The Right to Mock

If there is one question that most concerns the public around the question of radical Islam it is “What is the connection between the extremists and the moderates?” Leading politicians across the Western world have not been much help in answering this question, insisting as they do, that radical Islam has nothing to do with Islam and that the extremists are as far away from the moderates as it is possible to be. Yet the public senses that this is not the case.

Despite the amazing lack of public debate about the actual contours of the discussion, the public knows that something is not right about the analysis provided by Liberal politicians and others. Indeed, the public notices not only that there is some connection between the two (something Democrats in the U.S., among others, deny) but that the connection may be closer than anyone would like. A fine example of this was thrown up in the UK this week in the space of just 24 hours.

On Friday the London Evening Standard carried a story about the police launching a possible “hate crime” investigation into literature that the paper had discovered being handed out at a London mosque. The potential “hate crime” was not even the best known variety — a mean Tweet or a nasty comment — but the sort of thing we used to call “incitement.” The literature being handed out at a mosque in Walthamstow consisted of a booklet which insisted that “any Muslim should kill” anyone who insults the Prophet of Islam. Those who insult the main man “must be killed,” it repeated.

The pamphlet backed up this point of view with reference to classical Islamic law and explained that in the case of those who “insult” Mohammed, such as apostates who “deserve to be assassinated,” it was not necessary to wait for any court or court judgement to rule. Better just to get on with it on your own, was the gist.

In a case that is becoming increasingly familiar to indigenous British people as much as it is to British Pakistanis, the booklet referred to the seminal case of Mumtaz Qadri, the Pakistani man who in 2011 murdered Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province. Qadri murdered Taseer because of the latter’s support for the reform of Pakistan’s strict Islamic blasphemy laws. The booklet explains that “all Muslims should support” the assassin Qadri and that even being what the publication calls “a big shot” like Taseer should not protect someone from being killed by any Muslim who feels like it.

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Can Islam ever accept higher criticism?

Last night’s Islam: The Untold Story will have made uncomfortable viewing for some people. It certainly seemed to be for one of the featured experts, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Iranian Islamic philosopher who had the look of a man whose faith is facing the rising tide of scepticism and godlessness. It is one Christians from the past century and a half, from the early days of higher criticism to the recent plummet in religious attendance, will recognise well.

In this atmospheric and intelligent documentary Tom Holland, whose recently published In The Shadow of the Sword took the burgeoning study of early Islam to a popular audience, looked at the early history of the religion and sought to explain what evidence we have for the traditional history, as viewed by the faithful.

“The evidence is almost nonexistent,” he says. “When you start looking, everything is up for grabs.”

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