In advance of the Home Secretary’s speech today the Conservative party issued an advance briefing of its ‘new strategy for tackling extremism’. It was gratifying to see that a huge chunk of it credited a piece of mine from four and a half years ago. It is always gratifying when the political consensus catches up with you. So in my self-anointed role of prophet, let me highlight something which, four and a half years from now I will expect another Home Secretary to say.
Because although there were many things to admire in Theresa May’s speech there was also one horrible, glaring and nearly unforgivable error. That is that the Home Secretary chose to speak about religion – indeed to lecture the hall, and the nation, on religion. And one religion in particular. Many of us would like to think that the Home Secretary’s job – if occasionally dull – is very important because it relies on enforcing the laws of the land as well as looking out for circumstances where the law may need tightening or fine-tuning. But how strange to see a Home Secretary getting into the pulpit – and one with which she is clearly so wildly unfamiliar.
Here is Imam May on the terrorist group Isis:
‘This hateful ideology has nothing to do with Islam itself. And it is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Britain and around the world. The Quran says: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.” It says: “let there be no compulsion in religion.” So let the message go out from this hall that the extremists will never succeed in dividing us. Let the message go out that we know Islam is a religion of peace and it has nothing to do with the ideology of our enemies.’
Oh God. Must we? Apparently so. Here we go again.
I suppose there are still some sane people left in this country who would express surprise or distaste were a Tory cabinet minister to be found quoting Biblical verses during their conference speeches? But imagine if they did so while also whitewashing the Bible and pretending that the Bible has no abhorrent verses (which it certainly does). I’m not keen on politicians quoting any religious verses at me in any situation. It’s just not their job. But if you are going to do such a thing, at least be honest. But May, or her speechwriters at least, were not honest today. After all these years she can’t seriously believe what she said, can she? She can’t seriously not know about this, can she?
Let us take that early verse in the Quran about there being ‘no compulsion in religion’. Fine. Nice. Sounds terrific. Admittedly the passage is spoilt somewhat if you read on a couple of verses (from 2:256 to 2:260) and it says that all the ‘unbelievers’ will become ‘inhabitants of the Fire, therein dwelling forever.’ But what’s the point of getting stuck on eternal burning in hellfire when you have a point to make in a Conservative party conference speech?
I suppose it would have been too much to expect Theresa May’s speechwriter to flick along a few pages in the Quran and read from Chapter VIII (‘The Spoils’ in the Arberry translation). This chapter is more than usually good in explaining how exactly to kill the enemies of Allah, why you should chop off their heads and also provides a handy guide to which of their family and other ‘possessions’ the ‘believers’ are then allowed to take as bounty. Why not read these passages? Why not explain the importance of cutting the heads off from non-believers, including Christians?
After all that is what is going on in Iraq and Syria right now. It happened in Woolwich last year. And it was attempted in Norway and Australia just in recent days. And Isis and their ideological bedfellows are behaving the way this way, and calling on scriptural and religious authority while doing so, not because they didn’t get the memo, but because they did and have not been sufficiently countered from within their own faith. This is a huge problem for Muslims. As I have said many times, the extremists like Isis may have a terrible interpretation of Islam. Obviously for all our sakes – Muslim and non-Muslim – they have adopted the very worst interpretation of Islam. But it is an interpretation of Islam. They do not get to where they get from nowhere.
But it is just so sickening. So boringly, tediously, repetitively sickening, to keep watching this parade of Tory politicians reading out passages from the Quran to explain to the British public why Isis are wrong. We don’t need them to do this. We just need them to uphold the laws of the land, our principles and traditions. The waters they are leading us into are murkier than they can possibly imagine. But ignoring the violent traditions of Islam only benefits – as I have also said many times – those Muslim extremists who are enraged that a British Home Secretary should be presuming to tell them what they should or should not believe. And it also benefits the growing number of non-Muslim members of the public who wonder why there is such an appalling effort to cover up what anybody who opens any Islamic holy text can tell straight away.
As I say – I don’t want Theresa May to do any of this. I want her to stop extremism and otherwise continue being a really very good Home Secretary. Upholding the laws of the land is a job she can succeed at. Lying to the country that Islam doesn’t have internal problems it must deal with will lead her and the country to failure in this crucial fight. As I say, give it four and a half years and I predict a Home Secretary will see this.