Fanaticism and intolerance

Christopher Stephens, the US diplomat who died in the Benghazi attack

Early in his Presidency, Barack Obama used a keynote speech in Cairo to reach out to the Muslim world, and to launch his campaign to rehabilitate the USA in Islamic opinion.    Now, after the sacking of the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the murder of US Diplomats in an extraordinary outburst of anti-Western rioting, that policy lies in tatters, only a few weeks before the US Presidential Election.

The wave of attacks across a dozen Islamic countries has been on an extraordinary and pathological scale.

The trigger for the attacks was (according to newspaper reports) a ten-minute video clip purporting to be from a movie.  It was judged to be insulting to Islam.  It was reprehensible.  But it appears to have been the work of a lone eccentric who has done time in jail for fraud.  It was not produced by the US government, nor by any established movie studio.  The suggestion that it had any official status or approval is palpably absurd.  Mob attacks on embassies — US, UK and German embassies, who given the opportunity would certainly have condemned the video — were wholly unjustified.

Sadly there seems to be a pattern of fanaticism and intolerance by Islamist extremists.  It may be girls’ schools bombed by the Taliban, or women beaten with clubs by the Iranian “morality police” for showing a wisp of hair under a headscarf.  In this case, it was Islamist mobs committing mayhem and murder.

Muslims quite properly expect due respect for their values and their faith.  But some of them seem to be ignoring the need for reciprocity in a multi-faith world.  They are not prepared to show respect for the Western value of free speech.  And free speech is not just the right to say what many people agree with.  It includes the right to say things that contradict and offend others.  When some maverick abuses that right to create something as grossly offensive as the video clip in this case, the appropriate response is dignified contempt, not the murder of innocent people who were not implicated in the offence.

We in Britain have no effective blasphemy law protecting our Established Church.  We can hardly be expected to create such a law to protect other faiths — especially when any such law could be challenged on the grounds of human rights and free speech.

Apologists for Islam are keen to point out that the headlines we see for Benghazi and other attacks represent the actions of a minority of extremists, not a mainstream Islamic position.  This is credible — just as no one imagines that all Roman Catholics support Irish Republican terrorists.  Certainly the Muslim whom I know best, Tory MEP Syed Kamall, is a remarkably humane and civilised individual, and is an excellent testimony to his faith.  Nonetheless the persistent media coverage of outrages by extremists feeds the impression of a faith driven by fanaticism and intolerance.

So what have the extremists achieved?  They have ensured vast media coverage for an essentially trivial and grubby video clip, which but for their efforts might have passed unnoticed.  And they have damaged the reputation and perception of their faith amongst reasonable people around the world.  Not a good outcome.

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8 Responses to Fanaticism and intolerance

  1. mikestallard says:

    Islam is in terrible difficulties.
    The foundations are under threat. Islam is not Christianity. From the very start its bedrock has been that Allah is all powerful. His shadow on earth, the Caliph, is all powerful too. Force can be used to prevent force. Women are separate and different from men. The Holy Koran is the one revelation that is true. Everything else has been corrupted. Allah has forbidden certain things. What matters is keeping to the path (Sharia).
    The life of the Prophet Mohammed is totally different to the life of Jesus. Mohammed married nine wives, each of whom is remembered and carefully named, and proudly produced a lot of children. Jesus was unmarried.
    Mohammed did the Hejira to Medina when the people of Mecca went for him: Jesus died on the cross. Mohammed set up Islam in Medina, fought battles (Badr), taught how to live the life, how to pray, how to eat, how to dress, how to inherit, how to live. Then, after making the hadj to Mecca, he died. Jesus came back to life again.

    Western Liberals simply cannot understand this because they see all religions as one huge mess of superstitious lies. A Muslim will fight (like the Prophet) to preserve his faith. As a Catholic, I think I can see where they are coming from. We did very much the same in the time of Queen Elizabeth!

  2. David W. says:


    Blaming the attacks on that YouTube video is viewed as a ruse by many Americans; the government’s effort to divert attention from its lack of preparedness, waiting for revenge some Muslims have sought for the killing of Osama bin Laden and the ongoing wars. I’m not in the Middle East right now, nor do I put any faith in the mainstream American news media to tell us the truth.

    We Americans are so accustomed to being treated like we’re stupid that we put no stock in what’s being reported by the mainstream media. Can you verify that, indeed, the attacks are all in response to that YouTube video?

  3. noelmatthews says:

    mikestallard. Indeed , and 500 years on from the medievel barbarism of that time we are more enlightened and more civilised. The implicit threat of violence does not stand behind so-called blasphemy in the UK. Alas I fear the Islamic nations may require another 500 years before they also move forward.

  4. Rich Tee says:

    I noticed that the Egyptian government criticised the US government for allowing the video to be shown, a sign that they do not understand either the concept of free expression independent of government, nor of the nature of the internet.

    With a great deal of reluctance I have come to accept what the critics say – that Islam is a totalitarian belief system that is alien to the West. There is no separation of church and state. Everything in a Muslim’s life is dictated by Islam, even how to go to the toilet.

    • I once worked alongside the Tabung Haji (pilgrims’ bank) in Malaysia. They invested, inter alia, in “Islamic houses”. Naturally, I asked what these might be. Apparently they had to have three bedrooms — for parents, boys and girls — and the loo had not to point to Mecca.

      • mikestallard says:

        Al Bukhari has this idea too. There are even super little bits about how to clean a lump of flob off the walls of a mosque. Do you use a stone or the tail end of your garment?

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