Inherently violent?

Over at The Sharpener, Cleanthes complains at the smug tone I took against the Libertarian right. Perhaps he has a point.

I’ve been flicking through this month’s Prospect Magazine. The national discussion about our relationship to Islam continues, and Francis Fukuyama pin-points one of the underlying issues:

It is now the turn of young Muslims to experience this [modernisation]. Whether there is anything specific to the Muslim religion that encourages this radicalisation is an open question. Since 11th September, a small industry has sprung up trying to show how violence and even suicide bombing have deep Koranic or historical roots. It is important to remember, however, that at many periods in history Muslim societies have been more tolerant than their Christian counterparts. The Jewish philosopher Maimonides was born in Muslim Córdoba, which was a diverse centre of culture and learning; Baghdad for many generations hosted one of the world’s largest Jewish communities. It makes no more sense to see today’s radical Islamism as an inevitable outgrowth of Islam than to see fascism as the culmination of centuries of European Christianity.

This cannot be said often enough. Acceptance of this idea is the first step to co-operation with the Islamic world. And yet much of the discussions on this issue begin by implicitly assuming the former. Especially online, I find many pundits are all too keen to (smugly) point out yet another failing of some muslim or other, somewhere. inevitable retort, pointing out some transgression of some Christian group, or some Western government, is quick in arriving. No allies are won in this manner.

15 thoughts on “Inherently violent?”

  1. Robert,

    Absolutely agreed, but then I am not arguing that the current round of Islamist violence is inherent to Islam nor that Christianity has never had its share of violence, nor that there was never a period when Islam was more tolerant than Christianity or Atheism or anything.

    It just so happens that that is the position we have at the moment and we need people to accept that this is the case rather than, as the MCB or worse MPACUK et al are wont to do, denying it.

    I suspect that much of the problem (the assumption that Islam is inherently violent) is due to:
    – poor historical understanding on the part of the assumer
    – the fact that the difference in tolerance levels etc is much more visible now than it was for an earlier age, web 2.0 blah blah
    – the MASSIVE leap in living standards in the “enlightened” post-Christian West is also much more visible and which throws the failings of authoritarianism into such sharp relief.

    There is, however, one small quibble to make with that quote:
    “It makes no more sense to see today’s radical Islamism as an inevitable outgrowth of Islam than to see fascism as the culmination of centuries of European Christianity.”

    Whilst Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and the rest did not – and I am willing to be corrected here – AFAIK claim that their regimes and ethos stemmed from Christianity at all, whereas the proponents of radical Islam are very keen to tell us that they are following Islam as it ought to be and indeed that any Muslim that doesn’t follow their line shouldn’t really call himself a Muslim.

    It doesn’t mean that they are right, but it DOES mean that the true followers of that faith need to do some defending of it.

  2. It just so happens that that is the position we have at the moment

    Now we get to the second stage of the debate. All the muslims I know are tolerant of Western society, living, as they do, as a part of it. The statistics might suggest that there is a large minority who are less ‘enlightened’. However, Dave just reminded me of a very interesting quote from Murad Ahmed:

    “Here’s another thing that makes my blood boil. A poll for Policy Exchange last week found that about a third of younger Muslims would like to live under Sharia. Ask a stupid question. Ask these kids if they can explain the details of Sharia. When they can’t, ask them what they’re really upset about.”

  3. I think violence is the inevitable outcome of the human condition, whether its expressed in the name of Islam, Christainity, communism, fascism or any other ideology is irrelevant.
    Hitler, Jo Stalin and Pol Pot were virulently anti-religion and were hardly beakons of tolerance and understanding, so religion is neith a necessary, nor a sufficent condition for inter group violence, although an ideology (in it’s loosest sense) sort may well be.
    The point about Sharia law is intersting. I couldn’t care less what young muslims understand it to mean, it’s far more important that the non muslim population understand what it would mean in terms of equality, democracy and civil liberties. Lots of people in this country are “upset” why must we try and understand only a tiny number of them ?

  4. The point is that the statistics are used to bash the muslim population: “30% of young muslims would like to live under sharia law” or whatever. The inference is that Islam is inherently a corrupting force, which needs to be countered by an equal and opposite force. Fukuyama says that this is a false argument (so do I). Ahmed implies that such statistics themselves are less than reliable… so what the muslim population actually thinks is obviously of importance when we consider their veracity.

    I’m not suggesting that we only try and “understand” disgruntled muslims. There are plenty of other people who face problems of integration into society. over a hundred women die every year as a result of domestic violence, for example. This is, incidentally, equivalent to two 7/7 every year. There is a very real argument to be made that fundamentalist Islam is not the biggest threat this country faces. At the very least, we need to counter this notion that Islam is the new ‘spectre’ which haunts Europe. It is a fluid and complex thing, not a single behemoth to be beaten off, “them” versus “us”.

