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National Review Online


Divided Hearts

September 11, 2006

By Theodore Dalrymple

The ‘comfort’ of knowing that most Muslims don’t wish us dead

On the day on which the plot to blow up ten airliners between Britain and America was revealed to the public, I took a long taxi ride in a British city in which a good proportion of the taxi drivers are Muslim. My driver was Muslim, and I had more than enough time to talk to him.

We lamented the state of the world in general, and in particular the uncontrolled and vile public drunkenness of British youth that makes the life of taxi drivers a hazardous misery once the sun goes down. (It so happens I was on my way to a prison to prepare an entirely pointless medical report on a young man who, while drunk, had attacked a taxi driver.)

“I think religious belief makes people behave better,” he said. “Provided no one tries to compel anyone else or uses violence.”

Amen to that: I agreed with him, though secretly I thought the chances slender of a religious revival among debauched British youth. The driver was a kindly, well-mannered man, and the classic immigrant success story: His children had progressed without difficulty into the professional middle class. He was, then, the archetypal moderate Muslim, whose public representatives Mr. Blair’s government so persistently seeks, in the forlorn hope that they will do the security services’ work for them.

Despite my liking for the driver as an individual, whom I adjudged sincere in his moderation, I could not entirely disembarrass myself of a residual prejudice against him: He was, after all, a Muslim, and I recognized in myself something discreditable that has become visceral, not under fully conscious control, namely a distrust of more than a billion people because of their religion.

It was not always so. In my youth and young adulthood, I traveled widely in the Muslim world—in the Middle and Far East, Central Asia, and parts of Africa—and I was not aware of any anti-Islamic feeling whatsoever. On the contrary, I saw—superficially, no doubt, for I spoke none of their languages and did not tarry long—many virtues in the people among whom I traveled. They (by which, of course, I mean the men) were usually extremely dignified and very hospitable. I feared for neither my safety nor my possessions while among them. Even in Nigeria, where the people cheerfully said of themselves, “There is no such thing as an honest Nigerian,” the Muslim North was conspicuously more honest than the Christian and animist South. I witnessed a hue and cry in a northern market, in which a thief was chased and then beaten. It was crude and vicious, no doubt, but more effective than, for example, the British police in the suppression of petty crime. Larceny on a grand scale was another thing altogether: The northern politicians were specialists in it. But you could leave your belongings in the middle of a town and find them still there when you returned.

So my prejudice is of recent, not distant, origin. Of course, I had long realized that the political traditions of the Muslim world were very different from those of my own country, and in my opinion inferior to them; but that was true of much of the globe, and extensive travel had taught me that the nature, virtues, and charms of a society were not completely captured by a description of its political institutions. Politics is not all.

The Islamists have changed all that. No doubt that was their intention: They invited, and wanted, a binary view of the world in order to overcome and defeat the half of it that they consider ungodly, evil, and an impediment to perfection on earth, and not coincidentally to their absolute power. Their success has been to instill apocalyptic visions in people who were previously immune to them.

So as I rode in the taxi, the word taqiyya, usually translated as “dissimulation,” kept running through my mind like a refrain. Taqiyya is the principle by which a Muslim may disavow his religious beliefs if it is necessary for him to do so. I am no Islamic scholar, but it seems to me that the application of the concept has been extended. Where once it meant that a Muslim could deny his faith if he were threatened with death unless he abjured it, it has come to mean lying to promote any religiously desired end. Taqiyya has always been more important for Shia than for Sunni Muslims, but is permitted to the latter.

Roman Genn

On, I found the following, allegedly true story: A Shia and a Sunni Muslim were traveling to London to attend an Islamic conference. En route, the two of them discussed the need for unity between the two main branches of Islam, and the Sunni argued that the Shia resort to taqiyya was an obstacle to that unity. At London Airport, the Sunni told the immigration officer that he had come to England to seek medical treatment, while the Shia said that he had come to visit friends. The Sunni said to the Shia afterwards that an Islamic conference provided healing for the soul, while the Shia said that it provided an opportunity to visit friends. According to the author of the article on the Web, both had indulged in laudable and justifiable taqiyya.

This is not taqiyya to save life: No one was threatening the two of them with death unless they entered Britain. It was lying because the end was believed to justify the means, and possibly for the sheer malicious pleasure of deceiving someone (an infidel immigration officer) you cannot believe to be the equal to yourself.

If such a story is held up as a moral example, as something Muslims could and should learn from in their everyday dealings with the non-Muslim world, it cannot be much of a surprise that non-Muslims begin to grow suspicious of even the most decent of the Ummah. And this feeling of mistrust is bound to have grown because so many of the bombers and would-be bombers appeared for a long time to be perfectly integrated into British society. A man with a friendly manner and a pleasant expression, a conscientious teaching assistant by day, turns out to be a suicide bomber by night, ready to die so long as he takes as many complete strangers with him as he can. If he could not be trusted, if he was harboring such murderous hatred in his heart despite all outward appearances, which Muslim can be trusted?

The problem is all the greater because surveys among Muslims have consistently shown a high level of support for suicide bombers. Even “moderates” who are wheeled onto the broadcast media to defuse incipient and potentially dangerous conflict say that, while they deplore the violence, they “understand” it: that is to say, that they believe the extremists are not really, or not wholly, to blame.

Of course, surveys are notoriously difficult to interpret. They are, in fact, invitations to taqiyya. Moreover, the relation between expressed opinion and action is unclear. A lot depends upon how a question is put, and opposite answers can sometimes be obtained merely by a change of wording. Much also depends on the representative nature of the sample canvassed. And so forth.

Even with all these reservations in mind, however, it is far from encouraging to learn that (if one survey is to be believed) 100,000 British Muslims approve of the suicide bombing of Britain, or at least are prepared to say that they do to people who ask them in confidence. It is difficult to believe that this is not a soil propitious to the growth of terrorism. And from the point of view of the rest of the population, is it more significant that 1.5 million Muslims don’t approve of such bombing? Is it much of a consolation to know that, in a crowd in which there is someone who is determined to kill you, there are many more people who have no such desire?

Likewise, should we be grateful for the fact that fully 70 percent of British Muslims (again, if a survey is to be believed) do not think that British Jews are a legitimate target, that is to say may rightfully be killed at random? If you were a Jewish employer, would you be happy to take on a Muslim employee secure in the knowledge that there is only a one in three chance of his believing that it is religiously permitted, perhaps even religiously required, to kill you?

There is no doubt that the Islamist strategy is working at the moment. It will destroy the possibility of normal human contact of the kind that inhibits prejudice and mollifies hatred, and sow only suspicion and violence in the hope of attaining a total and final victory after some kind of apocalypse. In the end, however, I don’t think the strategy will work—in the modern world, Islam itself is too much of an intellectual nullity, just as Marxism was, for it to triumph. Moreover, diseases tend to decline in virulence as epidemics wane. Short-term, I am pessimistic; long-term, which is perhaps to say after my death, I am optimistic.

Original Source:



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