Saturday, 8 November 2014

Why I don't believe people who say they loath Islam but not Muslims - It is psychologically unnatural to claim that you hate an ideology without hating the people in whose lives it is expressed - Andrew Brown

Published in Guardian
Wednesday 5th November
Copyright, All Rights Reserved
It is a trope among people who loathe and fear Islam that their fear and loathing has nothing in common with racism because Islam is not a race, the implication being that hating Muslims is rational and wise whereas hating black people is deeply irrational and stupid.

Some people who claim that Islam is profoundly evil will also say that they bear Muslims no ill will but I don’t think they are telling the truth. It is really difficult and indeed psychologically unnatural to claim that you hate an ideology without hating the people in whose lives it is expressed. Religions, nations, and even races are all shared imaginative constructs (although nations and races have other characteristics as well) and if you really want to extirpate them, you must extirpate the people who imagine them as well.

I remember George W Bush explaining that we were not going to war with the Iraqi people, but with the Iraqi government. Since then, something like a million of the Iraqi people have died as a result of our not going to war with them. The distinction is no doubt a great comfort to their surviving relatives but it’s not very useful for predictive purposes.

Racial and religious hatreds have one thing in common: they are not inspired by the race or religion of the hater, but by the religion or race of the victim. This is clearest in the case of antisemitism, which can appear as either a racial or a religious hatred, or indeed both. What’s constant is that it involves hating Jewish people, whatever the reasons given. Similarly, if you hate black people, you hate them on racist grounds whatever the colour of your own skin, and if you hate Muslims, Catholics, Quakers or Mormons, you hate them for their religion – whatever your own beliefs. So it is perfectly possible for religious hatred to be motivated by atheism and it may be quite common in the modern world.

The claim that Islam isn’t a race and so it is entirely rational to hate and fear it gains its moral force from the implicit claim that there is something uniquely horrible about racial hatred. I don’t think there is, though I see why we assume it: 50 or 60 years ago racial prejudice was an entirely natural part of English life. In order to change that, it was necessary to mark it as a uniquely dreadful and disfiguring condition: racism became a kind of moral leprosy. Without in any way wishing to roll back that progress, it’s worth noting that in other societies and at other times racial prejudice has not been the most urgent incitement to communal hatred.

But if we allow that the crimes of Stalin, or of Mao, were comparable to those of the transatlantic slave trade in ambition if not in duration, they are not excused in the slightest by saying that the most terrible atheist dictators were not very racist at all.

Stalin and Mao would have enthusiastically endorsed Sam Harris when he wrote that “there are some beliefs so terrible that we are justified in killing people just for holding them”, just as they would have endorsed his defence of torturing prisoners.

In the end, the position of people who claim that hatred of Islam is somehow superior to hatred of black people is pretty much like Alan Partridge boasting that at least he’s not David Brent.

Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens: 'Muslim community criticised me for picking up a guitar again' Yusuf Islam – formerly known as Cat Stevens – talks about his controversial return to music

Yusuf Islam – formerly known as Cat Stevens – has rarely been seen on stage since he converted to Islam in 1977. In recent years, however, he has returned to live performing and, with new album Tell 'Em I'm Gone out last month, Yusuf played two sold-out gigs in London this week as part of his European tour.
The British musician has now revealed that his decision to start producing and performing music again led to criticism from some Muslims.
"I was getting criticism from the Muslim community: why are you picking up a guitar again? What's happening to you?" the 66-year-old said in an interview with AFP.
"I say: listen to me, this is part of Islamic civilisation, we have lost our contact with it, we lost our vibrant approach to life and to culture."
Yusuf, who is performing songs from the new album, as well as classics such as Wild World, Moonshadow and Peace Train from his 1960s and 1970s heyday on the tour, said of his dual identity:

"I'm a mirror glass for the Muslims as well as the Western world, which looks at me in a slightly different way, but they are looking in the same mirror."
Yusuf will also return to the United States for his first tour there in 35 years. It comes 10 years after he was banned from the country after his name appeared on a no-fly list – a fact he blamed on mistaken identification.

"I feel very welcome now," he said and described his inauguration into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 as a "significant moment where they kind of remembered me".

"I think it's [the tour] going to be pretty good, I'm hoping," he said.

"One song I do is The First Cut is the Deepest. I try to remind people I wrote that song, not Rod Stewart." Yusuf continued.

When he first converted to Islam in 1977, Yusuf hung up his guitar to dedicate himself to philanthropic and educational work.

He attracted controversy in 1989 when he defended the fatwa issued by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini calling for Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie for blasphemy. He later dismissed his remarks as in bad taste, but there are many who still reproach him for not apologising.

After his US experience, two British newspapers alleged that he was involved in terrorism. Yusuf successfully sued them for libel, but the whole experience has left its mark.

"It's always on the knife's edge as far as I am concerned," he said of his relationship with the media. "I can never quite trust anybody anymore."

Everyone, however, is welcome to come and see him perform live. "People who want to remember me as Cat Stevens – welcome. Those who want me as Yusuf, you're here," he said.