I’ve always had Muslim housekeepers. They’re clean and they don’t steal things. But do I worry about coming home one day to discover bomb-making equipment alongside the prayer mat and Koran that are now permanent fixtures in my living room? Yes, if I’m being completely honest. I do.
I suppose you’ll consider that racist, or Islamophobic, or simply outrageously discourteous to the nice husband and wife who assiduously clean and tidy my home. I’ll wager, though, that it’s a pretty normal response for a lot of people to Islam and its followers in the wake of terrorist attacks in our own countries and, recently, the re-establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East that has garnered support from British Muslims.
Last month, I was asked by Tell MAMA, an organisation that tracks anti-Muslim attacks, to comment on its annual report, which was released yesterday, as a sort of in-house devil’s advocate. I found myself disturbed by language that painted Muslims as victims and alarmed at how low the bar was set to meet the conditions of an Islamophobic “attack.”
Barely 25 per cent of the “attacks” the report pulls together even happened in the real world: the rest, as far as I can tell, were tweets. Looking at my notes, I see that next to a graph categorising online attacks as “threats,” “abuse,” and so on, I wrote: who cares?
I found myself, if I’m perfectly honest and as I’m sure others will be, more sympathetic to the fears and anxieties of non-Muslim Brits, who see their cities changing rapidly, their capital blown up with explosives and their neighbours flying to Iraq to establish Islamic states, than with the preciousness of Muslims who get into heated rows online and then go squealing to Tell MAMA because someone called them a “raghead”.
The report says Islamophobia has set community cohesion in Britain back 20 years. Forgive me, but I think you mean Islamic terrorism, its consequences and the social conservatism and judgmental attitudes of some Muslims. Tell MAMA seems to have its heart in the right place. So I may work with them again in future. But their output is incredibly frustrating to read.
The report focuses on the supposedly virulent anti-Muslim atmosphere in this country while refusing to acknowledge what might have led to that atmosphere, or why folks might find the appearance of the veil on British streets to be unsettling.
It concentrates on tweets and name-calling, when it could have examined the reaction from Brits in the wake of Lee Rigby’s murder (Tell MAMA has data on this; few others do) to work out how best to minimise ugly reprisals in the wake of terrorist attacks.
Because it’s clear: there are millions–possibly hundreds of millions–of Muslims dedicated to the destruction of the Western democratic tradition. Some academic literature puts the number of radicalised Muslims as high as 20 per cent, which rivals the population of the United States.
And beyond that, there’s the silent majority of Muslims and Muslims in the media who say all the right things when challenged, but who are, most are led to conclude, frustrated by some of the excesses of Western culture and silently sympathetic to some of the aims of Islamists.
That quiet sympathy–we might call it tacit support–together with a number of structural problems with the religion itself, perhaps provide an answer to the Times’s David Aaronovich, who cannot work out why there are no Muslim peace movements. (The answer seems obvious to me, but I’ve probably got myself into enough trouble already.)
The lack of outrage Aaronovich has identified in so-called moderate Muslims is what leads many to scoff at the moniker “religion of peace.” And it’s also true, I think, that most Muslim commentators in the public eye are a lot more socially conservative than they let on.
Take Salma Yaqoob, who clearly believes, but would not come out and say on Question Time, in segregated classrooms. Or the recently disgraced charlatan Mo Ansar, who tweeted liberal platitudes while sucking up to extremists in real life, and failing to deny that thieves should have their hands cut off “if sharia conditions were met.”
Even Mehdi Hasan, who sings in unison with the metropolitan Left on most subjects (but otherwise seems to be an OK guy), sometimes lets his guard down. I don’t buy his explanation for that creepy video where he says non-Muslims live as animals, and his tortured hand-wringing about gays.
Muslims who do challenge conservative orthodoxy, such as the Quilliam Foundation’s Maajid Nawaz, are rounded on by other Muslim commentators and accused of heinous disloyalty. Remember, apostasy is punishable by death in Islam, and a bone-chilling 37 percent of British Muslims aged 25 to 34 say they agree with this punishment.
There’s a feeling–certainly it is my own suspicion, and I think many ordinary people share it–that the Muslims we hear about and read in the papers and see on television would, if not quite institute sharia law in England, at least make concessions to the more terrifying, hard line versions of their faith, were they given the opportunity.
And I think ordinary people are right to be worried about it. They hear others on trains and in coffee shops defending the actions of Palestinian terrorists and railing against capitalism and brainwashing their wives and daughters into wearing oppressive clothing.
In fact, I have the utmost sympathy for those suspicious of Islam in all its various forms. These people aren’t “islamophobes.” They’re simply drawing the only conclusion they reasonably can from the data they have in front of them.
Vanishingly few Muslims in public life are outspoken enough against violence, terror and oppressive social attitudes. Maajid Nawaz is a rare exception. If there are moderate Muslims out there, let them show themselves. Perhaps one of them will even be brave enough to start a peace movement.
For now, Muslims would be better off not getting into unwinnable arguments and not telling tales when someone on the internet says something to which they object. And Tell MAMA should concentrate on real-world violence, not hatred on social networks, of which there is more, flying in every direction, than can ever be measured.
I asked my housekeeper this morning if she found my homosexuality repugnant. She said no, of course not. But then I asked if homosexuality should be outlawed in a Muslim country. She looked sheepish for a moment, then silently went back to mopping the floor.