True to form for the mainstream media, the BBC here takes up the problem of jihad terror and Islamic supremacism and concludes with a determined optimism born of ignoring unpleasant facts that there is not really any problem at all.
Comments interspersed below.
“Blasphemy, jihad and victimhood,” by Owen Bennett-Jones, BBC, January 22, 2015 (thanks to Gardener):
The Charlie Hebdo murders marked a tipping point.
By selecting a target that symbolised freedom of speech, the Kouachi brothers – who killed 12 people in their 7 January attack on the satirical magazine in Paris – compelled many Europeans to take a stand.
Media houses that had declined to publish images of the Prophet Muhammad have now done so.
Indeed. And many more declined to do so, but Owen Bennett-Jones doesn’t mention them. And Leftists and Islamic supremacists (rolled into one in Mehdi Hasan) used the Charlie Hebdo massacre to continue their long war against the freedom of speech, arguing that just because can say what we wish, we shouldn’t, but should be careful not to offend Muslims just as we are (in their fictional world) so careful not to offend Jews and Christians. Owen Bennett-Jones doesn’t mention that.
By exposing that much of the West’s self-censorship on issues such as blasphemy has been driven not only by reluctance to cause offence but also by fear of physical attack, the brothers obliged editors and publishers to find their courage.
And the massive French marches showed that millions – including many Muslims – wanted to express their support for Western values.
Even if there were Muslims marching in support of Charlie Hebdo and Western values in France, Owen Bennett-Jones doesn’t mention that there were many demonstrations against Charlie Hebdo and the freedom of speech in Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Iran. In Chechnya, 800,000 marched. In Niger, anti-Charlie Hebdo protesters torched forty-five churches. On the Temple Mount, Muslim mobs burned the French flag. There were no Muslim marches anywhere in the world in favor of Charlie Hebdo and the freedom of speech.
But that can’t hide the deepening divide in European societies – just listen to the number of times you now hear the words “we” and “they”.
While virtually all Muslims see violent Jihadism as a perversion of Islam, there is increasing tendency in the Western media to suggest that violence might be integral at least to a strand of Islamic thinking.
For Owen Bennett-Jones, it is a “tendency in the Western media to suggest that violence might be integral at least to a strand of Islamic thinking.” In other words, this idea is coming from non-Muslim Westerners, not from Muslims. Owen Bennett-Jones ignores the numerous statements of Islamic jihadists, such as Abubakar Shekau just recently, explaining that they are acting in accord with the texts and teachings of Islam — shouldn’t self-proclaimed moderate Muslims at least address these and try to counter them, instead of simply dismissing them outright — especially in light of the fact that well over a thousand young Muslims from Western countries have gone to wage jihad with the Islamic State? If “virtually all Muslims see violent Jihadism as a perversion of Islam,” how did this perversion of Islam become so widespread among Muslims in the West? And what of the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah themselves? Owen Bennett-Jones shows no curiosity about what they actually say.
Right-wing, media-monitoring blogs are celebrating the shift, praising any programmes and articles that hint that Islam is regressive.
Owen Bennett-Jones offers no examples of this, because there aren’t any, because there aren’t any “programmes and articles that hint that Islam is regressive,” and hence no “right-wing, media-monitoring blogs are celebrating” anything at all.
Of course, most people still accept that the vast majority of Muslims are just as horrified and upset by militant Islamist violence as anyone else. But Muslims are under increasing pressure.
Most people still accept this because they’re constantly beaten over the head with it by people like Owen Bennett-Jones. But the fact is, we still have not seen any evidence that it is so. There is no large-scale movement among Muslims to combat “militant Islamist violence” and the ideology that gives rise to it. Muslim organizations that are dedicated to opposing “militant Islamist violence,” like Zuhdi Jasser’s group, have tiny followings among Muslims, and more non-Muslim members than Muslim ones. The major Muslim organizations in the West have made absolutely no effort to institute programs in mosques and Islamic schools that teach young Muslims to reject on Islamic grounds the understanding of Islam proffered by the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the rest. Those organizations are significantly more concerned about the chimera of “Islamophobia” than they are about the spread of jihadist beliefs among Muslims. If “the vast majority of Muslims are just as horrified and upset by militant Islamist violence as anyone else,” they are singularly uninterested in actually doing anything about it.
