The English Defence League began as a response to what they saw as growing Islamic extremism. That ISIS boasts membership of around 200,000 on its surface seems alarming, when high profile attacks such as 9/11, 7/7, the Madrid Bombings, the Lee Rigby murder etc occur and the perpetrators claim they are acting either in accordance with their own interpretation of the Koran or in response to Western foreign intervention there is instant backlash. We live in a very different age now to 30 years ago with easy and instant access to news from anywhere on planet Earth so news that may have once taken days to reach us or held a short paragraph on page 17 beneath Delia’s Cooking For One column is now at the touch of our fingertips. But even with that we still only see what we either look for- meaning it usually falls in line with our own biases- or from less reputable sources.
Any news story that somehow finds its way onto my timeline from groups like Britain First I tend to take with a pinch of salt considering they are pretty much a level below the Daily Mail for unbiased accurate reporting. I can not ignore that some of the worst terrorist attacks on the West in recent years have been orchestrated by people who are Muslim Extremists (extremist being the key word) and though I find the T Shirt displaying “Religion flies you into buildings” disgustingly confrontational, I can’t help but concede that without the terrorists religious beliefs those attacks may not have been as deadly – though I maintain attacks would likely have still taken place. We hear cries that Islam is a violent religion, that there are places in the UK that are no go areas for non Muslims, that Muslims want Sharia Law to replace British Law.
People who are dogmatically religious can be dangerous, even if not violent. Some of the more vocal opponents to equal marriage have been Christian, the House of Lords has unelected Bishops able to vote on laws that impact a secular in practice if not in name Great Britain. But extremist actions and violence are not restricted to Islam, its just we don’t tend to hear about it as much when it is other groups- especially Christian. The obvious big one is the Ku Klux Klan, a Christian organisation whose members have killed more people over the past 150 years than I can find reliable figures for, but somehow this is glossed over or at the very least rarely highlighted as Christian terrorism. Then there is the Lords Resistance Movement in Uganda, a group that shot to global notoriety thanks to the questionable documentary “Kony 2012”. The LRA has recruited thousands of children into its ranks and been implicated in murder, extortion, sex slavery and mutilation. In 2014 there were attacks on Muslims by Christian militias in Central African Republic. And Christian terrorist groups exist elsewhere- India has the National Liberation Front of Tripura, as well as reports of terrorist acts in Nagaland. Though the Troubles in Northern Ireland were not specifically religious, the Christian faith of the opposing sides was a factor. In 2011 Anders Breivik murdered 77 people. If these acts had been committed by Muslims they would have made headlines and been classified as terrorism, but the majority of these instances are ignored or not classed as terrorism- why is an attack considered terrorism if the perpetrators are Muslim but the religious angle of the LRA glossed over? The recent Chapel Hill murders would have been acts of terrorism if the killer were Islamic, but because the killer was an atheist it’s simply a murder. Then there is the famous case of a Christian fundamentalist murdering an abortion doctor in America.
None of this is intended to suggest that Christians are inherently cruel or terrorists. Nor is it to take attention away from groups like Al Quieda, it simply exists to point out that terrorism exist in other religions too, but it is rarely called terrorism or it is virtually ignored- maybe because much of it isn’t happening in the West so we rightly or wrongly don’t have it on our radar.
Many people also like to point to the Koran as an evil book. And yes, there are passages in it that are troublesome. A popular quote is from Sura 8 and reads:
“When the Lord spake unto the angels, ‘I will be with you: therefore stablish ye the faithful. I shall cast a dread into the hearts of the infidels’. Strike off their heads then…”
This isn’t the nicest verse, and is an order from God. One key thing to remember is first of all the time it was written, 1500 years ago, a different world. Also the verse is not usually presented in the proper context- one of battle. Though beheading may be seen as barbaric it is not unique to Islam with France executing criminals by guillotine until the 1970s. And one very important and vital point- the Christian God is no better, indeed he may be far worse. The Bible contains passages no less unpleasant ranging from God ordering Moses to attack a city, kill the men but keep the women and children for him and his army. Then there is the destruction of Sodom followed by the joyous incest/ drunken father rape scene. Or how about the bit where God throws a colossal hissy fit and murders every damn animal apart from 8 humans and a small collection of non human animals. Of course many argue this is the Old Testament and therefore isn’t relevant, which raises the further question of why even include it then?
