Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

How progressives are being defeated by zealotry

It's more or less over for progressive, liberal Islam. Many of us who've tried to keep alive the thoughtful, humane, cultured beliefs and practices of our parents and enlightened scholars can barely breathe or speak after the last wretched week when mobs raved and killed across Muslim countries - some of them newly free and supposedly democratic. Embassies were damaged, Western diplomatic staff killed and terrorised, flags burnt.

Once, we could say with some certainty that Islamist fanatics, thugs, killers and mind-benders represented a minority and that most Muslims, quiet and sane, were unseen and unheard. Today, I fear it is the opposite. Modernist Muslims, amalgams of the West and East, comfortable with their multiple identities, have no part to play. We are written out, quashed. By whom? By the barbarians who have taken over mosques, schools, homes, hearts and minds. And also by Western political and cultural warriors and agents-provocateurs who derive inordinate satisfaction from playing and inciting Muslims, zapping away as if playing an electronic game.

The tawdry, internet film demeaning Islam's Prophet was doing just that, knowingly pressing buttons. All this is happening as Salman Rushdie brings out a book about his days in hiding.

You get to understand how Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa cruelly stole years of his life and sense of security. Many of his friends are up and about chanting hymns about freedom of expression in his name and having a go at religions and followers.

They might be more credible if, in the interim years, they had spoken out against powerful Zionist censorship. Those double standards, are in turn used by anti-Western bigots of the worst sort.

Many of them have started a blazing row over the Channel 4 film on the historical roots of Islam based on a book by the historian Tom Holland. Most of the protesters will know nothing about the film or book. But their emotions are as easily inflamed as tinder. The enemies of Islam rejoice every time its volatile adherents "prove" that they are backward and don't get the complex modern world.

I completely empathise with Muslims who live in hopeless economies, who feel the pain of Palestine, whose destinies have been controlled by the West and their own ruthless ruling cliques for decades.

That does not give them permission to behave like rampaging beasts even if severely goaded and provoked.

Those crazies detest their brethren who are unwilling to defend or join in with their grotesque street revelries. Even more hated are insiders with independent minds who criticise enemies of progress.

When reasonable reconcilers and honest brokers are silenced, societies fall apart, the fragile human ecology becomes unsustainable. I thought we'd learnt that lesson but we haven't.

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