Islamism in Britain Part 2: is there an answer?

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

In Part 1, I delved into the question of whether there was a problem with Islamism in the UK and concluded that there is.

Before I begin with Part 2, it is important to remind ourselves that it is Islamism and not Islam that is the problem. And to remember that there are many Muslims who are not Islamists and who are fine citizens and welcome members of the community. But now we need to ask what can be done about Islamism?

The head in the sand approach which seems to be the majority position of the elites in the UK will not do. Either because they do not understand Islamism, or they do not perceive it as any threat to themselves, or they have just become scared.

It seems that much of the establishment would rather talk about the danger of Islamophobia than the danger of Islamism. Take for example the now unfunny comedian Frankie Boyle, who proves the mantra, 'go woke, lose your sense of humour', who this week tweeted: "If I see the word Islamist, I just assume I'm about to read the incoherent rambling of a crazed racist."

What is Islamophobia? The term is a recent one, invented by the Runnymede Trust in 1997. It was meant to refer to an "unfounded hostility towards Islam". But now it is being used as a de facto blasphemy law to silence all criticism of Islam and Islamists. In passing I note that there is no attempt by any politician to establish a crime of Christophobia, or Hinduphobia. Why?

In 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims defined 'Islamophobia' very broadly as a "type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness". All except the Tories adopted this definition.

In its proposals for what in effect amounts to a new blasphemy law, the APPG included a large number of offences, among them claiming Muhammad was a paedophile (because of his marriage to a 12 year old), blaming Muslims for the actions of Muslim states, or claiming that Islam was spread by the sword. The latter would make it impossible for historian Tom Holland's book The Shadow of the Sword to be published nowadays.

It also proposed that accusing Muslims of inventing or exaggerating the term 'Islamophobia' would be against the law, as would suggesting that any Muslim was more loyal to the Ummah (the transnational Muslim community) than to this country – even if they were!

The result of this is that freedom of speech, labour and movement, are already being severely restricted in the UK. Again, there are numerous examples but let me cite a few well-known ones.

In 2007 extremism, which included misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism and anti-democracy, in a few British mosques was exposed by the Channel Four documentary Undercover Mosques. But instead of dealing with the actual hate from the hate preachers, the West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service attacked the documentary makers, claiming they had distorted the imam's words and taken them out of context. In 2008 Channel Four were vindicated with a public apology and a six-figure libel settlement from the police and CPS. But I doubt they or any other mainstream media would dare to make such a programme now. Nobody wants to be accused of blasphemy when you have to face both the mob and the police!

In one of the most ironic moments in modern Britain, the Mall Galleries in London withdrew a piece called 'Isis Threaten Sylvania', by the satirical artist Miriam Elia, from its 'Passion for Freedom' exhibition in 2015. The piece portrayed the fictional land of Sylvania where some animals gathered to celebrate Pride. In the distance are three little figures, squirrels or hedgehogs, in black masks with a machine gun. The police sent e-mails to the gallery saying it could cause offence and that it was not art.

Elia's response is as relevant today as it was nine years ago: "The decision to censor shows that our establishment is more threatened by satire, clarity and truth than by young men willing to kill, rape and pillage in the name of Islam. Apparently, my images were 'potentially inflammatory' to terrorists. This is the equivalent of saying an anti-Nazi cartoon in the late 1930s was offensive ... to Nazis. Those who justify and protect barbaric totalitarianism, in whichever form, are on the fast track to becoming totalitarian themselves."

If you want to measure how far fear of Islamism has gone in the UK, just consider that while photographer Andres Serrano's grotesque 'Piss Christ' was permitted to be exhibited in the UK without any police interference, a satirical piece about terrorist organisation ISIS was in effect banned by the police.

Another example can be found in the Muslim-made film Lady of Heaven which was pulled by Cineworld after demonstrations from some Muslims. The trouble was that the film was made by the wrong sort of Muslim - Shias - and so the Sunni hardliners campaigned against it and because Cineworld could not guarantee the safety of their staff, it was pulled. The police said and did nothing, while politicians were silent. Not a word from those now complaining so loudly about Islamophobia.

Or take the infamous case of the teacher in Batley who was forced into hiding because he showed his pupils an image of Muhammad. The school suspended him. The police reassured 'the community' and the Huffington Post referred to the picture as a 'racist caricature'. Again the vast majority of the establishment commentariat were silent. And where is the teacher now? Still in hiding three years later, fearing for his life.