  5. “The inference is that Islam is inherently a corrupting force, which needs to be countered by an equal and opposite force.”

    That’s not the inference I would draw from it. We already have laws and cultural practices which are incompatible with Islam, so no further “opposing force” is needed. Provided the democratic process continues to function I see no reason why that would change. Notwithstanding statistics, which are used to bash/support all sorts of groups, I still think the real debate that needs to be had is what sharia law means in UK society.

    “At the very least, we need to counter this notion that Islam is the new ’spectre’ which haunts Europe. It is a fluid and complex thing, not a single behemoth to be beaten off, “them” versus “us”. ”

    I’m not sure who the “we” is in the above statement. It is for Muslims to persuade the populance that they are not a threat by integrating, something many are apparently failing to do. I disagree that Islam is any more “fluid and complex” than any other ideology. There are degrees of conformity to all ideologies, and religions have been crossing the boundaries of Nation States for centuries.

    Given the misogny inherent in Islam it’s intersting that you cite statistics on domestic violence as though somehow it’s comparable to the litany of petty and paranoid grievances from mulims which fill the media every day. A more valid comparison would surely be the number of women in Islamic countries stoned to death for “adultery” (aka rape under UK law) ?

  6. I still think the real debate that needs to be had is what sharia law means in UK society.

    Why!? If it does indeed constitue the profoundly illiberal laws, based upon revelation rather than democracy, we can pretty much dismiss it out of hand in the UK, can’t we?

    Given the misogny inherent in Islam it’s intersting that you cite statistics on domestic violence as though somehow it’s comparable to the litany of petty and paranoid grievances from mulims which fill the media every day.

    There’s that word inherent again, Matt. You seem to have slipped into precisely the attitude I was warning against in the original post. Isn’t it funny how misogyny in Islam is attributed to the religion, yet when people such as MK and Judith point out misogyny in Europe or in general (as they did in comments on a previous post) you dismiss this as either a universal problem, or at least a product of cultural factors, rather than religious.

    My argument would be analagous to Fukuyama’s, above: If misogyny is ‘inherent’ in Islam, then it definitely is also ‘inherent’ in Christianity too. Yet, if we complain about misogyny (or indeed, to recall recent debates, homophobia) within Christianity, we are accused of unthinking ‘Political Correctness’.

    Personally, I would attribute the misogyny to something inherent in ‘humanity’ rather than a particular religion. With your low opinion of human nature, I suspect you would agree with me, no?

    Citing human nature leads me nicely on to the answer to the other point:

    I’m not sure who the “we” is in the above statement.

    Humanity. Or Britons. Some of whom will be muslims, some of whom will be something or nothing else. They all want to live in peace together, and in fact they already, overwhelmingly, do precisely that. They are already allies. If a minority are failing to integrate, then it is for everyone to make the case for integration, not just moderate muslims.

    If anything, given the history of Europe over the past century, I would say it is the responsibility of the majority to convince the minorities that if they migrate here, they’re not going to be persecuted or ghettoised by the intolerance of that majority.

  7. I still think the real debate that needs to be had is what sharia law means in UK society.

    “Why!? If it does indeed constitue the profoundly illiberal laws, based upon revelation rather than democracy, we can pretty much dismiss it out of hand in the UK, can’t we?”

    If you dismiss it out of hand that you end up with a knee jerk tabloid representation of islam, which serves nobody well. What’s needed is informed debate. Surely muliculralism demans that we “understand” islam, and I for one do not wish to understand it through the filter of unrepresentative community leaders, the left wing media or the MCGB

    “If misogyny is ‘inherent’ in Islam, then it definitely is also ‘inherent’ in Christianity too. Yet, if we complain about misogyny (or indeed, to recall recent debates, homophobia) within Christianity, we are accused of unthinking ‘Political Correctness’.

    Personally, I would attribute the misogyny to something inherent in ‘humanity’ rather than a particular religion. With your low opinion of human nature, I suspect you would agree with me, no?”

    Completely agree with your second satement. Misogny is innate, and ideology is just a structured, codified way of expressing it culturally. The reason why it is “worse” for mulims to be misognistic is that they claim religious authenticity, meaning that their misogny can be legitimately attributed (to a greater or lesser extent) to their ideology. By contrast the majority of christians do not claim to adhere to biblical law and reject those parts of christianity which are felt to be anachronistic or unjust.