Religious books are neither good nor evil, it is entirely how we interpret those texts and which verse we cherry pick. That two Christians can look at the Bible and say God condemns homosexuality whilst the other claims because Jesus never mentioned it then its fine shows just how easy it is to make a holy book fit a particular narrative. That some Christians are able to justify just why the anti homosexuality verse in Leviticus is valid yet the other verses are not (shell fish? Mixed fabrics?) shows that it really doesn’t matter what a holy book says, it is entirely how the reader interprets it.
Islam is no better or worse than any other religion. There are Islamic terrorists angering the First World and Christian terrorist angering the Third World (and occasionally First World, but they aren’t terrorists, they’re just bad eggs apparently). Lets look at some of the common complaints and accusations, beliefs and opinions regarding Muslims.
A recent survey asked the British public what percentage of the population was Muslim, the answer they gave being 20%. The actual figure is less than 5%. The non religious are actually far closer to the 20% figure than Muslims. Now what about Muslim no go areas? Well, simply, they do not exist. When one pundit declared on Fox News that Birmingham was entirely no-go unless you were Muslim it was met with a mix of outrage and bemusement.
One common complaint is that Muslims want Sharia Law and that Sharia Courts are set up to act as an alternate and equal to UK law. This is where it gets a little tricky and needs some explaining. Yes, there are Sharia Courts in Great Britain. They do exist. They operate in five cities in the UK- London, Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham and Nuneaton. There are apparently plans for Sharia Courts in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Now before you get angry and start shouting that Sharia Law is in effect in the UK you need to understand just what these courts are and what they are able to do. They are civil courts- they cannot deal with actual crimes, no one is being charged with murder in a Sharia Court room. They are civil courts. So, as an example, say I lend a friend money and they refuse to pay it back, I can (if we were both Muslim) take him to a Sharia Court to get the money back and the ruling would be supported in the wider legal setting of the UK. But I couldn’t do something as simple as get a divorce, all a Sharia Court can do in regards divorce is recognise it. The courts are basically similar to small claims courts and must still adhere to British Law. A Sharia Court could make my friend pay back the money he owes me, but they couldn’t punish him by sending him to prison if he refused. A marriage arbitrated by a Sharia Court isn’t even recognised, they have less power than a registry office. So yes, Sharia Courts exist, but only as an aide to settling personal disputes and no one is in danger of a public stoning if they commit adultery.
And of course there are the hate preachers- people like Anjem Choudary who are always mentioned as figures of hate speech. But then many UKIP members have been caught out spouting hate speech. They may not call for the deaths of people, but there is a lot of bile coming from members of the far right.
Islam is demonised, unfairly, and though right now groups like ISIS are causing ripples in global politics and society they are by no means unique and the sooner we accept that not all Muslims are wanting to take away the hard fought for rights which Brits should be proud of the better. And one last note, a common criticism is that when attacks happen Muslims do not speak out about them. This is simply not true, and Muslim groups are usually amongst the first to condemn such violent actions, its just those comments don’t get reported nearly as much as they should. Muslims are not our enemy, Islam is not the Big Bad and religion is not a requirement for villainy- Stalin murdered more than Hitler, and though he didn’t do it because he was an atheist (though I’d argue his choice of victim must have had some influence from his beliefs) he was still a genocidal butcher and required no Holy Book to commit his crimes.
Note: You will notice that I have provided no links or resources for any of my points. That’s because the information is out there and freely available and I urge you to dig through it and research it for yourself. In doing so it may open many peoples eyes to just how complex these situations are and just how much information is out there if we bother to look instead of believing that one macro image some acquaintance shared from Britain First’s Facebook page.