My final example (there are many others) is of an autistic boy in Wakefield who scuffed a Quran. He had brought one to school with three of his friends, and apparently dropped it. As a result, he received death threats. The boys were suspended and their behaviour was logged by the police as a 'hate incident', whilst those who actually made death threats were left untouched. This is modern Britain and soon it will be illegal to say so.

The answer to all of this is firstly to ensure that we have free speech and that the irrational and illiberal desire to censor on behalf of one religion must be stopped. Instead of pandering to the Islamists, maybe part of the answer is for the UK to take the approach of our French cousins who this week deported an imam, Mahjoub Mahjoubi, for hate speech after calling the French flag "satanic".

In Germany the government will now no longer allow imams from Turkey to preach in its mosques, and Denmark, one of the most left-wing progressive countries, now has harsher laws for this than any other country in Western Europe.

Melanie Phillips, in her controversial bestselling book from 2006, Londonistan, detailed how the UK in general and London in particular had become a haven for Islamism in the West. At the time I wondered if her book was exaggerated, but her argument, that administrative incompetence and cultural weakness permitted this to happen, has largely been demonstrated to be true.

I doubt that any of our governments or many of our political leaders will take this seriously because the administrative incompetence and cultural weakness have only increased in the past few years - a gift to the far right (or indeed the far left).

But there is another way.

Take the amazing story of Spencer Fildes, former chair of the Scottish Secular Society (SSS). He and I were, for a while, enemies until one day something changed. The SSS had been bitterly and publicly opposed to any public display of Christianity and were especially angry with public Christians like yours truly. But Spencer, to be fair to him, was an equal opportunities anti-religious person.

Spencer wrote: "It came to a head when I wanted to do something on Dundee University forcing the female teaching undergraduates to cover their arms and legs on a trip to the local mosque. Then holding a 'who looks best in a hijab' competition ... then photographing the students wearing it ... One of my secular colleagues said I was 'no better than the far right ... This unreasonable hyperbolic nonsense was relentless, all secularists ever want to do is Christian bash, it's not about separation of church and state, it's a deeply embedded leftfield political hatred of the Christian right. This is why they make curious bedfellows with Islamists. I wanted no part in it."

For his interesting thoughts on why the 'progressive secularists' argued for a Muslim candidate to become Scottish First Minister, while bitterly attacking a Christian, I recommend his recent blog post. Several years later Spencer is now a Christian brother and friend.

And therein lies the answer.

We need the freedom to share the gospel, without being accused of Islamophobia. And people need to have the freedom to choose their own religion, something which exists in hardly any Muslim country.

I once gave a lecture at a Muslim college which had been set up by Middle Eastern money with one aim being to try and establish a more 'liberal' form of Islam. I spoke on the Islamic doctrine of tolerance and in the course of the lecture I asked, "If someone apostatises from Islam and becomes a Christian, should they be punished by the State, or should they be given freedom to choose?"

To my complete astonishment almost all the students argued apostasy was punishable by death, imprisonment or fines. At that point I realised that the view that somehow a liberal Islamic version of separation of church and state would develop was an illusion. But I did not foresee that a time would come when the UK would reintroduce a blasphemy law – this time on behalf of the Islamists. The government and state authorities need to speak up for the victims, not defend the oppressors.

When I was pastor of a then very small congregation in Dundee my sister came to visit and witnessed a young Pakistani boy being beaten up on the street in what was clearly a racist attack. She came home and asked what I was going to do about it. I shrugged my shoulders. What could I do? "Typical Christian – all talk and no action." She convicted me. So, we set up an Asian ministry to share the love of Christ with the Asians in our city and among other things there was for a time a joint Urdu Quranic/Bible study led by a multilingual colleague.

The local imam asked me to come and see him. He was from Pakistan but there was a man with him who was a white convert from Manchester. He was furious – how dare we try to convert Muslims! I explained that as a good biblical Christian, I never tried to convert anyone, because I couldn't. We only wanted all people without discrimination, including Asians and Muslims, to hear the Good News of Jesus. Before the convert could answer, the imam spoke up: "I agree with my brother, David. He is not being racist or against Islam. God is sovereign. Let him decide." Maybe our politicians should listen to the imam. Let God decide – not them!

There is only One who breaks down the dividing wall of partition. Christians should never be 'Islamophobic' – if by that you mean 'afraid of Islam'. Nor should we despise Muslims, who like us, are human beings made in the image of God. But we should take the opportunity to love our Muslim neighbours. And the best way to love them is to share Christ with them, who brings a life and relationship with God that Islam never can.

David Robertson is the minister of Scots Kirk Presbyterian Church in Newcastle, New South Wales. He blogs at The Wee Flea.