In the past 30 years British English has received a number of loan words from Arabic, words which would have meant very little to our young grandparents but are now familiar enough to be used metaphorically: jihad, fatwa, taliban, dhimmi. Almost all refer to religion and religious conflict, and have a slightly unwelcome ear to most people. (It wasn’t always like this, of course; Arabic has in the past given us a number of terms, from zero to orange to racket and nadir, not to mention countless scientific phrases).
One word I would like to see imported, however, is asabiyyah, a term which is best translated as ‘cohesion’, but more specifically refers to a historical cycle; as societies grow richer and more cultured their sense of cohesion diminishes until they are overrun by less advanced but more cohesive groups from abroad, who in turn lose their asabiyyah.
One could say that Islam invented the concept of ‘social cohesion’. I’m sure that Mo Ansar, the social commentator who is so unaccountably exercised by a drawing of Mohammed and Jesus, would say that. But then he also apparently believes that Muslims were trading with South American tribes centuries before Columbus.
Ansar was on Newsnight this week debating with Maajid Nawaz, the Lib Dem candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, who posted images of the ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon on his Facebook account to make a point about the over-sensitive nature of some religious leaders. Ansar thereafter raised a petition calling on the Lib Dems to drop Nawaz.
I used to think that Ansar was a rather harmless, slightly humorous figure; apparently he’s worked in diversity for 17 years, whatever that means. But this struck me as hugely irresponsible, seeing as such protests in the past have escalated.
Now it seems that Ansar has effectively won. That is saddest of all.
On the plus side Ansar has at least inspired the very amusing King of Dawah, a ‘community leader’ who goes around spouting self-contradictory platitudes that both agree with and totally contradict secular liberalism; Dawah is the creation of a British Muslim and gives hope that European Islam will go through the same moderating pressures that my faith did.
Vital to that moderating pressure (as Irshad Manji states in her cover piece about the reclamation of Islam from Islamists and literalists in this week’s Spectator) is the freedom to insult or mock religion and religious believers, whether we like it or not. As it is, the Jesus and Mo cartoons are not remotely offensive; indeed, like all good satire about religion, it mocks not the religious founders themselves but some of the absurdities of their followers. It’s gentle, even good-humoured stuff, something no God could be insulted by. That was Nawaz’s point.
My advice is that if you’re offended by such things, take yourself off the electoral register and let the grown-ups decide who runs the country. Being part of a free society means sharing the political and cultural sphere with people whose worldview repulses you; if you can’t accept that side of the bargain, stay out of that sphere.
What makes it disgraceful is that I imagine most of the Liberal Democrat hierarchy share this view. If the Lib Dems are abandoning Nawaz, I can only assume that they are making a calculated decision about possible lost Muslim votes elsewhere, which would be disgracefully cynical and disgracefully stupid.
Stupid because a lot of Tories and Labour voters in Hampstead and Kilburn would vote Lib Dem if they made this a free speech issue. If I lived in the constituency I probably would, just out of principle; rather than doing what I will do next year, which is spoiling my ballot by writing LIBLABCON LIES, ‘Common Purpose controls Britain’, and something about chemtrails.
If not, then the Tories should make a stand and offer him a winnable seat instead; he’s put his neck on the line for the Lib Dems so there would be no dishonour for him.
What this comes down to is whether people wish to stick up for the beliefs of their society, or go down the asabiyyah cycle.
More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us.