How do we put the current threat to Western civilisation from Islam into an undistorted perspective? The Koran has numbers of violent passages directed at unbelievers and ‘sinners’, and literally many thousands of Muslims believe in acting them out. But people whose views I otherwise respect tell me — I believe to ease their minds and mine — that the Bible has many violent passages and that it is only a relatively short time in the history of mankind since Christians, along with those of other faiths, exhibited marked intolerance to those not toeing the received theological line.
These people are factually right. Look at Deuteronomy Chapter 22 for example. Stoning and death is instructed to be meted out to ‘damsels’ who prove not to be virgins on their wedding nights and also to adulterers, both men and women. And as Geoffrey Blainey (A Short History of Christianity) points out: “A high level of religious tolerance is almost a modern invention. A few centuries ago it was almost unthinkable.”
OK, so do violent biblical passages and evidence of historical intolerance among Christians ease my mind or, and more to the point, should they? Well they don’t and I don’t think they should, although they seem to have an anaesthetic effect on many people who are otherwise level-headed. So far as I can tell, their thinking is that Islam is going through a phase with its version of the Enlightenment over the horizon. Its adherents will then become just like us, with God put in His proper place.
The Prime Minister conveyed this thinking well when discussing the deployment of Australian forces in Iraq. “I would like to see, over time, an understanding by all people and cultures, and religions, that there should be separation of church and state, that there is a sense of rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” he said.
You will notice that he didn’t single out Islam. Wink wink nudge nudge, say no more, say no more.
What Abbott did single out were the words of Jesus Christ. Somehow I doubt this will provide a compelling case for those who believe that Muhammad was chosen to convey the very words of God after Christ, and other ‘prophets’ before Him, had been unsuccessful in setting the world right.
Obviously I am not a religious scholar but everything that I have read underscores the unity of church and state within Islam. Imams want to free us from man’s law and replace it with God’s — to wit, Sharia. Now it may not be too hard to find some milksop Anglican clergymen doubting the physical resurrection, but I tend to think that imams are made of sterner stuff. They are not going to give away the essence of their faith. Abbott and others who think this could occur are seriously mistaken; it will turn out to be an existential mistake unless reality breaks through.
Two recent statements, both coming from the left of the political spectrum, characterise the divergent appreciation, among Western commentators, of the threat Islam poses. This is Tim Costello in The Australian:
“Having attended the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, where 800,000 died in a nation that is almost 100 per cent Christian I found myself saying a simple prayer: please let Christians first [author's emphasis] agree to stop killing other Christians. In Syria, where there are now 200,000 dead, I pray let Muslims of the world agree to stop killing other Muslims.”
Someone should tell him that Hutus killed Tutsis in Rwanda. Britons, Americans and Australians killed fascists in World War. On the other hand, Muslims are killing Muslims for being the ‘wrong variety’ of Muslims and Christians for being Christians. There is no equivalence. I have to assume he understands that. Presumably, therefore, he is either trying to sell us a bill of goods or is engaging (as President Reagan put it) in ‘wishful thinking about our adversaries’.
By contrast, this is Bill Maher being interviewed by Charlie Rose on PBS (the TV counterpart of the left-leaning US radio broadcaster NPR):
“There are illiberal beliefs held by vast numbers of Muslim people,” said Maher. Rose interjecting said: “A vast number of Christians too.” Maher replied: “No, that is not true. Vast numbers of Christians do not believe that if you leave the Christian religion you should be killed for it. Vast numbers of Christians do not treat women as second-class citizens. Vast numbers of Christians do not believe if you draw a picture of Jesus Christ you should be killed.”
Maher understands the difference between Christianity and Islam; between the mindsets of Christians and Muslims. He, in fact, understands the bleeding obvious. The real question is why people like Costello and Rose find it impossible to acknowledge the bleeding obvious?
To go back to my start, why do people gain comfort from violent biblical passages which have absolutely no applicability now to the conduct of either Jewish or Christian societies? Why do they gain comfort from examples of intolerance among Christian societies which are centuries old? What has any of that got to do with Islamic violence and intolerance in the here and now; and the threat it poses to Western civilisation?
There is no meaningful equivalence to be found between prevailing Islamic and Christian belief systems no matter how much muddled thinking, intellectual dishonesty or left-wing sophistry is applied to the task. And the stakes are too high to let egregious error go unanswered; and good on Bill Maher for nailing it. To quote President Reagan in full: “If history teaches us anything; it teaches that simple-minded appeasement or wishful thinking about our adversaries is folly; it means the betrayal of our past, the squandering of our freedom.”