July 13, 2005

When government says what the "true religion" is.

Tony Blair spoke out yesterday about stamping out the virulent version of Islam that (apparently) led to the 7/7 bombings:
Talks are to begin on bringing in new laws covering preparations for attacks and to make it easier to deport people trying to "incite hatred", he told MPs.

The "moderate and true voice of Islam" had to be mobilised, he said....

"This is not an isolated criminal act we are dealing with," he said.

"It is an extreme and evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of the religion of Islam."...

Those behind the bombings were perverting the teachings of Islam, he argued....
Of course, I understand his motivation for saying this, and I agree with his opposition to a dangerous, violent ideology, but how can he say what the true intepretation of a religion is? I realize Britain does not have as robust an approach to the separation of church and state as we have, and I can see the role of government promoting the more socially beneficial versions of religion -- quite apart from the truth -- but who is Tony Blair to say what is the "true" version and what is the perversion?

If the bombers' version was in fact the more accurate interpretation of the Islamic tradition and moderating fundamentalism was the perversion, he'd be for the perversion, wouldn't he?


sean said...

Jefferson Davis, when various states' rights supporters hampered the national Confederate war effort, stated that the epitaph of the Confederacy should read: "Died of a theory." I fancy Tony Blair doesn't want to say the same about the U.K.

Mister DA said...

"If the bombers' version was in fact the more accurate interpretation of the Islamic tradition and moderating fundamentalism was the perversion, he'd be for the perversion, wouldn't he?"

Well, yes, and, yes. You've put your finger on the exact issue that confronts us in trying to understand and deal with the jihadists. What is the true face of Islam?

Sloanasaurus said...

It seems impossible for a religion such as Islam to last as long and spread to so many people if the proper interpretation of it is death and militant jihad. One would think such an ideology would hamper the popularity of the religion. Thus, perhaps Blair can rely on pragmatism and history in assuming that militant Jihad is not the proper practice of Islam.

Bruce Hayden said...

A lot of reasons that I love this blog, but one of them is Ann's way of saying things, including: "I realize Britain does not have as robust an approach to the separation of church and state as we have".

Maybe the answer is that Islam has to moderate in order to survive. It is fine for the Saudis et al. to sit there in their petro financed Wahabi paradise. But they were extrodinarily lucky - being pushed onto a desolate section of peninsula, only lush enough to support nomadic herding, only to find that it contained the largest reserves of oil in the world.

But there are a billion or so other Moslems in this world who are not this lucky. They are bombarded daily with pictures of our wealth (and decadence), only to be told that Mohommed would not approve of them joining the rest of the world's material abundance.

So, yesterday, again, in the Islamic paradise of Iran, the students revolted. Again. Looks like none of them were killed - this time. No surprise really - they are too young to remember the corruption of the Shah, but do know that two Islamic countries on their borders have been liberated by us and are being steered towards democracy. And, no surprise, they want to join in.

james said...

If one of the antagonists thinks of a war as a religious war, I'd think that would be enough to make it a religious war whether the other side liked it or not.
Insofar as these Islamic sects have the military goal of overthrowing the state, I think we can remove from them the protection of "freedom of religion."
But since these sects (spiritual heirs of the Kharajites?) don't seem to represent all of Islam, Blair has to carefully distinguish between sects of a religion that he isn't an authority in. I'd think that as long as he makes the distinctions on practical military and political grounds (are you British or a citizen of the caliphate?) he won't be causing any long term problems.

knox said...

I remember seeing an author of a book on Islam speak on BookTV (if I remember correctly, she was an Iraqi, now living in the US).

Anyway, her contention was that "Mainstream Islam" is in fact, what westerners would consider "Fundamentalist Islam". In other words, Muslims are expected to accept the Koran as word-for-word truth, to be taken literally, and absolutely not questioned.

She claimed that this:

1. makes it easy for radicals to recruit people to their cause using Islam and its teachings; and

2. makes it very difficult for average, non-violent Muslims to speak out against terrorism. Because basically, they feel like the terrorists are, after all, carrying out what the Koran says and they can't really argue against it.

P_J said...


Your point is debatable, but I will grant that Islam still is a shining beacon of medieval culture. And that's the problem. Its central theme is submission -- to Allah, the caliphate, and shariah law. Unfortunately, Islam finds itself now in a world moving away from lords and vassals -- and that's perceived as a threat to Islam and Muslims (violent or not).

Freeman Hunt said...

I don't mind government officials expressing personal sentiments of faith, but I don't like them making broad religious pronouncements such as "this is true, this is not."

I agree with Ann.

chuck b. said...

John Yoo made this point in the LA Times today:

"...the U.S. must discredit Al Qaeda's fundamentalist vision of Islam, and it must support moderate versions compatible with democracy and markets. The U.S. must ask the courts to give us flexibility to combat fundamentalist Islam as it would any other hostile ideology, such as communism during the Cold War."

Sounds fine to me.

P_J said...


Islam was a source of learning and Islamic cultures had positive points -- but they were also known for ruthless and bloody expansion, piracy, slavery, religious persecution, torture, and brutality. Perhaps they were no worse than many "Christian" nations, but they were not shining beacons in comparison. Islam was not the bugbear of Europe for no reason.

You are also aware that apart from "radical" Islam, the everday variety is actively engaged in harassing, torturing, enslaving and killing non-Muslims in almost every Muslim country today?

It's possible that Islam can arise from medievalism - but remember that freedom and human dignity are not core Islamic values. I think our best hope is within already relatively secularized countries like Iraq.

Ann Althouse said...

In the middle: You are quite wrong to suggest that this post is answered in the previous post. This post is (mildly) critical of Blair for purporting to say what the "true" version of Islam is. He's simply not in a position to know or to be persuasive on the subject. The previous post is critical of a religious idea with absolutely no regard to whether or not it is a true or accurate interpretation of that religion. I'm calling it BAD, not purporting to properly interpret someone else's religion.

P_J said...


You managed to sound condescending quite well anyway. I think we're coming back the start of the thread - the difference between Islam as it's practiced and Islam as it "ought" to be. Islamic nations (current and historic) have terrible track records on freedom and basic human rights. You and Tony Blair seem to argue that's because they're not practicing "real" Islam. 95%+ of the Islam we see when Muslims are in charge is brutal, repressive and violent (and towards not only non-Muslims but also their own citizens). I contend that tells us something about Islam and its core values. Reading history, the Koran and what Muslims say among themselves backs this up.

Unknown said...

You're right, Ann. After the last five years observing the true Islam, I'd settle for a mild fake Islam any day.