Something apt from Dover Beach

Ian McEwan has just come out against Islamism*, as he calls it. I’m not sure what distinguishes Islamism from Islam, other than the generally derogatory aura created by the suffix ‘ism’, but that’s by-the-by. He’s quoted as saying: “I myself despise Islamism, because it wants to create a society that I detest, based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality and so on – we know it well.” Absolutely, Ian, and I couldn’t agree more.

I read about these comments in today’s Independent on Sunday, which also contains a list of the 101 most influential gay people in Britain. Thirty years ago, it would have been hard to find ten, and they’d have been artists or in show business (I’m thinking Danny La Rue). The list certainly wouldn’t have included business executives, rabbis, EU commissioners, rugby union referees or senior policemen. Coincidentally, the IoS reports that, in Saudi Arabia, 21 young men have just been arrested for the sin of homosexuality. They were rounded up in Qatif last Friday by the religious police, not a force that would have welcomed Brian Paddick with open arms, one imagines, who operate under the aegis of something called the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a typically grandiose name for the usual befrocked gang of bigoted thugs that tend to run these things. The young men arrested can expect to be flogged or worse. Maybe they should seek asylum in an allied state.

What I can’t understand is why the IoS should consider McEwan’s views to be an ‘astonishingly strong attack’. In a country which still pays lip service to ideas of sexual equality, freedom of speech, recognition of gay rights, rational argument rather than revealed truth, etc. they seem to me to be astonishingly mild. If this is ‘hate speech’, it would be interesting to know in what way the crime distinguishes itself from the surely licit act of uttering a list of simple truths expressed in objective terms. Would any Muslim argue that Islam isn’t based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality, but on the opposite of these things – moral relativism, empirical observation, equality for all regardless of sex and sexual orientation? Wouldn’t that be seen as apostasy?

Maybe it’s just because McEwan prefaced the list with the verb ‘detest’. So ‘hate crime’ is nothing more than a statement of fact preceded by the word ‘I’ and a synonym of ‘hate’? In that case, we’re all in the shit. What about if I announce that I’m not that keen on people from the land of Nokia. Would the Finnish ambassador have a case against me?

Ian McEwan may be a public figure, but he hasn’t been elected, doesn’t depend on public money and represents no one but himself. He certainly wouldn’t defend himself by claiming to represent the word of God – unlike, say, homophobic MP Iris Robinson, who seems to have forgotten that ten percent of her constituents may not appreciate being called loathsome. Oh sorry, Iris. Love the sinner, hate the sin. Tell that to Robinson’s cronies in Saudi.

*The quotes come from an interview given to the Italian Corriere della Sera, so this may be a trans-language hiccup.

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This entry was posted in homophobia, ian mcewan, iris robinson, islam. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Something apt from Dover Beach

  1. David Isaak says:

    The US has its faults, but we have this to our credit: every time someone has tried to introduce a statute agaisnt “hate speech” it has been mowed down in our courts.Why would any sensible populace want to give the government authority over what people say? But it’s the trend…

  2. The issue is always whether people who have some kind of elected authority have the same kind of freedom to talk inflammatory crap. My view is that they don’t. But I don’t see how we can, or why we should, restrict individuals’ rights to come out with any bullshit they want… Maybe we should put our efforts into encouraging people not to listen to, or not to give value to, ‘hate speech’, rather than not to utter it.

  3. PS It’s also true that a sensible populace might produce a sensible government, capable of using this kind of authority with intelligence and sensitivity. Unfortunately, we don’t have one. This is another way of saying that people generally get the governments they deserve.

  4. Anne says:

    “I’m not sure what distinguishes Islamism from Islam, other than the generally derogatory aura created by the suffix ‘ism’”Forgive me if I’m misreading your sarcasm, but there’s a moderately useful entry on Islamism on wikipedia. (Yeah yeah I know.) There is a worthwhile distinction to be made between those few militant Muslims who want to impose their version of Islam on everyone else willy nilly, and the vast majority of Muslims who don’t. Not that the latter get given much of a voice in the media, as what they have to say about religion doesn’t affect the rest of us very much.”Would any Muslim argue that Islam isn’t based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality, but on the opposite of these things – moral relativism, empirical observation, equality for all regardless of sex and sexual orientation? Wouldn’t that be seen as apostasy?”Oh I don’t know. Irshad Manji? Most of them don’t want to hang gays or blow the rest of us up. Most people anyway don’t have much stomach for hermeneutics, they just want to get on with life. Turkey is going to some lengths to revise the Hadith.”What I can’t understand is why the IoS should consider McEwan’s views to be an ‘astonishingly strong attack’.”Well, if even the erudite Lambert conflates Islamism with Islam, whether in anger or in jest…As for “a society that I detest, based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality and so on” – hey, that’s where we’ve come from/are still painfully coming from in the Christian West, with struggle and bloodshed; and no, I don’t ever want to go back there. And let us stay free to condemn it for the barbarity it is.

  5. Anne, I stand corrected, and reproved. To be honest, I wasn’t aware of the substantial difference an ‘ism’ made, so your generous assumption of sarcasm was misplaced. It was simple ignorance (blame living abroad?)On the other hand, I wonder if there isn’t a danger of creating a specious distinction between the politicised wing of a church and the mass of believers, who cheerfully ignore the main tenets of that church. Dawkins claims that tolerance towards more moderate proponents of religion merely bolsters their less tolerant fellow-believers, and I’d tend to agree with him. The efforts made by Irshad Manji to carve something a little more humane out of a cultural tradition that, well, isn’t might be more profitably directed elsewhere.

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