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Islam and 'Fundamentalism'

The Irish Times - Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Madam, - I refer to an article published in your newspaper last Monday, April 26th, by the former Labour Party Minister, Justin Keating. Mr Keating is also described as president of the Irish Association of Humanists.

My principal objection to Mr Keating's article is when he talks about "the fundamentalism of George W. Bush or Bin Laden or the Likud Party in Israel". I was under the illusion that the US Republican Party and Israel's Likud party were democratically accountable parties which have enjoyed terms of elected office, and terms as main opposition parties. On the other hand Bin Laden heads a clandestine organisation whose stated aim is mass murder of as many innocent Western civilians as possible - Muslims included.

In fairness to Mr Keating, he is by no means the only person who struggles to spot this difference. Perhaps he might want to compare a year lived in America or Israel with one spent in the company of some trainee Al-Qaeda foot soldiers. Alas, he can no longer try life in Taliban Afghanistan.

He also states that "the huge mess of the Near and Middle East" is of Western making. Now there's a sweeping statement - and a half. It's all the West's fault, and no doubt any atrocity carried out is merely a reaction to the West's meddling. This is the same cancerous bilge that now infects Ireland, and other countries. No crime, no atrocity, no outrage is ever the perpetrators' fault. Blame society, blame the West, blame history - it's not my fault. Some of us happen to believe that adults are responsible for their actions; that's what should mark us out as adults.

To the claim that Islamic societies are "in extremely rapid evolution" I would state that many are going backwards, fast or are close to collapse. Muslim peoples are voting with their feet, and heading to the free and wealthy West. The UN says that Muslims make up 70 per cent of the world's migrants, but they make up only about 20 per cent of the world's population.

Finally, Mr Keating recommends we try loving Muslims. Does he want us to love all Muslims? I have several good friends who happen to be Muslims. However, I have no intention of ever loving the islamo-fascist, hate-filled bigots who, I believe represent the greatest threat to Western liberty since the end of the Cold War. It was force that defeated fascism. It was the threat of force that kept Communism out of Western Europe, and eventually that too collapsed. In the week of the expansion of the world's first democratic empire, I believe that our freedoms will be taken from us if we are not prepared to fight for them - literally, if necessary.

- Yours, etc.,

GERARD KELLY, Orwell Gardens, Rathgar, Dublin 6.

Islam a Diverse Religion, Not a Homogenous Conspiracy
The Irish Times - Monday, April 26, 2004

We must strenuously oppose the demonisation of the whole of Islam, a collection of one billion people, writes Justin Keating. 

'Islamic struggle for world domination not new" was the headline, and in the text, "Iraq is just one pawn in the Islamic struggle for world domination". Thus wrote Susan Philips in a Rite and Reason column on April 19th. This seems to me to be part of a recent and very widespread drive to demonise Islam, which surprises me the more as I had thought of Susan Philips as a sensible person.

The Islamic Peril. Many perils are colour-coded, so this one must be the Green Peril. I can think of lots of others, with colours attached. I grew up with the Yellow Peril, located appropriately in the Far East. And from the Russian Revolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall there was the Red Peril.

Before these was the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a famous forgery used to promote a hatred of Jews, used in justification of anti-Semitism and pogroms in particular. We had to halt, you see, the Jewish conspiracy for world domination. In this case no particular colour is involved. It was just the Jewish Peril.

Most loathsome was the Nazi plan, which really was for world domination, and which I suppose one might call the Black Peril. And now it's Green.

All of these, whether they were real threats or not, had a religious or quasi-religious set of beliefs attached, and it was this connection I would like to discuss.

I look on all of this from the outside, because, as a humanist, I think that mankind has always invented the religion it wanted or thought it needed to justify what it was determined to do.

Looking over the whole historical spectrum of religion, to me there are remarkable similarities. Each believes it is based on the revealed word of God.

It is therefore the Truth, with a capital T, and is thereby superior to any other religion. "First I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me."

Each has presided over periods of militant expansionism on the part of its faithful, to bring the light of truth to its unbelievers.

And in the end they settled down, mellowed, and got a bit more tolerant of the infidel. And each, alas, is subject to regression.

Catholic and Protestant bigotry in Northern Ireland, the fundamentalism of George W. Bush or Bin Laden or the Likud Party in Israel. In the long view none of these regressions comes to much. People return to their senses. Live and let live. Life goes on. Or it used to.

But now - and here I come to why the demonisation of Islam is so potentially suicidal for all of us - since the development of nuclear weapons 60 years ago, we have the power to end human life on earth.

So what is the best way to respond to Islamic fundamentalism, in Afghanistan, Iraq or Palestine? "Those who want victory against terror without addressing underlying grievances want an unending war" and "The solution to the problem of terrorism is to offer an honourable solution to the Palestinians respecting their right to self-determination".

The quotes are from two of the most senior and recently retired heads of Israeli intelligence services.

The huge mess of the Near and Middle East is of Western making. I have only room for one example, Iran.

At the end of the second World War it had strong liberal and modernising forces in society, a rapidly developing and well-educated middle class and was on the road to a functioning democracy.

In 1951 Mosaddeq became prime minister and nationalised the oil industry. The result was that the CIA organised a coup which restored the Shah as a "friend" of America.

In the worldwide league table of obscene cruelty and repression his secret service was right at the top. All progress was halted. The lid was screwed down on social development.

Nearly 30 years later there was a fundamentalist revolution - courtesy of Uncle Sam. There are similar examples all over the Middle East; all over the world, indeed.

So what do we need to do? Firstly we should realise that Islam is not a homogeneous conspiracy, but a collection of one billion people, with a very great history and culture, from whom we, in the past, have learned a great deal. They are extremely diverse in their beliefs and politics. They do suffer a sense of being ill-used and exploited by the West. They are in extremely rapid evolution.

Terrorists, while real and dangerous, are a tiny part of that society. So what should we do in respect of the world of Islam?

For a start we should give up the belief that they have either the wish or the power for world domination. It would be a good thing to cease our own state terrorism towards them. It would be a good thing to stop interfering in their affairs.

We should become aware of an immense culture and a great history. We should respect them, and not tell them, as an American general recently did, that our God is better than their's.

And we might just try treating them in a fair and non-exploitative way.

And, if a humanist may say it to Christians, I think we should try loving them.

Justin Keating is president of the Irish Association of Humanists. He is a former Labour Party Minister for Industry and Commerce.