I have now had a chance to read the full text of Baroness Warsi’s speech at Leicester University. In it she makes positive references to Christianity and Judaism for which we should be grateful. I particularly appreciated her statement that faith and reason go hand in hand. This is an area where many in the Church have bought into the strident accusations of the increasingly intolerant Dawkins and his ilk and retreated from reason into blind spirituality.
However, and more worryingly, Baroness Warsi clearly attempts to equate Judaism with Islam and Islamophobia with anti-Semitism. It is true that certain passages in the Old Testament have pretty drastic punishments for adultery, Sabbath breaking, being disobedient to parents etc. Whilst I would admit that at times I have had a sneaking appreciation of Lev 20:9, stoning to death for unruly children would seem to be a somewhat radical solution to the problem.
Whilst death is not unknown as the punishment for adultery under Islam today when was the last time anyone was put to death under Judaism for adultery or Sabbath breaking? Are these punishments which are advocated by main stream Judaism, or any form of Judaism, today? Can anyone seriously imagine Lord Sachs, the chief Rabbi, standing up and demanding the death penalty for someone who spoke slightingly of Moses? The experience of Salman Rushdie shows us that Islamic leaders here in the UK as well as in Iran are willing to do just that if anyone speaks less than respectfully of Mohammed.
Judaism has more than two millennia of rabbinical mediation by which they interpret such passages. Islam doesn’t. The insinuation that Islam is no more a danger to western values such a liberty, human rights and democracy than is Judaism is a clear distortion of the evidence. There is a totalitarian element in Islam which does not exist in Judaism.
The equation of Islamophobia with Jew-hatred is false, they are not equivalent. The prime example of anti-Semitism is of course Nazi Germany. There Jews were held in suspicion because, although thought of as ‘aliens’ by the Nazis, they had so successfully integrated. The great danger they posed was held to be that they were trying to become indistinguishable from ‘true’ Germans.
This is why they enacted the notorious Nuremberg Laws prohibiting intermarriage and sexual relations between Jews and Aryans, forbidding Jews to practice certain professions etc. The great crime of the Jews in the eyes of the Nazi’s was that they had too successfully integrated into German society.
Any suspicion of Islam in the West today is fuelled by the impression that many Muslims simply refuse to integrate. There is not only a determination to maintain their religion, a determination most Christians share, but there is a determination to maintain the sometimes medieval cultural standards of the rural Middle East and Asia which most reject.
A phobia is an unreasoning fear of something. Those who are wary of Islam are not Islamophobic. I am sure that most people in the UK couldn’t care less what or how Muslims worship. However, they have every reason to be suspicious of a theological and cultural ideology which desires to radically alter our way of life.
You can have no idea how much this pains me but if we were to accept Baroness Warsi’s understanding of Islamophobia then I would forced to admit, probably for the first time in my life, that I agree with Polly Toynbee, “I am an Islamophobe, and proud of it.”