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The government regularly bungles religious issues, so how can it deal effectively with Islamic extremism?

Cosying up to Saudi Arabia is just one example of the hypocrisy at the heart of David Cameron’s pluralist position

By on Thursday, 6 June 2013

David Cameron is setting up a cabinet level task force to combat Islamic extremism (Photo: PA)

David Cameron is setting up a cabinet level task force to combat Islamic extremism (Photo: PA)

The Prime Minister made a speech on Monday in which he spoke about the government’s response to the Woolwich murder. He used the phrase “draining the swamp”. This phrase was much used, if memory serves, in the wake of 9/11. So, twelve years on from the Twin Towers, is our government any closer to formulating a response to the attacks directed against us by Islamist terrorists?

The Prime Minister is setting up a cabinet level task force, the details of which can be read about here. Governments are supposed to busy themselves with practical matters, so no sensible person would dismiss the task force and its attempts to disrupt extremist websites, for example. This is something that only government can do, and which government surely should do.

Something that falls into the same category is the deportation of undesirables, which is not mentioned, and which, as the case of Abu Qatada reminds us, is one area where government seemingly has its hands tied.

Governments like ours, however, are supposed to adopt a neutral approach to religion and matters of conscience (though, of course, in practice they don’t). Both Cameron and Blair before him have interfered with the realms of what they call ‘ideology’ – but let us not get into that now.

Tony Blair, now out of office, and therefore more forthright than the incumbent Prime Minister, makes the following point: “There is a problem within Islam – from the adherents of an ideology which is a strain within Islam… We have to put it on the table and be honest about it. Of course there are Christian extremists and Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu ones. But I am afraid this strain is not the province of a few extremists. It has at its heart a view about religion and about the interaction between religion and politics that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies.”

In this assertion, he is fundamentally correct, and it is the last part that is most important, the ‘not compatible’ part. Consider Saudi Arabia, which is a non-pluralistic and non-liberal society, and certainly not open-minded. In Saudi Arabia the government carries out executions (or judicial murder, if we are honest) of people it finds offensive, such as several people recently judged to be sorcerers. Is there any difference in the mindset of the Saudi authorities who condemn such unfortunates to death, and the perpetrators of the Woolwich murder?

It has been said many times that al-Qaeda is waging a war against modernity. So, in a different way, is the Wahhabi establishment in Saudi Arabia. Both reject pluralism, as a lived reality, and also the reasoning that underpins pluralism.

So what can our government do to try and get these people to see the benefits of embracing pluralism? Here we have a difficulty, thanks to government hypocrisy on this matter. Tony Blair closed down the Catholic adoption agencies – so he is hardly an apostle of pluralism. The British government regularly cosies up to the Saudi regime, so it can scarcely convince us that it disapproves of religious monism per se. At the same time, it has sponsored legislation that all Muslims must find offensive, which is hardly likely to induce trust. In many ways it is best that government stays out of the ‘ideological’ question given its track record, and its astonishing cackhandedness in handling religious matters to date.

But there are other people who can get involved. There are Muslims in Britain who combine faith and nationality with considerable success. These are the people who in the end have to convince their fellow Muslims that the extremist path is not the right one. Tony Blair is right in saying that this is a problem inside Islam; the solution too will be inside Islam. Those of us outside Islam will have to step back and wait for the conversation to happen; in the meantime the government task force can get on with its job of containing extremism, which will never be 100 per cent effective. But for a true and lasting solution, that is up to Muslims.

The best the government can do, I suppose, is to sponsor colloquies amongst Muslims on the nature of the relationship between faith and society, and get the BBC to televise them. This has historical precedent, as in the Colloquy of Poissy, the Hampton Court Conference, and the Colloquy of Marburg. Something like this has been tried with the Doha Debates more recently. True, none of the historical colloquies were great successes, but ‘jaw, jaw’ is always preferable to the alternative.

