A Herald story last week, which I didn’t notice at the time, seems to link my last two blogs in an interesting way. I know it’s important not to get obsessive about some particular topic, otherwise you get dismissed as a loony. And whatever you write, you need at least to seem balanced. For instance, if you write against the entry of Turkey into the EU, as I did earlier this week, you must be careful not to do it in such a way as to start getting called Islamophobic.
Now, “Islamophobic” is an interesting word, with two quite distinct meanings, one of them etymologically absolutely incorrect: a phobia is a fear of something, not a hatred of it. In other words, Islamophobia actually means a fear, not a hatred of Islam. Which brings me to Anna Arco’s story last week, headlined “Police monitor internet for threats against the Pope during his visit”. That’s where my other blog comes in: for the Herald story concerned an extremist website called the Islamic Standard, which has urged Muslims to “tell the Pope just what they think of him after his insults against the Prophet Muhammad”. It also said the Birmingham event was not only a chance to “challenge these evil words of this evil Pope” but that it was also a chance to “call people away from the shirk [idolatry] of worshipping the dead like the Catholics do….”
So we may get a substantial crowd of radicalised Birmingham Muslims turning up at Cofton Park, a prospect which definitely fills me with a fear of what that could lead to. This feeling is shared by Khalid Mahmood, the MP for Perry Barr, who told a Birmingham paper that he feared the post might incite violence and even cause riots on the day. Since he is a Muslim himself, this can’t be Islamophobia: and he distances the threat entirely from true Islam. “These supposed Muslims”, he said are doing all they can to incite violence…. This is just the warped product of warped minds and it reveals how ignorant they are about Islam.”
That’s where my own fear of Islam comes in: for I have to admit that I don’t know which of these faces of Islam is the true one. History often seems, Janus-like, to point both ways: and in the end, it is British Muslims who will write the as yet unlived history which will demonstrate whether Khalid Mahmood is right. I really hope he is: for Islamophobia, in its true sense, is the biggest potential threat of all to Muslim and non-Muslim alike. In the words of FDR, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.