Category Archives: #Islamism

When #LoveWins is not enough.

Many years ago, when political slogans first became fashion accessories, Brother Ivo used to occasionally wear a badge bearing the slogan ” Wearing badges is not enough”.

The badge was lost somewhere along the way, and probably would not be worn now in any event, yet its recollected message was a useful reminder as images have emerged in the media, following the dreadful murders in Orlando.

Nobody can can blame those who have been lighting candles, holding vigils, and joining hands in Great Compton Street singing ” Bridge over troubled water” ; we instinctively want to do something, to show solidarity with the bereaved, and to reassure ourselves that we shall overcome.

Yet wearing badges is not enough. Hashtags do not cut much ice in the councils of Daesche, and the sad individuals trawling the internet to feed their homophobia or misogyny will view all this as confirmation of our moral weakness and national cultural degeneracy.

Terrorism is not new. Russian anarchists took to it in the 19th century, so did Irish Republicans. The tactic of the suicide bomber was developed, not in the Middle East, but by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Yet the present virulent strain began when a couple of thousand fighters were marauding around Iraq with little more than heavy machine guns mounted on pick up trucks, as the leader of the free world dismissed them as the ” JV (Junior Varsity) Team”.

The ISIS phenomenon was allowed to grow, when a decisive response by a more experienced or resolute US President might have prevented them from capturing vast military resource and, crucially, over a billion dollars in cash which has been used to swiftly mount a social media operation to outreach to the second generation immigrants in first world countries, who seem especially susceptible to their encouragement to actions such as we have seen in Paris, Brussels and Orlando.

The old adage ” nothing succeeds like success” applies in this field and it is worth reminding ourselves that the ” glamour” of the Waffen SS attracted recruits from France Holland Norway and Sweden. Even a few British prisoners of war joined them. There is something horribly attractive to young men in such gross and violent organisations, yet the converse is also true. Failure is not a great spur to recruitment. Young people especially, disassociate from it.

It is with this in mind, that Brother Ivo sadly concludes that the destruction of all semblance of ” Islamic State” is essential,: until it is, it will continue to function as a focus for Muslim youth when it wants to demonstrate its rebellion.

This sounds shocking. Many want to choose different “enemies”, less frightening ones. So the Orlando killings are blamed on the National Rifle Association, Donald Trump, Christian cake makers and those who disturb student sensitivities with challenges to their complacencies.

Yet one does not have to spend long considering the attitudes of militant Islam to start joining the dots between the extremist pulpit and the smell of cordite.

Though many kindly tolerant people find it deeply uncomfortable to associate their decent Muslim friends and neighbours with what -in other contexts -would be called ” hate speech”, it is unquestionably true that anyone looking for theological texts to justify the destruction of gay people, will not find the Koran lacking in such material.

We in the Christian Churches are struggling with a a handful of texts in our Bible as we try to be inclusive. Ours are less trenchant than those confronting moderate Muslims. Those seeking to read the Koran in a more ” gay friendly” fashion have infinitely more problems. One does not hear of “shared conversations” in UK Mosques; if they occur, it would not be safe to publicise them. Once that might have been conceivable; not anymore.

A recent international survey of attitudes to LGBT lifestyles shows that the Islamic world is resolutely hostile, with the percentage spectrum ranging from the high 70’s to 99%. Even in the UK 52% of Muslims believe it should still be illegal. In at least 10 Islamic countries there is a death penalty for gay behaviour.

Unless addressed, it must surely be the case that a growth of Islamic identity and population within the UK must have a potential for a cultural collision with the gay-friendly zeitgeist within the UK.

In parts of a London and other cities, we are seeing the defacement of public advertisements depicting females with less than Islamic modesty. The New Mayor of London is banning certain images from Transport for London for reasons couched in feminist terms yet congruent with Islamist attitude.

The likelihood is that “Culture Wars” may get worse before it gets better.

So how are we to head this off?

The !eft of politics in particular has been keen to attract support from sectional interests; they have not wanted LGBT people or Muslims to feel excluded from mainstream society. That sounds reasonable enough. It is an admirable aspiration. Yet what will be required of all sections of society if that is to be achieved? What if they are not interested, but inflexibly prefer to assert their religious and cultural rectitude?

Defeating Islamic State whilst holding the confidence of the UK Muslim population and simultaneously advancing gay rights, looks an increasingly difficult trick to pull off.

Wearing badges is not enough.

 

Who is Mohammed? (and who can answer?)

” Who is Mohammed?”

This was the rather arresting headline on the front page of Brother Ivo’s free local newspaper. With such an attention grabbing front page it thereby avoided being cast aside unread, and partial answers were seen to be offered in the words of George Bernard Shaw, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Carlisle and others, all offering respectful opinions telling us how unique, compassionate and utterly admirable he was.

How much these alleged character witnesses knew of the man is not entirely clear, yet their high opinion of the Muslim prophet was plainly advanced to whet our appetites.

If the present tense of the headline had not alerted him, the offer at the foot of the page gave the game away, with a website offering to take the reader to the Qu’ran online and a telephone number to call to obtain a free copy.

This was paid advertising.

It was all very enterprising.

Who this man Mohammed was, is indeed an interesting and important question in the modern world, so putting the question into the public domain is superficially to be welcomed, and yet, it brings with it, a necessary corresponding question. Can any alternative view be safely advanced examined and published?

Can it be said in a local newspaper that , for example , Mohammed was a trader whose travels around the Arabian peninsular brought him into contact with the Gnostic Christian heresies which fled and established themselves there after being rejected by orthodox Christianity at the Council of Nicea?

