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Thursday, February 15, 2007

British Jews, British Muslims and love's obligations

1. Discourse analysis, or 'How many fingers, Winston?'

I've only been away four and a half years, but in that time somebody's stolen my country...

'A supply teacher has been sacked from a secondary school following complaints from Muslim pupils. Andrew McLuskey was sacked from Bayliss Court Secondary School in Slough after a Religious Education lesson discussing the pros and cons of religion. Pupils at the predominantly Muslim school claimed Mr McLuskey said most suicide bombers were Muslim… The school authorities denied they were being heavy-handed and said their first priority was pupils’ welfare. ‘I don’t think it’s important what I think,’ said the school’s deputy head teacher Ray Hinds. ‘It’s what the pupils think that were in the classroom at the time. And they were very upset.’ '

Well, maybe the school was doing no more than recognizing its pupils' precocious talent in the field of discourse analysis...

'"Anti-fundamentalist images provide racists with a legitimising discourse against Muslims," as [Pnina] Werbner [professor of social anthropology at Keele University] puts it, which is used by "intellectual elites as well as 'real' violent racists"'

(from an article to which I shall return)

Melanie Phillips, via whom the above BBC report comes, is therapeutic in such cases. So, last week, was the Sunday Times' Minette Marrin. In her previous effort Minette disappointed me by making a brief excursion into Grauniadia: as part of the very necessary ritual commination of homophobia, she seemed to suggest that there is nothing particularly special for children about having one parent of each sex. But she's forgiven, for here she speaks from the heart and speaks for Grumpy:

'How can one not feel a furious, frustrated rage at the betrayal of our civilisation and our safety?'

2. Four Defend the MCB

How indeed, yet of course some people manage it with ease. If there is rage, its targets are very different. Melanie quotes a letter to the Guardian whose four signatories are appalled at the Muslim Council of Britain being likened to the British National Party.

What an unholy alliance this quartet represents. The shamelessness of Concentration Camp Ken is already established, and it is no longer remotely surprising to find him leaping to the defence of the MCB in the very week in which they were once again absent from Holocaust Memorial Day. Sadiq Khan MP is no doubt sedulously representing the interests of his constituents. Or at least some of them. Brendan Barber says he is General Secretary of the TUC, and I have no reason to doubt him. It is one of the enduring legacies of the Thatcher years, and not one of the worst, that nobody these days needs to know who the General Secretary of the TUC is. Not unless you're into pub quizes. And then there's Cristina Odone. Well, I really have tried very hard to give her the benefit of the doubt over the years, as I always have a soft spot for left-footers, but now it must be said: not, I mean, that she shares Ken's cynicism, but that she is living proof that you don't need brains to succeed in journalism.

Because the point about the MCB is very simple. The anti-Semitic and extremist leanings of its leaders are a matter of public record. Let's recall again that they have boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day. The unqualified claim that they are 'opposed to racism' is thus one that can only be swallowed with the help of a good swig of Livingstonian casuistry. So, two possibilities: either they do not speak for the majority of British Muslims, in which case nobody should be talking to them, and Muslims need to get themselves some representative representatives as a matter of urgency. Or they do speak for the majority of British Muslims, in which case we have a problem which no amount of huffing and puffing from Concentration Camp Ken and friends can obscure.

If you don't like the BNP analogy, Cristina, compare the MCB to an umbrella organization in which the BNP (like the MCB a perfectly legal organization, be it noted, and representative of the not insignificant number of people who vote for it), the National Front and various people who think Combat 18 are cool rub shoulders companionably with the Tory Party. Would you be firing off letters to the Grauniad insisting that such a body 'must be engaged with by decision-makers'? Nope, didn't think so.

3. The New Jews?

The Famous Four, or Famous One and Friends, would doubtless agree with Maleiha Malik, a speaker at Ken's Clash of Civilisations conference, now also writing in the Grauniad, that Muslims are the new Jews. Well, sorry to harp on so boringly, but you might hope that the new Jews would have enough empathy with the old ones to turn out for Holocaust Memorial Day. And anyway, by a neat coincidence the Community Security Trust published its report into anti-Semitic incidents last year the day before Ms Malik's article appeared, and the 31% increase over 2005 tends to suggest that the new Jews are, errm, the Jews. The new Jew-baiters look a bit different from the old ones, though...

'Physical descriptions of incident perpetrators (using the 'IC1-6' system) were provided in 205 of the 594 incidents reported to the CST. Of these,
- 96 were White (47 per cent),
- 4 East European (two per cent),
- 28 Black (14 per cent),- 60 Asian (29 per cent),
- 1 Far Eastern (one per cent) and
- 16 Arab (8 per cent).'

- from Harry's Place, where it is also noted that 92.1% of the population of England and Wales is white.

Ms Malik's piece offers a fine case study in the abuse of historical analogy:-

'All this happened a hundred years ago to Jewish migrants seeking asylum in Britain. The political movements with which they were closely associated were anarchism and later Bolshevism. As in the case of contemporary political violence, or even the radical Islamism supported by a minority of British Muslims, anarchism and Bolshevism only commanded minority support among the Jewish community. But shared countries of origin and a common ethnic and religious background were enough to create a racialised discourse whenever there were anarchist outrages in London in the early 20th century.'

Yes, and what happened after that? As time passed it became obvious that the anarchist menace really wasn't that much of a big deal. People stopped being scared. Less fear, less fuel for anti-Semitism. Result: the vast majority of Jewish immigrants who wanted to integrate into British society, whilst they may have faced some tough challenges (Mosley etc.), ultimately found no insuperable barriers to their doing so.

