It's much easier, of course, when confronted with the absurd, wicked and very unfair statements and actions of some Muslims, to adopt a rigid attitude and insist that the problem is with Islam and the people who follow it. But we're sure that in their heart of hearts very few people actually believe that. We all know perfectly well that there are many different shades of attitude and opinion in the Christian Church, for instance, from the hard line Bible-bashing fundamentalists of the American countryside to the effete bumboys of the Oxford Movement in England or the tedious Catholic clergy in France and Ireland, surely the least intelligent and least charismatic bunch the GOS has ever had the misfortune to encounter. Whatever the opposite of “stylish” is, that's them.
So when a Muslim offers us his view of the loony right among his own people, we would be advised to take notice. Dr Taj Hargey is imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation and chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, so he presumably knows what he's talking about. Here he is, writing in the Daily Mail (also the opposite of “stylish”, whatever that turns out to be) ...
Tolerance is one of the abiding characteristics of British society. It is the reason that this country has been able to cope so successfully with unprecedented immigration and social change in recent decades.
But sadly, this tradition of openness is being ruthlessly exploited by the followers of a radical strain of Islam that has emerged from the deserts of Arabia. Tribalist and dogmatic, these Saudi zealots stir up division and threaten our social harmony with their attachment to a crass interpretation of the creed that is a throwback to the barbarities of a medieval age. Known as Wahhabism, this toxic brand of fundamentalism is being propagated throughout Muslim communities across Britain.
The young are particular targets for indoctrination by the hardliners, as was revealed last night in a BBC Panorama documentary which highlighted the insidious influence of a large network of Saudi weekend schools. There are more than 40 such schools in Britain, inculcating more than 5,000 pupils with the warped values of Wahhabism. Misogyny, separatism and bigotry are all key features of the teaching in these institutions, whereas the Western tradition of free thought and open debate is completely ignored.
That is why I, as a Muslim scholar and community leader, regard these schools as so dangerous. They are anathema to everything that our pluralistic society stands for, and should have no role in the education of impressionable minds.
It is also unfortunate for mainstream Muslims that Wahhabism has maligned Islam and has come to define the public perception of my faith, even though it has no real basis in the teaching of the Koran and is little more than primitive tribal code. Precisely because Wahhabism originated in the brutal backyard of Saudi Arabia, it should have no place in modern democratic Britain. Our culture has gone to considerable lengths to promote equality for women, gay people, ethnic minorities and diverse faiths. In contrast, the authoritarian Wahhabi tradition in Saudi Arabia is infused with intolerance. The oppression of women there, for instance, is notorious. They are not permitted to drive, nor are they allowed to travel unaccompanied by a male relative.
Now, thanks to these schools, this sort of misogynistic nonsense is being taught to young Muslims in Britain. Similarly, the grotesque Saudi dress code ranging from the headscarf, the hijab to the full all-enveloping tent-like burka, is now all too familiar on the streets of England, when there is no Koranic justification for this. In the same vein, anti-Semitism is rampant in Saudi Arabia from the top down, reflected in everything from the institutionalised hatred of Israel to the portrayal of Jews as monkeys and pigs in newspaper cartoons.
Vicious prejudice against gays is also rife, sanctioned by the Wahhabi clerics. The death penalty is the price paid by gays for any expression of their sexual identity. All in all, life for a woman, gay man or Jew in Saudi Arabia is pretty intolerable, devoid of freedom and rights. And this is the world that the Islamic weekend school preachers want to recreate in Britain!
The same spirit of savagery is found in the way Sharia law is implemented in Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabis run a regime where women are executed for suspected adultery and the most cruel punishments are meted out against petty criminals. But this pitiless approach owes nothing to the Koran. For example, in Saudi Arabia, first-time offenders such as thieves often have a limb cut off, yet the Koran states that such amputations should be used as an extreme last resort, only against the incorrigible.
Equally repellent is the utter domination by Islam of all public life. There is not a shred of pluralism allowed by this corrupt authoritarian regime and Islam is upheld without compassion. So-called ‘morality police’ walk the streets, enforcing their jaundiced interpretation of Sharia law. The sentence of death hangs over anyone who dares to challenge the Wahhabi theocracy. Apostasy — the act of converting to another faith — is treated as a capital offence. Even those Muslims who fail to conform to the strict tenets of Wahhabism are treated as heretics, liable to imprisonment or execution.