For years, they have routinely been asked by journalists to condemn violence. Now questions are also being asked about mainstream Muslim opinion on doctrinal issues such as blasphemy.
Many Muslims find now themselves described as extremists not because they support violence but because of their religious views.
When a shopkeeper recently told a BBC radio programme that he loved the Prophet more than his children, many of his fellow countrymen found that difficult, if not impossible, to understand.
This is actually not a problem. I don’t care who he loves. I care only if he is willing to kill on that basis.
The blasphemy issue highlights the depth of the divisions. And while blasphemy used to be conceived as an offence against God, today it’s often seen as an offence against the feelings of religious people.
Today in Pakistan, the country with the most blasphemy cases before its courts, the most commonly alleged blasphemous offence is damage to copies of the Koran.
Those accused are sometimes hacked to death by enraged mobs.
Because blasphemy is such an incendiary issue, it is sometimes used to settle scores.
A disproportionate number of cases are brought against members of the Hindu, Christian and Ahmedi minorities. But many Sunni Muslims also get accused.
One Karachi businessman found himself charged with blasphemy for putting the business card of an unsuccessful job applicant named Mohammed in the bin.
When they were in power, the Afghan Taliban prohibited not only visual images of the Prophet but also foreign TV crews filming any living thing.
The restriction they claimed was in line with Islamic teachings, although the Taliban hardly helped burnish their religious credentials by making exceptions for Taliban ministers who wanted to make important statements.
Limiting free speech
While Westerners tend to view such bans as obscurantist and ridiculous, it was only 30 years ago that some local councils in the UK tried to ban cinemas showing Monty Python’s religious satire Life of Brian.
How many people did enraged Christians murder over Life of Brian? I keep forgetting.
In Ireland, long dominated by the Catholic Church, remnants of such attitudes remain in the constitution, which bans “the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter”.
I oppose such laws on free speech grounds. But until the Catholic Church starts beheading people for blasphemy (in 2015, not 1492), they’re really a moot point.
In 2009 the Irish parliament passed legislation that spelt out the offence in more specific terms: “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusing or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion”.
They adopted this in 2009? That is likely to have been a move to appease the country’s growing Muslim population, not its dwindling number of committed Catholics.
Supporters of the clause hoped that the inclusion of words such as “intentionally” and “substantial” would underpin freedom of speech by setting out possible grounds on which to mount defences of allegedly blasphemous acts.
But to their dismay, Pakistan picked up the wording and proposed to the UN Human Rights Council that it be adopted internationally.
The attempt failed and, fearful of becoming model of how to limit free speech, Ireland is due to hold a referendum that would remove the blasphemy article from the constitution with a view to replacing it with legislation on hate speech.
Same thing. “Hate speech” laws are blasphemy laws in new garb. “Hate speech” is blasphemy against the accepted politically correct sensibilities.
The extent to which blasphemy and hate speech overlap is contested. Some argue that blasphemy should be stripped of its religious associations and that to insult anything held sacred by another is blasphemous.
But this somewhat abstruse, semantic argument risks concealing the issues at stake – should religion be afforded special legislative or even constitutional protection?
And how can religious extremists be stopped from reacting to offence with violence?
Before the cartoonists were gunned down in Paris, the only Westerners fully engaged in these questions were hard-core freedom of speech advocates.
Violent demonstrations in Afghanistan protesting against US soldiers desecrating Korans were relegated to down-bulletin stories that left many viewers baffled as to why everyone was getting so worked up.
That has changed. Blasphemy is the lead story now with political chat show hosts asking: “What is it? How come people take the issue so seriously?
And shouldn’t secular West European countries worry about racist or misogynist speech as much as blasphemy?”
Such discussions almost always develop into a row about power. Political Islamists and Western liberals often argue that Muslim sensitivities about public challenges to their faith and identity are informed by the fact that over time they have been colonised, invaded, tortured and falsely imprisoned by Westerners.
The US and Israel, they argue, are the subject of so much invective and even violence because, for all their talk of human rights, they hypocritically use their own strength to oppress Muslims, whether in Iraq or Gaza. Furthermore, it is argued, Muslims are singled out for abuse.
Thus, while the Charlie Hebdo management sacked a cartoonist for anti-Semitism, it did not hesitate to publish anti-Islamic cartoons.
These arguments about the unequal distribution of power are bolstered by socio-economic surveys within Western countries. Muslims are often at the bottom of rankings measuring people’s health, employability and educational levels.
Critics of political Islamism often respond to these arguments by saying – not very convincingly – that attempts to explain violent jihadism are akin to condoning it.
But they also make more substantial claims – that while Islamists exaggerate and even wallow in their sense of victimisation, they don’t get so angry about the persecution of and discrimination against minorities in Muslim-majority countries.
After all, Christians in the so-called Islamic State and Shias in Saudi Arabia are even more marginalised than Muslims in Europe.
Wow. “Christians in the so-called Islamic State” are “even more marginalised than Muslims in Europe”? Where in Europe have non-Muslims painted letters on Muslim homes so as to mark them for extortion or murder? Where have Muslims in Europe had their women kidnapped and forced into sex slavery? Where in Europe have Muslims been forced to convert to Christianity, or driven out of their homes and massacred? Owen Bennett-Jones’ bland assertion that Christians in the Islamic State have it even worse than Muslims in Europe, as if there were any equivalence between the treatment of the two groups at all, is a grotesque demonstration of his absolute moral myopia.
Islamism’s opponents also ask whether the religion should be granted unique protections just because some of its adherents feel weak and vulnerable. Might affording Islam special protection from criticism and satire even be racist?
No. Islam is not a race, however much the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media insist otherwise.
After all it seems to be predicated on the view that the Muslim community is incapable of responding to criticism and satire with calm, rational debate.
Where has it done so? I myself have tried to engage with Muslims in a rational manner numerous times, and have invited many to debate. Usually in response I get contempt, abuse, and adolescent insults from the likes of Qasim Rashid, Reza Aslan, Mehdi Hasan, Shiraz Maher, and many, many others. These puffed-up empty suits engage in calm, rational debate only with people who already agree with them and will not expose their intellectual bankruptcy.
It all depends how you look at it. How, for example, do you interpret the fact that when the Kouachi brothers fled the Charlie Hebdo offices they yelled: “We have avenged the Prophet?” Some see that as a sign that Islam teaches not peace but violence.
But others reckon the brothers were in fact using the blasphemy issue as a vehicle to express the frustration, anger and powerlessness that come with being the sons of Algerian migrants, alienated and unable to get a fair chance in the society they were born into.
Yeah, that’s it. It’s all the fault of non-Muslims. Shower more money on Muslim communities, Owen Bennett-Jones, and see if it ends the jihad. Owen Bennett-Jones here ignores yet another thing: the fact that study after study has shown that jihadis are wealthier and better educated than their peers. CNS News noted in September 2013 that “according to a Rand Corporation report on counterterrorism, prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 2009, ‘Terrorists are not particularly impoverished, uneducated, or afflicted by mental disease. Demographically, their most important characteristic is normalcy (within their environment). Terrorist leaders actually tend to come from relatively privileged backgrounds.’ One of the authors of the RAND report, Darcy Noricks, also found that according to a number of academic studies, ‘Terrorists turn out to be more rather than less educated than the general population.’”