Fiddling while Rome burns

It is incumbent on the ‘silent majority’ of peace-loving Muslims to demonstrate to the societies which have welcomed them in their midst that they will not allow a vociferous and violent few to speak and act on their behalf

Welcome to the new normal?
Welcome to the new normal?

On opening the MaltaToday on Easter Sunday morning and coming across the editor’s op-ed on the comic strip artist and caricaturist Jean Cabu, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the editor was intent on moving away from the ‘trivial pursuits’ of covering political life on a small and so far happily tranquil island and towards the really big questions which confront Europe at present, and for a very brief moment this is exactly what Saviour Balzan did.

He labelled all religions as intolerant and a threat to freedom and agreed that we should not accept fundamentalism of the Christian or Muslim variety. Having declared his position regarding all religions Balzan nevertheless proceeded to recognize that Islam was “significantly more brutal when it comes to respecting the opinion of others”, which I take to mean, and I thread carefully here, lest I be accused of misinterpreting his words, that Islam scores less well when it comes to respecting ‘infidels’ – how is that for understatement?

But rather than developing his argument after this interesting opening, Balzan dedicates the rest of his article to talking about a very brave man, undoubtedly a praiseworthy effort in its own right, in what is essentially an extended tribute.

I trust that I may be allowed to draw readers’ attention to what I consider to be a somewhat more pressing matter on this Easter Sunday when at least 72 people have just been slaughtered and 340 injured as a result of a Taliban suicide attack targeting Christians gathered in a Lahore public park celebrating Easter, with the bomber taking special care to detonate his device in an area set aside for children to play. Police reports indicate most of the victims are indeed women and children.

Terrorism is the ‘new normal’, as this week’s The Economist aptly puts it, but I would go further and suggest that ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’ because this is not the work of isolated deranged individuals but the result of a systematic, long-term campaign, orchestrated from very high up which is infecting large swaths of the Islamic world.

Money no problem

This week I had the opportunity to view a documentary just out entitled Saudi Arabia Uncovered. Produced and directed by award-winning James Jones, who has also produced Children of the Gaza War and Secret State of North Korea, it is the latest addition to the Frontline series, the longest-running series of documentaries broadcast over the US Public Broadcasting System.

It is a ‘must watch’, leaving little to the imagination as to what awaits those who take the path of Sharia. Nevertheless, it is not so much the mutilations, stonings and beheadings which are common currency in both ISIS/Daesh territory and Saudi Arabia that was the most disturbing for me, as much as the huge resources that Wahhabi Saudi Arabia has invested in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the young worldwide in an effort to spread its ‘brand’ of Islam. 

According to Washington Post reporter David Ottaway, the Saudis have spent no less than seventy billion dollars towards this end, with the late King Fahd having boasted on his personal website about having established 200 Islamic colleges, 210 Islamic centres, 1,500 mosques, and 2,000 schools for Muslim children in non-Muslim states. All this sounds harmless enough until you hear what one 14-year old Saudi boy had to say on the programme about the content of Saudi Arabian textbooks printed in their tens of millions for use in Saudi Arabia and for export.

Concerning Christians the textbooks say that “All Christians should be punished with death until there are no more left. They should be beheaded.” The same fate awaits Shia blasphemers. If this is what is set aside for Christians and fellow Muslims of the other major persuasion, I cannot even start to speculate as to what fate awaits the third people of the Book, the Jews, let alone those who do not subscribe to any particular deity such as myself. Such is the charm offensive launched after the 1979 Grand Mosque Siege in Mecca by the custodians of Islam’s holy places and you surely cannot get higher up than that. 

But we do not have to wander off to far-away and ‘exotic’ Araby to observe this process underway. In 2009, after sanctions on Gaddafi’s Libya had been lifted and diplomatic ties renewed, the Libya-based World Islamic Call Society proposed to send 11 imams to lead prayers in a number of British cities.

Objections by UK-based Muslim notables and a tiff between the British and Libyan governments over the issuance of visas eventually led to the visit being cancelled but the Sunday Express of 8 September, 2009 had this to say about the World Islamic Call Society: “It is regarded as a moderate grouping that does not promote violence, has worked with the United Nations and is holding inter-faith talks with the Vatican.

But a recent speech by Colonel Gaddafi has fuelled concerns about the visit. The Libyan leader forecast that the whole of Europe would convert to Islam. He said: ‘This religion shall overcome all other religions before it. Their time has gone. It is his promise. Allah shall prevail this religion over the rest… There are tens of millions of Muslims in the European continent and the number is on the increase. The number of indigenous Europeans is falling drastically… The European continent will be converted to Islam… Europe will one day be a Muslim continent’.”  Malta’s Islamic Centre was established in 1984 by the Libya-based World Islamic Call Society. 

The Paradox of Tolerance

In my opinion, the key question facing Western society is what the philosopher Karl Popper referred to as ‘The Paradox of Tolerance’.  In his 1945 classic entitled The Open Society and its Enemies, one of the greatest philosophers of science of the twentieth century wrote that “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

Some years later, in 1971, the American philosopher John Rawls disagreed, arguing that a just society must tolerate the intolerant otherwise it would be intolerant and thus unjust but having said that he agreed with Popper that “While an intolerant sect does not itself have title to complain of intolerance, its freedom should be restricted only when the tolerant sincerely and with reason believe that their own security and that of the institutions of liberty are in danger.”   

The University of Malta regularly hosts events that give Muslims a voice on campus, no fewer than three in the month of March. One of the most interesting recently was a ‘Peace Symposium’ organized by the KSU and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat (AMJ) Malta, entitled ‘Sharia and State: The relationship between religion and state. Is Sharia a source of peace or violence?’

Setting aside the fact that the AMJ is itself a strand of Islam which has been branded heretical in Muslim countries from Palestine to Pakistan, and has been subject to persecution and had its followers systematically killed as infidels, it is also unfortunate that its 10/20 million adherents represent but a drop in the ocean of 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

As a consequence, the mild-mannered message of peace which they had to give is regrettably not representative of the Muslim religion in general. More pertinently the speakers did not, in my opinion, satisfactorily address my point that in decisions of 31 July, 2001 and 13 February, 2003, the European Court of Human Rights unequivocally declared that “…the institution of Sharia law and a theocratic regime, were incompatible with the requirements of a democratic society…” and held that Sharia represented a system of law that was in marked contrast to the values embodied in the European Convention of Human Rights.

Where do we go from here? In my opinion it is incumbent on the ‘silent majority’ of peace-loving Muslims to demonstrate to the societies which have welcomed them in their midst that they will not allow a vociferous and violent few to speak and act on their behalf. They, better than any number of law-enforcement personnel, can best clear the thrash from their communities, which for better or worse are now also our communities. In the longer term they must also learn to tolerate, or as the prominent political theorist Michael Walzer put it, behave “as if they possessed this virtue”. If it is the full Sharia experience they seek I, for one, shall not place any obstacles to them departing for Saudi Arabia.