  • Kate Ann

    I think you are absolutely right. Perhaps the first thing the church should do is to refuse to acknowledge islam as a religion. From the way it portrays itself and its obvious desire to rule the world it comes under ideology. It is significant that Hitler admired it and that Churchill declared the world would never be free of slavery while islam is around

  • Julian Lord

    ooooops, I seem to have opened a can of worms

    Excellent post BTW

  • Julian Lord

    The worse the state of secular non-religious society becomes

    This is EXACTLY the purely historic contingency that I refer to — it has no eternal nor even any permanent value.

  • Benedict Carter

    Well done again SG, you are right. The only worry would be the nature of the dhimmitude one would be living under. But the society as a whole WOULD INDEED more resemble a healthy Catholic society than the gross public immorality one sees in the West daily – from TV to radio to young “ladies” vomiting in the streets.

  • Benedict Carter

    That’s not a state of ideological crisis within Islam at all. It’s as SG says – the unleashing of the latent power of Islam once the shackles of long-time dictators are taken off.

  • la Catholic state

    The Western fascination with Islam, is a slap in the face for Christ. And that is what they mean it to be.

  • la Catholic state

    This is what is happening with the Catholics in France……

  • scary goat

    Well….in a sense, yes….but history is a very long time. Of course the Catholic Faith is the stronger….in the bigger picture of things…because it is the Truth…and eventually Truth will win…..eventually. That doesn’t stop God from punishing nations who reject Him by allowing them to be overcome by their enemies. Maybe what England needs is a good dose of Islamic “invasion” to wake the people up and sort them out. I suspect it will be a long time before England is a Catholic country again..but maybe this is part of the process. Who knows.

    Think Joseph (OT Joseph)

  • LocutusOP

    I challenge you to find an ounce of relativism in what I wrote instead of dismissing it as such when you run out of arguments.

  • Julian Lord

    An ounce ?

    Here’s a pound : “Let the Muslims sort it out amongst themselves

  • Julian Lord

    It’s as SG says

    L’un n’empêche pas l’autre

  • midnightblue

    Yeah. You’re right. The problem with implementing my idea is that western women are not role models for Mary so it would be a difficult sell. But you never know, maybe when Pope Francis washed the feet of the Muslim woman prisoner he lit a flame:-)

  • scary goat

    Well, technically I suppose not. But for the time being I should say the Islam looks pretty healthy.

  • scary goat


    But yes, the major problem is “by their fruits ye shall know them”. Most muslim women have a self respect that you don’t see much of in modern western society.

  • PaulF

    Exactly Benedict. That is the line along which we should be running. The tragedy is that Britain has a Christian constitution, but there seems to be no one in position who understands how to act on it. If only V2 had given a clear lead. Clear corrections are urgently needed.

  • AlanP

    Basically you are arguing against democracy. You seem to be saying that the Church should, in some way, seek to become the government, and impose the laws it would like to see. I prefer to keep the democratic principle, and encourage Christians to play their full part in national affairs, particularly when they vote. I would add, in passing, that Muslims play an active role in pro-life groups like SPUC, and we should welcome that.

  • AlanP

    To suggest saying no to Muslim immigration (which anyway cannot deal with later conversions) would be like saying no to Christian immigration because of IRA atrocities.

  • scary goat

    I pretty much agree with this. Certainly your last paragraph is correct. On an international level, I think “dialogue” with Muslims is a good idea….in the sense of agreeing to disagree and keeping peace. Internally, I would have thought it’s a good idea to stop further Muslim immigration. I also do not feel that dialogue with Muslims already in this country is a good idea. Sometimes the best thing to do is ignore…not give them a platform…and let them sort out their own issues internally. If further immigration is stopped and they are not given a platform, and not pandered to, maybe they will settle down and get on with day to day life quietly. Of course, the problem is we are hardly what you could call a Christian country any more. If people were interested in preserving Christianity it might be a bit of a different story.

