‘Kill Angela Merkel. Kill Erdogan. Kill Sadiq Khan’ were the demands of the white supremacist terrorist who killed 49 innocent worshippers at a mosque in New Zealand. France’s President Macron, he wrote, was ‘an ex-banker’ who was a ‘globalist’ and ‘anti-white people’. Make no mistake: the Australian man who gunned down innocent worshippers had political objectives. He wanted to stop the West from being a home to Muslims and others who were not ‘European in blood and race’. Hitler’s Nazi grandchildren are in our midst again.
Meanwhile, Islamist terrorists for decades have tried to assassinate Her Majesty, Tony Blair, and even plotted to bomb Downing Street and behead our prime minister. Such is the audacity of their evil imaginations. Western civilisation has a deep and growing existential challenge. Islamist terrorists and far-right fascists both seek to subvert our freedoms and force us to surrender to their religious caliphate or racially pure continent. To that end, they are prepared to kill and die while using social media to broadcast and recruit more terrorists for their cause. What is our response? For how much longer will our political leaders look away?
Islam and the West are not enemies. The Ottoman Empire is no longer, Muslims are not sending armies of occupation, and the crusades ended centuries ago. Thirty million Muslims are now citizens of the modern West, a historically unprecedented development. We should be proud of the achievements of the European Enlightenment, the birth of secular Europe, which has helped humanity thrive regardless of skin colour, faith, gender, or sexual inclination. It is this achievement that Islamists and Nazis wish to undo.
When good people do nothing (to rephrase Edmund Burke), evil will triumph. In this battle of ideas, we must not allow for a void to emerge that is filled by our enemies. To that end, we must never forget that the West is different from Africa or China. I could live in China for decades but I would never become Chinese. Since the year 212, the ancient Romans blazed a different path for the West by elevating black, brown, white, Arab and Jew to citizens based on their loyalty to Rome. St Paul was a Jewish Roman citizen. There were two North African Roman emperors (Severus and Caracalla). Meghan Markle marrying Prince Harry is a modern affirmation of that ancient truth. We are not a racist civilisation, but a culture of ideals and values. Islam is fully in keeping with those ethics.
It was the great Spanish Muslim scholar Averroes who influenced St Thomas Aquinas with the logic and learning of Aristotle. Learning from secular sources was not anathema to classical Islam. Words such as ‘algebra’ or ‘algorithm’ come from the Arabic and Muslim names of scholars. Like the modern West, Islam was a civilisation of trade and commerce. The Prophet himself refused charitable donations for his new mosque in Medina in the year 622, but insisted on purchase. He asked his companions to go and trade freely after he migrated. When there was a famine in his city-state of Medina, he refused to fix prices and insisted that free exchange continued. The concept of a social contract is not new to Muslims. Before Hobbes, the fourteenth-century Tunisian Ibn Khaldun in his al-Muqaddimah, a favoured book of Mark Zuckerberg of late, laid out the importance of ruling by consent.
We must get away from the religious literalism of many Muslims today and revive the spirit of reason for an Islam of the West, for the West and by the West. As with Jews and Christians, Muslims worship the same one God. Two million Muslims fought with Britain in the trenches. Classical Islam has the raw materials, and modern Muslim patriotism gives us the right attitude with which to shape today’s Islam for peace and harmony. Political Islamists must not tell us how to be Muslims, nor impose a literal reading of a time-limited, context-bound source. Secularism of the Anglo-American variety is desperately needed across the Muslim world, where private religion is honoured, but government is free from dogma.
The greatest test for harmony between the West and Islam is the fate of women. By the standards of his time, Mohamed was a feminist. He forbade female infanticide, gave women rights to property and inheritance. Today, Islam needs to move in the spirit of full freedom for all women, rather than limit them to seventh-century advances. The eleventh-century Muslim scholar Ibn Hazm endorsed women as leaders in politics and war. His point was equality with men. A thousand years later, today’s Islam must stop imposing gender divisions, inheritance limits, and keeping women away from leadership positions in mosques.
Pundits and politicians have a moral responsibility to help save the West from the self-flagellation of the far left, and the terrorism of Nazis and Islamists. Winston Churchill reminded us that the ‘empires of the future are the empires of the mind.’ The future of the West is a battleground of ideas. We must increase our efforts to fully harmonise Islam and the West. The future is in our own minds and hands.