An Ed Husain v Geert Wilders debate would be great for democracy

Ed West

If Geert Wilders does visit Britain in the next few days, as is being reported, I hope he takes up Ed Husain’s offer of a public debate.

Husain, the co-director of the pro-liberal democracy Muslim think tank, the Quilliam foundation, has said:

“The Home Office was wrong to try to ban Geert Wilders from the UK given that he has not directly incited violence. We welcome the fact that this key principle of free speech has now been defended by the British courts.

However, it is also vital that Wilders’ undoubtedly bigoted views are firmly challenged and subjected to proper critical scrutiny. No religion is monolithic and Wilders has evidently been convinced by the words and actions of Islamists and jihadists that Islam is inherently violent and intolerant.

“We therefore challenge Geert Wilders to an open debate in which we will argue that Islam is compatible with secular democracy and that, contrary to what he apparently believes, Muslims are not a threat to Europe and its values.”

Such a debate would no doubt be presented as a struggle between good and evil – the eloquent, ever decent, patriotic British Muslim from the East End of London vs the Germanically-named “far-Right” bigot with the slightly strange-looking blond hair.

Such a casting would be simplistic. Wilders is not “far-Right” by any reasonable standard – he is a classical liberal who thinks immigration has gone way too far and that religious fundamentalism is a threat to liberal democracy. If that makes him far-Right, then political labels have entered Alice in Wonderland territory.

Most of his ideas are perfectly reasonable, such as his suggestion that Islamic extremists and foreign criminals should be deported. The idea the liberal elite present that he might incite violence, when he himself has to live some sort of Salman Rushdie existence for fear of assassination, and when the Dutch liberal establishment effectively incited the murder of his predecessor Pim Fortuyn, is laughable.

Nor will his arrival here, and a proper debate, cause in this country any “community tension”, or whatever the current Labourese term is. Indeed, if anyone is responsible for a growth of Islamophobia, which has indeed happened since the Danish cartoon protests (one cannot type in www. without seeing evidence of it all around), it is the multi-cultural politicians of the “centre”, both deluded and cynical at the same time, and the dreadful leadership they have effectively appointed to the Muslim community.

Groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain, which is as moderate as I am attractive to women. The MCB was behind the Government’s appalling Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which would – incredibly – have made it illegal to criticise a religion, and its general secretary, Iqbal Sacranie, even said: “There is no such thing as an Islamic terrorist. This is deeply offensive. Saying Muslims are terrorists would be covered [ie, banned] by this provision.” Hilariously, Iqbal then became Sir Iqbal under Tony Blair, an example of the establishment patronising a “moderate Muslim” leadership which is anything but.

Sacranie and the MCB represent everything that has gone wrong with the Muslim leadership in Britain, and the reason there is a problem both with Islamic extremism and with anti-Muslim bigotry. Most British people are quite happy to have funny-sounding foreigners with funny outfits living near them – what they do not like, and what they will not stand, are minorities appearing to make demands and threats, and ever since the Satanic Verses came out that is what has happened.

This may be just a matter of perception, but when Muslim groups ask for a concession, a concession that Britons might be willing to give, it is often presented as a demand with an undercurrent of a threat behind it. In contrast Hindu and Sikh leaders appear to frame similar requests with an acknowledgment that they would be grateful, as a minority living in this fantastically free and prosperous secular Christian country, if they could celebrate this or that aspect of their religion. What it comes down to is a respect, and a widespread feeling that groups such as the MCB are disrespectful to Britain.

Furthermore there is often the implication that “Islam”, rather than individual Muslim citizens, should have some special right, when in a democracy no religion or ideology can be protected in a such a way without infringing on the rights of citizens – the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was the worst, but by no means only, example.

Ed Husain and his cohorts are a breath of fresh air. This is a man who values liberal democracy, who loves this country and hates Saudi-style sharia, and is serious about modernising Islam.

The irony is that Muslims like Husain who wish to live in a secular liberal democracy are less endangered by the likes of Wilders than by the multi-cultural “community cohesion” policy promoted by New Labour. It is this approach which stokes up resentment among whites, and which encourages young Muslim men to feel contempt for a democracy that won’t stand up for its belief and for a Western society that hates itself. It is self-hatred, rather than bigotry, which provokes extremism in Europe.

Posted October 15th, 2009, blog.telegraph

تعليقات (0)