1. The Big Picture
Some of my best friends are Muslims. Seriously. I am born and bred in Bradford. The man pictured here, the late Professor Syed Hasan Askari, is a Twelver Shi’ite, whom I consider an eternal friend. In the mid 1990s, we would often say together the Lord’s Prayer in English, and then the Fatiha in Arabic, repeatedly, back and forth, as a kind of spiritual exercise. Hasan, an academic philosopher, was considered an expert and pioneer in interfaith dialogue. He would encourage Muslims to say and revere the Lord’s Prayer. Although Muslims are unlikely to attribute gender (such as “Father”) to God, Hasan believed that this prayer, taught by the young Jew Jesus of Nazareth, is universally valuable and unique.
Since my conversion from atheism to monotheism at age 30 in the early 90s, I have made the effort to come to know a lot about Islam, and a lot about Judaism, and a lot about my own Christian faith (in the Church of England). And in view of the fact that the history of these three great monotheistic faiths is the fabric of the Providence of God – God the Creator, God the Lord of History, God of Israel – I believe that all adherents should explore what it is in these three great faiths that has contributed to civilisation and learning, and has made us all who we are.
I happen to love Islam at its intellectual and spiritual heights. I don’t expect everyone to love it. I expect many to hate it, and I know many people who do. Similarly, I don’t expect everyone to like Christianity. There are oppressive forms of Christianity I hate, just as there are oppressive forms of Islam I hate. I have friends who are lapsed Christians who hate all Christianity with a passion. I work in science, and have colleagues who hate all religion. Fearing Islam is fine. Fearing Christianity is fine. Telling God that He does not exist, that He is a delusion, is fine: we allow it in our liberal democracy. To privately hate anyone or any group is allowed, but to encourage the public hatred of Muslims or Christians or any group is not allowed, and that is why we have laws in the UK to protect us from hate speech.
Judaism – the faith of a small tribe, the salt of the earth, comprising today only a small fraction of 1% of the global population – owes its survival to Islam. For much of the history of the past 1400 years, it was simply not possible for Jews to survive in Christendom. The Cairo Genizah for example, stored Jewish texts continuously for a thousand years from the 9th century to the 19th century. Yes, there were good Sultans and oppressive Sultans, and some Islamic empires were worse than others, but there is nowhere in Christendom, certainly not in Britain, where genizot could have survived continuously for anything like a thousand years. Furthermore, Islam took the brunt of Genghis Khan’s attempt to take over the whole of the known world. As it is, the Mongols reached as far west as the gates of Vienna. And so Islam arguably saved Christianity too.
2. The overwhelming importance of language
In my monotheistic faith, there is nothing but words. The very Creation is words – God’s words – that we describe and categorise with words, just as, in our Genesis allegory, Adam (man) is commanded to name the animals and the birds. The name we give to things matters, especially to ourselves. In my faith, as in the Jewish faith, we are named, eternally, as individuals in “the Name of God”, in whom all human being (ben adam) has sanctity. There could not possibly be a better moral philosophy of the nature of man than our Imago Dei received in the Torah (or, Muslims believe, in the Quran).
We think in language; we educate and communicate in language, written and spoken, and what we think determines what we do and what we try to persuade others to do. Amongst our Creator’s first dramatic revelations of His all-centring presence in the history of the world was the aurally received Torah by the People Israel at Sinai, in the Holy Language. Similarly, I argue that the first day in the history of the Church was at the first Jewish festival of Shavuot (or Pentecost) in Jerusalem when, according to Luke’s Acts, seventeen of the world’s living languages miraculously descended on Mount Zion. Knowledge of God of Israel was to be spread in all languages, “from Jerusalem to the ends of the Earth”.
I am a scientist/engineer, but I disagree with the consensus in contemporary cosmology, which insists that everything is fundamentally mathematics (a philosophical atheistic or Deistic school of mathematics known today as “mathematical Platonism”).
“And God said… and it was”. Indeed, the reason that the British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle hated the theory of Big Bang – and why he coined “Big Bang” as his derogatory rejection of the theory – is because it sounded to him like it had come from “the first page of Genesis” with its “singular” source of Creation. (Astronomy is another field to which we are indebted to Islam, which developed the science of optics centuries before Galileo designed and constructed his telescope.)
I am monotheist, not Platonist. Language is everything (including the existence of mathematics). Language is holy, centred on the Holy Language, which contains the holiest of holy Names that was housed in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple, uttered only for the world by the holiest priest of the holiest tribe of the holiest people at the holiest moment of the holiest day (of Atonement) of the year. If this faith in language is undone; if the Name is taken in vain, if the Name is not hallowed, then not only is Judaism undone, but so is the whole of Christian civilisation.
Language is everything. Language is holy. And if you deny that language is holy, the very word “holy” is undone, and nothing is holy. And you end up, as we have in the West, with deconstructed “post truth”, in which every word is merely contingent on other words; every ‘…ology’ is denied the Logos without which it is meaningless and rootless.
3. The word “Islamophobia” and the Melanie Phillips Furore in December 2019
On December 17th, I hurriedly wrote a blog in defence of the Jewess Melanie Phillips, who was under attack from all quarters of Jewish leadership and celebrity. A London Charedi rabbi, Herschel Gluck, even called her a “hate preacher”.
Melanie had written a column in the Jewish Chronicle calling out charges of “Islamophobia” as bogus, if not intrinsically antisemitic. She is correct. “Islamophobia” – the word being pushed into the liberal and secular Western democracy by Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood – is bogus and intrinsically antisemitic, and I will explain why in some detail.
The Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, distanced himself from Melanie’s column as a result of the furore. Pollard’s reaction did not surprise me. In the past, he has led me to believe that he finds more meaning in Tottenham Hotspur than in Jerusalem. Here is an example from Twitter, 8 July 2019.
Although it’s none of my business what people eat, it does surprise that a leading English-language influencer of the Jewish diaspora is happy to write to the world that he is not observant, and to imply he allows pork sausages on the table. This week I am likely to consume the odd chipolata sausage with the family Christmas turkey. My faith allows me to eat pretty much anything: although Jesus and the Twelve all kept kosher, one of the Twelve, Saint Peter, following a visionary experience in Jaffa, instructed us Christians that we do not need to follow his (and Jesus’) Jewish dietary laws in order to keep faith in God of Israel. Similarly, although Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised into the Abrahamic covenant at 8-days old, Saint Paul – the Apostle to the Gentiles – insisted it was not necessary for us Gentiles. The rest is history.
Melanie has Tweeted a link to my blog piece, titled: In Defence of Melanie Phillips’ Calling Out Bogus Claims of ‘Islamophobia’. I hope it has done some good. I think it has. I don’t know Melanie, but I do know some of her friends, who are world-leading experts in antisemitism, whom I have met since I started to dedicate myself to the cause of fighting antisemitism.
Melanie is now obliged to fight against attempts at character assassination by Jewish influencers – including Daniel Sugarman (of the Board of Deputies, formally of the Jewish Chronicle) tweeting to the Jewish Chronicle: “my favourite four words ever to appear in print were ‘Melanie Phillips is away.’ Her presence as a monthly columnist diminishes a wonderful paper. She is a disgrace.”
Since December 17th, I have found myself in rearguard battles in support of Melanie, including with the celebrity Jewish lawyer Mark Lewis (famous for successfully representing victims of News International phone hacking). Lewis joined the outrage against Melanie, and justified his position to his many Jewish fans on social media. Lewis and I engaged in a lengthy battle of words on Facebook. He ended one of his long posts to me thus:
“The fact is that if a chair was called a table, we would still sit on it. The hatred of Muslims simply for the fact that they are Muslim is just wrong. Our condemnation needs to focus on why that hatred is wrong rather than why the term to describe such hatred is wrong.”
Mark Lewis, 20th December 2019, explaining to me his thoughts on language
And herein lies the problem. Lewis does not care which word we use to describe anti-Muslim hatred. But we need to care, as I explain in the following section. Furthermore if my interlocutors take such a Post-Modern and liberal attitude to language, then we are all lost in an ever-widening gyre that the centre cannot hold. It is noteworthy that Lewis has used the word “chair” and “table”. In my faith, the chair (cathedra) is not the table. In any case, the antitype of Christian table of the Twelve is the Sabbath Table in the Jerusalem Temple, on which were placed the showbread (12 loaves). For English Christians, such as me, “Table” is no ordinary word: it is central to the liturgy, as it is for observant Jews.
If ever I had to swear an oath to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it would be on an English-language Bible, which has innumerable instances of the word “table” within. Words matter. Truth Matters. The Table matters.
Of course, lawyers are paid make words mean whatever is best for the client. Lawyers are a necessary function precisely because they can play devil’s advocate. I’m not anti-lawyers, but I do work in a profession that is obliged to use language, and choose words, with care. I am a scientific technical writer, who has variously work in aerospace (I am ex Royal Air Force), electronics engineering and the life sciences. I cannot be liberal with language. Indeed, one of the ascertained causes for the recent Boeing 737 Max tragedies is incomplete definitions of the software in the pilot’s manuals. It seems the technical writers at Boeing did not follow the rules on explanations and abbreviations, or at least not the rules that I had to follow when I wrote to the standards of the Airbus Consortium.
4. The Word “Islamophobia” according to Haras Rafiq
The leaders of the Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies, and the Community Security Trust, have written a joint letter condemning Melanie Phillips’ article. Their letter ends:
“Whatever the shortcomings of the words “antisemitism” and “Islamophobia”, both problems are very real; combatting them is much harder when one is pitted against the other.”