  • James M

    “Tony Blair, now out of office, and therefore more forthright than the incumbent Prime Minister”

    ## Maybe he can afford to be – it’s not as though he were in the same party. When Labour is back in power, the CH will trash the then incumbent PM as heartily as it trashes the current occupant of Number 10, Downing Street. It’s very easy to throw ordure at those who are in Government – what do the nay-sayers propose instead of the measures and policies they despise so heartily ? Any fool can criticise to his heart’s content – being constructive takes a little more effort.

    And don’t have priests have more urgent responsibilities than (often partisan) journalism ?

  • James M

    If I could, I’d give that 10 likes. FWIW, I think matters are far worse than your post suggests. The Churches in the UK are basically zombies. The problem – or one of the problems – for Christianity in the West is that it is old, thread-bare, deeply compromised, divided into who knows many factions speaking at odds, and (to put it very nicely) it’s played out, and has nothing to offer. As well as being associated with a lot of things people quite reasonably find morally repellent. This may not be entirely fair – then again, it may be too complimentary. There is also the minor problem that Christianity has been dying in Britain for at least 50 years – Islam may help to give it its coup de grace, without being the cause of its death

    British unfamiliarity with Islam probably helps a lot, in that it is not Christianity. Cultures that are are not the dreary old messes people are familiar with have a great advantage over their more familiar competitors. Islam seems to have taken hold in Britain in a way that Buddhism has not – maybe Islam is foreign & without being too unfamiliar. It’s foreign enough to be exotic, & therefore inviting, without being unpleasingly alien. Christianity OTOH is either drab, or pantomimic; thanks in part to the loss by the Church of its symbolic language – which has been taken over by the wider culture for its own purposes. The seriousness of that development can hardly be exaggerated, and it is going to continue. And it is very largely of the Church’s making – which is why the shepherds of the flock are unaware of it. They are like men waking up just as the guillotine is about to fall :(

    Christianity has a problem in being too complex, and it’s very difficult to make assertions about doctrines that do not have to be qualified by assertions about other doctrines – the Christian doctrine of the Unity of God is complicated by the assertions that God is a Trinity. That is not a problem for Islam – no such qualifications are needed, and this helps Islam by making it look more straightforward (& by implication, honest) than Christianity with its endlessly complicated theism. People like clarity, not obfuscation – and Christianity is at a disadvantage because it is not clear. And then there is the almost universal Christian zeal not to share the Gospel – it’s not “good form” to do that, and most Christians are pagans dipped in water anyway. They can hardly share a Gospel they themselves do not understand or are bored rigid by.

    Christianity has died elsewhere at various times – it’s fatuous to imagine it can’t die in the UK. Whether Them Up Top in the various Churches have the guts or the honesty to admit this, is anyone’s guess.

  • James M

    That is like suggesting Christians should admit to being idolaters for believing in the Trinity; which is what, from a Muslim POV, Christians are. And from a Muslim POV, revulsion at the worship of the Trinity is entirely right. What would be absurd, would be for a Muslim to accept – on the testimony of the Quran itself – that God is One, & that Christians are guilty of adding a partner to God; & yet, not condemning this Christian belief. Only if one ignores the Muslim POV does it make anything at all like sense to expect Muslims not to find (what they regard as) Christian blasphemies utterly abhorrent. Why should Muslims insult their own religious convictions ?

  • James M

    “Perhaps the first thing the church should do is to refuse to acknowledge islam as a religion.”

    ## It is a religion. It is is the same sort of religion as Christianity – one that makes claims to catholicity: in time, place, and in politics. Since both Christianity & Islam – like Nazism & Communism – are versions of the OT idea of the universal Reign of God, this similarity is not surprising. A universal Papacy is not very different from a universal Caliphate – both have as their justification that they are means for realising the Will of God in society. Both religions aspire to include the whole human race, neither exempts any human thing from what is owed to God. The details of how each religion functions are different, but the instincts of both are identical.

