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18 September 2006 Blog Home : September 2006 : Permalink

We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam

Karen Armstrong - author of "Islam: A Short History" - writes a Comment is Free piece with this title. In it she makes a number of curious claims and appears to omit or gloss over all sorts of things. From the article I would guess that the reason her book is "A Short History" is that it omits all the times when Islam was used as an excuse to attack other places, in other words it draws a delicate curtain over the 8th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries (AD that is) and ignores a certain amount of unpleasantness in the 7th, 11th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries as well. I see no reason to fisk the piece because the first few commenters smack it pretty well, noting, for example, that the Islamic (Mughul) conquest of Northern India seems to have been conveniently overlooked by Ms Armstrong.

The problem I have is that she is wrong in her assumption about the age of the prejudice. To me and to many people in the "West", Islam was not something we cared about until September 11. Oh sure we worried a bit about Iranian fundamentalism and we rolled our eyes at how backward they are in Saudia Arabia but we didn't have any prejudice against Islam. To us it was just another religion and it was clearly going to mature. It had been violent but was, we assumed, becoming less so. It had been pretty racist, sexist, etc. but we assumed it was going to grow out of this too. I'm sure I was far from alone in thinking (about 10 years ago) that maybe an Islamic state would be an improvement on the corruption, favouritism and tyranny that was the standard in the Muslim world. Unfortunately we then got to see what an Islamic state looked like, and it was just as corrupt, tyrannous and  favouristic as that it replaces, only this time the executions were public and for offenses like "being raped" or "reading a book". In fact subsequent investigation of existing Islamic states such as Iran or Saudia Arabia showed that corruption and favouritism (and justice) was just as screwed up there too.

Unfortunately while it may be true that Islam is going to grow up eventually, unlike other major religions it looks like it still inspires many of its followers to quaint ideas such as the right to kill people who disagree with them or other people just because their deaths will shock "enemies" of their religion. Since many of us think that this is a pretty barbarous way of behaving, the result is that we are "prejudiced" against Islam. This isn't an ancient prejudice it's a modern one. And because we are well aware that pretty much very religion (including atheisms such as communism) have their gory moments it isn't (yet) directed at all muslims. Its going to be so directed if Muslims fail to get their shit together though. I'll just echo what Australian minister Andrew Robb said:

AUSTRALIA'S Muslim leaders have been "read the riot act" over the need to denounce any links between Islam and terrorism. The Howard Government's multicultural spokesman, Andrew Robb, yesterday told an audience of 100 imams who address Australia's mosques that these were tough times requiring great personal resolve.

Mr Robb also called on them to shun a victim mentality that branded any criticism as discrimination.

"We live in a world of terrorism where evil acts are being regularly perpetrated in the name of your faith," Mr Robb said at the Sydney conference.

"And because it is your faith that is being invoked as justification for these evil acts, it is your problem.

"You can't wish it away, or ignore it, just because it has been caused by others.

"Instead, speak up and condemn terrorism, defend your role in the way of life that we all share here in Australia."

If Muslims want the rest of us to get over our modern prejudice against their religion they need to be just as energetic as the non-believers in denouncing those who take their religion in vain. When Christian loonies make trouble, other Christians condemn them loudly, when Hindu extremists attack Muslims other Hindus protest, unfortunately when Muslim nutters misbehave other Muslims mostly say "you can't blame them for reacting to %{insert issue du jour}"

Given that Islamic societies seem to not only be backward but moving further back (compare the development of Hindu India with Muslim Pakistan for example) I predict that prejudice against Islam is going to grow. I agree that some things done by Muslims are not done because the person who does them is Muslim but many things that I find objectionable - honour killings for example -  seem to be widespread in the Muslim world and uncommon outside it. Combine that with attitudes by even "moderate" muslim scholars that seem incompatible with western civilization - attitudes towards homosexuality for example - and you have a picture of a religion that is disliked because it has many objectionable attributes. That isn't ancient prejudice it's a modern opinion formed after study and exposure to Islam and its believers.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin