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Muslims held to a double standard

The Kouachi brothers did not speak for Muslims any more than self-professed Christian Anders Breivik spoke for Christians, says John Haylett

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is rarely less than smug, and his smugness will have been enhanced by the Prime Minister’s enthusiastic description of his letter to Muslim clerics as “reasonable, sensitive and moderate.”

The main offence in the Pickles letter lay not in its wording but in the assumption that Muslim communities in Britain bear responsibility for actions taken by individuals.

Pickles wrote that imams could show their congregations “how faith in Islam can be part of British identity,” with the implication, through use of the word “can,” that Islam at present does not form part of that collective identity.

Although some Tory MPs sought to implicate the Catholic church and Catholicism in deeds carried out by the IRA in its armed struggle, no major party linked paramilitary groups to the religious denominations from which they derived their membership.

Such a link is applied selectively to Islam, even though this religion is non-hierarchical and, by dint of that, less open to internal discipline.

Despite this, many Muslim communities have, without fanfare or publicity, acted on their own account to prevent imams supportive of jihadi extremism from addressing worshippers.

The main influences drawing alienated young people to the death cults of Islamic State (Isis) and various al-Qaida offshoots are the internet and Western foreign policy, especially its record of military interventions in Muslim countries.

Full-blooded military invasions and selective bombing sprees enrage many Muslims, as does endemic corruption and dictatorship in many monarchies and sheikhdoms.

But the vast majority of Muslims reject backward-looking calls for separation from society through rejection of democracy in favour of “caliphate” solutions.

That is as true in Britain as in France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and other European states with appreciable Muslim minorities.

The Kouachi brothers claimed to have “avenged the prophet” after their bloodbath in and around the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

But they did not speak for Muslims any more than self-professed Christian Anders Breivik, Norway’s mass murderer, spoke for Christians or than Israel’s war criminals in Gaza can be deemed representative of Jews.

The Kouachis’ vengeance claim appears on the face of it to echo the widespread complaint by most Muslims that cartoons carried by Charlie Hebdo were sacrilegious, but there is a huge gap between expressing anger or calling for protection of religion through blasphemy laws on the one hand and killing people on the other.

Nothing that any person says, writes, draws or paints can justify a death sentence.

The huge Paris demo in protest against the armed assault on Charlie Hebdo was portrayed as a vast outpouring in reaffirmation of republican values, especially “laicite,” which has no exact equivalent in English.

It is often rendered as secularism, but laicite has a more militantly anti-religious slant to it, whereas secularism, as the complete separa

tion of church and state, guarantees full and equal rights to freedom of religion to all faiths.

Laicite is part of the legacy of the French revolution when the grip of an overbearing Catholic church was fractured and the monarchy overthrown.

Clerical power has been curtailed since then despite instances such as, following the defeat of the Commune, that church and state combined to impose punitive taxes on the people of Paris to fund construction of the Sacre Coeur basilica that dominates the city skyline as a constant reminder to Parisians to know their place.

Defenders of laicite — generally, the left, the republicans, as opposed to the right, the heirs of the monarchists — champion free speech in absolute terms, including the right to offend.

However, their Paris demonstration was swollen by many people whose attachment to this value was previously unattested.

Nowhere was this more self-evident than in the rogues’ gallery of overseas politicians who posed arm in arm as though marching defiantly at the head of a teeming throng through the French capital.

They weren’t. They and their security details were isolated from the crowds — a couple of hundred people seeking political benefits back home from a photo opportunity.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was there despite having been asked by French President Francois Hollande not to turn up.

He’s involved in a general election campaign, so of course he turned up.

Despite having been assigned a position in the second row, he used his muscle to barge into the front rank waving to unseen spectators — in reality, Likud voters in Israel.

Netanyahu spent a couple of days in Paris exploiting the siege at the kosher supermarket where four people were shot dead for no reason other than being Jews by urging France’s Jewish population to resettle in Israel.

He said that every Jew moving to Israel would be “welcomed with a warm heart and open arms.”