From the letter of UK Jewish leaders, 17 December, telling the Jewish Chronicle that it was a mistake to publish Melanie Phillips’ concerns about the word “Islamophobia”
This is as bad as Mark Lewis’s suggesting to me that a chair is a table by any other name. “Islamophobia” is NOT the right word to describe anti-Muslim hatred (or hate speech against Muslims, or oppression of Muslims). What the oppressive Government of China is doing to the Uighur Muslims is not “Islamophobia”.
In my hurried piece on 17th November, I mentioned Haras Rafiq, from my memory of hearing him speaking at Oxford in July, telling us we must not use the word “Islamophobia”.
Haras is arguably the best Muslim expert on this subject. Tony Blair and David Cameron evidently thought so, because they charged Haras with leading the development of the necessary policies to prevent Islamist terrorism in Britain. Since 7/7, the work of Haras has helped to keep us all safe, including British Muslims of course: terrorists’ attacks are generally indiscriminate.
Haras is not merely a sociologist. He is a man of faith. He knows Arabic. He knows how language works, and how Islamist ideologies that are worked out in Arabic are broadcast in English, with what Dr Richard Landes calls a demopathic* use of liberal and democratic values by illiberal ideologues to undermine democracy from within. It’s brilliant when you think about. It’s so brilliant that the leaders of the British and American Jewish diaspora, who are hardly stupid, have swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Even Jewish advocates are fooled.
Since writing my last piece, I have had the chance to dig deeper into what Haras actually said. And going back over what he said, it really does, shockingly, alarmingly, make the case for Melanie and against the British Jewish leadership.
I would like to quote Haras verbatim, but his presentation was in a very conversational style. The following, then, is really a compilation, in which for ease of reading I have avoided ellipses, and kept square brackets to a minimum.
Haras Rafiq’s 90-minute speech had a fairly long section on terminology, beginning with “Islamism”. Here is my précis of what he said (publicly available) in a speech he titled The Triple Threat:
“The word “Islamism” comes from the Islamists, themselves. The Muslim Brotherhood – when they came up with their ideology – called themselves Islamists, and their ideology Islamism. They wanted to differentiate themselves from their fellow worshippers.
“Islamists and their fans try to make the term “Islamophobia” popular because the ideas and values they [the Islamists] stand for are the ones being criticised, and so “Islamophobia” is used as the shield.
“And so what is Islamism? And what’s the difference between Islam and Islamism? There is a difference, much like the difference between social and socialism. Islamism is the distinct political ideology of Sayyid Qutb, who is the modern father, who imported Fascism and Communism from Europe. He like the ideas, but instead of for the people, to do it for God.
“’Islamophobia’ is NOT the correct term. Islam is a set of ideas, a set of values, and in our secular democracy, no ideas should be beyond critique. That’s why we use the term “anti-Muslim hatred”. If people want to ridicule my faith [Islam], that’s fine. I can take it. I can debate them if I want to, or just ignore it, much like how Christians respond differently to Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.
“Anti-Muslim hatred is the correct terminology to use. Islamists and their fans try to make the term “Islamophobia” popular because the ideas and values they [the Islamists] stand for are the ones being criticised, and so “Islamophobia” is used as the shield.
“I was once no-platformed at Warwick University. I was to give a talk explaining how people of faith can accept “LGBT”. The LGBT society of Warwick no-platformed me because they said I am Islamophobic, because I had stood up against Islamists.
“And so what is Islamism? Islamism wants three things.
- To set up a Utopian state. And enforce their version of Fiqh [jurisprudence] which comes from Sharia. To enforce “Sharia” as state law. In fact there is no such thing as “Sharia law”. You will not find the word Sharia with law in the Quran or the hadith, anywhere. Until the 20th century, the attempt to enforce Sharia law has never been done in 1400 years of Islamic history. And Islamism wants to impose this state law on everybody [not just Muslims].
- Islamism wants to spread this state around the world. They want what they see as God’s flag on every part of the Earth.
- [Haras Rafiq, verbatim] The third thing: wipe Israel off the map.
“[Verbatim] That’s the three things [triple threat], at the top level, that Islamism wants.”
5. The Jewish Leadership is marching towards the edge of the cliff
Yesterday, Melanie published an excellent piece titled Political Auto-Immune Disease Among Diaspora Jews
She ends the piece:
“And that’s why, although Jeremy Corbyn has now been defeated, the leadership of Britain’s Jewish community is itself marching it towards the edge of the cultural cliff.”
She’s right. And it’s not just the Jewish diaspora and Israel – light unto the nations – that are at stake. Christian civilisation is at stake. Islam is at stake. Everything is at stake, everything, that is, apart from the Islamism that is shielding itself behind the word “Islamophobia”.
* Link here to Dr Richard Landes definition of “demopaths” http://www.theaugeanstables.com/reflections-from-second-draft/demopaths-dupes/