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Matthew d'Ancona
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Just don’t call it war

Saturday, 16th July 2005

Boris Johnson says it is time to reassert British values in the face of extremist Islam

To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia — fear of Islam — seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture — to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques — it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers. As the killer of Theo Van Gogh told his victim’s mother this week in a Dutch courtroom, he could not care for her, could not sympathise, because she was not a Muslim.

The trouble with this disgusting arrogance and condescension is that it is widely supported in Koranic texts, and we look in vain for the enlightened Islamic teachers and preachers who will begin the process of reform. What is going on in these mosques and madrasas? When is someone going to get 18th century on Islam’s mediaeval ass?

It is time that we started to insist that the Muslim Council of Great Britain, and all the preachers in all the mosques, extremist or moderate, began to acculturate themselves more closely to what we think of as British values. We can’t force it on them, but we should begin to demand change in a way that is both friendly and outspoken, and by way of a first gesture the entire Muslim clergy might announce, loud and clear, for the benefit of all Bradford-born chipshop boys, that there is no eternal blessedness for the suicide bombers, there are no 72 virgins, and that the whole thing is a con and a fraud upon impressionable minds. That might be a first step towards what could be called the re-Britannification of Britain.

There is much more to be done, not least in the treatment of women. But we should not call it a war, whether cultural or military. The language of a ‘war on terror’ may help the government to pass its illiberal measures, such as the ID cards that would have been of no assistance whatever against last week’s bombs, but it is profoundly dishonest. Britain is not at war. Even if you include last week’s fatalities, the number of deaths from terrorism is falling across the world; indeed, the world has seldom been more peaceful since the age of the Antonine emperors. The more we talk of war, the more we big up the terrorists, inflame suspicions across the Muslim world, and give power-crazed politicians the chance to force through some liberty-eroding measure. Last week’s bombs were placed neither by martyrs nor by soldiers, but by criminals. It was not war, but terrorism, and to say otherwise is a mistake and a surrender.

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