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Spectator letters: Islam and the roots of radicalism

Plus: the question of new security laws; when Groucho Marx laughed; and would you trust a robot doctor?

24 January 2015

9:00 AM

24 January 2015

9:00 AM

The roots of radicalism

Sir: Qanta Ahmed is to be praised for her dissection of Islamism and her call for a reformation of Islam (‘Let there be light’, 17 January). That call has been muted for decades but is now growing louder, and it is right to promote Muslims who see a way forward out of their current predicament. But her view of an ‘authentic Islam’ that is untainted by Islamist interpretation is surprisingly naive. Islamists do not, in fact, distort classical Islam to the extent that Ahmed suggests. Offensive jihad is a doctrine in the Quran and was a practice of Mohammed. Harsh sharia laws pre‑date modern Islamism by many centuries. Most of today’s Islamists (who refer to themselves as Salafis) do not call for a new form of their faith, but for a return to the days of the Prophet and his companions (the Salaf). If there is to be reform, Muslims must face the problem of how to overcome the Quran’s own verses ordering hatred for non-Muslims and war against them.

Fortunately, the excellent Douglas Murray took up this theme correctly, placing Islamic scripture and history in their rightful context and showing how radicalism is rooted in ‘authentic’ Islam. Mohammed ordered the assassinations of ten poets who had offended him: that is the inspiration for the Charlie Hebdo attack. Reform in Islam will not happen until honest and right-minded Muslims like Ahmed work alongside non-Muslims like Murray and others who seek a fact-based evaluation of the religion in both its spiritual and ideological form.
Dr Denis MacEoin
Newcastle upon Tyne

Islam vs Islamism

Sir: Qanta Ahmed’s article was excellent. Kipling once wrote that ‘where there is Islam there is an intelligible civilisation’. Where there is Islamism, there isn’t. Dr Ahmed makes this clear, to us and to her fellow Muslims.
Allan Massie

Turing test

Sir: Your leading article last week (‘Cameron vs Charlie’, 17 January), made the following argument: it would be wrong, apparently, to enact any laws that make it easier for the security services to decipher digital messages, but it would be absolutely fine if they could ‘hire a latter-day Alan Turing’ to enable them to do the same thing. This may have been intended as just a bit of frivolity, but it is clearly nonsense. The two approaches are morally equivalent, both in terms of intent and of result.
Johnny Cameron
Pewsey, Wiltshire

Robot medics

Sir: Mary Wakefield’s column about Google replacing the local GP (‘Would you put your life in the care of Dr Droid?’, 17 January) unexpectedly reminded me of my late father-in-law Bill Dorsch’s experience as a surgeon at the Broken Hill Base Hospital at the start of the second world war. At the time, he was one of two surgeons at the hospital with German names (though both were Australian): Drs Wilhelm Dorsch and Franziska Schlink. There were no other surgeons within 200 miles. A day or so after the declaration of war on Germany, their lists emptied because of anti-German feelings. But within two weeks, the same patients who had taken themselves off the list were back; their conditions did not share their prejudices.

Just as there were no substitutes for surgeons Dorsch and Schlink, I believe there will be no electronic substitute for a well-trained, competent general medical practitioner in the foreseeable future.
Leon Le Leu
Googong, Australia

Clean cars and class

Sir: Toby Young is right to suggest that people with clean cars are probably those who throw their litter out of the window (Status anxiety, 17 January). Several years ago, my mother, grandmother and I were stuck for some 20 minutes in a jam on a country road in very hot weather. When one of the young men in the car in front threw his beer can out of the passenger window, it was promptly returned to him by my indignant grandmother. The young man was too surprised to say anything, but minutes later, his three companions ‘mooned’ us from the back seat. I don’t know whether the youths came from the bottom of the social pyramid, but my grandmother did observe that their car was considerably cleaner than mine and that the offender was wearing a sleeveless ‘wifebeater’ T-shirt. We also spotted a tattoo on one bare buttock.
Kathy Walton
Chorleywood, Hertfordshire

When Groucho laughed

Sir: Ian Thomson’s celebration of the ‘Marx men’ (Arts, 10 January) brought back to me the only moment when I ever saw Groucho crack up laughing on his You Bet Your Life quiz show. The lady contestant was longing for her husband to leave the army, saying, ‘My dream is to see him standing by the bed holding his discharge in his hand.’
John McCarthy

More about yourself

Sir: I was glad to find a sympathiser in Mark Mason over something that has been irritating me for some time (‘Get over yourself’, 10 January). I wonder whether Mr Mason has experienced this ‘corporate’ speak being used by train guards as much as I have? Perhaps the worst recent offender was the guard on a train from King’s Cross who kindly proclaimed, ‘So if myself or any of my colleagues can be of assistance to yourself please don’t hesitate to stop us as we pass through the train.’
Will Trotman
London SW6

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