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No wisdom mollycoddling Muslims

The revelation that Islamist terrorists in Birmingham were planning to kidnap, torture and behead a Muslim British soldier, and then post video footage of this on the internet, introduces a new refinement of barbarity into Western societies.

It is true that the IRA kidnapped and killed a Northern Irish Catholic who was a soldier in the British army when the IRA regarded itself as at war with the British state. That was barbaric too and it was ultimately the revulsion of the Catholic community of Northern Ireland against the IRA's tactics that led to the IRA eventually accepting defeat. It did this by abandoning its effort to separate Ulster from Britain constitutionally and by ending its armed struggle.

But the terror plot in Birmingham would have involved sadistic torture and murder against someone purely because of their religion. It would have been Muslim torturing and killing Muslim in the name of Islam, something frequently seen in Iraq, not previously in Britain.

The media reaction to the revelation was instructive. Last Friday, the second day of the story, it was already off the front pages of most British newspapers. The Times and The Telegraph still had the story on their front page. The left-leaning Guardian did not. Its main contribution was a full-page article arguing that prejudice against Muslims was the same as anti-Semitism in London 100 years ago.

Now let's be quite clear. Prejudice against Muslims is wrong, notwithstanding the depredations undertaken by Islamist terrorists in the name of Islam. But this is truly an absurd comparison which only a certain type of intellectual could believe.

While The Guardian author could hardly claim that 100 years ago there was a worldwide Jewish terrorist threat to rival the threat of Islamist terror today, the Jews, it was argued, were seen as being behind Bolshevism. But just as the majority of Jews were not Bolsheviks, so the majority of Muslims are not terrorists, and therefore the two prejudices are equally unjustified. A crazy logic chop.

Another piece in The Guardian argued quite reasonably that the majority of British Muslims were integrated into society and did not support extremist causes.

The also left-of-centre Independent newspaper ran an editorial expressing its chief concern that when the British parliament increased the detention without charge period for alleged terrorists from 14 to 28 days, it had "imposed a dangerous curb on our civil liberties".

The conservative Telegraph editorialised on almost exactly the opposite lines, saying that the police action in handing out leaflets to the Muslim community explaining the raids was a mistake, because it continued the idea that Muslims should be treated differently, that the police had to explain or apologise for their actions. When police arrest a Chinese gang they don't feel the need to explain that they are not outlawing Chinese-ness.

The BBC, which consistently shows that there are networks more biased than the ABC, ran some of its coverage with a line focusing on British Muslim soldiers and posing the scenario that serving your country contradicts serving the Koran. It was monstrous for the BBC to do this, as it accepts the Islamist contention that serving in the British army somehow contradicts the Islamic religion.

Too often when engaging the extremists, Western media and governents unconsciouslly accept part of the extremists' agenda. Numerous Australian Government leaflets about Australia and Islam feature women in traditional Islamic headdress. But many, probably most, Muslim women don't wear the headdress, so depicting them that way reinforces if not the extremists, at least the very conservative view that true Muslims cover up their women and true Muslim women cover up.

Several British papers reported that among Birmingham's Muslim community, and indeed among many of its notionally moderate mosq.ues and Islamic clerics, there was a widespread belief that the British police had made the plot up. It was all an invention to secure political support for Tony Blair and the war on terror. But the most interesting press reaction came in The Financial Times, which ran a thoughtful opinion piece focusing on recent polls of British Muslim attitudes.

Here, I'm afraid, we enter very troubling territory. The piece noted that with only 330 Muslims in the entire British armed forces, British Muslims enlist at about one-20th of the rate of the rest of the population. With 100 or so Muslims in the Australian armed forces, our performance is a little better than that of the Brits, but not much.

It is, I think, absolutely clear that the vast majority of British Muslims do not support terrorism. But what do they believe?

Only last year, the respected Pew polling organisation found that European Muslims have a more benign view of Europe than do Muslims in the Middle East. The exception is Britain, where 63 per cent of Muslims find Westerners "arrogant".

Such polls are important because a multitude of different people claim to speak for British Muslims and it's important to get as much real data as possible.

A wide ranging survey, Living Apart Together, carried out by the think-tank Policy Exchange, showed the majority of British Muslims have generally moderate attitudes. But the size of the minority with extremist attitudes is very troubling.

And in every category, younger British Muslims are more extreme than their parents. About 57 per cent of Muslims prefer British law to sharia law, but among 16 to 24-year-olds, 37 per cent would prefer to live under sharia. About 36 per cent of young Muslims believe apostasy — that is, a Muslim changing their religion — should be punished by death. About 13 per cent of young British Muslims admire al-Qa'ida and similar organisations.

About 74 percent of young Muslims want women to wear conservative headdress, compared with only 28 per cent of those over the age of 55.

It is fair to see this as a failure of British multiculturalism and integration, but these attitudes also represent a failure by the Muslim community.

It doesn't help Muslims to be unwilling to ask them the same questions that all citizens need to confront about freedom of religion, the rule of law and the rest.

Thomas Keneally in this week's Australian Literary Review is typical of a certain type of Western liberal in seeing all criticism of Muslim attitudes as reprising earlier strands of "ethnic hysteria", previously directed at Asian, east Europeans, and before that, the Irish. Keneally is here being ahistorical as he affects to survey Australian history. There was nothing in any of these earlier groups that in truth, as opposed to rhetoric, resembles either today's global Islamist terror or its ideological close cousin, extremely conservative and paranoid Islamism that may fall short of actually endorsing violence.

The liberal mind finds these questions impossible to deal with. The liberal state, on the other hand, cannot avoid them.


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Excellent and timely article! Daniel Pipes also said in a recent interview that a British survey showed that approx. 50% of Muslims would prefer sharia law in the UK. This horrific finding should be taken very seriously and should be a reality check about the dangers of this fast-growing religious group within any Western community.

Posted by MT on 2007-02-11 22:56:26 GMT