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‘Religion of peace’ is not a harmless platitude

28 December 2015

9:09 PM

28 December 2015

9:09 PM

We’re closing 2015 by republishing our ten most-read articles of the year. Here’s No10: Douglas Murray’s piece about Islam and violence, first written in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks but read most (and shared most widely) after the Bataclan atrocity. 

The West’s movement towards the truth is remarkably slow. We drag ourselves towards it painfully, inch by inch, after each bloody Islamist assault.

In France, Britain, Germany, America and nearly every other country in the world it remains government policy to say that any and all attacks carried out in the name of Mohammed have ‘nothing to do with Islam’. It was said by George W. Bush after 9/11, Tony Blair after 7/7 and Tony Abbott after the Sydney attack last month. It is what David Cameron said after two British extremists cut off the head of Drummer Lee Rigby in London, when ‘Jihadi John’ cut off the head of aid worker Alan Henning in the ‘Islamic State’ and when Islamic extremists attacked a Kenyan mall, separated the Muslims from the Christians and shot the latter in the head. And, of course, it is what President François Hollande said after the massacre of journalists and Jews in Paris last week.

All these leaders are wrong. In private, they and their senior advisers often concede that they are telling a lie. The most sympathetic explanation is that they are telling a ‘noble lie’, provoked by a fear that we — the general public — are a lynch mob in waiting. ‘Noble’ or not, this lie is a mistake. First, because the general public do not rely on politicians for their information and can perfectly well read articles and books about Islam for themselves. Secondly, because the lie helps no one understand the threat we face. Thirdly, because it takes any heat off Muslims to deal with the bad traditions in their own religion. And fourthly, because unless mainstream politicians address these matters then one day perhaps the public will overtake their politicians to a truly alarming extent.

If politicians are so worried about this secondary ‘backlash’ problem then they would do well to remind us not to blame the jihadists’ actions on our peaceful compatriots and then deal with the primary problem — radical Islam — in order that no secondary, reactionary problem will ever grow.

Yet today our political class fuels both cause and nascent effect. Because the truth is there for all to see. To claim that people who punish people by killing them for blaspheming Islam while shouting ‘Allah is greatest’ has ‘nothing to do with Islam’ is madness. Because the violence of the Islamists is, truthfully, only to do with Islam: the worst version of Islam, certainly, but Islam nonetheless.


Last week, a chink was broken in this wall of disinformation when Sajid Javid, the only Muslim-born member of the British cabinet, and one of its brightest hopes, dipped a toe into this water. After the Paris attacks, he told the BBC: ‘The lazy answer would be to say that this has got nothing whatsoever to do with Islam or Muslims and that should be the end of that. That would be lazy and wrong.’ Sadly, he proceeded to utter the second most lazy thing one can say: ‘These people are using Islam, taking a peaceful religion and using it as a tool to carry out their activities.’

Here we land at the centre of the problem — a centre we have spent the last decade and a half trying to avoid: Islam is not a peaceful religion. No religion is, but Islam is especially not. It is certainly not, as some ill-informed people say, solely a religion of war. There are many peaceful verses in the Quran which — luckily for us — most Muslims live by. But it is by no means only a religion of peace.

I say this not because I hate Islam, nor do I have any special animus against Muslims, but simply because this is the verifiable truth based on the texts. Until we accept that we will never defeat the violence, we risk encouraging whole populations to take against all of Islam and abandon all those Muslims who are trying desperately to modernise, reform and de-literalise their faith. And — most importantly — we will give up our own traditions of free speech and historical inquiry and allow one religion to have an unbelievable advantage in the free marketplace of ideas.

It is not surprising that politicians have tried to avoid this debate by spinning a lie. The world would be an infinitely safer place if the historical Mohammed had behaved more like Buddha or Jesus. But he did not and an increasing number of people — Muslim and non-Muslim — have been able to learn this for themselves in recent years. But the light of modern critical inquiry which has begun to fall on Islam is a process which is already proving incredibly painful.