    Was Pope St Pius V not a member of a religion when he deposed Queen Elizabeth in 1570 ? He did so as Pope, because England was a fief of the Holy See, and had been ever since King John became a vassal of Innocent III. Henry II invaded Ireland in 1170 on the strength of the Bull Laudabiliter granted by Adrian IV (1154-59). When Leo XIII adjudicated between the territorial claims of two Latin American states in 1898, he did so by the same authority as JP2 did after him, and as Alexander VI had done when dividing the New World between Spain & Portugal. The Papacy has intervened in these and similar ways dozens of times: William the Bastard had the support of Alexander II in invading England in 1066. This book has a great more examples of Papal actions such as those mentioned. It also contains many footnotes:

    If the objection is that Islam does not conceive of the “super-natural” in the same way as Catholicism does, and is not sacramental, that may be so, but does not make Islam not a religion; the same ob jection cam be made against the religion of the OT – but it would be counter-intuitive to deny that pre-Christian Israel had a religion. Religions don’t to have be like Christianity to be religions. The notion of the “super-natural” is itself evidence of a way of thinking that is not found in all religions. Islam is a religion because it makes a distinction between God & men – if it were a political ideology & not a religion, why are prayer, almsdeeds, and other acts of religion so prominent in it ?

  • James M

    But it refuses to admit it – it is still deep in a river in Egypt. Thanks to the Wallies in Charge.

  • James M

    “England has abandoned the Faith in droves..”

    ## If it’s true that 90% of Catholic pupils fall away, maybe abolishing Catholic schools would be a step in the right direction. Seriously. Spoon-feeding pupils the same boring old stuff for 12 years is hardly going to attract them – for Christians have managed to make faith in Christ boring, which is as unbelievable as it is horrible. To make something an academic subject is a good way to kill all interest in it. Why should people be Christian anyway ? And why should they not give all that stuff up ? Any evangelisation that does not begin with these questions is pointless.

    As for blaming the Government, I had no idea David Cameron was a Catholic bishop. It is they who are supposed to be qualified to handle religious issues – that they are hopeless at doing so is a far better reason to blame them for their blithering incompetence than to find fault with a bunch of politicians who have no particular competence in any religious matters. Of course the Government are going to be hopeless at handling matters of which they know nothing – it’s astounding that anyone should expect anything else. But Catholic bishops are supposed to have given their lives to dealing with Catholic matters, so they have far less excuse.

  • Julian Lord

    the loss by the Church of its symbolic language – which has been taken over by the wider culture for its own purposes

    Good point.

  • PaulF

    The same kind of religion as Christianity?
    Parasum, are you having a dizzy spell?

  • Julian Lord

    Apart from the detail that Muslim teaching in this respect was provided as a deliberate denial of Trinitarian doctrine on the basis of the opinions of some arab theologians, your post sums up these questions most accurately.

  • Benedict Carter

    The blame falls squarely at the door of two generations of Bishops and the Vatican Council which loaded the gun they have since been firing non-stop at the Faith, the Sacraments, at Catholic education, the priesthood.

    As I have written before, our clergy act in a way that suggests they actually hate the faithful.

  • Lynda

    Muslims responding to violence committed by their own react by claiming victimhood and setting about ‘educating’ us about how peaceful Islam really is. Surely they need to educate their own – everywhere! It isn’t just Muslims in Britain but everywhere there are sufficient numbers.
    Basically I don’t think we can facilitate discussions amongst Muslims on faith and society. What simply needs to happen is control of immigration, no dual citizenship, no sharia, no more mosques, no social welfare, no muslim schools etc. No burkas, hijabs etc.
    You need to create a safe haven for Muslims who actually don’t want to live in an Islamic environment. You need to stop Islam establishing itself because it is different to other religions in that it is inherently incompatible with western society, laws and human institutions.
    Then you need to re-evangelise and convert back to Christian foundations so the also menacing secular liberalism doesn’t do away with you with other dire tactics.

  • Helen Kistler

    Muslim teaching is not a reactionary response to Trinitarian doctrine, it is conservative response to Ebionite doctrine via revelation to Mohammad and discussion with Waraqah ibn Nawfal.

  • LocutusOP

    What’s relativistic about that?

    What competence in Islam does the British government have to even think it can contribute to the debate on which version of Islam should prevail?