Could one advertise, or respond through the letters page that his reporting of Christian historic belief and doctrine was/is demonstratively false and misleading – something which God is not likely have got wrong had the Qu’ranic revelation truly been a Godly revelation?

Might anyone say that Mohammed became a warlord capable of generosity and mercy, yet also according to Islamic sources, responsible for the murder of prisoners, a whole tribe of Jews,  the poisoning of critics and the sexual abuse of his 9 year old child bride?

Will anyone explore the circularity of his truth claims?  Mohammed is God’s final prophet, so says the Qu’aran, brought to you exclusively by Mohammed who is to be believed because he is God’s prophet etc..etc

Would the paid advertisers allow others to engage with the question by pointing out that if Mohammed lived today, the principle question raised by the modern secularists would be whether he should appear first before the Central Criminal Court, the International Court at The Hague for modern day war crimes, , or the Child Protection Court?

It may be unduly sceptical, but Brother Ivo will not be looking at the letters pages over the next few weeks in expectation of vigorous theological jousting, neither will he encourage others to offer paid advertising of a contrary opinion to those encouraging us to embrace Mohammed and his reported revelations.

It is much to be welcomed that Muslims have taken the trouble and paid the costs of putting the question “out there”. The problem is that a full engagement will not occur because the newspaper will censor serious critical engagement with the chosen question, not least, lest some of Brother Ivo’s identified issues be raised.

None of them are new, yet all are legitimate questions.

Nobody is similarly inhibited over questioning Christianity.

If Brother Ivo declared” Jesus is Lord”another can, and doubtless will riposte “Oh no he isn’t”, and Brother Ivo accepts that as a price worth paying for the freedom to speak the truth as he sees it. That is the Faustian bargain that believers and non believers have struck in order to create the largely tolerant free flow of ideas within our society and this is precisely what differentiates it from the intolerant regimes that many have fled, together with the violence and strife that follows soon after.

It is not that we have avoided intolerance; rather we have learnt to live with challenges to our values as the least worst option.

Even if the newspaper were to be willing to put its editor and staff at risk, many in the community will have taken note of what has happened in Paris and Copenhagen to those bold enough to apply criticism to the object of Islamist veneration. Many will avoid engaging with the question posed – and that too is a betrayal  of our most valued contribution to peaceful society – the honest and peaceful acceptance of difference of opinion.

When historian Tom Holland wrote and presented a critically acute historical examination of a Islam for Channel 4, ” Islam The Untold Story”, it did not make it to a public screening: such were the sensitivities of Mohammed’s admirers which the broadcasters were at excessive pains to protect. Most people know this and act accordingly, censoring criticism rather than risk controversy. That is how religious freedom dies, not with a bang but a whimper.

All this presents a Brother Ivo with another of his many paradoxes.

He wants to welcome the decision of some Muslims to ask their question, but can only do so provisionally. Engaging in public religious discourse in a pluralistic society carries responsibilities as well as rights. If one asks open questions about one’s faith, all involved have to expect and accept an uncensored and potentially offensive subsequent debate.

So do we have it – or do we walk away?

It takes two to tango and the Taliban are not fans of Strictly Come Dancing.

The events in France this week have challenged us all to make sense of troubling events.

Many conclusions will be drawn,  frequently according to our preconceptions.

“Don’t trust Muslims”,

“Don’t demonise Muslims”,

“To hell with all faith”,

“Close the borders”

“Repent of our foreign policy”

“Redistribute more wealth”
“Send in the diversity co-ordinators”

Never has a problem had so many seemingly obvious causes or instant solutions.

The more Brother Ivo has listened, the more convinced he has become that there are two important areas for Christians to address..

The first is the need for us to have a deeper, prolonged and more honest faith dialogue with our Muslim neighbours. It will not be easy.

It takes two to tango and the Taliban are not fans of Strictly Come Dancing.

The second is that it is both foolish and dangerous to regard Islam and Chritianity as comparable religions in relation to the wider Society.

If we accept that there is a distinction between those Muslims who follow the Abu Hamza’s of this world and the everyday folk we meet in the shops, schools, hospitals and streets of Britain, then we will all need to better understand what lies within that faith. We are unlikely to advance our understanding however if we think we can view it with the same mindset and cultural assumptions of secular Liberal Britain as most of our politicians and media do.

Those of us who can view these matters from a literate religious perspective have an advantage in getting to grips with the problems and so can -and should – make a special contribution. We will need intellectual courage and integrity to do so, It will not make us popular.

Consider for a moment, the High Wycombe Muslim interviewed on Radio 4 yesterday, who proclaimed that Muslims love their Prophet more than they love their wives or children. Such a statement would be almost incomprehensible to the average Briton, though those with longer memories, might have noted a similarity to Golda Meir’s famous observation that there will be no peace between her people and their neighbours until Arabs learn to love their children more than they hate the Jews.

Later in the day, as the French Special Forces showed their great skill and bravery, we saw young child hostages being carried out of the Parisian supermarket by the rescuers.

Christians can state with confidence that Christ was unequivocal about such matters.

He punctured the pomposity of those who claimed to love God, whom they have never seen, whilst not showing equal love for those about us who we can know  1 John 4:20. Jesus plainly taught that love of God and love of Man were to be seen as two sides of the same coin without being in competition one with the other.

Following an affirmative answer to His question, “Peter, do you love me” he answered ” Feed my lambs” – not ” Take them hostage”.

Rather than seeing children as hostage material or subordinate family member Jesus saw them as models of behaviour for all who would enter the Kingdom. Matthew 18.3

He warned those who harmed children that it would be better for them to have a millstone tied round their neck and to be cast into the sea. Luke 17:2

It is hard to consider these teachings as in anyway congruent with the actions and attitudes of the more florid adherents of Islam.