    “If anything, given the history of Europe over the past century, I would say it is the responsibility of the majority to convince the minorities that if they migrate here, they’re not going to be persecuted or ghettoised by the intolerance of that majority.”

    Couldn’t disagree more. Why should we encourage minorities to migrate here in the first place ? (and please don’t tell me my life will be “enriched” by being able to buy ethnic food at the local market or that polish plumbers are good for the economy). Presumably if you want to migrate to a country other than the one you are born in, it is with the expectation that you will adapt to that new society and prosper within it. If you do not wish to do that then why not stay put ? It is the expectation that society (rather than migrants) will change to accomodate minorities which cases ghettoisation, persecution and intolerance. The classic PC dynamic, of creating the problem and then claiming it is really the solution.

  8. Why should we encourage minorities to migrate here in the first place ?(and please don’t tell me my life will be “enriched” by being able to buy ethnic food at the local market or that polish plumbers are good for the economy).

    From what I see, the minority immigrant communities display precisely those qualities we apparently used to have, but now apparently lack: Respect for the family, parents, and the elderly; social support networks; a work ethic.

    That they unquestionably bolster the economy is not something to be scorned at. Similarly, that people want to come here and make a better life for themselves, is definitely something to be admired. In the case of countries less hospitable than the UK, encouraging people to come here for sanctuary and freedom is to be encouraged, and I’m proud we do it (read my earlier rant).

    Finally: It has always been thus. The human race is inherently nomadic. Peoples have been moving around the earth for millenia. One might almost say it is human nature. Accepting and embracing immigration is the pragmatic approach. You can never impose demographic purity on a region. Any attempt to try is dangerous idealism.

  9. Sorry – I’m open to many conflictring ideas but I draw the line at reading the Guardian.

    Those qualities aren’t exactly evident in the migrant, gun toting wannabe teenage gangsters of south London are they ? And the ecomonic contribution made by immigrants to the economy is a matter of some debate, with some estimates putting it at around 2p per person, per annum.

    You seem to be under the impression that I’m anti-immigration which, for a variety of reasons (not least the fact that I’m a second generation immigrant myself) I’m not.
    You are correct that people have always migrated, usually to flee persecution, in search of a better life or just a fresh start. That’s fine, come to the Uk, work, pay taxes, obey the laws and you and the country will benefit . I am, however, against the current policy of spending public time and money to enable migrants to maintain their own culture and not integrate. To give an example of this menatilty, I don’t want my taxes being spent on translators in local councils, police stations and schools, and every single piece of correspondence I get from the local authority being in 15 different languages whilst they tell us they “can’t afford” to police the streets, mend the roads or empty the bins. I don’t want my children being forced to learn about diwali at school, whilst being told that christmas is “offensive” just because some migrants are lucky enough to be offered a free education at the school he attends. Immigrants coming here should expect UK society to change them, not the other way round. No one is asking for demographic purity, just a cohesive society.

  10. I think the key is exchange. Both groups benefit when there is genuine and honest exchange. I don’t know where your family comes from, Matt, but my Polish grandparents came over to Canada and learned English and French and also became part of the community. They served a few French Canadians their first perogie, and to this day, my family still serves the authentic Lac St-Jean tourtiere every Christmastime. With an open mind, all kinds of wonderful things are possible.
    I think your anger at the local authority for saying they don’t have money to empty bins but they do have money to hire translators is misplaced. Just stop to think for a second what some of these initiatives cost. It’s certainly a pittance next to all the other waste, real waste – fraud of all kinds, fat expense accounts, etc., that goes on. Hiring a translator for £20/hour so that recently-arrived Farsi speakers know where to pay their Council Tax is a drop in the bucket.

  11. – and furthermore – even if it did amount to more than the proverbial drop in the bucket, it would still be justifiable. Save your venom for the really wasteful practices.

  12. Those qualities aren’t exactly evident in the migrant, gun toting wannabe teenage gangsters of south London are they ?

    Given recent news, this is a rather shaky assertion to make. It looks like you’re equating black and mixed-race people with immigrants. They’re not, and I don’t think it makes sense to blame migrants for gang culture in any case. Gangs and crime are not some kind of new, post-colonial phenomenon. Nor would gang culture appear to be something particular to an immigrant group. If anything, I would say its a feature of western culture, adopted by the poor. Gang culture is a class issue for all races and communities, surely. Shifting the blame onto migrants will not solve that problem.

    You do have a point, which is that if migrants are coming here just to end up in the lowest socio-economic groups, then that is going to be a problem. No-one denies this. But you do consistently frame the problem as being something inherently wrong with the immigrant peoples and cultures, and that those already living here share none of the responsibility for making it work, and none of the blame when it fails. I don’t think that is practical, or right.

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