Damian Thompson Damian Thompson

Isis and Islamophobes: what a lousy time to be a British Muslim

Just over a week ago I wrote a piece in the Spectator asking if we were on the verge of an anti-Muslim backlash that could spread beyond the strongholds of the aggrieved white working class in Barking and Rochdale and into the home counties. After the gloating videotaped murder of David Haines, a British aid worker, the answer is increasingly likely to be yes.

The Telegraph is carrying a piece by the international affairs analyst Shashank Joshi headed: ‘Where does the Islamic State’s fetish with beheading people come from?’ He begins: ‘Of course, the practice of beheading is invoked in the Koran, but only the most extreme Islamic militants carry it out in the modern day.’

Really? According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia beheaded 19 people  between August 4 and 20 this year. Several of them were drug traffickers; one might argue that there’s no moral distinction between the death penalty in Saudi Arabia and America, which – disgustingly – carried out 39 executions in 2013. But Saudi justice does not offer fair trials: it takes no account of mental illness and hands out the death sentence for ‘sorcery’, whatever that means.

Also, although beheadings are not necessarily more inhumane than America’s botched lethal injections, they are (as Joshi notes in passing, without returning to the point) a Koranic punishment. Muslim scholars say that verse 8:12 – ‘I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them’ – is taken out of context. It is a ‘battlefield commandment’. In which case Isis are, according to their psychotic reasoning, following the letter of the law more accurately than Saudi Arabia. My colleague Douglas Murray (whose views on the Middle East I don’t generally share) is absolutely right to say that Muslims and non-Muslims alike should address the injunction to behead unbelievers in Islam’s foundational documents.

But they won’t: it’s too hazardous.

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