Christianity can handle such inhumanity in clear theological terms; perhaps Islam can too, but all too often we are too polite or fearful to ask.

Yet ask we must.

Those who assert that such fanatics cannot be defeated by force often foolishly and wrongly suggest that the solution to the problem lies in social or economic change. It does not. Such bigotry must be defeated theologically and that can only be done by understanding the faith claims, principles and – let’s be blunt, its weaknesses.

Brother Ivo has not yet heard kindly responsible Muslim Imams and scholars asked by our media to identify with clarity the texts, traditions and authorities which enable them to accept criticism of the faith by secularists like those of Charlie Hebdo without recourse to violence.

One assumes that their peaceful response is not simply founded on lack of weapons: if they have faith inhibitors of intemperate action, this needs to be made more widely known, not least to the hot headed young.

Christians, and particularly those with religious studies skills, are best placed to ask such questions and lead such dialogue from the perspective of the non-Muslim majority. By knowing how to ask the right questions, appreciate alternatives, explore complementary ways of interpreting text and how to challenge assertions, we can make an important and distinctive contribution.

Yet too often we find clergy either disinclined or incapable of standing their ground, or identifying those questions.

It is not, of course, Christians who ridicule Islam.

We suffer far more insult at the hands of our National Broadcaster than Islam which has secretly benefitted from policies such as the recently publicised kid glove approach embodied in the BBC guidelines on what can and cannot be said and portrayed.

Christians are well placed to explain how to demonstrate dignified patient responses.

Too often, however we collude with the notion that the man Mohammed perfected God’s revelation to humankind, rather than His Son. We also collude with the idea that Islam suffers more at the hands of militant secularists; they do not. The harsh cartoons against Christ and his Church has spawned no concern on the Left of incipient ” Christo-phobia”.

When all faith is portrayed as threatening, intolerant, divisive and excluding, Christians need to be equipped to speak of our unique “selling points”. We need to explain this both to Islam and to the wider secular community.

We need to recognise and speak our truths plainly

Our God is imminent, not remote.

Jesus washes our feet and commands us to offer service rather than demand submission.

God is not too proud to enbrace the humiliation of crucifixion if that is what it takes to lead us back to Him.

We do not have to earn God’s love because it has already been given.

Unlike Mohammed, Jesus responded to insult by turning the other cheek; He did not sanction the death of those who insulted him.

The societies created by Islamic values, and Christian values are accordingly very different.

Such differences matter.

If we do not assist by identifying explaining and publicising such differences, how can secular society and Islam understand each other better? Christianity has an important interpretive role.

Above all, a primary distinction between Christianity and Islam in modern Britain is that Churches are not incubating hundreds if not thousands of angry isolated young men admiring the Parisian attackers.

Amongst the messages to communicate to our Islamic neighbours are:-

Muslims seem to be happiest and most free within in the western societies than in the Middle Eastern Islamic homelands.

The biggest killers of Mulims in the world today are other Muslims

The most persecuted religion in the whorl is Christianity

 

We can call these inconvenient truths.

It may dent Islamic pride, but Christians and Jews are not clamouring to enter Islamic societies. Our harshes Muslim critics fight in the Courts to avoid being returned to more Islamic societies.

These truths need to be said.

Even so, Christians are best placed to engage with Imams and scholars to encourage them to diagnose and address the disease of terrorism within their mosques. We must not shirk the responsibility for doing this.

We need to explain to the public the religious and theological difficulties which such Imams face. Brother Ivo has identified some of these in earlier posts.

We need to understand, publicise and praise both the fact, and detail of how many peaceful Muslims are standing with us against such terrorism which has been imported from less tolerant societies. The press is not good at giving credit where it is due.

This honest reconciliation of sincere difference and its communication to the wider public is difficult work, not least because of the flabby assumption that Chistanity and Islam are really very similar and can be treated alike by modern secular society.

 

They are not

If you are in any doubt about that, compare the body count.

The irony of Charlie Hebdo’s agreement with the Koran

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We have been talking about satirical cartoons in recent days, so, in order to demonstrate his commitment to the free speech which he supports, Brother Ivo reproduces the earliest example of an anti-Christian one. It is savage, dates from the 2nd century, and was found during excavations of Carthage in North Africa.

A man beholds the crucifixion of a donkey, and the inscription reads

” Alexamenos worshipping his God.”

We do not know who Alexamenos was. He probably did not kill the cartoonist.

We do know that to the average person of the 2nd century the conflation of the divine and the crucified was as outrageous as it was ludicrous. That form of execution was designed not only to be literally excruciating and prolonged, but so demeaning, as to be as far removed from godly presence as it was possible to conceive. It ws also a warning against following.

No legitimate prophet would embrace crucifixion and only a fool like Alexamenos would worship such a figure.

So outrageous was the melding of the crucified and the divine that it was a major point of difference between those we now call “Orthodox Christians” and heretics like the Arians, who  devised a very different theology of the crucifixion, arguing that since God was so holy that he could neither be humiliated or die, the reality of the crucifixion must be different.  The crucifixion could therefore only be a show, a cosmic deception – a practical joke even. The ” real Jesus ” escaped such humiliation rejection and pain at the hands of mankind.

It was this controversy that resulted in our Nicene Creed in which the winners (by only one vote) insisted on the unambiguous credal statement that Jesus  “was crucified, dead and buried”.

Imagine the late Ian Paisley thumping his fist on the table next time with each word as you next repeat that phrase and you will get a sense of the controversy.

