A surfeit of moderation?

I’m not an islamophobe – at least I hope I’m not – but boy do some things about Islam really scare me. I want to understand these people, there are many things about them and their commitment that I admire, but they really do confuse me.

I live in Ireland and I cannot see any evidence of islamophobia here – they have their mosques, our President recently visited their splendid Islamic centre in Dublin and spoke very warmly and encouragingly to them. Significantly however, I thought, she encouraged them to try to help us to understand them more. We certainly need that help – and it is not always forthcoming.

Not many weeks before that address from the President I nearly choked on my Wheetabix one morning when I read a quote from a moderate spokesperson for the Islamic community here. He was talking about the experience of living in this country and how in general things were good for them. However at times, he said, things can get a little tense – like in the aftermath of the “incidents” in September, 2001 in New York and Washington, and the later ones in Madrid, London and Bali. “Incidents”? I looked again. Yes, that was the word he used. What, I asked, is going on in a mind like that? I can think of a thousand words which I would find to describe any one of those horrific atrocities before I would choose the word he chose. I wondered why – and I am still wondering. Does he really think these were mere incidents in the lives of ordinary people or is he using this word because he is looking over his shoulder to see who among his own people might be listening and weighing up what he is saying, finding it wanting in commitment?

To me there is still a huge question mark over the relative silence among what is described as the moderate Islamic world about the numerous “incidents” perpetrated in the name of the Islamic faith. There are those who deny that this has anything to do with faith but that is naive in the extreme. It may be a perversion of faith but if a 12-year-old boy is put on video slicing off the head of his enemy in a ritual execution, calling out at the same time, “God is great”, religion is at the heart of it. The Daily Telegraph reported: “The film, overlain with jihadi songs, then shows him hacking at the man’s neck, before exclaiming: ‘God is great!’ and hoisting the severed head by the hair.”

Where is the outcry? Why are there not statements of outright rejection coming from around the Islamic world? Why are there not mass demonstrations proclaiming “Not in my name and certainly not in God’s name do you do this”?

Nearer home this week we heard Scotland Yard’s Peter Clark, head of its counter-terrorism command, appealing again for help from within the Islamic communities in Britain to protect the British people against more terrorist attacks. Is the root of this reticence a tacit support for the terrorist or is it the effect of terror itself within these communities?

All this reminds me of an encounter with a student from Eastern Europe 30-odd years ago. He was doing post-graduate work here in Dublin. He was open and friendly in all things until it came to anything which touched on the politics or way of life in his own communist controlled country. He was not a communist but clearly he was afraid to say anything which might be negatively interpreted back home – and he wasn’t taking any risks that anything he might say should reach back home. It wasn’t that his life was necessarily at risk, but he certainly felt that his state-funded studies and his promising career back home were at risk.Militant Islam is an even more ruthless and lethal controlling agent than Communism ever was. That it draws on the great and inherently good power of religious conviction makes it even more lethal.

We must pity the unfortunate moderate Islamist who wants to practice a benign version of his faith. We might hope that one day the inherently false religion which is manifested in the malign version of the militants’ Islam will implode as Communism did. Do we hope in vain? Our hope would be stronger if we could see some of the courage among moderate Islamists that we did among the dissidents who helped contribute to the fall of Communism.