Decent people of all faiths and political persuasions will have been appalled at the carnage at a mosque in New Zealand, where a lone gunman and confessed Nazi-sympathiser opened fire on worshippers. Subsequent media analysis has inevitably focused on the activities of far-right extremists and white supremacists, whose targets in recent years have included Muslims, Jews, and teenagers at a summer camp in Norway in 2011. They are motivated by the belief that Western civilization, embodied by a biologically pure white race, is threatened by the immigration of other races, most notably Muslims and Jews, and that violent resistance is necessary.
Some commentators, particularly those from the Muslim community, have gone further. Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, spoke for many when he drew attention to a general climate of ‘unabated Islamophobia and hostility against Muslims’, which was feeding extremist groups. Miqdaad Versi, also of the MCB, said that hatred of Muslims had ‘been normalised through a consistent stream of anti-Muslim stories in the media’. And Sayeeda Warsi, the former Conservative chair, complained that Muslims are being demonised, singling out Melanie Phillips, the Times columnist, who is Jewish. Meanwhile, monitoring groups report that there are record numbers of hate crimes against Muslims.
But what is the cause of this irrational hatred, this fear, this phobia, of Muslims? Presumably the psychological condition termed ‘Islamophobia’ did not arise out of thin air, out of some trauma or mass psychosis.
Let me suggest some perfectly rational reasons for a negative perception of Muslims to have arisen:
1 Suicide attacks on civilians in Britain and across Europe by Islamists who invariably cry ‘Allahu Akbar’. Twenty-three died and 139 were wounded, more than half of them children, in the Manchester Arena attack of 2017.
2 The mass rape of white teenage girls across Britain by gangs of Pakistani Muslim men; the subsequent cover up; and the denial that there is any religious or cultural dimension.
3 The persecution of Christians in the Islamic world. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Christians lose their lives every year. But blink and you would have missed any coverage of this in the mainstream media.
4 The covering of women on the presumption that women who are uncovered are dressed immodestly and excite the lust of men. As Sheikh Taj el-Din Al Hilali, the former Mufti of Australia, pointed out to his congregation in Sydney, women not wearing the hijab are inviting sexual assault by men. They are, he said, like ‘uncovered meat’.
5 The closing down of free speech and the institution through hate crime legislation of de facto blasphemy laws to prevent any criticism, or ridicule, of Islam and the prophet Mohammed.
6 The killing of twelve journalists and cartoonists in Paris for producing a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed.
7 The prohibition of music, art, literature and dance – the glories of Western civilization – in Islam.
8 The punishment under Sharia law of Muslims who renounce their faith – apostates – by death.
9 The belief prevalent among conservative Muslims that it is their duty to work toward the establishment of a caliphate in which Sharia law, God’s law, will reign supreme and Western secular society will be replaced by a theocracy.
10 Rampant antisemitism and homophobia among conservative Muslims.
11 Women in Islamic states being stoned to death for adultery.
12 The prime minister refusing to allow asylum in this country for Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian under death threat, because it might offend British Muslims.
13 The preaching of hatred of infidels in Salafi mosques funded by Saudi Arabia.
14 The labelling of anyone who wishes to discuss any of the above as ‘Islamophobic’.
Put this all together and is it any wonder that a perception has gained currency that Islamic values are not compatible with our own? That the presence of a fast-growing Muslim population, many of whom have no desire to integrate into our secular society, or to share our cultural inheritance, threatens our Western civilization?
Rational debate might lay some of these fears to rest. Or it might confirm them – and open the way to radical change in the way we view immigration and the integration of migrants into our society, as well as to a long overdue debate about how Islam can be reformed. But the systematic closing down of public discussion of these questions, the labelling of those who dare raise them as ‘Islamophobic’, the dogmatic repetition of the mantra ‘we are a diverse inclusive multicultural society’, merely affirms people’s fears and plays straight into the hands of the extremists, the white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Is it any wonder that conspiracy theories abound? Is it any wonder that mentally unhinged ‘lone men’ with delusions of power find their cause?