By him and fellow zionists, yes, but perhaps not by Palestinians who see reflections of every new wave of Jewish immigration in their own further dispossession as Israel pursues its ethnic cleansing of the West Bank.

The Israeli prime minister is perhaps entitled to feel aggrieved at being singled out by Hollande as persona non grata.

Yes, he has the blood of many Palestinian journalists on his hands, but is his record substantially more gruesome than some of Hollande’s welcome guests?

Aren’t Russia, Bahrain, Mali, Georgia, Bulgaria and various Nato member states also implicated in repressing inconvenient media?

Their presence in Paris was not to show solidarity with the concept of media freedom or the right of Jews to go shopping without being murdered but to present themselves as the guardians of the moral high ground in a global struggle against terrorism.

Leaders who have wreaked havoc all over the Muslim world through their barbarous military action accept no responsibility for the resultant chaos.

They divide Muslims into “good” and “bad” on the basis of their reaction to decades of modern crusades and lecture Muslim clerics on what to tell their congregations, with the subtext that Islam is the problem unless it can prove otherwise.

Iraq invasion cheerleader-in-chief Rupert Murdoch tweeted: “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognise and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.”

In common with many reactionaries he blamed “political correctness” for failure to support his view.

Murdoch was in turn pulled up by Harry Potter author JK Rowling who replied: “I was born Christian. If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I’ll auto-excommunicate.”

The Sun proprietor claimed later not to mean that all Muslims were responsible for Paris, but his comment that the “Muslim community must debate and confront extremism” carries the same suggestion that the fault lies within followers of that religion.

It effectively puts Muslims collectively on probation from which they can be released only by identifying fully with the Establishment position, including acceptance of imperialist powers’ supposed civilising and democratic role.

This role is lauded by some faux-left journalists who gave enthusiastic backing to the Blair-Bush wars and are now equally gung-ho about giving the widest possible circulation of material intended to enrage Muslims.

B52 liberal Nick Cohen accuses of cowardice those choosing not to carry anti-Muslim cartoons and alleges that radical Islam is winning successive battles, including effective introduction of a blasphemy law by means of self-censorship.

“The British are the world’s worst cowards. It is one thing to say you don’t approve of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. But the BBC, Channel 4 and many newspapers won’t run any images of Mohammed whatsoever,” he complained.

Why should running images of Mohammed be seen as the acid test of commitment to press freedom?

Powerful people’s wealth has prevented more stories from being published than pressure from any religious quarter.

Charles Windsor’s recent success in the pulling of a TV programme examining his finances exposes the reality behind claims of unlimited media freedom.

Would our freedom of expression be enhanced by publication of cartoons depicting Jesus being buggered by the Holy Ghost or a naked Muslim woman with a piece of blue cloth protruding from her anus and the comment that burkhas can be worn but only on the inside?

The only thing worse than publishing such puerile work would be reacting repressively by banning it.

Journalists will push at perceived boundaries to self-expression, but they should also question how liberty is exercised.

Restrictions on journalistic freedom in Britain and France have historically been imposed by the powerful and wealthy.

That includes the ruling class and its associated major Christian denomination, the Church of England in Britain and the Catholic church in France.

Neither country has suffered under the yoke of an imposed Islamist orthodoxy.

The vast majority of Muslims in both countries are working class or small business people.

They are, actually or potentially, part of the solution to an unjustly divided society that operates in the interests of a tiny rich minority.

Those fighting within the working class for progressive change have always been aware of religious, national or racial diversity in their ranks and encourage mutual respect to maximise class unity.

Why would any left-wing journalist or cartoonist jeopardise that essential by insulting fellow workers simply because they can?

Multiculturalism is a positive aspect of life in Britain.

It is a better place for its successive waves of migrants — its Jews, Irish, West Indians, south Asians and Africans — and the many more nationalities from across the world that have settled here in recent years.

Each group brings its own culture, which is interwoven into the ever-richer fabric of life in Britain, enabling people to appreciate their own history while becoming part of another.

That unity in diversity can be shaken only by efforts to isolate one community and make demands of it not asked of others.

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