In Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe the British House of Lords, which ‘did nothing in particular, but did it very well’, ends up flying off to Fairyland.
Probably not many people in Australia read the House of Lords Hansard assiduously, but those who do not have missed a debate, almost fairylike in its unreality, held before the Manchester massacre, as to the Muslim concepts of Taqiyya and Al-Hijra. The mere raising of the terms was damned as Islamophobia.
It began with Lord Pearson of Rannoch asking a rather moderate question in the House: ‘Whether, as part of their strategy against Islamist terrorism, [the Government] will encourage United Kingdom Muslim leaders to re-examine the Muslim tenets of Taqiyya and Al-Hijra.’
These terms mean it is enjoined upon Muslims to lie to unbelievers if it benefits the faith, and to undertake a strategy of spreading the faith by immigration. In the present circumstances both seem highly relevant. Speaking for the Government, the Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con) danced around the question.
‘My Lords, as I stated before Christmas, freedom of speech and religion are core values that make our country great. Britain is home to diverse communities, which are free to practise their religion in accordance with the law. The Government’s strategy for tackling Islamist terrorism is firmly based on strengthening our partnership with communities, civil society groups and faith organisations across the country…’ She added, ‘Daesh has nothing to do with Islam …’
No doubt had she referred to ‘Daesh’ by its title ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ it might have suggested to some people that it did have something to do with Islam, however. Further, who is she to say whether it has nothing to do with Islam?
This answer seemed irrrelevant to Lord Pearson’s question. Select noble lords and ladies were practically tripping over their ermine robes in their haste to deny Islam has anything to do with terrorism, which had not been the subject of the question, anyway. Lord Pearson continued: ‘Do the Government agree… that it is not helpful to go on claiming that Isis has nothing to do with Islam?’ It was an unwelcome piece of realism.
Baroness Williams replied: ‘I also agree that Daesh has nothing to do with Islam. As for the noble Lord’s original question, both Taqiyya and Al-Hijra are very old terms in Islam. We can think of all sorts of terms in all sorts of religions that can seek to misrepresent those religions, and we must take that in context and not allow poisonous twisting of religion to disrupt our society.’
What terms ‘in all sorts of religions’, exactly, one might ask? The Baroness apparently overlooked the fact that while Taqiyya and Al-Hijra were very old terms, this did not mean that they were obsolete, and given that the Islamic scriptures are held by believers to be the unalterable word of Allah, could not be obsolete.
There are some very old terms in Christianity, such as ‘Resurrection’, ‘gospel’ and ‘trinity’ which are not regarded by believers as obsolete by virtue of being old (older than Islam, in fact). It was hard to see what point the baroness was making, except, apparently, that because these Muslim terms were old we should not regard them as being relevant. She ignored the fact that Islam is the most rigid, unchanging and unalterable of all religions, and it is deadly apostasy to say, or think, otherwise. It has never had a reformation, and in the nature of things, never can have one.
According to a recent survey, 43 per cent of British Muslims want Sharia Law in the UK, and 38 per cent blamed 9/11 on the US or ‘the Jews’. Lord Lamont added: “Surely it would be as wrong to criticise Taqiyya as it would be to criticise Jews who concealed their identity in Nazi Germany, or Christians in Raqqa. Is there not a great danger the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, will be interpreted as meaning that Islam promotes deceit and lies…’.
Obviously the question had been asked in the context of British society. Was Lord Lamont likening the situation of Muslims in Britain to Jews in Nazi Germany? If so, he seemed to have a remarkably negative opinion of his own country.
He ended on a vaguely sinister note: ‘I do not know what is behind the noble Lord’s question. This is his second question of the year and perhaps in a future debate he will explain…’ The suggestion the state-sponsored extermination of Jews is an analogy to modern concerns for national security was so false that ‘ludicrous’ is hardly the word. There is all the moral difference in the world between lying to gain an advantage and lying in an emergency to save your life. Judeo-Christianity, like most other great religions, looks unfavourably on any sort of lying, particularly in matters of religion (‘thou shalt not bear false witness’) and the scriptures place liars in Hell. Every Christian has an obligation to truth (‘martyr’ means ‘witness’), though not much is said about what concealment may be necessary in extraordinary circumstances. Christ never thought of concealing his identity when hunted by enemies.
Plainly the thrust of Lord Pearson’s question was to do with contemporary terrorism. Baroness Williams egged the pudding of false analogy further: ‘I was thinking about Catholics during the Reformation and Jews during the Second World War. Sometimes religions have to preserve themselves not by denial but by concealment on pain of death.’ Yes, sometimes. But not in today’s Britain.
Baroness Williams repeated ‘We all know that terrorism and terrorist ideals have nothing to do with faith’. Lord Paddick railed against ‘what appear to me to be blatant attempts to stir up hatred against the Muslim community.’ The inevitable accusation of ‘Islamophobia’ arose. One Baroness Uddin, who had sworn by ‘Almighty Allah’ as she took her seat in Parliament, claimed: ‘I wonder whether the intention of the question is to put British Muslims on notice. Therefore, does the Minister accept that terrorism has no home in any religion, and that in his question the Noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is either being naïve or it is a wilful incitement to Islamophobic prejudice with the presumed intent to insult Islam?”
Debate in the British Parliament has always been completely free. However, to accuse someone of intent to insult Islam in Britain or in Europe today is obviously to put their lives at risk. BEHEAD THOSE WHO INSULT ISLAM in a placard carried by Muslim demonstrators in London. It is worth looking again at the moderate question that was actually asked. Gilbert and Sullivan may have been over-optimistic in thinking the House of Lords funny.
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