Islam and ‘the deep, deep sleep of England’
With incisive reasoning he states: ‘Relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain are clearly to some degree poisoned. Seeking to drain the poison and heal those relations is a bit like a doctor treating an illness. We have to diagnose the cause of the illness before seeking to cure it.’ He entertains possible causes – ‘racism’, Islamophobia, UK foreign policy, poverty, and the 7th-century mentality of some that resides ‘in the hill villages of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir’, yet he assiduously points out: ‘Dhiren Barot cannot originally have been a victim of Islamophobia as he was raised as a Hindu. Jermaine Lindsay, the 7/7 bomber, cannot have been caught in an intergenerational struggle with Pakistani elders as he was black. Mohammed Sidique Khan, another 7/7 bomber, cannot have had his livelihood damaged by lower life chances as he was a graduate of Leeds Metropolitan university’.
His Grace reproduces Mr Goodman’s conclusion at length, not least because he identifies the crucial distinction between a private, devotional faith, and the public, political one, or, as Cranmer may put it, he identifies that apparently benign religions may have decidedly malignant political agendas, and that such agendas may come to fruition unless they are exposed and confronted head-on:
I suggest to the House that that missing something is the ideology of Islamism. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) said, Islamism is not Islam. Islam is a religion-a great religion at that and one, it seems to me, as various, as complex, as multi-faceted and as capable of supporting a great civilisation as Christianity. Islamism, however, is an ideology forged largely in the past 100 years, and that word ‘ideology’ should help to convey to the House a flavour that is as much modern as mediaeval.
Like communism and like fascism, those other modern ideologies, Islamism divides not on the basis of class or of race, but on the basis of religion. To this politician, it has three significant features. First, it separates the inhabitants of the dar-al-Islam - the house of Islam - and the dar-al-Harb - the house of war - and, according to Islamist ideology, those two houses are necessarily in conflict. Secondly, it proclaims to Muslims that their political loyalty lies not with the country that they live in, but with the Umma - that is, the worldwide community of Muslims. Thirdly, it aims to bring the dar-al-Islam under sharia law.
I am not an expert on Islam, but I have learned enough about it since I was first elected to this place in 2001 to recognise that its view, and our inherited view of the difference between the sacred and secular, diverge. In our inherited view, the sacred and the secular are separate. The Christian tradition from which our inherited view springs has always acknowledged a distinction between what is God’s and what is Caesar’s. In Islam, that distinction is harder to perceive.
It is, of course, true that in the Muslim societies in which I have travelled sharia law and secular law exist side by side. In Pakistan, for example, there are both secular and sharia courts. None the less, the distinction is anathema, so to speak, to the Islamists. They look back for inspiration to Mohammed’s original political settlement, in which the religious and political were, in effect, one and the same. They are, as the phrase has it, ‘dreaming of Medina.’ They seek to restore the caliphate to a glory that is tinged with nostalgia and longing.
Let me give a hard example of what that means and its significance in the context of the Queen’s Speech. The Home Secretary was recently and notoriously heckled at a public meeting in Leyton by Abu Izzadeen, another convert to Islam, who was formerly known as Trevor Brooks. He said to the Home Secretary: ‘How dare you come to a Muslim area?’
That was not some random insult or interruption; Mr. Izzadeen knew what he was doing. He was asserting that Muslims are in a majority in the part of Leyton in which the Home Secretary was speaking. He was therefore claiming that part of the country as part of the dar-al-Islam. He was saying, in effect, that sharia law, not British law, should run in Leyton. Mr. Izzadeen’s version of sharia law would be consistent with dispensations for Muslims from some aspects of British law, the application of a sharia criminal code, special taxes for non-Muslims, a public ban on alcohol consumption and the closure of pubs and bars, and a ban on conversions from Islam to other faiths.
We can, of course, choose to dismiss Mr. Izzadeen as an isolated fanatic, but such a view may be unwise. There is polling evidence to suggest that his views tap into a reservoir of sympathy and support. For example, an ICM poll that was commissioned last February found that four out of 10 British Muslims want sharia law introduced to parts of this country. It is important to note that that almost certainly represents a degree of support for what I would call soft sharia-in other words, for the application of some sharia law in relation to family arrangements alone. None the less, even the implementation of soft sharia would mark, I think for the first time, one group of British citizens living under a different set of laws from other British citizens.
We must consider what the likely future effect would be on domestic Muslim support for sharia, and even for terror, of a further downward spiral events, of further international tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims, of further domestic terrorist incidents-which, alas, there may be-and of racist and xenophobic backlashes against British Muslims. That is the challenge that we all face together. In my view, it is a challenge to Britain that is no less pressing than the challenge of climate change, which has occupied much of the debate today. That is the challenge for the political and media classes as a whole, and it is especially the challenge for this Government and the security and terror-related aspects of the Queen’s Speech.
There are three tests for those parts of the Queen’s Speech and, in concluding, I will put them as questions. The first question is: does the whole Government machine clearly recognise that Islamism is a key element in poisoning relations between Muslims and non-Muslims? The evidence is ambiguous. The Prime Minister has said, crucially: ‘The rules of the game have changed’.
Individual Ministers, such as the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whom I heard speaking on this matter last week, see the scale of the problem. However, as a brilliant pamphlet - Martin Bright’s ‘When Progressives Treat with Reactionaries’- for the think tank Policy Exchange indicated, the foreign policy, Home Office and security establishments are divided on how to deal with the Islamists. Anyone who doubts that those divisions exist should ponder the leaked memos from Government in relation to the proposed visit by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, with which Mr. Bright illustrates his pamphlet.
…There is a deep problem. Politicians’ words can nearly always be better chosen, and now is never the right time, it seems, to have a public discussion about Islamism and integration. Broadly speaking, we have not been having this public discussion since the Rushdie affair, and my main concern about not having an informed, decent, consistent and rigorously thought through public discussion about Islamism centres on the effect that that postponement will have, not only on the non-Muslim majority, but on the Muslim moderates-the moderate and prosperous greater share of Muslims to whom I referred earlier.
The leadership of the Muslim community that I know best, in High Wycombe, is moderate and sensible. The community makes a huge contribution to the town. It is well integrated into both the main political parties and it produced the first Conservative Asian mayor in the country - Mohammed Razzaq-in the 1980s. However, it is clear that nationally, and especially among the alienated young, the moderates are not making the running; the Islamists are making the running. The moderates are in a position strikingly similar to that of the Social Democratic and Labour party in Northern Ireland, which has, in the past 15 years, been outpaced, outwitted and outsmarted by Sinn Fein-IRA, with consequences that are still fully to be seen. Deferring the debate further will only allow this process to continue. When it finally takes place, which it will, it will probably be noisier and nastier than would otherwise have been the case. It is essential that the moderates grasp that the main threat of the Islamists is as much to them as to anyone else.
This Queen’s Speech thus presents us with a choice-we can either take an approach that tends to lurch from pacification in the wake of future highly charged public rows, such as the veils controversy, to panic in the wake of future terrorist attacks, which we are, alas, told are only too likely to happen, or we can rise to the challenge in an informed, decent and consistent way. In facing the challenge, Opposition Members must acknowledge and be mindful of the fact that Ministers have a responsibility that none of the rest of us at present has to bear. George Orwell once wrote of the ‘deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.’ On 7/7, we heard the roar of bombs in London. I sometimes worry that the deep, deep sleep that Orwell described in the 1930s is still here in relation to Islamism in sections of the Government, parts of the political and media establishment, the House and the country. This is one of the most urgent problems facing us, and if we are in that deep, deep sleep, it is time for all of us to wake up.
Cranmer says Amen.