Let's look a little closer at that 'anarchist menace'. The analogy with present-day Islamism breaks down at just about every possible point. For a start, to state the obvious, anarchism was not any kind of offshoot of Judaism. Jews may have been disproportionately represented among the anarchists, but by no means all anarchists were Jews. And those who were were not likely to be religious Jews.

And then there are fundamental differences in both the scale and the nature of the violence. Says Ms Malik, 'In Europe [anarchist violence] claimed hundreds of lives'. Phewee! How many hundreds? Maybe about as many as are claimed by a couple of weeks' worth of insurgent bombings in Iraq? Maybe 10% or even 20% of the toll from 9/11?

She goes on to tell us that these lives 'including those of several heads of government'. Well, precisely. And particularly the heads of repressive authoritarian regimes like those of Russia and Spain (some info from Wikipedia). Yes, those were the days when lefties thought that the legitimate use of violence was in the overthrow of tyrants - my, don't times change. Anarchist exponents of 'propaganda of the deed' were very often scrupulous about avoiding any risk to the innocent - a phenomenon explored by Albert Camus in his play 'The Just'. To draw more than the loosest parallel with last Saturday's carnage in Baghdad - or with Madrid, or with Bali, or... - is fairly obscene.

And this gives us a clue as to why the anarchist scare in Britain was a nine days' wonder - as it certainly was. Ms Malik cites as a case of anarchist violence in Britain 'the bombing of Greenwich Observatory in 1894'. Erudite stuff, huh? Bet you didn't know the Greenwich Observatory was bombed in 1894 either. Happily, however, you and I have access to Google and can consequently become as well-informed as Ms Malik in no time at all. And then we will know what she felt it was unnecessary to tell us, viz. that this curious 'outrage' produced just one casualty - the bomber. He was a Frenchman by the name of Martial Bourdin, and if Ms Malik thinks he was Jewish (as we're invited to infer from her allusion to the incident) I'd like to know what her source is.

And, as far as Britain was concerned, that was just about as bad as it got. Why? During this period Jews were fleeing to Britain from the Russian Empire. They'd experienced a system where the Tsar's word was law and pogroms went unpunished, and now they were living under one where the laws were made by people who could get voted out, and where policemen had to obey them. I don't want to get too misty-eyed, but I think it's fair to say as a generalization that they noticed the difference, and that - o, most underpractised of virtues in our victim-whine, entitlement culture! - they were grateful.

To recap on Ms Malik's historical analogy:-
  1. Then: radical movements with leanings towards violence, but no terrorist murders of British civilians.

    Now: terrorists have already killed dozens of innocent British civilians; attacks foiled by the security forces could have claimed hundreds more lives.

  2. Then: no connection between anarchism and Judaism. Most Jews not anarchists; many anarchists not Jewish.

    Now: violence committed exclusively by Muslims claiming to be acting in the name of their faith.

  3. Then (according to Ms Malik): association of anarchist violence with Jews produces 'racialised discourse'.

    Now: overwhelming consensus in media, politics, education etc. that it is unfair to scapegoat the Muslim community as a whole for the behaviour of a minority. Widespread attempts to go beyond this by branding the plain statement of fact in point 2 as 'racialised discourse', and suppressing it e.g. by sacking teachers (or disciplining students for satirical contributions to college magazines).
I reckon 3 out of 10 would be a generous mark.

But it is vital not to forget that there are indeed British Muslims who are like those Jewish immigrants of a century ago. People who got a chance to begin a new life in another country and would never, however imperfect that country's hospitality, think it right to repay it with bombs. And children of those first generation immigrants who are British and proud of it. There is a terrible danger of their becoming invisible, ignored both by both Right and Left, by those who fear that all Muslims are potential anti-Western jihadis and those who hope that they are. It's often a thankless business being a moderate - think of Northern Ireland, with Sinn Fein and the DUP poised to divide the spoils at Stormont between them.

And yet these are precisely the people who, to borrow the Famous Four's phrase, 'must be engaged with by decision-makers'. Not the apologists for terror (and let's not dignify them with the title 'radicals'), who should be dealt with in the ways outlined by Minette Marrin. Not two-faced 'community leaders' whose moderation is barely skin-deep, who should be denied the credibility they haven't deserved.

4. The Circle of Love

Archbishop John Sentamu of York says that our approach to would-be bombers should be one of ‘drawing a large enough circle of love which includes them and us’. It is a laudable Christian sentiment, even if the words in which it is expressed are, I must admit, disappointingly banal coming from so eminent a speaker. However, because we also wish to include patriotic Muslim soldiers threatened with decapitation in our circle of love (do we not, Dr Sentamu?), the love which we extend to the aspiring decapitators must be decidedly of the tough variety. And in fact I must after all make so bold as to correct the Archbishop: Love cannot ‘draw circles’ around people willy-nilly, it can only extend an invitation which the other is free to accept or reject.

Responding to Dr Sentamu as Christian to Christian, I would say that it is important to recognize the point at which a realistic humility tips over into self-indulgent self-flagellation. In this life we will never be wrong when we accuse ourselves of having too little love, and yet it is no small love that we show simply by not seeking to kill those who would kill us, even if our emotions towards them are far from loving. But we are not showing young Islamists a greater love by confirming them in the belief that their entitlement to nurse grievances is proportionate to their willingness to embrace violence – on the contrary. For by doing so we deny them the truth, and thus fail in one of Love’s foremost obligations.

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