Rod Liddle says it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the worst violations of human rights happen in countries dominated by an Islamic ideology

A young girl in Bangladesh has been sentenced to 101 lashes for having become pregnant as a consequence of being raped. Her father will also have to pay a fine to the local Islamic savages who presided over the case. The rapist was pardoned by the village elders. The girl, who married shortly after the attack, has since been divorced in the usual peremptory Islamic manner.

Yes, yes, I know; the point of journalism is to tell you things you didn’t know or might not have guessed, on the man-bites-dog principle. If that principle were to be applied here, the rapist would have got 20 years in prison and the victim afforded compensation and counselling. You read the words ‘Islam’ and ‘Bangladesh’ and ‘rape’ and you knew exactly what was coming. Savagery and misogyny and a reversal of what we might call natural fairness. The girl was 16 years old and she said ‘all I want is justice.’

Bangladesh is often held up as an example of an Islamic country where the usual savageries do not hold sway. It holds elections sometimes! It elected a woman prime minister! Its human rights record is sort of appalling but there are far worse countries to worry about! So, give them a biscuit, someone; well done Bangladesh.

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Incidentally, when Bangladesh isn’t being touted as a modern, progressive Islamic state the mantle sometimes falls upon Malaysia (which, in truth, has far greater claim to it). But try renouncing Islam in Malaysia and see how far you get: interminable court proceedings and the likelihood of a jail sentence at the end. Try, if you are a Christian, uttering the word ‘Allah’, meaning the Christian God, and count the seconds before your house is firebombed. Try being an overt gay. Malaysia is about the best Islamic democracy has to offer and it is a hugely admirable country in many ways — and indeed, some of the things which make it admirable have been devolved from Islam. But there are still sharia courts which will punish sexually abused women under the proximity laws and issue vicious prohibitions against homosexuality and apostasy.

Other, non-Islamic countries are nasty too, of course — a hell of a lot nastier than Malaysia which, with its Islam Hadhari (Islam today), has made a decent fist of ensuring that women receive equal rights and ‘sub-standard’ (i.e. not bumiputra, not ethnic Malay) citizens have a considerable amount of freedom under the law to practise their religions. The Ugandans and Malawians, for example, are considering putting to death homosexuals, this time from a considered and inclusive late-medieval Christian perspective. The North Koreans will put you to death for questioning their government. But by and large you cannot escape the conclusion that the most repulsive invasions of human rights that we see in the world today take place in countries where the national ideology is devolved from Islam. And the more directly or purely it is so devolved, the more primitive and savage it is.

This should not be a shock to us, but we have got ourselves into a twist over Islam in the UK. We have absolved the ideology of all blame by enacting legislation which demands that the rest of us ‘respect’ it, and therefore resist ad hominem attacks upon it as if they were in some way racist. They are not, of course. And at the same time as doing this we have been forced, as a consequence, to distinguish between those whom we think of as being representative of ‘Good Islam’ and the increasing numbers of those whom we place in the box labelled ‘Bad Islam’.

Bad Islam, or Extremist Islam, is a perpetually shifting entity and now would seem to include women who wish to wear the full veil, as well as a whole panoply of groups whose views we do not like. Once you absolve the ideology, Islam, of its crimes, you are left with this haphazard and punitive approach, leaving the government and the authorities in the position of being Koranic experts deciding which savage transgression accedes with the will of Allah and which does not.

Increasingly, as a consequence, individual Muslims are being punished as a result of this confused dichotomy. They should not be. They should be allowed to believe whatever the hell they like, even up to and including the belief that primitive savages in some Bangladeshi village are within their rights to sentence a raped girl to 101 lashes, or that village elders in Somalia are within their rights to stone adulterous women to death.

The principle of freedom of speech should allow such views, no matter how vile they might be. But the government should not give credence to them by enacting legislation which says that Islam is tickety-boo and thus demanding of our respect. Nor, I would argue, should state schools accede to the views of local elders, who decree that Muslim girls should be dressed in headscarves, which are perhaps a gentle nod towards the subjugation which ends in some pit in Somalia with a woman pleading for her life and the rocks beginning to fly. In private, let them wear what they want, and it would be an infraction of human rights if, à la Jack Straw, we were to complain about the dress code of Muslim citizens. But we should not permit them in a place which has the imprimatur of the state. We should not say, in quasi official terms, we think this is ok.

I asked a representative from the Muslim Council of Britain if he agreed with the sentence handed down in Bangladesh on that 16-year-old girl. He was pretty clear that it was a ‘monstrous interpretation’ of Islamic law regarding the strictures against sex outside of marriage. But it is hardly an uncommon monstrous interpretation, if it is a monstrous interpretation at all, rather than a perfectly rational interpretation. In any case, he accepted that it was an attempted interpretation of Islam — in other words, that the inspiration for the lashing of that abused child was drawn from the ideology, even if it was an inspiration based on a misapprehension.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated