Friday, 25 February 2011

Who will cast the last stone?

Palestine Grafities
I was standing behind an old gent in the queue at Barclays a couple of days ago. He was talking at the woman behind the counter about current events in Libya and Egypt - how it's always been the same - the Muslims, fighting amongst themselves. He was out there in the forties apparently - in Suez. 'These Africans' he said 'they need a dictator to keep them in line.' (He didn't say 'These Fuzzie-Wuzzies' but I felt the term was in the air.)
As he turned to leave I wanted to say to him 'and yet the most mindlessly brutal wars in history happened only a few decades ago among us 'Christians', in Europe', but of course I didn't. He wasn't giving us a piece of penetrating political analysis. He was just having a go.
It wouldn't even be worth reporting if I didn't feel though that his views were widely held in this country and across Europe. Lady Warsi's point a few weeks back about the tacit acceptability of anti Muslim prejudice among otherwise respectable, intelligent, middle-class folk strikes me as having a lot of truth to it (although, here in Mid Sussex, where ethnic minorities are less obvious unless you visit a take-away, the role is generally reserved for the gipsys.)

I'm not saying that there isn't a heck of a lot of bad stuff going on in The Muslim World at the moment, and has been for some time. It's disingenuous to claim, as the more Politically Correct among us like to do, that anti-terrorist measures should not 'target' Muslims. At the moment, like it or not, if you meet a terrorist, they're likely to be a Muslim. (This is absolutely not the same as saying 'If you meet a Muslim, they're likely to be a terrorist'. Some people don't seem to be able to tell the difference between these two statements.) At this moment in history, what terrorism is being carried out is being carried out mostly by Muslims. At other times in other places it's been the Catholics or the Protestants or the Anarchists or the Communists or the Fascists (who could conceivably be lumped together under 'Atheists'). Nobody is exempt. Everybody has been at it at some point in history. At the moment it's Islam's turn. Likewise armed insurrection and brutal dictatorship. Oppressed nations today would have found Tudor and Stuart England remarkably familiar with it's political killings and brutal repression of ethnic and religious minorities at the whim of the local despot.

Probably the only blameless nation until very recently would have been the Jews - universally reviled and used as scape-goats throughout history - only after the end of World War two did the Christians finally in any serious way face up to what had been happening and even then we managed to lay all the blame on a couple of maverick regimes (Fascism and Stalinism) when in fact they were just the latest examples of something that had been going on for millennia - almost as long as the Jews had existed. After the war Judaism accrued an unprecedented level of good-will and sympathy from Christians which is why now there is a widespread sense of betrayal and disgust (though we do not admit it openly for fear of being seen as anti-Semitic*) at what is being perpetrated by the Israelis against the Palestinians. Apparently it is widely believed among ordinary Christians that the Israelis and Palestinians are more or less equally to blame for what has happened in the Middle East. (Some even seem to be under the impression that 'The Occupied Territories' are Israeli lands occupied by Palestinian Muslims.) The treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis during the founding of Israel included genocide, deportation and incarceration in prison camps and shows that the Israelis had learned nothing from the events of the previous decades except how to subjugate a weaker nation on the grounds that they were The Chosen People and that this was The Promised Land (as if that argument should hold sway over anyone of any other faith.) To this day Israeli casualties are a tiny fraction of Palestinian deaths (something like 100:1) - hardly surprising when the former are armed by the USA and the latter are armed with what amount to heavy duty fireworks.

The nations of Europe have been at each other's throats throughout much of recorded history. It was the Europeans that carried out The Crusades and the Inquisition, built the concentration camps and the Iron Curtain - genocide and torture comparable with anything anywhere else in human history. And then we exported it across the Atlantic and obliterated the people we found there and bought Africa into slavery. The Americans went in for racial segregation, anti-communist witch-hunts, eugenics, weapons of mass destruction and mass incarceration of ethnic minorities on a scale only seen in modern times in third-world countries. The greatest threat not just to peace but to life on earth came to an end only twenty-two years ago after more than forty years' stand-off between two 'Christian' nations and their allies. (I'm talking about The Cold War of course.) I'm not anti-American by any means but as the dominant nation on earth at present they must stand up and take most of the flak for how things are, both at home and wherever they meddle in the local politics abroad .

For a long period, when the Christians were squabbling and bickering (ostensibly about what Jesus wanted them to do, but in truth about who controlled what land) the Islamic world was a place of relative peace and civilisation. When the Christians took a break from the carnage it was the Persians who had kept safe the legacy of classical learning. Left to our own devices we probably would have burned the lot and dismembered everyone connected with it.

But I don't want to give the impression that I am an apologist for all things Islamic. They have plenty to answer for, including genocide, torture, oppression of women and religious minorities, despotism and war. (There's no need to go over the details.) Global terrorism is only it's most obvious and contemporary feature. But faith has been used to excuse violence everywhere and throughout history. Violent extremism is no more intrinsic to Islam than to Christianity or Judaism or indeed Atheism.

Of course the obvious retort is that none of that could ever happen again here in England. We're moved on haven't we -  civilised, democratic, affluent. We'd never stoop to that kind of intolerance and brutality. Of course not.
It's all these immigrants that's the problem...

* which I am absolutely not. I am against militaristic regimes and the oppression of minorities.


Vincent said...

I think it is well to remind ourselves that prejudice of all kinds is endemic to the human race, which has always treated alien tribes like different species. Living in England, it's easy to imagine some eternal moral opprobrium, so that anyone offending the rules can be condemned out of hand.

When we look more closely, we see that expressions of prejudice have been outlawed in our country for practical rather than moral reasons. One set of laws happened after race riots. They have been extended to include religion when the threat of religious extremism came along. So these laws (which inhibit freedom of speech) are justified on the grounds of public security and order.

Other laws, relating to "equality", are justified on a different basis. Prejudice against women or homosexuals in the workplace is less likely to threaten public security and order, except to the extent that pressure groups themselves threaten violence. We may say that in these matters democracy has spoken, but the lobbyists have worked very hard to change public opinion. (The same argument applies to the abolition of slavery. William Wilberforce was a pioneer in activism.)

I feel it's important not to get on one's moral high horse about this stuff, don't you agree?

Steve Law said...

Not at all Vincent. This is exactly the kind of thing I keep my high horse for.

Vincent said...

Progressive/reactionary divide, again!

ashok said...

This is a wonderful, very well written and well organised blog Steve with thoughtful posts. I have added it to my favorites.

Steve Law said...

I'm not sure what you mean by 'progressive' then Vincent.
Thanks Ashok - but it's really just me having a rant. It's better than being one of those scruffy people who shouts at nobody in the street.

Vincent said...

Well, I think progressive ultimately means that one believes that things can be manipulated so that the future can be better than the past; whereas reactionary implies that things can be better if we return to older ways.

Progressive is also used as a synonym for the political Left, I think. On the same basis, reactionary is a synonym for the political Right.

Steve Law said...

Well then I'd say I have a bit of both. I don't find such labels very useful really. I like to write about how the world could be better and that would probably entail a bit of 'manipulation' - whether to make things more like they used to be or to do something new.