The ‘cartoon wars’ — which began when the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten published a set of cartoons in 2005 — are part of that. But as Flemming Rose, the man who commissioned those cartoons, said when I sat down with him this week, there remains a deep ignorance in the West about what people like the Charlie Hebdo murderers wish to achieve. And we keep ducking it. As Rose said, ‘I wish we had addressed all this nine years ago.’

Contra the political leaders, the Charlie Hebdo murderers were not lunatics without motive, but highly motivated extremists intent on enforcing Islamic blasphemy laws in 21st-century Europe. If you do not know the ideology — perverted or plausible though it may be — you can neither understand nor prevent such attacks. Nor, without knowing some Islamic history, could you understand why — whether in Mumbai or Paris — the Islamists always target the Jews.

Of course, some people are willing to give up a few of our rights. There seems, as Rose says in his book on the Danish cartoons affair, The Tyranny of Silence, some presumption that a diverse society requires greater limitations on speech, whereas of course the more diverse the society, the more diverse you are going to have to see your speech be. It is not just cartoons, but a whole system of inquiry which is being shut down in the West by way of hard intimidation and soft claims of offence-taking. The result is that, in contemporary Europe, Islam receives not an undue amount of criticism but a free ride which is unfair to all other religions. The night after the Charlie Hebdo atrocities I was pre-recording a Radio 4 programme. My fellow discussant was a very nice Muslim man who works to ‘de-radicalise’ extremists. We agreed on nearly everything. But at some point he said that one reason Muslims shouldn’t react to such cartoons is that Mohammed never objected to critics.

There may be some positive things to be said about Mohammed, but I thought this was pushing things too far and mentioned just one occasion when Mohammed didn’t welcome a critic. Asma bint Marwan was a female poetess who mocked the ‘Prophet’ and who, as a result, Mohammed had killed. It is in the texts. It is not a problem for me. But I can understand why it is a problem for decent Muslims. The moment I said this, my Muslim colleague went berserk. How dare I say this? I replied that it was in the Hadith and had a respectable chain of transmission (an important debate). He said it was a fabrication which he would not allow to stand. The upshot was that he refused to continue unless all mention of this was wiped from the recording. The BBC team agreed and I was left trying to find another way to express the same point. The broadcast had this ‘offensive’ fact left out.

I cannot imagine another religious discussion where this would happen, but it is perfectly normal when discussing Islam. On that occasion I chose one case, but I could have chosen many others, such as the hundreds of Jews Mohammed beheaded with his own hand. Again, that’s in the mainstream Islamic sources. I haven’t made it up. It used to be a problem for Muslims to rationalise, but now there are people trying to imitate such behaviour in our societies it has become a problem for all of us, and I don’t see why people in the free world should have to lie about what we read in historical texts.

We may all share a wish that these traditions were not there but they are and they look set to have serious consequences for us all. We might all agree that the history of Christianity has hardly been un-bloody. But is it not worth asking whether the history of Christianity would have been more bloody or less bloody if, instead of telling his followers to ‘turn the other cheek’, Jesus had called (even once) for his disciples to ‘slay’ non–believers and chop off their heads?

This is a problem with Islam — one that Muslims are going to have to work through. They could do so by a process which forces them to take their foundational texts less literally, or by an intellectually acceptable process of cherry-picking verses. Or prominent clerics could unite to declare the extremists non-Muslim. But there isn’t much hope of this happening. Last month, al-Azhar University in Cairo declared that although Isis members are terrorists they cannot be described as heretics.

We have spent 15 years pretending things about Islam, a complex religion with competing interpretations. It is true that most Muslims live their lives peacefully. But a sizeable portion (around 15 per cent and more in most surveys) follow a far more radical version. The remainder are sitting on a religion which is, in many of its current forms, a deeply unstable component. That has always been a problem for reformist Muslims. But the results of ongoing mass immigration to the West at the same time as a worldwide return to Islamic literalism means that this is now a problem for all of us. To stand even a chance of dealing with it, we are going to have to wake up to it and acknowledge it for what it is.

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Show comments
  • Quest for Liberty

    Following a remodelling of the website, the comments on all articles were unfortunately wiped.

    The comments previously here remain stored on the disqus website:

  • Asad Mahmud

    I love this guy for writing such an amazing article…. I used to be a Muslim but whenever i objected to some insanity of Islam i was shushed by my fellow Muslims, Parents, friends Just because it can harm my faith in Allah…….But if Allah is not making sense then What?…..I wrote something about Rape epidemic by Immigrants In EU ..You might Like it here is the Link……

  • sebastian2

    It is not a “religion of peace” no matter how much the Sauds and the MCB twist Theresa May’s arm forcing her to say so. Douglas is correct.
    And, another thing it is not, is it is not perfect. Not the “Final Testament” and not the infallible word of a deity. To the normal interested critic, it is riddled with strange and dubious claims, inconsistencies, offensive remarks, and plagiarisms to the gills.
    A double whammy for mohammedism.

  • trobrianders

    Islam does not operate on the basis of a religion but of a cult. Time to wake up.

  • llanystumdwy

    It should be noted that, Tony Abbot, to his credit, recently stated that he believed that Islam needed to undergo a reformation. Very few politicians will dare to admit to this.
    The real problem, as I see it, is that the Islamic mindset today is where Christianity was in the 17th Century and its culture of witch hunts. At that time, Christians believed passionately in burning so-called witches at the stake, because there was no counter narrative. The enlightenment period and all the scientific knowledge which followed changed all that because they eventually realised that it was not God that was responsible for something falling to earth but the laws of physics in the form of gravity. The Islamic world has not been through an enlightenment period. Many of the Madrasas, even today, teach them only to look inward at Islam and not to see the world beyond. This means that for most Muslims, at best they will be indifferent to Western values and cocooned from them. That is why it is false to say that it has nothing to do with Islam. Politicians are taking the easy option by telling us that this is just a small minority of fanatics who have been totally radicalised on the Internet. There is more to it than that. At the very least, Islam has to undergo some reform and come to terms with the secular world they live in. This battle will only be won when we have the courage to tackle the Islamic ideology. So far, with very few exceptions, like Tony Abbot, our politicians are terrified of doing this for reasons of political correctness.

    • knave27

      ‘You’ need to be reformed, not Islam. It’s not Islam’s fault that there is no minor in Britain left unmolested, that minors are sexualized and 14-year olds claim to to be transgender. You are a degenerate cesspool, ans Sharia Law could fix many things wrong with you,

      • llanystumdwy

        If we are talking about minors, then how do you explain Rotherham, Oxford, Rochdale, etc.? The fact that you have not answered any of the substance of my argument other than to vilify me with claims that I am a degenerate cesspool says more about you than it says about me.

        • Daidragon

          How do you explain all those massive european paedo rings? All white males.

        • knave27

          Aren’t the same people covering-up these crimes the same ones who promote degeneracy, political correctness and for years covered the redo-rings at the highest echelons of the British society from media to politics? Like Jew-loving cuck Murray you refer the problem to being Islam exclusive, when this is the mere symptom, of what is a problem created by internal traitors, since Murray’s agenda isn’t really about Britain but about advancing his Zionist neocon interests by reducing all arguments to Islam-specific talking points.

          • llanystumdwy

            You need to take a good look at yourself. In a free democratic society we should be able to discuss ideas, and that means religious ideas too, without being subjected to nasty aggressive insults such as being called a degenerate cesspool. In your case, we are only allowed to discuss ideas as long as they coincide with your own, otherwise, we are vilified. Do you really think that is a good way to respond in a discussion? If I had, as I have often done in the past, called for Christian reform, I would never have got the vitriol that I get from people like you. You have answered the question “Is there a problem with Islam” in your responses. People like you can only hurl insults and make non evidence based assertions, without providing any coherent counter argument, because you don’t have one to make.

            • knave27

              That was like the most irrelevant ans evasive answer I’ve ever read.