I had an amusing exchange of Tweets today with a constituent of mine, a certain Professor Michael Merrifield of Nottingham University. He is a Professor of Astronomy – but he seems to be very knowledgeable about any other subject you care to mention. And he is committed to left-liberal, right-on, politically-correct views almost to the point of self-parody. I have had exchanges with him on Twitter several times, and it is flattering to think that he is able to devote so much time to the study and discussion of my observations.
Today, on the subject of Islamophobia, I Tweeted “A phobia is an irrational fear. Given recent atrocities, I don’t think that fear of Islamists is necessarily irrational”. The good Professor replied: “Fear of the many due to the evil of the few is an irrational phobia” (note the tautology – not so good from an academic). “Stirring up such fears is worse”. Given the recent sequence of appalling and indiscriminate Islamist attacks in which hundreds of people have died, plus the assaults on women in Germany and Sweden, I don’t think there’s any question of “stirring up such fears”. They are entirely reasonable fears, and most commentators agree that it is only a matter of time before we experience similar attacks in the UK.
In reply to another participant (“The G-Man”), Merrifield says “I disagree, but that is arguably not phobic. This, however, is: (quoting my original Tweet, above)”. Later, for good measure Merrifield adds “Roger Helmer is very welcome to express all his phobias: I would much prefer his irrationality remain in the public eye”. Amusing, this, since so far as I know I have no phobias at all (though I’m not keen on spiders). I responded “You are desperately trying to hang the label ‘phobic’ on anyone who disagrees with you. But it won’t wash”. To which Merrifield weakly retorts “No anyone, just phobics”.
I have run into trouble previously over the misuse of this term “phobia”, which quite simply means “an irrational fear”. I took considerable stick on social media for questioning the use of the term “homophobia”. Of course no one doubts that homosexuals are subject to prejudice, discrimination and even on occasion violence, and all decent people (yes Michael, that includes me) will deprecate and condemn such attitudes and behaviour. But this is not about substance, but about semantics. It’s about the proper use of the term “phobia”. Prejudice against homosexuals exists, but I know of no evidence that it is motivated by fear, and therefore it cannot be a phobia. Much resentment is caused by the way the word “homophobic” is applied indiscriminately as a term of abuse to anyone who dares question the current modish political correctness in this area.
The problem with the use of “phobia” in “Islamophobia” is not (as with “homophobia”) about the element of fear, but about the element of irrationality. I have argued that fears of Islamic terrorism are perfectly rational and rooted in experience.
Merrifield’s reference to “Fear of the many due to the evil of the few” is what I call “The IRA argument”. It goes like this. All IRA terrorists (more or less), are, or were, both Irish and Roman Catholic. But it does not and cannot follow that all Irish people and/or all Catholics are terrorists, or sympathise with terrorists. On the contrary, my experience suggests that the great majority of Irish people, and of Catholics, abominate the tactics of the IRA, and utterly repudiate them. Is there a read-across here to Islamic terrorism? I fear not, for various reasons.
- Islamic terrorists have a well-funded and widespread international organisation, ISIL, which purports to be a state, and has indeed some of the attributes of a state. It has an aggressive programme of recruitment and proselytisation, and there is a huge Muslim diaspora in which its recruitment takes place
- ISIL is overtly dedicated to the overthrow of established, democratic Western governments and their replacement by a worldwide Islamic Caliphate, implementing Sharia Law for all. However unrealistic this objective may be, they are clearly serious about pursuing it
- ISIL urges, and implements, the murder of non-believers, and especially of homosexuals, and it carries out and promotes the large-scale mutilation of women. If Professor Merrifield wishes to challenge assaults on human rights, he might like to start in Raqqa. But promotion of female genital mutilation is not limited to ISIL. A senior Muslim cleric in Russia has just called for mass FGM.
- We have just seen the belated jailing of hate preacher Anjem Choudary It is credibly reported that a number of mosques in Britain have provided a platform for hate preachers who spread their message of intolerance, alienation and violence. It is difficult to exonerate the faith of Islam entirely for the behaviour of Islamic terrorists when Islam’s places of worship are used in this way. There are also reports that some mosques have been recruitment centres for ISIL.
- Following Choudary’s prison sentence, social media are reportedly awash with hate videos from him and his disciples. Presumably someone out there is watching them. Are they part of Merrifield’s “the few”?
- Reputable opinion studies amongst British Muslims have shown an alarming degree of sympathy with Islamist fighters that runs well into double figure percentages on some measures. For example more than a quarter of British Muslims sympathised with the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. (Are they also part of “the few”, Michael?).
Against this background it is impossible to dismiss Islamic terrorism as the work of a handful of deranged individuals. Merrifield in another Tweet said “Basing a case against a religion on the actions of a small number of terrorists is phobic”. No Michael. It’s not phobic – it’s just a bad line of argument, which is why I didn’t and wouldn’t do it. I spent four years of my earlier business career in a Muslim country – Malaysia – and have a high regard for many of the Muslims I met and worked with there.
I absolutely defend the right of any individual to hold any religious beliefs of their choosing (provided they don’t directly infringe the rights of others – as for example the Muslim position on apostasy), or to have no religion. I am not making a case against any religion. But I am making a case against mass immigration of Muslims from Syria and elsewhere, because they have a view of human rights which is incompatible with Western values, and represents a threat to our society. And because while only a few of them may be active terrorists, it is likely that a significant proportion will have some sympathy with Islamism. And most of them will have attitudes to human rights, women’s rights and minorities which are just plain unacceptable and dangerous.