By Roy Brown
Since the Iranian revolution of 1979 Islam has become far more assertive world-wide. The Iranian revolution showed the Muslim world that Muslims could shake off the «yoke of western economic imperialism» and become the masters of their own fate. But more importantly, Saudi Arabia suddenly woke up to the threat on their doorstep and since the Iranian revolution has spent billions of dollars in promoting its own version of hard-line Islamism world wide.
The Saudi regime is kept in place through a bargain struck with the Wahabis, the dominant sect in Saudi Arabia. The deal is simple: the family can enjoy their jet-setting western life-style, but the quid pro quo is that they spend much of the nation’s oil wealth on promoting Islam – Wahabi Islam.
According to estimates we saw back in 2004, Saudi Arabia spent between 60 and 100 billion dollars on this project between 1980 and 2004 – a process that someone – quite accurately in my opinion – called «stealth jihad». We believe the Saudi regime is still subsidizing hard-line Islamism to the tune of $8 to $10 billion annually.
First they poured money into the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (the OIC) which represents the 57 Islamic States, and has become the most influential power block at the United Nations where they have succeeded in silencing any criticism of human rights abuse in the Islamic world.
I shall come back to the influence of the OIC at the United Nations in a moment.
Since the early 1980s the Saudis have been supporting local and national Islamic organisations around the world. The support the Muslim Brotherhood, CAIR in the United States and Canada, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Geneva Islamic information centre, home of the Ramadan brothers, and a myriad mosques and Islamic information centres around the world.
But most insidiously of all, they have been using their money and influence to replace liberal, moderate leadership in mosques by hard-line imams. Over half of the mosques in England are now controlled by the Deoband – a hard-line Islamist cult that originated in India. Over half the mosques in France are now controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and their sympathisers. I heard just this week in Geneva that over the past 20 years the Saudis have been quietly offering financial support to mosques in India provided they changed their imams to someone approved by them. I have no information on what has been happening in Scandinavia but I would be very surprised if things here were very different.
A new Islamic assertiveness
Right across Europe we are seeing worrying signs of a new Islamic assertiveness: condemnation by self-appointed Islamic leaders of every perceived insult to Islam, demands for special treatment for Muslims in schools, hospitals and the workplace, and for the acceptance of Shari’a law for the settlement of family disputes. But this phenomenon is not confined to Europe. It is part of a global campaign, orchestrated by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the OIC, for the world-wide acceptance and adoption of Islamic norms and values.
For the past 20 years, the OIC has been pushing for international recognition of a unique and special status for their particular hard-line interpretation of Islam.
Their first step was the adoption in 1990 of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, a document which the OIC claims is «complementary» to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but which actually turns the Universal Declaration on its head, replacing individual rights by «rights» based exclusively on Shari’a law.
When I presented a paper at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2008 on behalf of IHEU, highlighting the incompatibility between the Cairo Declaration and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , I was stopped on a point of order by the Pakistani delegate who said that «any discussion of Shari’a law in this forum is insulting to our faith». This extraordinary objection was actually upheld by the president of the Council . If threats to the universality of human rights cannot be addressed in the world’s supreme human rights body, where can they be discussed?
The OIC have since announced plans for an Islamic Charter of Human Rights based on the Cairo Declaration, and a new international Islamic Human Rights body for which the OIC is seeking, and will probably obtain, UN recognition . Should they succeed the UN will have accepted that the Universal Declaration no longer applies to more than one billion of our fellow human beings living in the Islamic States.
Resolutions in the Human Rights Council
But the ambitions of the OIC are not restricted to their own countries. Every year since 1999 they have introduced resolutions in the Human Rights Council and, since 2006 in the UN General Assembly, «Combating Defamation of Religion», with the objective of restricting all negative comment about religion, Islam in particular. Every year these non-binding resolutions have been adopted by the Human Rights Council with a comfortable two to one majority, with only the liberal democracies among the 47 member states of the Council voting against. When this resolution was first introduced in the UN General Assembly it was adopted by a similarly impressive majority. Freedom of expression – and the idea that criticism of Islam should be permissible – is anathema to the Islamic States, and combating defamation of religion has been their weapon of choice in their fight against that freedom. But the western liberal democracies, and every child of the Enlightenment, understand that it is freedom of expression that underpins all our other human rights. Without freedom of expression, how are we to expose and challenge tyranny, corruption and intolerance in all its forms? One hopeful sign, however, is that support for these resolutions has been declining in the UN General Assembly every year since 2006, as a result, no doubt, of the massive negative publicity that the concept of defamation of religion has attracted from NGOs and western delegations .