    This, mind you, is the government which has nothing against the violent factions of Islam when it pleases, all the while it rails against what it calls ‘distortion of Islam’; a government which seemingly has no respect for even basic distinctions such as those we have to make when promoting authentic natural marriage.

    Is there any chance this government would contribute in any meaningful way to anything when to it all religions are equal, and so presumably teach the same thing?

  • Benedict Carter

    Democracy is not a good in itself. Just one of many forms of organisation within a society.

  • Julian Lord

    What’s relativistic about that?

    The complete lack of objective judgment that it implies.

  • LocutusOP

    It’s very clear that you have not understood the point that I was trying to make. Either that or you do not understand what relativism means.

    My statement is as non-relative as a statement on that issue can get, namely, under no circumstances should non-Muslims be taking sides on issues which interpretation of Islam is the correct one.

    Since you seem to be making no effort at all in understanding my point, I’ll discontinue further debate with you on this.

  • Julian Lord

    It’s very clear that you have not understood the point that I was trying to make

    LOL — in fact, you’re struggling with your understanding of what relativism actually is.

    My failure to discuss this in the terms that you would clearly prefer is due to my viewing those terms as being intrinsically relativist in nature ; NOT from “misunderstanding”.

    under no circumstances should non-Muslims be taking sides on issues which interpretation of Islam is the correct one

    In fact, theological questions concerning God Himself are universal by their very nature, and only ONE Truth of those questions exists.

    When Islam publicly teaches objective Errors, then these are the affair of all who cleave to a desire for Truth for ALL of mankind.

  • m parker


    “Islam is a religion because it makes a distinction between God & men – if it were a political ideology & not a religion, why are prayer, almsdeeds, and other acts of religion so prominent in it ?”

    Islam is a political ideology, with a face of a religion. It has a political agenda, to overturn democratic (man made) rules and replace them with theocratic rule(Allahs laws,Sharia)The “prayer, alms deeds and other acts of religion”, are deceptive, and find their origins within pagan Arabia. Because Mohammed was a pagan Arabian, as well as a false prophet, he just used what was familiar to him, and encompassed it all into his newly invented “religion “he named Islam, meaning submission, submission to the will of Allah, through Sharia Law
    .All “religious” rituals practiced today by Muslims, especially the annual fasting within the lunar month, called Ramadan which includes circumambulation of the Kaaba,running between two hills, throwing stones at the pillars, and animal sacrifice, find their origins in pre Islamic pagan Arabia. The only gods that Mohammed knew anything about, was Hubal his tribal moon god, the pagan “creator god” Allah,(a contraction of Al Ilah meaning the god)the greatest of all the 360 gods, worshipped at the Kaaba, and Allah’s “daughters” Al lat (the goddess) Al Uzza,and Al Manet, in reality heavenly bodies, planets and stars. Mohammed destroyed them all, and just elevated the “greatest” god, Allah to be the one and only god.. Muslims still use the battle cry, Allahu Akbar, Allah is the greatest, and the Shahada states “there is no god but Allah…..etc.

    Islam is made to look religious, by using Biblical figures, it passes itself off as an Abrahamic faith,which in turn fools people into believing it has its origins within the Bible, and must therefore have the same God. But this is not true. Islam is one massive “religious “deception, which has fooled countless millions, including the Christian hierarchy, which in turn mis leads its faithful into believing Islam is a similar faith to their own. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this feeding of mis information has to stop.

    Islam relies heavily on the ignorance(as all deceptions do) of its scripture by the Non Muslim, to enable it to further its cause without hindrance. It is therefore imperative that all people especially Christians, recognise and come to full knowledge of what Islam is, and what it stands for, so that it can be stopped in its tracks by this knowledge, leading to the Truth of the Gospel, and to stop it doing further damage throughout the world.

    The Christian hierarchy are failing in their duty, to make plain that Islam does NOT recognise the same God of the Bible, neither do the adherents of this faith worship this same God. It’s about time these basic facts are faced, instead of skirting around them, in fear of upsetting Muslim sensibilities.