The cost of divisiveness

I enjoy Melanie Phillips columns; we clearly need more divisiveness and intolerance with our Marmite and cup of tea. Yesterday she writes – again – about the insidious nature of Islam. She seems to take a journalist’s arrogance to a hugely complex problem, and as usual draws many parallels with our society’s modern concepts of secularism, individual freedom and democracy, portraying them as absolute truths.

I do not claim to understand Islam any more than I understand the yearning of the Russian soul. I was neither born a Muslim, not have I engaged in long years of academic study of its history and practice. I don’t think you have to necessarily be of something to understand it, but your view will always be external. Anthropologists encapsulate this quite well in the concept of the “participant observer”, directly acknowledging that their own different background will always put them outside their subject of study. It’s still perfectly valid to have an opinion on, say, Shinto in modern Japan, but it will be only one turn of the kaleidoscope.

Perhaps what she wrote simply frightens me; or perhaps I think she is trying to flog more copies of “Londonistan”, the book she wrote 10 years ago about the islamisation of Britain. She writes about the radicalisation in prisons, the failure to convict Anjem Choudary, that “expansionist jihad is…as authentically grounded in Islam as the Inquisition was in Christianity”. Apparently, “unlike Christianity, it is not merely a set of spiritual beliefs but creates a strong sense of peoplehood”.

She draws such an easy juxtaposition with Christianity, as if Christianity is intrinsically benign. At the time of the inquisitions, it was pretty homicidal. It is benign now mainly because its direct influence has waned, with disused Islington churches turned into prime slices of real estate. It’s also untrue that Christianity is merely a set of spiritual beliefs; that may be how it is now, but of course it is historically the basis of the majority of our institutions, and is in this country still the basis of the monarchy and therefore of government. The western concepts of democracy seem to me very closely linked to the Judeo-Christian traditions that arose from the bible.

Religions are merely reflections of our souls, our most deeply held beliefs, and they are as similar as we all are to each other. They all appeal to our kindness and generosity, to the importance of cohesion and common values. People can always choose to read the passages about war in isolation, but that certainly doesn’t render the Old Testament a better example than the much-lambasted Koran. They are all the words of fallible humans, and perhaps the one problem of any social belief system (which is all any religion is) is the belief in absolute truth – which I’m sure renders me heretical in the eyes of fanatics.

The majority of humanity wants their children to be happy, a garden to retreat from the world, an education, healthcare, all of which can only happen in peaceful societies in which we view each other’s differences as minor. In the words of Jo Cox’s maiden speech, “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. Melanie Phillips’ words on the other hand are a way of thinking that misguides isolated individuals to the sort of acts that so tragically ended Jo Cox’s life.

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