In their latest moves this year, the OIC has begun pushing for additional «complementary» clauses in the legally binding Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, the CERD, that would extend protection to religions (for which read «Islam») thereby making defamation of religion, or blasphemy, a criminal offence under international law.
And just two days ago they pushed through a change to the mandate to the special rapporteur on freedom of expression requiring that defender of freedom to report on abuses of that freedom – to report, in fact, on cases of Islamophoia!
They are winning
However unreasonable the demands of the hard-liners might seem, and how alien to our way of life and values, they are winning the war in the UN and in many western states as well. One of their key strategies has been to label any criticism of Islam or Islamic extremism as «Islamophobia», and to equate it with racism. In this they were strongly supported by the former UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Doudou Diene, a Muslim from Senegal, who during his term of office succeeded in ignoring every manifestation of the endemic anti-Semitism in the Islamic world while focusing almost exclusively on Islamophobia, which he described as «the worst form of racism». The OIC were, of course, delighted with his statements and have been quoting him endlessly ever since. So all-pervading has been the malign influence of this man that he is still travelling the world advising governments from South East Asia to Northern Europe on how best to counter this phenomenon.
Diene defined Islamophobia as an «irrational fear or hatred of Islam», so no-one among the hundreds of advocates of freedom of expression that I know can be described as Islamophobic; their fears of radical Islam, far from being irrational, are well founded. But fear of being labeled Islamophobic – and of violent reprisals – seems to have infected governments and the media throughout the western world. We see writers, comedians, politicians, playwrights and film-makers happy to attack Christianity while steering well clear of Islam. The film 2012 released earlier this year is a good example. We can see the Vatican wiped out as the Earth faces extinction, but not the Kabaa in Mecca. Director Roland Emmerich and co-writer Harold Kloser admitted that they «didn’t want a fatwa on their heads because of a film».
To see what is in store should the Islamists succeed, we need look no further than Iran or Somalia today where, under Sharia law, young people are being executed for crimes committed while they were still children, men and women are being stoned to death for adultery, homosexuals are killed, and girls as young as eight or nine are being forcibly married off to middle-aged men.
The Islamists are skilful at playing the victimisation card. Yes, they are victims – but victims of an Islamic culture that segregates young Muslims from mainstream society, treats girls and young women as the property of their menfolk, and shows disdain and even contempt for the very values that have enabled them to come to Europe and to prosper.
I am certain that if western employers, the media and governments were prepared to stand up for our values, far from finding opposition from the Muslim community they would hear a collective sigh of relief, that they have indeed come to a country that is proud of its values and prepared to defend them. After all, didn’t the parents and grandparents of today’s young Islamic extremists actually come here in search of a better life, away from the perpetual poverty and intolerance of those states where Islam holds sway?
We must oppose every attempt by the Islamists to introduce Islamic values into our society. Those values are totally alien to the values of the Enlightenment on which our modern democratic societies have been built.
We must oppose attempts to create parallel systems of justice. We must fight every step of the way attempts to create Shari’a courts. All of us, whether Humanists, Christians, Hindus, Jews or especially Muslims, must reject Shari’a law because, as the Islamic scholar Hassan Mahmud has said: «Muslims are the first victims of Islamic law.» And, unless we are very, very careful we will be next.
Where are we heading?
Europe is facing immense demographic changes, and many people are worried about what this will mean for European culture and values in the future. I would recommend an article by Eric Kaufmann in the April addition of Prospect Magazine in which he reports on a research project that has produced the first rigorous projections of the religious composition of 16 European countries to the year 2030.
Even assuming European Muslim fertility declines to the level of the indigenous population by 2030 – which seems unlikely given the increasing influence of fundamentalism – then the Muslim population of Sweden will have reached about 14% by 2030, Austria 11% and France 9%. Since most of the immigrants will be living in our largest cities, we can see that many inner cities will have Muslim majority populations even before that date. And if the assumption about declining Muslim fertility rates is wrong, and the present decline in fertility should stop, we could see far higher proportions of Muslims in our populations by 2050.
But whether we like it or not, and whatever we do now, we are faced with the absolute inevitability of an increasingly Muslim population in Europe.
Misguided policies of uncontrolled immigration and multiculturalism have led to the creation of ghettos in our cities with large numbers of unemployed and effectively unemployable young people who fall easy prey to the rhetoric of the fundamentalists.
So what can we do about it?
