Monday, January 19, 2015

The letter to Muslim leaders from Eric Pickles–what does it really mean?


So how should we react to Eric Pickles’ letter to the Mosques? It is worth reading carefully because it either deliberately or inadvertently raises more questions than I think it answers. There is no doubting its sincerity, albeit that the language is mostly carefully chosen and almost achingly moderate!

Lets start with the key phrase in the first paragraph

“The hijacking of a great faith to justify such heinous crimes sickens us all”.

I'm not sure that this is is true. That is because it implies understanding on the part of us “all” about what has happened. Has Islam been “hijacked” and if it has does that sicken us? Most of us are ill-equipped to judge whether Islam has been hijacked, and indeed what this means. Those perpetrating the crimes don’t think they've hijacked anything. It is certainly true that       

“Muslims  around  the  world  have  made  clear,  such actions are an affront to Islam.”

But it is also true that this does not apply to all Muslims, even here in Britain. One man’s “hijacking” is another man’s “true faith”. Islam is divided, not just the Sunni/Shia divide but within these subsets there are huge divisions. Anyone claiming that there is one true Islam, which is non violent, and that all the deviations from this are not representative of the

“true nature of British Islam today” 

is indulging in wishful thinking. The truth is that a significant body of Muslims do indulge in a violence driven, as they see it, by their faith. Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and of course Al Qaida and ISIS among others. As I argued here Islamic Terrorism is a malignant subset of Islam. Sadly the “men of hate” do speak for some Muslims in Britain and around the world. To go into denial about this is unhelpful and potentially counter-productive.

Then Pickles says he wants Muslim leaders to

“explain…how faith in Islam can be part of British identity”

and even that

“British values are Muslim values”

I have no idea at all what this means. Surely all that we really want is that our laws are obeyed by everyone here of any faith or of none? We don't want some sentimental and rather improbable coalescence of “British values” and “Muslim Values” – not least because both are rather spurious concepts. Under the law we demand non-violence from everyone but there is plenty of room for cultural variations. If by “British” Pickles means, as he seems to mean, our Anglo-Saxon, Christian heritage then this is different from the heritage of (say) a Pakistani family who worship at the Mosque. What are we saying here? That there should be some sort of Melting pot in which  the Pakistani heritage’s culture is modified to make it a bit more Anglo-Saxon and a bit more Christian? Is that what “making Faith in Islam part of British identity” means. If so it’s nonsense.

If we define “British values” as being something different from the Anglo-Saxon/Christian heritage that we mostly have then they really do become meaningless. Can you create a co-mingled set of British values that is part Christian, part Jewish, part Hindu, part Muslim, part Rastafarian, part Polish…of course you can’t!

We have a pluralist society with a wide variation in cultures. The dominant one is our traditional White, Anglo-Saxon, Christian one but why would you expect anyone whose culture and heritage is different to abandon theirs and adopt ours. They can if they want to, but you can’t force them to and you shouldn't try.

The message to British Muslims is surely not about “Values and identity” but about the rule of law. As a society we expect total compliance with our laws. So child abuse, or rape, or mutilation, or bombings etc. will not be tolerated whatever the underlying twisted rationale of the perpetrators. They may say and believe that they are being truer Muslims by committing acts our law says are illegal. We say that they are being criminal and that we will pursue them and try them and punish them if they are found guilty.

And if they obey our laws, as the vast majority do, they can live peaceful and valuable lives whether they buy “British identity” or “British values” or not.

    19th January 2015


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