People died during that hammering out of orthodox expression of what happened at Calvary, Christians killed each other over that point of interpretation, and the defeated Arians retreated to the Arabian peninsular where, one might speculate, its continuation in the currency of theological thought would have been encountered by Mahomed in his trading days.

Islam rejects the idea of Jesus dying for our sins on that outrageously offensive cross. Muslims deny the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In a rather vague reference to the events of Calvary, there is clarity of assertion that Jesus did not die, and some Islamic schools of thought continue suggestion of a substitution, some say that it was Simon of Cyrene who was substituted.

Here is the actual Koranic text

That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, theMessenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-

Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power,
—Qur’an, sura 4 (An-Nisa) ayat 157-158[1]

In short, the Muslim shares the view of Alexamenos’ tormentor that Godliness has no place on the cross.

This matters greatly in defining our understanding of God.

A God who embraces our humanity, enters His creation, shares an ordinary life within His creation, and dies the worst of deaths  is very different from a God who, by sleight of hand, excuses himself from the sufferings of his children.

We now meet a very considerable irony.

The only newspaper that carried any of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons was the Sun which printed three front covers on an inside page. One was an anti-Christian depiction of the crucifixion which bore the slogan “I’m a celebrity, get out of here”.

Charlie Hebdo shared the Islamic incredulity that God redeemed us by the suffering on cross.

So here we have the same idea spanning two thousand years; the mockery rejects the centrality of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice.

We hear the Parisian murderers described as radical, and outrageous.

Perhaps they are not.

It is we Christians, who are are asserting the greatest historic outrageous challenge to a world which insults and rejects our message of Christ’s embracing of the cross. That rejection unites Roman, Muslim, and modern day Atheists alike.

And what is the proper response of Jesus s followers?

Why, to suffer the insult and repay it with love.

That is the transforming example of Christ and what sets us apart, and sets us on “The Way”

Conversations with Islamic friends

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Brother Ivo has been blessed with a highly textured life.

He has broken bread with Ministers of State and Ministers of religion. He has enjoyed the company of soldiers and peace activists, judges and murderers (of which more another time), artists and hippies, punks and businessmen.

It is that experience and enjoyment of humanity in so many forms which inspires him to try to write from different perspectives in a quest to be “interesting”.

On the evening of a terrible day when Parisian cartoonists have been foully murdered by Islamic terrorists, Brother Ivo reflects upon two very different Muslims he has known and shares those recollections before outlining some questions which he thinks we need to ask our Muslim friends, before reflecting how we need to conduct ourselves in troubled times.

In the mid-1980’s Brother Ivo had a friend, an elderly gentleman who had sought asylum in the UK as a political dissident from the military regime in Pakistan. He was related to opponents of that regime and flown to the UK with little preparation. He told two stories about how he had been brought to faith.

Once, when destitute and fearful, alone in a small rented room, he had given up on life, having been pretty secular, and had simply prayed to God that he had certain material needs and that if God wanted him to believe, the satisfaction of those rudimentary requirements would be a good starting point. It seemed a pretty poor start to a spiritual relationship but it apparently worked.

The next day he discovered that a neighbour had left a box outside the door with a note explaining that here were some basic goods he thought he needed. Unpacking the box he was amazed to discover that e verything on his list was there. His prayer having been thereby answered, he resolved to deliver his side of the bargain and to explore faith.

Flying to the UK with no plans about meeting immigration requirements, he again prayed for entry whilst on the plane, and somewhat against his expectation he was  admitted as a  political refugee.

He was a good citizen. He worked, was scrupulously polite, kindly and law abiding and so when the Salmon Rushdie story was all over the newspapers in the 1980’s  Brother Ivo invited him to speak at his church,  where he talked of his faith in simple and sincere terms charming everyone, until he was asked about the Satanic Verses.

At that point he surprised everyone by saying calmly and deliberately that if Mr Rushdie were present with us then, he would feel duty bound to throw himself at him and attempt to throttle him with his bare hands. It seemed all very odd awkward and improbable, and very un-Anglican too, but we prayed together and that was that.

We remained friends.

He gave Brother Ivo a small book he had written on the subject of political Islam which seemed to be the dreams of an elderly idealist ; it spoke of the recreation of the Middle Eastern Caliphate which seemed a highly unlikely prospect at the time. He even invited Brother Ivo to receive his hospitality in the tribal homelands,  when the politics of Pakistan changed, but that was not then practical which in retrospect was a shame..

The gentleman went on to become the first speaker of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

Brother Ivo’s next friend could not have been more different. A rather stylish artistic teacher who disappeared for a couple of years and re-emerged as a another “Salmon Rushdie” figure,  having won literary prizes for writing best-selling “magic realism ” books which were highly un-Islamic but internationally acclaimed. He had to publish under a pseudo name for fear of joining Mr Rushdie on the the Fatwa, not least because he had become a practicing Roman Catholic and was thus apostate.

Brother Ivo sponsored him to UK citizenship. The only other person Brother Ivo so sponsored was an East African Muslim with whom he worked in equal partnership. Readers may accordingly safely assume that Brother Ivo is no            “Islamophobe”.

Those of us who can point to a backstory of interfaith friendship and tolerance in these days of tension between Islam and western values have a particular duty to lead the discussion and ask honest questions on days like today.

Sadly this is often not done.

There is much tip toeing around sensitivities, especially within our Churches,  which too easily assume upon little scholarship that because we worship “One God” from an Abrahamic heritage, we share more values than perhaps we do.

