked by the Islamic community to put its best foot forward. If these are the most moderate advocates for the religion, it is not grounds for optimism.
It is important to stress that Muslims and others who come to live and work here should have every right to do so. It would be unjust to place any discrimination on entry to Ireland purely on the basis of religion. However it is not unreasonable to demand a certain standard of behaviour that is necessary for the upholding of democratic liberal values. Citizenship education prior to being granted residence should be based on an understanding of what it means to live in an open democracy that respects free speech. A condition of entry should be that everyone must tolerate dissent of anyone’s belief system regardless of how sincere that belief may be. New entrants should be made aware from the onset that western legal systems are established on the basis of reason and that there can be no alternative. The organisation one law for all in the UK are currently trying to roll back on the implementation of Sharia courts there. The syllabus should also outline the importance of equality for women, gay rights etc.
To quote Ayan Hirsi Ali “tolerance of intolerance is cowardice” There are no easy answers to the problems associated with the spread of Islam throughout the world, but we must start by acknowledging they are real. I believe a strong secular government is the best safeguard against the deleterious effects of Islam and other religions.