Twenty two year old Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein gunned down a film director and a Jew in Denmark. Because? A file of Coptic Christians are lined up on a beach in Libya and decapitated. Because? Well it’s a fine old mess, and they point up fundamental differences between the West and America, and the Islamic World (for want of a better term) and in some ways exhibits a dialogue of the deliberately deaf.
Free speech has been, and will always be, a difficult sell to the average Mustapha in the Arab Street, because there is no concept in many Islamic countries of separating church and state. And it’s not a concept that your average Muslim will ever hear preached in the mosque. The average Muslim has little idea what “free speech” really means. And despite living in the west there are many who refuse to take these concepts up.
It is difficult to get the idea over that if a Western video “blaspheming” the prophet Mohammed, or making fun, like a cartoon of entrenched dogma, is made by a private citizen, and then is played in public or on YouTube or Facebook or printed in a magazine or newspaper it does not also automatically represent the views of the government of the country; because to the majority in the Arab street, governments have the power, and perhaps even more importantly the duty, to protect religion against attack.
Thus, if anyone in the West is seen to attack Islam, and the government does not stop this, then the government of the country must be approving of this anti-Muslim video.
Now of course not all Muslims believe this, but a large uneducated element does. Remember these countries, like Egypt or Libya are not politically monolithic, there are great splits and factions at work there as in any country. There is an ongoing struggle for power. The televisual young people, who we all saw at the time of the “Arab Spring” as clean shaven, dressed in jeans and tee–shirts with unveiled girlfriends, speaking good English, were the educated westernised minority. Behind every one of these progressive city types, rises a vast number of his and her peasant, uneducated, illiterate, brethren. They have an absolute certainty in the nonsense of the existence of Djins, and massive winged horses that carry prophets up to heaven. Within this mass, there exist forces who find western ideals of democracy, the entire concept of women’s rights, equal education for girls, health rights, abortion, support of homosexuals, utterly, utterly abhorrent. Their leaders find the liberal thrust of the west threatening to their own positions and power; even as ordinary men fear it undermines their being petty pater familias of their own small domestic worlds. So their leaders will use a stupid film or a silly cartoon to whip up trouble and the resultant indignation of the masses for perceived insults against their founder Mohammed, to drive down the democratic impetus and entrench their own ultra-conservative views. We forget just how revolutionary are the tenets of our West, votes and rights for women, freedom to marry whoever you want, equal justice for women, rights for homosexuals, freedom of religion, open speech and free discussion. Education especially is anathema. These really terrify them. And that is why they seek to destroy them.
And if they cannot destroy, then to seek to establish within the West internal societies immune to contagion capable of being run to their own rules and laws.
They seek to win their internal arguments by displays of violence and aggression as much to cow and awe their fellow countrymen and women as to make a point to the USA, to Britain and to the whole liberalised west. A West, which is seen by many as the supporter of the previous dictators in their countries as much as any kind of recent help in their struggle for freedom.
But we must not see them as simply a bunch of thugs; oh no they are well fed; well financed and well led. They have routed larger armies in the Middle East and Africa – and remember they routed us too; Afghanistan and Iraq were not success. Neither was Libya.
It would be fatuous to blame the vile beheadings of the Coptic Christians in the picture at the top, on some doodle by a northern European cartoonist. We cannot blame an artist for Boko Haram’s policy of seizing school girls and selling them into sexual slavery. It is entirely specious to say that those Islamists who last week so publically hurled a homosexual man to his death from the top of a building were doing this because they were offended by the West. These acts, and their responsibility sit squarely with a Fascist Islam that is sadly becoming so much the face of the whole religion.
And that is how we should read the events of the last few days.
Being rude to the religious has no history in the Islamic world, and the West with her democratic principles and long fought for free(ish) speech, is a revolutionary force in this part of the world. The Western way of life way is seen by many as a complete upheaval in their world view. But, America, and by extension the West, in the last decade has let down her good intentions of democracy and extension of human rights and sufferance, by their own foolish actions in becoming involved in wars which had no foundation of legality, assassinations in friendly or neutral countries, huge civilian losses of life in those wars and well publicised acts of tactless insensitivity. Add in torture, war crimes and imprisonment without trial, and America has a long way to go to win back significant influence. Her previous generous support of the very dictators that the uprisings condemned does not assist her in pressing the progressive elements of her case. Were the West – and America in particular – to ride back on their abuses, and take a more considered approach to the Muslim world as a whole there would be hope of challenging this fascism sooner and more effectively.
But that does not mean we should not flinch from facing down at every turn, arrant nonsense, religious revisionism, attacks on minorities, women and gays. We must never condone attacks on our values even if it means we are rude to the religious.
Copyright David Macadam 2015