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Better understanding is needed between West and Islam

The vast majority of Muslims word-wide are peaceable, law-abiding and hospitable people. Nevertheless, the reaction to atrocities such as 9/11 and 7/7 is threatening relations with all Muslims. In The West, Islam and Islamism, now reprinted in an enlarged and revised edition by think-tank Civitas three years after its first appearance, Caroline Cox and John Marks argue that Islam and militant Islamism need to be distinguished, since a hostile response to Islamist terrorism could quickly become hostility to all Muslims. 'Islamism' and 'Islamist' are the terms now widely used to refer to radical, militantly ideological versions of Islam -- as defined by the practitioners themselves -- suffused with religious justifications for violent or revolutionary political action.

'It is our hope and intention in writing this paper that non-Muslims may develop a better understanding of Islam and better relationships with moderate peaceable Muslims, and that both Muslims and non-Muslims may thus develop appropriate responses to the current complex situation' (p.xiii).

The West, Islam and Islamism attempts to build bridges with the majority of peaceable Muslims. To this end we need to be able to conduct an open and mutually respectful dialogue. However, the situation is complicated by the way in which some defenders of Islam have tried to shut down the sort of full and free discussion which we expect in Western societies to be able to have about all systems of belief by accusing critics of 'Islamophobia' (p.104). Some fundamentalists :

'…select a few verses from the Koran or selected hadith and emphasise these at the expense of the totality of the verses and the sunna… Such people may be sincere. But they may also be disingenuous or even deliberately deceptive as justified by the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya which justifies conscious deception about faith for self-protection in a hostile environment (pp.193-4).'

Cherry-pickers' version   What they don't say
Islam is a religion of peace BUT Islam is not inherently a religion of peace-it defines 'peace' as submission to Islam. The often quoted suras of peace are cancelled out or abrogated by the later suras of war.
Islam forbids suicide: hence suicide bombers are un-Islamic* BUT Such bombers are regarded not as committing suicide but as shahid or holy martyrs in an Islamic jihad or holy war and are therefore guaranteed direct admission to 'paradise' and all the honour due to such jihad martyrs.
Islam is tolerant of other religions BUT Throughout the history of Islamic societies many non-Muslims have been killed if they did not convert to Islam and those that survived have been given a less advantageous status than Muslims.
Islam shows respect for the rights of Jews and Christians BUT Jews and Christians were only able to live within Islamic societies provided they accepted dhimmi status-a kind of second-class status which involved paying a special tax and having limited legal rights compared with Muslims.
Islam shows respect for the rights of women BUT Women are subject to considerable limitations on what they can do compared with men, both in private in the home and in public. In courts of law on many key issues the testimony of one man is equivalent to that of two women.
Jihad means to struggle to lead a good life BUT Jihad can mean striving for the good life but its main meaning is the militant and violent conquest of the world in the name of Islam.

* Note: A complication is that in some cases Muslims have been the victims of suicide bombers which has caused divisions amongst possible 'moderates' and Islamists alike.

Mega-mosque poses Olympics threat

The proposal to build a 'mega-mosque' in West Ham, close to the site of the 2012 Olympics, should be resisted, according to the report. John Marks and Caroline Cox describe how Tablighi Jamaat, an organisation with links to two of the London bombers (p.84), plans to build a massive mosque costing £100 million and accommodating 40,000 people in West Ham. This would become the headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat in Europe, replacing their existing European headquarters in a mosque in Dewsbury, built with Saudi money in the 1970s. The West Ham mosque would also be mainly financed by Saudi Arabia.

'While we cherish this nation's commitment to the fundamental values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including freedom to choose and change religion and freely to build places of worship, we are concerned about the lack of such freedoms in many Islamic countries. For example, in Pakistan, a major centre for Tablighi Jamaat, Muslims are not free to change religion; those who convert to Christianity face persecution and are sometimes liable to execution under blasphemy laws. And while Saudi Arabia has funded the building of very large numbers of mosques throughout this country, permission for building a single Christian church in Saudi Arabia has yet to be granted. Are we sure, as a nation, that we want by far the largest place of worship in our land to be sponsored by an organisation which holds values antithetical to those of our democracy and a religion which, in many parts of the world, denies essential freedoms enshrined in the UDHR, which sets out the principles on which our liberal democracy is founded?' (p.86)

Caroline Cox and John Marks explain that a mosque is much more than a building where religious teachings are given.

'The mosque is the very centre of the all encompassing political, social, military and religious activities of Mohammed and his followers as they set out-and continue to set out-to conquer the world for Allah and Islam.'

Challenges for Western societies

Western societies face two significant threats from Islamists. The first is that of terrorist atrocities. The second is described as the threat of those 'who argue for the destruction of the values and institutions of our open, liberal democratic societies' (p.131). Neither of these threats is being effectively dealt with.

Cox and Marks idenitify as a problem the readiness of the government to treat as representatives of British Muslims bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain. There have now been no fewer than three legislative attempts by the government to stifle free speech in order to repress criticism of Muslims, introduced at the behest of the Muslim Council of Britain, amongst other bodies. They have only been defeated by vigorous campaigns conducted in the teeth of opposition from the government and Home Office (p.133).

Cox and Marks argue that we must become more confident about proclaiming the real advantages of Western, liberal democracies, and show ourselves willing to deport Islamists who advocate the replacement of our existing legal system with shari'a law and the overthrow of our democratic institutions (p.139). They also call for an Arabic equivalent of the Helsinki agreement 'to make progress is identifying, reducing and eventually eliminating human rights abuses in the Islamic world and elsewhere' (p.142).

The challenge for Muslims

Cox and Marks argue that it is not enough for the vast majority of decent, peaceful, law-abiding Muslims to renounce terror in principle: they also need to renounce the view-frequently expressed by Islamists-of an inevitable war between Islam and the rest of the world. If they choose to live in Western liberal democratic societies, they must accept the values of liberal democracy-as Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and others have done for many years (p.145).

Moderate Muslims need to do more to distance themselves from Islamists by taking a more public stand on issues such as slavery in the Muslim world and the abuse of human rights, including women's rights (p.145). They need to work to redress the injustice of a situation in which Muslims are free to practice their faith in Western countries, but in most Muslim countries Christians, Jews and others enjoy no such freedom (p.151).

'It is our hope that Muslims will be able to respond sympathetically and to address these and other complex issues in ways which will increase mutual understanding between Muslims and those of other faiths, decrease the threat of Islamophobia and facilitate the mutual respect, appreciation and co-existence needed for the survival of contemporary civilisations' (p.xvi).

'The West, Islam and Islamism: Is ideological Islam compatible with liberal democracy?' by Caroline Cox and John Marks is published by Civitas, 77 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2EZ, tel 020 7799 6677,, price £12.00 inc. p&p.

For more information ring:

Caroline Cox and John Marks 020 8204 7336

Robert Whelan 020 7799 6677

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