EU Charter of misunderstanding Muslims
Those who, like our prime minister, want to engineer a so-called "moderate" Islam probably look with admiration to Sam Solomon's "A Proposed Charter of Muslim Understanding" published in December 2006 with a foreword by UK Independence Party MEP Gerard Batten (but without featuring an impressum or stating a publisher or printer as normally required by law for publications in the UK). An colleague of Mr Batten, Ashley Mote MEP, sent a copy to the Islamic Party of Britain for comment, informing that the document had been launched in the European Parliament. To save other politicians wanting to follow suite from embarrassment (the old saying applies that it is better to keep you mouth shut and give the semblance of intelligence than to open it and remove all doubt), I am reproducing my reply on behalf of the Islamic Party of Britain.
Dear Mr Mote,
Sam Solomon's proposed charter of Muslim understanding is quite extraordinary both in its content and, maybe even more so, in its very existence. The European Parliament purports to represent the people of Europe (via their member states) irrespective of their religious or ideological beliefs. That the parliament should be asked to enter into a separate agreement with a sub-section of its own constituents appears unprecedented. Is there also going to be a charter of Catholic understanding, Protestant understanding, Jewish understanding, Humanist understanding, Atheist understanding, Hindu understanding, Sikh understanding, Scientologist understanding etc. etc.? Or is the very belief in Islam as a religion considered so outlandish to Europe that Muslim constituents are to be treated as a separate and outside entity apart from the rest of the citizens of Europe?
It is on the basis of this aberration that we could not support such a charter even if the content was agreeable. In his foreword to the charter Gerard Batten MEP is trying to differentiate between fundamentalist and moderate Muslims, a very common attempt amongst politicians today, although those terms are meaningless simplifications given the complexity of any religious or ideological belonging. There is no doubt that amongst the citizens of any nation there are people who might not agree with all or some of the principles upon which the respective nation is built. There will also be people with divided loyalties. However, this is not a Muslim phenomenon. The UK Independence Party to which Mr Batten belongs, for example, has members in the European Parliament whilst at the same time being in disagreement with the various treaties and the legal framework upon which the European Union is built. Such is the nature of democracy.
Of course, people like Mr Batten or Mr Solomon might want to differentiate between a mere disagreement of ideas and the so-called threat of violence and terrorism eminating from "fundamentalist" Islam. We reject indiscriminate violence and terrorism, but we cannot accept that they are a particular Muslim phenomenon. Rather they are the weapon of choice for the powerless objecting to political oppression and can therefore only be resolved by political means. Our government recognised this in the case of Irish terrorism which mainly abated once a political settlement of grievances was in sight. Our government's involvement in the illegal invasion of Iraq or unashamed partisan support for Israel in her quest to dominate the region through aggression against her Palestinian or Lebanese neighbours, on the other hand, is fuelling international terrorism.
At no time in the history of "the Troubles", however, has there been the suggestion that there ought to be a charter of Catholic understanding - since Irish Republicans confess Catholicism - or of Jewish understanding - since many Jewish citizens in the UK have dual nationality and loyalty and are even reservists in the Israeli Defence Force. Had such a charter, "allowing" - to paraphrase Batten - "Catholics/Jews from all strands of belief to make it plain that they reject those extremist interpretations of their religious texts that promote or excuse violence and bring Catholicism/Judaism into conflict with the modern world" been proposed, the Catholic Church or the Jewish Board of Deputies would rightly have rejected it as inappropriate.
Having hereby rejected the very notion of such an endeavour, I will still comment on some of the rather presumptious proposals contained in the charter document, for many secular politicians these days seem to arrogantly want to redefine religious beliefs for their own convenience. In his introduction Mr Solomon suggests that Muslim leaders should agree that anybody deviating from the path of his charter should be outcast from the religion of Islam as a non-Muslim heretic. Islam does not have a hierarchical church structure and does not afford anybody the right to give such an undertaking.
Mr Solomon would do well to at least study the religion of Islam before wanting to mandate the behaviour of its scholars. His demand for them to issue specific fatwahs is as presumptious as if he were to tell the Pope which edict to pass next. A fatwah or religious edict in Islam is not the mere expression of an opinion by an individual or a group, it is a well researched and referenced argument requiring the same level of scrutiny of source texts and precedents as a judgment passed in a court of law. In article 1 of his charter Mr Solomon demands the issuance of a fatwah prohibiting the use of force and violence against non-Muslim and in article 5 he demands that the notion and all teachings of violent physical Jihad be "regarded as invalid, inappropriate and irrelevant" and "hence inapplicable". Article 51 of the UN Charter, on the other hand, states that "nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations". What Mr Solomon is, therefore, effectively saying is that Muslims or Muslims nations should voluntarily surrender the rights afforded to them by the UN Charter. Whether Mr Batten or Mr Solomon like it or not, the Palestinian uprising is a legitimate expression of self-defence sanctioned under international law as long as Israel is in illegal occupation of Palestinian land. A similar case could be made with respect to many other conflicts in the world, yet here we are told that any Muslim supporting and defending such a right of self-defence should be excommunicated.
Moreover, Mr Solomon now also wants to play God by asking Muslim leaders to agree that "all Qur'anic Jihad verses encouraging physical violence, whether implicit or explicit, or any other quotations from the any Islamic source, be that Sunnah or the sayings of the Prophet or that of the learned scholars ... are to be regarded as inapplicable, invalid and non- Islamic; All Qur'anic verses that COULD (my emphasis) be of inciting nature religiously, ethnically or discriminatory in regard to gender are just historical and will be regarded as non-effective for today's world; These verses will be either deferred or suspended until such time as scholars find a solution for their interpretation." Here is Chutzpah par excellence. The only missing ingredient is that Mr Solomon might want to be appointed to Chief Mufti of all European Muslims and put in charge of a new revised edition of the Qur'an acceptable to his taste.
After asking for a commitment in article 7 to fully cooperate in spying on their co-religionist by watching and monitoring mosque sermons and other mosque teaching programmes for messages not in accordance with this Charter, monitoring all publications, and reporting on any secret and suspicious gatherings of youths, Mr Solomon treats us in article 10 to three pages of Qur'an verses which he would want to have revised or rendered invalid, hastening to add that the list is not exclusive. Amongst those verses are even some which declare the belief in the trinity to be mistaken, which makes me think that the Spanish Inquisition was a lot more honest than Mr Solomon's pretense at reaching an understanding; at least they spelled it out that conversion to Christianity was the only option available to Muslims in Europe.
Dear Mr. Mote, the above cursory points might not be the response you were hoping for. It is a sign of the immaturity of debate and irrationality of approach by those wishing that Islam as a serious proposition within Europe would simply go away that such half-baked proposals even have to be discussed. I am sure that anybody proposing a charter suggesting that the European parliament legislate on the interpretation of the Talmud or the New Testament would be made a laughing stock rather than be given a serious rebuff by the Christian Churches or the Rabbinical authorities. I have endured the ignorant assumptions and presumptious insults emerging from the pages of Mr Solomon's charter and given them my attention only because I am all too painfully aware how little he and others like him know about the subject on which they speak. If there is to be more understanding between European citizens of different religious and ideological persuasions, maybe the first step should be to facilitate the education of European citizenry about what adherents to those religions or secular belief systems actually believe in. This would be a vastly more rewarding exercise than the current scare-mongering polemics against a sub-section of people within the countries of Europe, of which the document you asked us to comment on is a prime example.
Dr Sahib M Bleher
Islamic Party of Britain