Friday, April 11, 2008
Locks and Islam
In an industrial museum in the Midlands I watched a locksmith at work. He asked this question, "What are locks for?"
My reply was what most people would answer, "To keep people out."
"No," he countered, "walls are to keep people out, locks are to let people in."
I remembered this as I was thinking about the Wilders film that I posted about yesterday. I have to reconcile what that film showed with my knowledge of my many friends who are Muslims.
A few years ago I took a trip to Turkey and apart from visiting Ankara and Istanbul, I went into the rural interior. Among the intellectual elite there was full espousal of secularism; Western clothes, Western attitudes, Western science and a strong social conscience. I was sponsored by the British Council and asked to make a report on what I saw. I told them that I was impressed by the energy and hard work of the doctors there and, though there were enormous challenges, I thought that in time Turkey would make a good candidate for assimilation into the EU.
Even in the cities, though, there was a huge uneducated conglomerate of people. The ER of the pediatric hospital in Ankara was besieged every morning with 200 sick kids who had everything from polio to leukemia. They had often walked or travelled by horse-drawn cart many miles from the countryside and were just waiting their turn. Many were sent away at the end of the day. If you couldn’t get to the city then medical care was negligible.
Today, I wouldn't bet tuppence on Turkey's chances of EU entry. The rise of militant Islam, the large numbers of Turkish 'guest workers' in Germany, the continuing conflict in Cyprus, the enmity with Greece, the human rights issues with the Kurds; all make it highly unlikely that the EU will accept Turkey. And if the EU, that most PC of all institutions, demurs on Turkey, what price relations with Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, Syria, the Palestinians and points east?
When I went into the Turkish interior it wasn’t Islam that held sway, but superstition. You could buy lucky charms from any village store. Visitors are familiar with the Mediterranean coastline but even Ankara is little visited and much of the Turkish countryside is bleak and underpopulated. There are some remarkable things to see in Capadocia (see picture) but as we visited village after village it was clear that things had changed little from the days of the Hittites.
Under the Ottoman empire Turkey had become lazy, fat and corrupt and following WWI the secular reforms of Kemal Ataturk were necessary. There have been Islamist reawakenings recently, but these are not yet similar to those of Pakistan or Afghanistan.
We make a great mistake to lump all Muslims together. Islam is at least as diverse as Christianity. It differs in having no central authority. The local mosque is independent. Sure, individual imams have influence, but many congregations take as much notice of the Jihadists as I would of Jimmy Swaggart or Ian Paisley. Because of this independence it is hard to get sensible Muslims to act together to condemn the extremists.
You don’t have to be uneducated to fall for the Jihadists message; a lot of very clever people followed Adolf Hitler and Lenin. But a clever speaker can recruit the masses in their millions and it’s difficult to get that genie back in the bottle. I think the danger from militant Islam is at least as great as from Nazism or Leninism and perhaps greater, since for Germans and Russians death was something of a deterrent. Not so for many Iranians.
We can do little to stem the tide of these people streaming out of the Middle East and the subcontinent with their murderous intent. The current trials in London show that the security services are doing a good job, but they have to succeed every time and the terrorists only once. We can target aid towards people in these places who think like we do, but we have to rely on the ‘good’ Muslims to exert more influence. In this respect I was drawn to this site by an article in today's BMJ entitled "Radical Muslim doctors and what they mean for the NHS". The article stresses that the authority of a doctor in modern Islam surpasses even that of an imam. They are expected to be experts on theology as well as medicine. It tells us that most of the world's Muslims are neither fundamentalists nor followers of radical sharia but many Muslim doctors and other professionals are attracted to an ideology that projects a solution to all human problems in a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, along with a demand for exclusive governance that is based on the radical Wahhabi and related forms of religious law or sharia. You can download the full document here.
Stephen Schwartz, the author of the report, testifies to his attitude to radical Islam thus: "I stopped going to mosques in my home town after 9/11 – as many other Muslims did in their quiet manner without seeking public attention – and severed relations with “official” Islam and its spokesmen who are the most egregious practitioners of bigotry with their hate-filled language that fuels violence.
The cost for me was liberating as I distanced myself from folks who preach a war-mongering ideology masquerading as a religion."
Within Britain we must free ourselves from the conviction that we may not criticize people with dark-colored skin. Our reticence in this respect has allowed us to be exploited. We have to get over it. If people act in an unacceptable manner they must not be allowed to deflect criticism with the cry "Racial prejudice!"
As far as immigration is concerned we must, like Israel, build bigger fences, but these barriers must have sophisticated locks to allow entrance to people we would like to come in. If such a system of lock and key requires what they call impertinent questions into life and lifestyle, so be it. People don't have to come if it offends them.