Christians complain of religious illiteracy, and yet demonstrate much of our own, when well meaning clerics speak as if there is nothing much between Christians and the followers of the Islamic State that a few choruses of Kum By Ya cannot sort out.

In truth our faiths are very different and honest dialogue needs to dig deep with those willing to do so. How many are, is problematic.

Modern Christians, whether Liberal or “Bible based”, are happy interrogating the text of their Bible. The one group may see itself impelled by the Holy Spirit to find fresh expressions of the truth,  the other may be more strict in interpretation but is not greatly offended by seeking internally cross referenced validations. We have different translations of the Bible texts and it is possible to discuss how language has changed; nuances of translation are matters of interest not outrage

Such dialogue is less welcome throughout the Muslim community. One’s duty is not to explore but to submit. There is scholarship, but it is much more closely aligned to an assertion of an immutable, directly revealed text , and that immutability has been preserved at the cost of suppressing certain texts where difference was found. Whereas textual nuance might be the occasion for fascinated exploration by western theologians, there is no such liberty afforded the Islamic scholar.

Islam has a greater rigidity of thought than Christianity.

The God of Islam is not close to His People, authority permeates the faith. In addition to the direct words of God as taught to Mohammed  (albeit in fragmentary episodes) there are traditions about their prophet whose life is asserted to be the model for all good Muslims.

It is in this that so much of our inter faith dialogue will run into difficulty.

The modern view of Jesus for the Christian is suffused with Christ’s compassion to the errant and the inconsistent. (That is not a criticism).

Brother Ivo’s “Muslim convert to Catholicism” friend found that most attractive and an important contrast to his former faith; he  rejoiced that Jesus deflected the penalty of the Law in the case of the woman taken in adultery. He  recognised the awe inspiring generosity towards the thief on the cross. He would have identified that Jesus never killed or condemned anyone and neither did his Disciples or early followers. The closer one gets to the historic Jesus the greater the love and forgiveness. The power of Jesus example lies not in earthly success or conquest but rather in a lack of temporal power  in the example –  the incarnation. “This is what God is truly like”

In contrast Brother Ivo’s Islamist friend would have had no difficulty in asserting a number of illiberal principles based upon the deeds of his Prophet.

Mohammed personally condemned adulterers to death. He carried a sword         ( which Brother Ivo has seen) and used it in political earthly conquest. He massacred the  Jews of Qurayzah, and distributed their womenfolk to his followers. He expelled Jews and Christians from the Arabian peninsular and  taxed those in other conquered lands who would not convert. He ordered the murder of Abu ‘Afak and ‘Asma bint Marwan who mocked him in poetry.

One does not have to reflect long upon the contrasting lives of Jesus and Mohammed to see that reconciling an image of God between to the two traditions may not be as easy as many may  think,

Far from being totally un-Islamic, any objectively minded person can see that those who say they only seek to emulate their Prophet’s actions are not without justificatory material.

Brother Ivo has no doubt that whoever killed the journalists of Charlie Hebdo will be well able to cite episodes in the life of their Prophet to explain and justify their actions. His life is asserted to be the personification of that to which a Muslim should aspire. Brother Ivo’s old friend would have been kindness itself in almost every action in his life, yet he would have been impelled not to deny the Islamic integrity of the Parisian murderers.

The writer friend was very different. Eccentric in many ways, he had a much lighter approach to life, always blessing the compassionate and wholly at odds with  the zealot.

Writing tonight with anxiety as to how we can keep the peace with our many kindly Muslim friends who live lives of honesty and integrity without applauding violence, Brother Ivo offers hope in the words of his friend Salim who used to say –

“Whenever bad things happen in the world, people always say – look at that – that’s human nature, look how terrible it is is: but when you think of all the temptations , the opportunity to do evil, I always ask – why are so many people so good, and so kind and considerate – they don’t have to be”.

That is the text we need to hold onto tonight.

Islam has so many excuses for bad behaviour, and our Christian heritage is scarcely much better, yet somehow, most Muslims don’t behave like that, and Christians have largely given up on the persecution of others so all is not hopeless in the world. Thanks be to God.

How we deal with those who pose a direct risk to the innocent is a problem for another time.

For now let us grieve with the sorrowful, give thanks for the solidarity of people who want to live freely and peaceably together and resolve to open dialogues with our Muslim neighbours to discover how they manage to overcome their historic difficulties, how they pick their way through the theology to reach conclusions diametrically opposed to the violent Islamsist with their literal appeal to texts whist keeping within a theology that does not easily take to innovation in thought.

Whilst we are about it, we might ask similar questions of ourselves

 

A first response to the Bishop of Leeds debate

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This last weekend saw a senior Church of England Bishop asking searching questions of the Prime Minister.

Though it was widely reported a a “bitter attack” on the Government, The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines was swift to deny this on his blog. He is not afraid of controversy and is surely to be congratulated for his overall commitment to engagement with the wider world. He says he seeks a debate on complex issues and asks the initiating questions..

Those who have followed his writings, heard him on the radio, or seen him speak, will know that he probably resides politically to the Left of Centre ( he originates in Liverpool ) but he is nothing if not measured and intelligent in his examination of complex issues and always accords honest opposition with respect and an interest in finding what truths may reside in a contrary opinion.

That is important, because if the story were simply ” Leftist Bishop bashes Tories” the issue would not last long, whereas Bishop Nick’s questions, asked with the support of the equally serious Archbishop Justin, are likely to reverberate for some time.

