First, just let me just say that I neither represent, nor speak for, Islam. It’s true, I don’t. I never have. In fact, despite being an office-bearer of the Presbyterian Church I don’t even represent or speak for official presbyterianism! You could use that delightfully obvious turn of phrase: ‘the views expressed in this article are the author’s own.’
We have become quite used to seeing such disclaimers, although the idea that an individual might not authoritatively represent every organisation with which they are affiliated should really come as no surprise. Disclaimers are a perverse result of collectivism and political correctness.
And yet, now that we’ve found ourselves in a war – or not a war…or whatever – with the Islamic State, we should expect to hear them a lot more frequently. Theologian-politicians of every political stripe are falling over themselves to issue a standard caveat. Hear Barack Obama at his recent televised address to the nation: ‘ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents.’
Not Islamic? No, of course not. Why would anyone think it! In response to the President’s statement, the usually sensible Senator Rand Paul accused ISIS of: ‘…not being Islamic or a form of true Islam…. So I think it is important….to point out this is not a true form of Islam.’
Tony Abbott has called ISIS a ‘death cult’ and said that it is not representative of Australian Muslims: ‘There are no stronger members of Team Australia than the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community.’
Team Australia. Drink! And cringe. And here’s Bill Shorten:
‘[ISIS] is a most egregious abuse in the name of Islam….the Islamic State does not represent the Islamic faith….that religion of peace and tolerance.’
Of course, there is a difference between my non-representation of the Presbyterian Church and the alleged non-representation by ISIS of Islam. In my case, I am happy to own it. In the case of ISIS, it is only the Western politicians and commentators that seem to make the distinction. And it is an established practice. After 9/11 everyone from George W. Bush to the Australian Greens made similar denials.
Likewise, after Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale hacked British soldier Lee Rigby to death with a cleaver, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said: ‘I just want to make one obvious point that, I’m sure, will have occurred to many people, and that is that it is completely wrong to blame this killing on the religion of Islam.’
British Prime Minister David Cameron said: ‘There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.’
Not that anyone outside of Islam was ever trying to justify it, but it’s a curious thing to say when video footage has the perpetrators claiming, while still holding the bloodied cleaver: ‘We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’
Of course, this raises all sorts of geo-political and military questions, but to claim that the attack had no connection to Islam made Johnson and Cameron seem outlandish and obtuse.
At least, however, they refrained at the time from positively categorising the religion, unlike our hapless opposition leader. Shorten’s insensitive description of Islam as a ‘religion of peace’ is as laughable as it is unbelievable. In fact, it makes about as much sense as saying that all Muslims are terrorists.
And yet, it’s as if political speechwriters have placed a bulk order on rubber stamps bearing that epithet. With one movement from ink pad to paper, they are now able to easily and effortlessly qualify every intention to crush the dealth cult with an appreciation of the virtues, as Obama has said, of Islamic culture – with its ‘majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation’ – and history – which had ‘demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.’ Religion of peace, you see?
Can’t we agree that most Muslims in Australia, Britain, and America are kind, peaceful people, and that Islamic culture and antiquity are not bereft of significance and achievement – without misrepresenting, not only ISIS fighters, but also the very real history of Islam?
The truth is that, in the last one thousand years, more innocents have been killed in the name of Islam than in the name of Christianity (even with the latter’s crusades, inquisitions, reformations, and Irish republicanism). The truth is that in the name of jihad more infidels have been killed than pagans in all the Biblical holy wars. The truth is that, despite the speechwriters’ rubber stamp of peace, the Koran and other Islamic scriptures provide ample coverage for killing and subjugating infidels.
And it’s a betrayal of these truths – indeed a betrayal of Islam – to pretend otherwise. If a man diligently studies the Koran, prays five times a day, makes pilgrimage to Mecca, and believes that ‘there is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet,’ surely he is entitled to call himself a Muslim, even – perhaps especially – if he fights for an Islamic caliphate and beheads those who offend his piety?
At the very least such ‘radical Islam’ is in keeping with historical Islam. At most, it is an entirely legitimate interpretation of the clear teachings of the Islamic canon.
In Australia these days, a person can be born with a penis and yet choose to self-identify as a woman – and heaven help anyone who doubts, vilifies, or ignores that particular individual’s chosen ‘identity’!
It seems to me that the rampaging jihadis of the Islamic State have more claim to be Muslim than a man in stockings and a padded bra has to be a woman. But this won’t convince theologian-politicians who think they know better than Muslims about Islam, and who, in the absence of any strategy to deal with the global problem of militant Islam, desperately need to believe in a rubber stamp religion of peace.
Chris Ashton has degrees in theology and church history