Monday, June 09, 2014

Islam: Presentation or Content?

With the 'Trojan Horse' reports due out today (update: now published, very serious stuff), Charles Moore puts his finger on something that's been bothering me for a while now:

The question for the rest of us lies in the issue itself. How big is the problem with Islamist extremism, and why is dealing with it so contentious that it splits all the parties?
Stand back and think of some news stories in the past fortnight or so. The search for the 300 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram; the Sudanese government’s death sentence for apostasy on a pregnant mother; murders in the Jewish Museum in Brussels; the exchange of Taliban prisoners for their dubious American captive soldier Bo Bergdahl; alleged election-rigging in Tower Hamlets; the revelation that some jihadists in Syria are British citizens; and finally, the row about the Birmingham schools.
All these stories are about a religion in ferment. I do not agree with the growing numbers in the West who see Islam itself as inherently violent. All great religions contain so much of the human story that nasty bits can always be extracted by nasty people. (There was a time, remember, when many Christian adherents were more bloodthirsty than the Muslims, let alone the Jews, whom they persecuted.) What is happening, rather, is that the “ownership” of Islam is in contention.
The loudest voices in this struggle, unfortunately, are of those who turn their faith against the free, Western world. In their story, an amazing Muslim civilisation has been trashed by Christians, Jews, white men in general. No blame for misgovernment and economic failure attaches to Muslim countries themselves, except to those leaders (“hypocrites”) who sell out to the West.
You can add to Moores list the stoning to death of a pregnant woman in Pakistan, and the longer-term reality for Christians in just about any country you care to name with a Muslim majority. For example, when Saudi Arabia makes it illegal to convert from Islam to Christianity, and brutally treats anyone who helps people to do this, is that an aberration from what Islam is really about, or standard practice? 
Maybe it is simply that the concentration of power, whether in a state, a London borough, or a school network, warps the hearts and minds of those who have it, as historically it has also done with the church. Even so, Islam still has a problem, because it is set up (via Sharia law etc.) as a system of government as well as a spiritual path. Jesus consciously resisted political power, or anyone seeking to set it up (e.g. Acts 1), insisting that God's kingdom was of a different nature. Christianity doesn't have a system of state government and law built into it in the way that Islam does. 
Maybe, along with the BBC, I'm just hoovering up a narrative that only bears a partial relationship to the truth. And asking questions of Islam will mean asking questions of the church too. But here's my question: are the headlines of the last few weeks mainly a presentation problem - that there are just as many good news stories but they aren't told because they don't fit the media narrative, and don't, in Charles Moore's words, involve the loudest voices? Or does this sorry catalogue actually express something more closely at the heart of  'true Islam'? If there is another side of the story, I'd like to hear it. 
(and why do I feel so wary in blogging these questions?)

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