Recently we have seen, both the threat of violence and the denunciation of that violence from the same source. Islamic believers. Different Islamic believers, I hasten to add but the common denominator is most definitely Islam.
The threat and/or manifestation of such violence and the correspondent denunciation of violence does two things for Islam. It expands the place of Islam at the table of civil discourse. This place is maintained because of the denouncement of violence and the general ‘religion of peace‘ vibe but this place is actually strengthened because of the threat or actualisation of violence.
I am not suggesting that the actors who violate and the actors who denounce the violation are in cahoots. I am just noting the obvious – Islam is in no way harmed and is in fact only helped by it having a minority – only numbering in the hundreds of millions as opposed to billions, thus making it a minority – who will threaten violence and a smaller number who will bring to fruition the rotten threat.
I have to say that what I am proposing only applies to western, liberal, secularising democracies. A government dominated by Hindu nationalists for example will tend to see the world of Islam differently and time will tell, though our confirmed liberals may never be able to tell for dogmatic reasons, how accurate the Hindu view is or isn’t.
So why does this strengthening of the place at the table occur? There are a couple of reasons. In the western, liberal, secularising democracies, the denunciation from some of the Islamic community is what those at the table want and need to hear. Need to hear – if they are to remain in any way confident about a possibly peaceful future. But also they are glad to hear and entertain it because to consider a lack of denunciation and it’s implications would be too nightmarish. Nightmarish – both in terms of future possible events but more immediately because it would challenge the very foundation of their non-negotiable assumptions about the world.
The liberal worldview posits the view that ‘others‘, like muslims, real muslims don’t and so the dogma goes, can’t actually pose any threat to anyone in anyway. The counterpart to this underestimation is the overestimation of who can be an actual threat – an enemy of the state. There is an enemy within – those still holding too firmly to the Judeo-Christian perspective. The Christians, real Christians, are alas not ‘other’ enough. Christianity is the mother, father, and forbear to the western, liberal, and now through mutation, secularising democracy. And like so many children in this age of individualism, the child has grown to hate it’s parent, it’s past, it’s heritage. Now the sole enemy is the dark shadow of the West’s previous self. At the table, the liberals look soley at their forebears with suspicion. Generally speaking, everyone else gets a free pass. There are no enemies without, only enemies within. The shameful, historical, hegemonic, did I say shameful, colonizers are the Christians. Muslims, gays and the new kids on the block, the transgenders are their victims. All new arrivals are innocent. Not by proof but by dogma.
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The dogma of seeking to accept and value ‘the other’ without prejudice and critique is both an ideal of brilliance and strength but fast becoming the fatal flaw of the Western liberal society. Consequently, at the table of civil discourse, Islam, no matter what happens, good or bad, near or far, gets a free pass, gets to drape itself in the flag of victimhood and those at the table gather round it, puts their arm gingerly around its shoulder and gives a look of unqualified, supportive comfort.
I have no objection to some support and comfort and there is certainly much good that comes from the world of Islam; but it’s the unqualified, uncritical, liberally dogmatic approach to Islam that is objectionable, to my mind. Objectionable, unwise and almost certainly unsafe.
But let’s get back to the table. The assertion is made that the place of peaceful Muslims at the table of civil society is actually strengthened by there being Muslims that threaten, kill or just express support for threateners and killers. Dogma aside, what else is at play that strengthens Islam’s place at the table? Fear. Clear and simple.
Non-Muslims at the table are actually, counter-intuitively, frightened of Muslims in general, and especially of the killing kind. This is primarily because they can’t quite fully bring themselves to trust Islam; the religion which lies behind both types of Muslims frequently on the minds of western people – the good Muslims and the bad ones. The good ones thankfully outnumber the bad ones. By the way, all this good and bad descriptors are not necessarily Islamic descriptors but common sense desciptors. But these descriptors are fluid in regard to at least the persons being referred to. Sadly, there are now too many examples of those men and now women, from stable, well resourced, peaceful Muslim families and communities who have turned into the other kind of Muslim. The killing kind. Yes, thankfully a minority. But regrettably growing in numbers and now increasingly even challenging the peaceful Muslims to the point of death, to engage in war against the infidels – the un, non and dis-believers. The non-muslim is not even a muslim and then there’s the wrong kind of muslim – off with all their heads! Just like in the good old days.
Fear of any community or group can have the same effect as living, working or schooling with a bully. You give them a wide berth when you can and more room when you have to. They end up with getting their requirements met more easily and more often than others. Why is this? Because people are afraid of the consequences of not playing ball. Not playing ball, paying appropriate respect, not giving up what you thought was your reasonable entitlement, has consequences. Negative consequences.
Threats from one member of a family eases the way for other family members. Whether this is desired or not. Threats and violence even when denounced, still have a direct effect at the everyday table of generally peaceful people. There is a subconsious effect on all and a conscious effect on some at the table.
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Even at the table of light entertainment and sarcastic, cynical comedy, comedians don’t mock Muhammad or Islam. This is never out of respect and always out of fear. The brave ones, as one might call them on a very generous day, even admit this. Jimmy Carr – equally foul-mouthed and foul-minded, a man who wastes his God-given talents of wit and charisma – says on stage that his will to live prevents him making any kind of jokes which offend the person of Muhammad and then shows a cartoon of Jesus being …. I can’t actually finish this sentence. It’s so offensive. Jesus is my saviour and the Son of God. Jimmy Carr’s Saviour and the Son of God.
But Jimmy doesn’t respect or fear me as a Christian. He’s right not to fear me. Actually he doesn’t respect Muslims either but he does fear them. Not just the killing kind. But the book burning kind. Jimmy sells books and DVDs by the truckload. He really doesn’t want to spend his summer holidays with Salman Rushdie.
So dogma and fear combine to give peaceful Muslims a place of disproportionate strength and influence at the table of civil discourse; whether they want it or not, whether they dispise or regret this mechanism or not. Many, I’m sure regret this mechanism. It may be unislamic according to their brand of Islam but it is beyond their control. It just happens. It cannot not happen. The liberal uncritical dogmaticians with one eye closed permanently to the bad and the other eye optimistically open to the good lean in to ensure for Islam a place at the table (that’s good) and then automatically, unknowingly, expand that space and increase the deference for Islam (that’s bad). Dogma may be foundational but it is fear that is formative.
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