onsdag 17 oktober 2007

Comment is not so free - is The Guardian trying to suppress debate?

I began posting when I was away from the UK during the summer. If you have followed these blogs, you will know that my main interest is not religion but the environment, transport, economics and taxation. A consistent theme amongst their journalists in those subject areas is an excellent and penetrating description of an issue, let down by a failure in analysis, often leading them to advocating policies which would be ineffective or indeed counter-productive.

Occasionally, there are flashes of insight in the responses, but sadly they are rare. Given that most people would agree that there is hardly an area of public policy in Britain which can be regarded as an unqualified success, this lack of insight is worrying, and frankly I fear for the future of this country to the extent that I am seriously considering emigrating, to one of the Scandinavian countries.

Which of course naturally leads to the issue of religion. The Scandinavian countries have received large numbers of immigrants from the Middle East, from Lebanon, Palestine and more recently Iraq. Of these, the Christians have integrated quite well in the circumstances, but a substantial proprtion of Moslems have not, and in fact despise the countries in which they have taken refuge. Rosengård, a suburb or Malmö, has become a virtual no-go area and would merit a feature in its own right. Article about Rosengård

All this has tested the traditional tolerance of the Scandinavians to beyond breaking point and is the motivation behind the recent Danish and Swedish cartoon incidents, which echo what has become a widespread sentiment.

The comment on the evils of the Catholic Church was intended as parody which was obviously too subtle too be noticed, but was essentially the message intentionally put out by around 20% of the posters responding to the article by Conor Foley, as well as the original article by Conor Foley, which was quite frankly offensive, as is the lie that the Catholic church is the cause of people dying of Aids, when it is in fact the largest provider of care for people with this illness.

I was open minded about Islam until I picked up some literature, together with the Koran, from a group which was visiting Brighton. The content and threatening tone of this literature and of the Koran itself are offensive to Christians and Jews. So, given the reluctance of many of those whom the Guardian gives editorial space to talk about the offensiveness of Islam's foundation texts, the question - "What is Islam for?" is a valid one. Evidently it is one that can no longer be asked in public. The 7th century origins of Islam also need to be examined and not brushed away from discourse. Where does the Koran come from? Is it a divine revelation, somebody's voices in the head or a fabrication? How can it condemn idolatry when the most important action in Islam, the Haj, involves processing round what is probably a meteorite which was long venerated by the pagans who lived in the area before Islam came to prominence? Then there is the record of the religion's founder, a cruel warrior who personally directed the massacre of hundreds of Jews. One must surely ask what kind of person would follow anyone capable of doing such a thing?

Jews can legitimately ask what the subsequent religion of Christianity is about and will receive an answer, which of course many will find unacceptable, but there should be no reason why both should not get along amicably together. Likewise for Buddhism as an offshoot of mainstream Hinduism.

The two principal offshoots of orthodox Christianity, Islam and Protestantism, on the other hand, can only justify themselves by denying some elements of Christian teaching. This is inevitably a recipe for potential conflict. Protestants will normally give a polite answer stating what it is in orthodox Christianity that they find objectionable and it is possible to conduct a discourse. Moslems, asked the same question will seemingly just cry "foul". Of course the Guardian has a perfect right to suppress discussion, but what will the effect be?

The final point about the effect of giving such a lot of editorial space to Muslim apologists, is that it stirs up hostility, as anyone can see from responses to such articles in Comment is Free. If the aim is to build up good relations, it is counter-productive.

My own personal experience of Muslims is, like most people's, through everyday encounters. I was perfectly happy to put my life in the hands of a Muslim anaesthetist a few year ago, and have no problem about visiting the new local grocery emporium which has opened near where I live, obviously run by devout Muslims.

But when I read the history of this religion, and the present day activities of some of its adherents, or its foundation texts, wariness seems the most appropriate response.

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