I would like to start by making a few suggestions that seem to me to be vital and then I would like to ask you for your ideas about what we can reasonably do about it.
First, I would suggest that what we should not do is attempt to return to the imagined ideal of a Christian continent because of our fear of an Islamic takeover. Talk of our Christian heritage is nonsense. Our heritage is the heritage of the Enlightenment; it was the Enlightenment that led our escape from the tyranny and bondage of medieval Christianity. What we need, and the only system that will enable all Europeans to live together in peace and harmony, is Secularism – by which I mean complete state neutrality in matters of religion and belief.
We should start by adopting a policy of zero tolerance towards incitement to hatred and towards preachers of hate. This is crucially important because incitement to hatred has been shown to play on our human capacity to hate injustice, and to turn that hatred into violent action. The genocides of the Holocaust and Rwanda happened because ordinary people were inspired by their leaders to hate those who were perceived as acting unjustly towards them.
We should therefore have no hesitation in acting severely against anyone who incites hatred of any group. And this applies whether the group in question is Jews, Muslims, immigrants, atheists, homosexuals, Christians, or any other. In fact, our governments are obliged under Article 20 of the ICCPR to act in this way, but unfortunately few of them do so consistently; Islamist imams, for example, seem to have a free pass to preach hatred of the West and of Western values in many of Europe’s mosques.
No religion should be permitted to preach hate simply because such hatred appears in their holy texts. Religious belief cannot and must not be allowed to trump human rights or the law of the land.
We also need to make clear the distinction between – on the one hand – incitement to hatred, and on the other, criticism of religion, no matter how crude and vulgar the criticism. Incitement should be outlawed but criticism permitted as part of our precious commitment to freedom of expression. We must make absolutely clear the distinction between the believer and the belief. Believers should have all their human rights protected, but beliefs are fair game – and there is no human right not to be offended.
Harsh though it may seem on the poor and dispossessed, if we are to avoid major conflicts in the future, we do need to limit immigration to the numbers that can be absorbed and assimilated into our societies. We must do far more to help members of the immigrant communities learn the skills they will need to prosper here, but we must also recognize that the numbers we can absorb depends on their cost to society in education, healthcare, social services and, it must be said, security.
We should support Muslim dissidents, apostates and heretics, groups like the Islamic Reform Movement and the Councils of ex-Muslims which now exist in many European states. Last weekend I attended a conference in Oxford called «Critical Thinking for Islamic Reform». There were about 60 people there, almost all of them believing Muslims, but all of them totally opposed to the hard-liners, Sharia law, the Muslim Brotherhood and the OIC. We hardly ever hear about these Muslims. I left the conference hugely encouraged. But unless reformers become the dominant voice of Islam in Europe we are heading for serious trouble. We must do what we can to help these dissidents.
We should not accept self-censorship. Every time an editor, out of fear, spikes an article or a cartoon that is mocking or critical of Islam or any other religion, we should publicise the fact, and that it was done out of fear, not respect.
We should oppose all attempts by organized religions to obtain special concessions from government. What we allow for Christianity, we cannit reasonably deny to Islam, Hinduism or any other religion.
We should oppose state funding for religious events, for faith schools, tax-breaks for supposedly charitable activities, or attempts to allow religious courts to adjudicate in matters of family law.
We should promote the teaching of critical thinking. I was pleased that when our two youngest children took the International Baccalaureate, one of the compulsory subjects was the «Theory of Knowledge»: that is, a combination of philosophy and critical thinking.
We should promote the teaching of ethics as rooted in an understanding of our shared humanity. All children should be taught comparative religion, including atheism and Humanism, as an antidote to indoctrination – which today runs unchecked in many schools in Europe. The teaching of ethics should be centred on the humanist ideal – shared by many religions – that we are entitled to be treated with dignity, allowed personal autonomy and have equal treatment before the law, and that we should treat others as we wish to be treated.
We need to promote the teaching of science for the non-scientist: an appreciation of the scientific method, of the discoveries of science, and how we know what we think we know. Respect for the scientific, evidence-based approach to life, politics, society and the world around us will go a long way towards the elimination of superstition and undue religious influence in public life.
We need to understand that the history of European civilisation is the history of of the struggle for freedom – and above all for freedom of the mind. We must not allow religion, this time in the guise of Islam, to erode any more of our hard earned freedom.
speech, Free Press Society, Copenhagen, 20. of June 2010
Roy W Brown is main representative at the UN Geneva for the International Humanist and Ethical Union
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