This post is an early to that the debate

Much of the attention on the letter centres upon the later questions posed, where he issues a direct challenge to the Government to be active on behalf of the persecuted Christians of the Middle East and he will be supported in this not only across many churches, but by a significant majority of the wider population, many of whom wonders why the likes of Abu Qutada and Abu Hamsa seem to get a better roll of the Human Rights dice than our Christian brothers and sisters.

It is not this which struck Brother Ivo as the most radical question posed on behalf of the Anglican Church however.

It was his first lengthy question which appears to represent the most significant long term challenge to this and other Governments, and indeed the wider zeitgeist.

His first point bears repeating.

” It appears that, in common with the United States and other partners, the UK is responding to events in a reactive way, and it is difficult to discern the strategic intentions behind this approach. Please can you tell me what is the overall strategy that holds together the UK Government’s response to both the humanitarian situation and what IS is actually doing in Syria and Iraq? Behind this question is the serious concern that we do not seem to have a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamist extremism as it is developing across the globe. Islamic State, Boko Haram and other groups represent particular manifestations of a global phenomenon, and it is not clear what our broader global strategy is – particularly insofar as the military, political, economic and humanitarian demands interconnect. The Church internationally must be a primary partner in addressing this complexity.”

Brother Ivo offers his own endorsement of that question.

It has its scriptural foundation.

St Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians “Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”

Bishop Nick begins his criticism with the US President. He is right to do so. Whilst this crisis unfolds the ” leader of the free world” who was presented with a Nobel a Peace Prize after 11 days in office , is on a two week golfing holiday at Martha’s Vineyard. The story is unfolding even as we begin our thinking. Events are moving on an hourly basis: the apparent absence of leadership has been deeply worrying.

It is hard to better Mark Steyne’s devastating critique of the man who came from nowhere.

“For the last half-century, Obama has simply had to be. Just being Obama was enough to waft him onwards and upwards: He was the Harvard Law Review president who never published a word, the community organizer who never organized a thing, the state legislator who voted present. And then one day came the day when it wasn’t enough simply to be. For the first time in his life, he had to do. And it turns out he can’t.”

Obama campaigned to end the American presence in Iraq. In office he delivered on that promise, ostensibly on the basis that agreement on the ” status of forces ” could not be agreed. Without such an agreement, US forces might be at risk of prosecution by Iraq civil authorities. One ought to recall that the USA maintained troops in Germany and Japan for over 50 years after the Second World War.

President Obama delegated that negotiation to the hapless Joe Biden who neither secured the necessary result, nor suggested some of the other functional solutions. Elsewhere in the Middle East collateral agreements permit troops to remain. Residual US forces and advisors could have been designated as diplomats by simple letter, and that would have enabled forces to remain.

The President – and our Prime Minister – “wanted out”. The Christians, and other minorities are suffering as a direct result of that decision.

At the very least, our Prime Minister should now be urging the President to “do his job”; we may wish that David Cameron had greater individual power or that the UN or EU could become swiftly resolute, but that is an idealistic fantasy. The only swift intervention that can come, will be as a result of resolute action by the US. They are the world’s policeman, and must be engaged though they need to be supported by the UK and probably France.

What should our military strategy comprise?

This is hard for a Christian Bishop to articulate but it may need to be embraced, given the intransigent evil of the enemy, Bishop Nick calls for a debate; in Brother Ivo’s judgement it may take him, like Peter, to a place of violence where he does not wish to go.

Former US Army Vice Chief of Staff General Jack Keane seems to be on the same page as Bishop Nick when he described ISIS as “the most significant threat to the Middle East” and said that the United States is doing virtually nothing to stop them.”

He goes further, and speaks with a bluntness one cannot expect of a Bishop, though the discussion called for, almost certainly leads to this conclusion.

” The way you deal with them is you kill them, and that is the only way that they understand, is force. You have to apply force to deal with it,” (sic)

“We need a strategy to deal with it. We have none, and the fact is, the strategy should not just be the killing aspect of it.”

Keane also offered advice beyond military matters . “We know what banks they’re using. We actually know the names of their seven portfolio managers. We should target the barks and target the managers. We should separate the groups that are supporting them politically,” Keane elaborated.

This seems a powerful contribution to the Bishops debate.

There seems to be little alternative available.

We have seen the gruesome evidence of what ISIS do to “the other”.

Remarkably, western public opinion finds it hard to believe what Islamists are quite happy to tell us plainly.

Some of this comes not only from ISIS but also Hamas; de-coupling the two has been a mistake; they are cast from the same metal. In addressing the growing theat from Islamist extremism, Bishop Nick references ISIS and Boko Haram, but not Hamas. That is a mistaken omission.

They have warned us that ” The Al-Qassam Brigades love death more than you love life.”

The Hamas Charter spells out many other things plainly. It bears examination. It tells us about this well established part of the Muslim Brotherhood franchise and by implication their even more extreme colleagues,

TheHamas Charter tells us

Article Thirteen: Peaceful Solutions, [Peace] Initiatives and International Conferences
[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad: “Allah is the all-powerful, but most people are not aware.”

That makes clear that negotiation is no part of their thinking.

Article Eight: The Slogan of the Hamas
Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its Constitution, Jihad its path and death for the case of Allah its most sublime belief.

This confirms what we see on the ground. We are not seeing rogue action but rather a clear ideological programme.

Set in the midst of such a violent volatile and intransigent region we should be slow to condemn and undermine Israel, the only established functional liberal plural democracy in the Middle East.

Iraq, however, is a now a weak but fledgling democracy. It has had successful elections and has peacefully seen its Prime Minister step down and replaced by an opponent, because he had lost his mandate. That is an enormously significant development. The peaceful Constitutional passing of power is a fundamental feature of democracy – and anathema to the jihadis.

