L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

07 November 2006 Blog Home : November 2006 : Permalink

Moslems - the New Catholics

I'm positive that much of the following is not a new or original thought, however that won't stop me from repeating it because it might get a littlemore attention. Some of it, I hope, will be a new thought though.

I've been pondering the posts I read at Suspect Paki, a gentleman whose primary defect in my opinion is that he supports Liverpool, and in particular how he makes the point that Moslems are being picked on by sweeping the purveyors of generalizations and duck-billed platitudes, who lump the fundamentalist nutters in with everyone else and quote the nastier bits of the Koran while ignoring the rest. Something which, I admit, I occasionaly lapse into myself, but I try not to.

Anyway seeing as last weekend was bonfire nioght when all good Englishmen gather round a fire and celebrate the foiling of the gunpowder plot, it occured to me that life as an English Catholic in 1606 was not terribly different to that of an English Moselm in 2006. And for much the same reason. Some other people, who claimed to be fellow religionists, were busily attempting to overthrow the government and install one of foreign origin that was rather more to their liking - the Catholics liked the King of Spain in the 1600s, the Moslems today seem to prefer a somewhat mythical Caliphate.

Now does that mean that all Moslems in 2006 want a caliphate where (going on recent examples) films and music are banned, football stadia are turned into execution grounds, all women have to wear a shapeless sack, men have to wear beards etc. etc. Oddly enough the answer seems to be no and we can tell this because if they did they'd all be buying one-way tickets to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia or Iran. There may be a couple of people here and there who do that, but the vast majority seem to prefer like in mostly white, racist, secular/Christian England. And the reason for this, I suggest, is that even under ZANU labour life is rather better as a slightly discrimminated against individual here than it would be over there even if you are the ones doing the discrimininating. Much the same, I think, applied to the English Catholics of the 1600s who generally failed to sell up and leave for France or Spain.

Indeed one can draw other parallels. Firstly I am far from unconvinced that the English authorities of today have not taken a leaf out of book of their Elizabethan forefathers and incited or inflated some of the conspiracies they then break up. I don't think they have invented all the threats but some of the plots seem to have been rather less dangerous when prosecuted in a court of law than when splashed across the tabloids. Secondly the perceived foreign power has a load of money to buy influence - then Spain had all the gold it was nicking from Latin America, today it is the black gold of Middle Eastern oil. Again this may be somewhat oversold but there is still clearly an influence. Thirdly, the persecuted minority have some legitimaite grievances that to some degree are shared by many others. At the same time as England was burning Catholics it was also turfing out all those nasty puritain dissenters and forcing them to go live in the wilds of New England where they would lack all the mod cons of 17th century civilization. It took almost another century before the idea of religious toleration was generally accepted and even then it meant toleration for non-Catholics only. Today many Moslems complain about the "skankification" of secular English society, with its sex and violence laden TV, teenage pregnancies, binge drinking, drug abuse etc. etc. just as do miscellaneous archbishops, retired colonels and other asorted old fogeys.

The anti-catholic propaganda of the 1600s such as that exemplified by the treatment of Mr Fawkes has a lot of echoes in the anti-muslim words of today. In particular, it tars with a broad brush when it should be painting with a rather more delicate one and it frequently consists of uninformed comment and what seems to be wilful misinterpretation of what the actual sources and source documents say.

However, and here I'm probably going to piss off most of the Moslems who have been nodding in agreement up to this point, there is a kernel of truth behind the anti-Moslem propaganda, just as there was behind the anti-Catholic one. The deal is this: excessive corecive religion is harmful to society, to progress and to the common law tradition of England. Combine a coercive religion which has problems with education beyond the scriptures with a repressive government and you get total stagnation. Stagnation is bad if you think that people ought to have a chance to improve their standard of living and it is a total disaster if you want to have an innovative society .There is a clear strand of Moslem thought these days, just as there was a similar one in Catholic thought 400 years ago, that thinks that it is better to know the Koran by heart than to be able to operate a computer, let alone invent something for one. Today's Christian idiots in Kansas who deny Evolution are equally misguided, however despite a certain amount of fear-mongering, they don't have control of the education of large numbers of children.

Consider the history of the last 400 years. The England of 1600 was barely holding its own against Spain, the England of 1800 was rescuing Spain from Napoleon. And if you think the collapse of Spain as a Catholic superpower was bad consider the decline and fall of the Moslem ones. Much of the reason for this is the fact that England (and other parts of protestant N Europe) developed a culture where knowledge was important and where successful innovation was rewarded. Oh and where, for the most part, education was only valued it it taught something practical.

I can't say there have been no contributions from either Catholic or Moslem scholars in the last 400 years but there have been very few from either, for the Catholics there is Gallileo, Pasteur, a couple of other French philosophers/scientists and maybe half a dozen Germans, Austrians and Italians. Islamic contributions in the last 400 years are even fewer*. The vast majority of inventions and discoveries have originated in England and her (ex)colonies. Today the Anglosphere (horrible word) contains most of the world's top universities, about 40% the world's GDP (over US$18T out of a global GDP of US$44.4), the two primary global financial markets (London and New York) and so on.

The Suspect Paki frequently complains about the state of Israel. That's OK. I used to be pretty anti-Israel myself (I've moderasted to more of "a plague on both your houses" feeling) and there is much to complain about in the state of Israel. However Israel is worth studying to see what positive lessons can be learned too. There are one or two differences between Israel and its neighbours and they boil down to education, free markets and the rule of law. As a result, Israel has created hundreds of startups from biotech to computer software and, as a result of that, the global economy has benefited. Its Moslem neighbours, despite in many cases, billions of dollars of oil money, have created nothing equivalent and in fact have imported Asians (and Europeans) to do pretty much everything. You shouldn't generalize that all Moslems are as bad as the gulf states, they aren't, as countries like Turkey or Malaysia demonstrate, but you can certainly claim that thanks to oil, the influence of the fucked up gulf version(s) of Islam is greater than it deserves. That strain (or those strains if you like) of Islam are as much as threat to England today as Spanish catholicism was 400 years ago and it is a threat not because it keeps the locals stupid (although that doesn't help), but because it makes the claim that its fucked up version of human society is the one that the rest of the world should also follow.

To go back to the Moslem-Catolic comparison. The really good news so far is that there seems to be no modern version of
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see of no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!
let us pray it stays that way

*Note exclusivity of regions and time period. Islamic contributions to science in the middle ages were significant, as were at other times Chinese, Roman, Greek etc. Also note this does not bother with the contributions from other groups in the last 400 years.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin