Boris Johnson on Islam and war

A column from London mayor Boris Johnson on Islam, awar, hate and solutions (thanks for the link Alan).

The Islamists want war, but it would be fatal if we fell for it

Giving in to fear and its corrosive effects only strengthens the forces of hatred

It’s only known that a small radical minority of those following Islam want war.

This weekend we were all Parisians. While the Prime Minister and others joined the march in the French capital, other European cities staged rallies and events of all kinds. In Trafalgar Square we gathered to pay our respects to the dead of the past few days: to the heroic journalists who died for the right to express themselves; to the innocent victims of the kosher supermarket. In tribute to our sister capital, we illuminated the great buildings of central London with the Tricolore. “Je suis Charlie”, said countless signs. The people of London were sending a message of joint defiance, of shared values, of a refusal to give in to terror.

It was an important show of unity against terrorism and fear.

And yet we must be honest, and confess that in claiming the mantle of the editors and cartoonists of the French satirical magazine, we were being not only presumptuous, we were being pretentious and, I am afraid, simply inaccurate. There is hardly a paper in Britain that has followed the lead of Charlie Hebdo, and printed the offending cartoons of Mohammed. In fact, I cannot think of any mainstream media organisation that has been able to tell its viewers or readers what the fuss is all about.

I don’t think it’s important to do what Charlie Hebdo did. Your don’t have to agree or like or coopy what they did, just defend their right to do it (as others have the right to choose not to do similar).

You would have thought it was essential to the story. Appalling carnage has been inflicted; young men have been incited to commit acts of disgusting savagery; the French nation is in a state of shock and grief. And yet the British public is unable to form any kind of judgment about what exactly it is that is meant to have caused the offence. Was there something particularly rude or risqué about the drawings? Were they obscene? Was it just the fact of the depiction of the Prophet?

It hasn’t been difficult to find out.

There have been offensive Western depictions of Mohammed at least since Giovanni da Modena in the 15th century, and even in Islamic art the image of the Prophet may be rare, but it’s far from unknown. We need to know what precisely Charlie Hebdo did to provoke such mindless hostility – and at the heart of the whole story there is a blank, a big white space. The British press is globally famed for its willingness to say anything to anyone, to tell truth to power, to hold up people’s private lives to hilarity and scorn. In this case, a great ox has stood upon our tongue.

Perhaps, like me and many others, they didn’t like repeating the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. From what I’ve seen they weren’t very good cartoons and the were unnessarily provocative.

I choose not to wave insulting banners outside a Mongrel Mob house. Is that gutless, or is it sensible?

There are some respectable reasons that may be advanced, of course, and we have heard them a lot over the past few days. No one likes to give unnecessary offence to any religion, or to any group of people. There are many acknowledged limits to freedom of speech today – many of which are enforced by the law. There are words that may not be used, or not in certain contexts. There are assertions that may not be made, or not without the risk of legal challenge.

And everyone who publishes, be it newspaper or blog, has a choice on content.

But it is very striking that we in the British media have been almost uniquely reluctant, in Europe, to elucidate our viewers and readers as to the images at the heart of the furore, and I am afraid that it is not just a question of politeness, or punctilio, or old-fashioned good manners. The main reason no one is running the cartoons is that they are afraid.

I can’t speak for them but I’m not afraid to publish them. They are not the sort of thing I’d normally have anything to do with so why should I now? It would achieve nothing.

Then Johnson makes a more important point.

Many fine things have been said and done over the past few days, but some of the bravest words and deeds have come from Muslims. I think of the Muslim policeman, shot in cold blood as he lay on the pavement – try to watch that clip without weeping. I think of the Muslim shopworker, who helped hide some of the kosher supermarket customers in the cold store.

Across France, Britain and the rest of Europe, there are Muslim voices saying what needs to be said, like the Association of British Muslims – which issued a dignified and sensible statement, in which it not only condemned the killings in the strongest possible terms, but defended the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish the cartoons.

I’ve posted similar from New Zealand in Muslim condemnation of Charlie Hebdo killings.

And my hero – the man who got straight to the point – was the Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, himself a Muslim. “If you don’t like freedom,” he told the Dutch nation’s potential jihadists, “then pack your bags and leave. There may be a place where you can be yourself, so be honest with yourself, and don’t kill innocent journalists. If you don’t like freedom, then f— off.”

That’s a fair point.

It reminds me of the 1970’s when there was noticable British immigration to New Zealand and the term ‘whining Poms’ was commonly used. They had a choice of getting to like what New Zealand offered or returning (which some did).

That is the voice of the Enlightenment, of Voltaire. We can and will protect this country against these jihadist thugs. We will bug them and monitor them and arrest them and prosecute them and jail them. But if we are going to win the struggle for the minds of these young people, then that is the kind of voice we need to hear – and it needs above all to be a Muslim voice.

Another fair point. All Muslims are not responsible for the actions of a small number of vicious thugs. And they don’t have to apologise on behalf of terrorists when they have nothing to do with them.

But is in their interests to speak up. They should keep making it clear that spreading fear and trying to provoke war through terrorism is totally unaccetpable to good Muslims.

This is similar to the worth in non-violent men speaking up against male violence in our own society. We aren’t responsible for the violence but we have a responsibility to stand up against viiolence.

The same applies to mainstream Muslim organisations. It is important that they keep making it clear that they don’t support any sort of terrorism. As should the rest of us.