Returning to Iraq after the error of premature exit is vital. Supporting countries that share or incline towards our values is vital ; that includes Israel and perhaps Kurdistan. Political perfection is a luxury we – and more importantly the people on the ground – cannot afford.

We also need to win the argument in this country, not least o explain why Israel is our friend, not Hamas, and we need to remind our population that the Iraq War happened for good reason. It was not a George W Bush vanity project but the culmination of a coherent policy that began with Bill Clinton who, speaking of the Saddam threat in 1998 said

“The best way to end that threat once and for all is with a new Government -government ready to live in peace with its neighbours, a government that respects the rights of its people.

Heavy as they are, the costs if action must be weighed against the price of inaction. If Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond we will face a far greater threat in the future. Saddam will strike at his neighbours. He will strike at his neighbours. He will make war on his own people, and mark my words he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them and he will use them”

What part of Bill Clinton’s strategy then does not apply to ISIS and its Iranian backers, and friends in Hamad Hezbullah and the Muslim Brotherhood?

Yet the former strategy, rejected by Obama and so many of the western progressives, had an equally positive side articulated by George W Bush.

” The Middle East was the centre of a global ideological struggle. On one side were decent people who wanted to live with dignity and peace. On the other side were extremists who sought to impose their radical views through violence and intimidation. They exploited conditions of hopelessness and repression to recruit and spread their ideology. The best way to to protect our countries in the long runways to counter their dark vision with a more compelling vision.

That alternative was freedom. People who could choose their leaders at the ballot box would be less likely to turn to violence. Young people growing up with hope in the future would not search for meaning in the ideology of terror. Once liberty took root in one society, it could spread to others.”

What is wrong with that analysis in the context of Bishop Nick’s questions?

Bishop Nick calls for a debate and a strategy. There used to be one.

Overnight we see that President Obama has again authorised military air strikes. He may be returning to his predecessors approach which is not an easy or comfortable strategy but neither was that which confronted the Third Reich.

Periodically we have to recognise the presence of evil and the need to contest it. ISIS and its allies have not made identification of evil difficult. We need leaders who are ready to protect the innocent, support our friends, and to confront the pernicious ideology of Islamism in all its manifestations.

An early and destructive response to the ISIS forces is important for our own impressionable youngsters. The young need to re-learn that freedom has to be defended and can be costly. Young Muslims need to have the glamorous attraction of Jihadi success removed; disgrace and failure is a powerful disincentive to recruitment.

It seems to Brother Ivo that what we need is not a reinventing of the wheel but turning our back on the lax and lazy notion that western intervention in the area caused all the problems and that peace and goodwill will break out if only we remain inactive.

 

 

Is it immoral not to militarily confront ISIS?

beheading iraqi soldier

 

The radical Islamic group ISIS have advanced towards regional power with remarkably fortuitous timing.

They probably deliberately planned to do so when the Obama administration made good on its commitment to withdraw US forced from Iraq. That has proved a grave error as the absence of US “instructors” ,providing the necessary leadership and backbone, resulted in a raw and badly led Iraqi Army failing in its duties and allowing the ISIS militias to make  progress with greater rapidity than even they might have dared dream hope.

The ease of that advance has emboldened them with even greater self belief that they are fulfilling the will of Allah.  Their sense of invincibility has fuelled sense of impunity which leads to atrocity, for they will never be called to account in this world and have all the confidences of justification in the next. Their advance however comes in the context of a number of other events that weaken the international resolve to do anything about them.

The Arab Spring has proved anything but benign. Egypt fell into the hands of similar thinking zealots,  and the army has once again intervened; Libya is collapsing into civil war, and the Syrian situation is so depressing that we scarcely bother to take in what is happening.

Best of all for the ISIS forces, Israel has felt obliged to intervene in Gaza. It is surely precisely because Israel is a decent plural liberal democracy that they are attracting such widespread western hatred. They are obviously quite “ like us”, and so, in a world of madmen, barbarians and incomprehensible religious fanatics, it is so much easier for the bien pensants to direct all attempts at influence in the region towards the only peoples in the region potentially amenable to our kind of rational persuasion.

Western opinion has lost any confidence that there is a natural and unstoppable “progress “ of humankind towards liberal democracy and with that disappointment there is no current enthusiasm for advancing any alternative to letting ISIS get on with its foul work.

This week, the recollections of the First World War is adding to the miasma.

The “we must never let this happen again” narrative is abroad and with it, a pre-supposition that all interventions overseas must be a) bad b) misguided c) opposed at all costs.

Is that truly what we have come to?

Are there no circumstances in which ISIS should be militarily confronted? Are we to let them entrench and begin fulfilling their declared programme before we begin to think belatedly that we should have started opposing them them sooner?

An early application of air power would have stopped the speedy but comparatively lightly armed advance.

Sadly the Leader of the free world doesn’t do swift decisive action, and in any event has been largely on vacation as the problem unfolded.

Just to offer him a word of advice. ISIS are not frightened of his speeches, his condemnation, his phone or his pen.

The world community is in a semi-pacifist intellectual mode at present. Certainly most of the political spectrum to the Left of the Prime Minister is, and he is no doubt calibrating his stance with one eye on the coming election.

So Brother Ivo is taking an unpopular line by asking if this is indeed the time for Internationally co-ordinated armed intervention to confront and destroy ISIS.

Furthermore, he has to ask, if there comes a point when it is immoral not to take up arms?

ISIS are acting appallingly towards a wide range of those who do not submit to their version of Islam. Submission to Allah, necessarily connotes submission to them.

Those at risk includes Jews and Christians but also many variations of the Islamic faith.