There is a huge element of hypocrisy about the propagation of Wahhabism in Britain, as hardline Muslim regimes are utterly intolerant of any other faith. It is impossible to build a Christian church in Saudi Arabia, yet the same ideologues constantly demand the right to build mosques in Britain. They want the privileges here that they refuse to accord other faiths when they are in control.
Why do we have to put up with the soundtrack of grievance from these Saudi extremists, endlessly demanding mosques, halal meat, calls to prayer, special schools, gender segregation, removal of Christian symbols and imposition of a tribal dress code?
But perhaps the most disturbing feature of the weekend schools is how they serve as a gateway to extremist theology and political radicalism. This ultimately paves the way to domestic terrorism. The dogma they promote is permanently hostile to the state in which we live, leading to a dangerous ‘them and us’ mentality, making a mockery of all attempts at real integration and tolerance. It is no coincidence that since Wahhabism gained a hold on British Muslims, especially on university campuses and in mosques, the threat of terror has intensified.
So why is Britain turning a blind eye to these schools and the wider sinister influence of Wahhabism? It’s all the more extraordinary given the tough stance we have taken against Islamic extremism in Afghanistan. There is something obscene about having British soldiers die in the fight against the Taliban while allowing fundamentalist propaganda to flourish in our midst. Of course, the reason for this disparity can be summed up in one word of three letters: oil.
Britain is reliant on Saudi Arabian energy supplies and that is why we kowtow to them. Oil is also one of the key reasons why Saudi Arabia has gained such an unhealthy influence in the Islamic world, powering the growth of this kind of poisonous fundamentalism, in Britain as much as anywhere else.
Although the Saudi embassy yesterday tried to distance itself from the row about the weekend schools, we should have little doubt that the Saudi regime has assisted with funding them. Furthermore, it is telling that Britain’s most famous and prestigious mosque, at Regent’s Park, in London, is inextricably linked to the Saudi government and the Wahhabi clergy. The head of the mosque, Ahmad Dubyan, is in the Saudi diplomatic service and reports back to the country’s monarch in Riyadh.
The other prime reason for Saudi’s growing domination of global Islam is that the nation contains the two most holy places in the faith: the mosques at Medina and Mecca. At the festival of Hajj, now held in late autumn, three?million pilgrims descend on Mecca, providing a huge captive audience for Wahhabism. Armed with Saudi propaganda and contentious Wahhabi Korans in which all the verses about tolerance and pluralism have been struck out, these devotees return to their homeland to spread the word.
The row over these weekend schools should make us remember that the rise of extremism has been a disaster for British society and moderate Muslims. Social cohesion has been undermined. Integration has been thwarted. Distrust has grown among neighbours. These problems can be addressed only by Muslims embracing the true pluralist ethos of the Koran: chapter 2, verse 22, which declares that all believers of any faith will achieve salvation if they lead good lives in anticipation of the day of reckoning. That is the predominant sentiment we should be teaching our children, not the twisted theology of the Saudis and the Wahhabis.
The GOS says: Hmm .... all very good, so far as it goes. But I can't help feeling there's something a bit disingenuous about it all. You know, stroke us up a bit by telling us how tolerant we are and how wonderful it is that we've been able to absorb such colossal immigration with no difficulty. I mean, he would say that, wouldn't he? I'm sure the colossal immigration caused him no trouble at all, since he was presumably a beneficiary of it. How does he know what effect it had on the rest of us?
And of course, it's not the fault of normal Moslems at all, or of the Koran. It's all these naughty Saudis who interpret the Koran wrongly, or only obey the bits they like. Except that they wouldn't be able to distort your message if you hadn't been promulgating that message in the first place. If you'd told everyone the truth about the Koran – that, like the Bible, it's just a collection of fairy-tales and rather old make-believe, and not the Word of God at all – then no one would take them seriously. They'd be like a bunch of teenagers trying to convince their friends that Noddy and Big Ears presented a valid blueprint for a fairer, cleaner society.
So it IS your fault, really, isn't it, Taj mate? You can't disclaim all responsibility. Nice try, though.
And what about this thing about the oil? We kowtow to Saudi Arabia because we want their oil? So what? We are an advanced society, and we have loads of cars and lorries and planes and lawn-mowers and stuff. We need loads of oil, at least until some future government pulls its head out of its arse and accepts that the only way forward is lots and lots of nuclear power, and then we can have electric railways and electric cars and be all green and holier-than-thou. Yes, that's right, we kowtow to Saudi Arabia, just like shoppers kowtow to Tesco's by queueing nicely at the checkouts, and rail passengers kowtow to Virgin Trains by standing the entire journey because there aren't enough seats and some wanker's put his suitcases over yours, and frequent fliers kowtow to Ryanair by paying £500 to carry on a paperback or go to the toilet. We go to the lengths we have to to get served.
At the same time, if you want to be pedantic, you might observe that Tesco's do pay quite a lot of attention to their customers and their preferences, which is why they're a successful business. I don't notice Virgin Trains putting cattle-trucks on the back of the loco before it departs up the West Coast Main Line – far from it, there seems to a foolish adherence to the notion that seats need to be upholstered and carriages need to be heated and there should be some kind of refreshments available, even if their efforts to provide all these benefits often fall short of perfection. And Ryanair have got where they are by providing what travellers seem to want – very cheap flights with no frills to rather small airports in backward areas of Europe. Just so, we are Saudi's customers. They need to sell their oil as much as we need to buy it. And in return, they need to buy our jet fighters as much as we need to sell them. It all works both ways, you know. The world does, to those who are bright enough to notice and don't have their noses stuck in some holy book.
No, Taj, you've gone off on the wrong tangent altogether. The reason we have given, and continue to give, these ragheads a clear run, is twofold. Firstly, we just don't understand them. We don't understand what they want, we don't understand where they get it all from, we don't understand their hatred, we don't understand what they hope to gain, the whole thing perplexes us for the simple reason that none of us have ever wanted anything that badly, we've been brought up to see the other bloke's point of view and play with the Germans at break time, and we're mostly too intelligent to take literally some ridiculous fairy story in a book. We might as well try to understand a cat. It's life, Taj, but not as we know it.
The other reason is that a generation of left-wing governmental stupidity has spawned an officialdom that can't break free of political correctness, who are deeply suspicious of anyone who speaks nicely or went to a public school, who spurn intelligence and knowledge in favour of the kind of bottom-up dumbed-down lowest-common-denominator ignorance that has brought us Big Brother, Jedward and Tart Up My Squat, Bitch. Much the same might be said of the populist press, too.
It has become obligatory to believe that anything that has its roots in white Anglo-Saxon culture, or in the traditions of the most long-lasting and far-reaching civilisation since the Romans, or that might be ever-so-slightly tainted with the notion that different people have different abilities and different views and that these might be ever-so-slightly linked to the home they grew up in (social class, in other words. It exists. Get over it), must be wicked and ought to be illegal. They're still fighting a war against a society ruled by privilege and aristocracy and mine-owning plutocrats that largely ceased to exist during WW2. And they think they can shape the world to conform with their own woolly notions by bullying people, fining them and threatening old ladies with prison. And like trendy liberals for centuries past, they adopt a pose of extravagant contempt for the country that bred them.
These are the people who should be acting on the cruel and, at root, completely illegal teachings of the Wahabbis. The police chiefs, the officials in the CPS, the local government executives – not the politicians, you note. Politicians can talk and Michael Gove can be as tough as he likes about not allowing Wahabbi schools to pervert the minds of children, but he is powerless unless he is served by an executive with the balls to back him up, and he doesn't have that: we none of us do.
That's the beginning and the end of it, really. We have no balls. We don't like it up us.
There was a time when the British were a fighting race. We didn't always get things right, our wars were not always justified, we didn't always win, but when the chips were down we were bloody-minded and obstinate and dogged and if our nose was bloodied we'd come back tomorrow with a few of our mates. But not any more; New Labour has seen to that. Send troops to Iraq, that's fine. But when the ragheads let off a few firecrackers in our own streets we shiver and shake and demand that “they” should protect poor little us.
It makes you ashamed, really. My parents lived through the blitz. Am I still allowed to say that?
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