Above all there are 4 million women who are currently anxiously fearing rape, forced marriage or a threat of female genital mutilation.

It is extraordinary that in the USA where Democrats have declared and denounced an alleged “war on women” by those merely asking women to pay for their own birth control, that what is happening in Iraq is not attracting greater outrage, especially from the feminist movement.

Here we begin to approach the point.

With these things happening, as we wring our hands about active intervention, we might do well to explore whether there is indeed an immorality in inaction.

Brother Ivo has previously contrasted modern attitudes with the suppression of the slave trade.

That initiative would have broken every modern value close to the progressive heart.

When the Royal Navy began interdicting the International Slave Trade it was against International Law, it violated the common values of societies across the world, it involved regime change in Africa, it was unilateral, it was a colonial imposition of power and was, in short, everything that modern thinkers loathe when such actions are mooted today.

And yet, we now honour it as one of the high points of morality in action.

Should we not be considering a similar intervention when the world is faced with a harsh and implacable version of Islam that brings death poverty and cruelty wherever it lays claim to power?

Suppose ISIS does begin its programme of hacking out the genital of women? Will that make us act?

How many deaths, how much ethnic cleansing, how much suppression of opposition or civilisation, will we accept before beginning the tortuous process of turning around public opinion?

This is very hard to contemplate.

We have had many wars, and too many ineffectual ones. It is, however possible that this one needs to happen because the alternative is worse, and the consequences of a delayed alternative is worse still.

The ISIS creed is not one easily accessible to the irreligious mind.

Many think that such groupings are amenable to peace talks, compromise, and reason. Yet one cannot compromise with the implacable, one cannot trust the untrustworthy and one cannot hope to moderate the theology of those whom even their own co-religionists cannot reach with soft words. ISIS knows that it is doing the work of God. Your only non-violent choice is submission.

The desire of ISIS to rule is not limited to a single country or region. It is not in the business of accepting appeasement.

This is hard thinking in the centenary year of the Great War.

We rightly hate to contemplate that it might be necessary, and yet 20 years after the 1918 Armistice Truce, with a full and deep recollection of that conflict, a later generation was faced with similar choices and were brave enough to make the right and moral decision.

The question is whether this generation has a similar moral strength.

We need to hear Anjem Choudary

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The controversy over the appearance of Anjem Choudary on the BBC radio 4 flagship programme Today expresses our collective rejection of his brand of Islam, but those who move from a stance of contempt for everything he stands for,  to criticising the interview and wanting such confrontations banned are profoundly mistaken. 

It is a foundational principle of our democratic life that truth is ascertained through debate, and the exploration, dissection and evaluation of argument is so essential to that process, that sometimes we have to engage with people whom we find profoundly distasteful.

It is odd that amongst those complaining of the exchange between Choudary and John Humphrys are those like the Sun editorial team which would, in other circumstances, be opposed to political correctness and all who might attempt to police what can and cannot be said in the public space.

This is not an unprecedented controversy.

A few years ago the equally unpleasant Prime Minister of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was invited to speak at Columbia University in the USA. It was a contraversial invitation and attracted the opprobrium of a variety of interest groups including patriots, gay activists, and pro-Israeli students alike.

The President of the University, Lee Bollinger is a noted liberal, one whose opinions Brother Ivo often critiques but he has also written extensively on the issue of Freedom of Speech.

During the debate, he advanced a clear and intelligently new way of thinking about these matters.

So often, we think in terms of the speaker’s right to speak, and it is that which we are comfortable curtailing. We don’t like people like Mr Choudary, and we are comfortable infringing his rights, partly because he is rejects our values comprehensively and is profoundly objectionable at many levels.

One common defence of his rights is founded upon the proposition that if he is silenced today, other unpopular opinion, including yours and mine, may be curtailed tomorrow. The silencers may be motivated by a variety of populist impulses, political, religious, cultural etc.

Mr Bollinger approached the matter afresh.

Silencing the likes of Mr Choudary does not only infringe his right to speak; it also infringes your and my right to hear.

Hearing and evaluating different opinions is a crucial part of developing new thought. We cannot develop intellectually without it.

One might liken listening to Mr Choudary  to the necessary unpleasantness of dissecting cadavers, which early anatomists undertook to advance our understanding of the human body.

Seen in that light, we feel slightly differently.

John Humphrys took Choudary’s belief system apart with patient forensic skill. He exposed what a truly unpleasant and disgusting set of beliefs this strand of Islamism espouses and represents. It is so easy for tolerant and liberal people to believe that all people are alike and basically decent: confronting such a contrary truth is both necessary and useful. Few understand how men like the Woolwich murderers became so depraved but now they have an inkling of how it happens.

What illustrates the value of this approach is the example of Brother Ivo and  Mr Bollinger.

Lee Bollinger believes and has said much with which Brother Ivo disagrees but listening to him taught the listener a valuable lesson. We now agree, as a result of Brother Ivo being exposed to his thought. It would have been equally valuable had listening and reading Mr Bollinger sharpened Brother Ivo’s rejection of his ideas. You simply do not know where you will reach if you refuse to start the listening process.

We need not assume such intelligence in Mr Choudary’s case, but his cheerful clarification that Islamists of his character reject democracy was worth hearing. Many in our society may never have realised how deeply antithetical such people are to our core British values and our way of life.

If this is the first exposure most have had to the presence of such poison within the Islamic community then the interview was justified.

It also alerts us to the need to devise ways of invigorating, supporting and encouraging the fight back within Britain’s Mosques the majority of whom have been neighbourly enough to wish us all a joyful”Christmas”