Monday 23 June 2014

"We're tired of hearing about Islam."

It may be late Monday evening, but early Sunday morning is on my mind...yes, here's this week's belated review of Radio 4's Sunday with St. Edward of Stourton. It will come in two parts, spread over two days. Here's the bit about the first half of the programme....

Just before catching up with it, I happened to read an admiring review in the Telegraph of a new book about British Islam called Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent. The book's author is a BBC radio editor called Innes Bowen [no relation apparently]. The Telegraph reviewer calls her book "admirable and clear-headed", praising it for "dispelling myths" about British Muslims. The book's "gentle and optimistic" message, according to the Telegraph reviewer, is: 
...there is no contradiction between Muslim identity and loyalty to the British state. 
...over time there is no fundamental contradiction between Islam and the modern Western state. 
...which is exactly the kind of message I'd expect a liberal BBC radio editor to be putting across [and "liberal" is her own description of herself, not mine]. It's a message that many believe the BBC as a whole is seeking to put across too. I don't know it it really was the book's message (as I've not read the book myself), though it probably was. Why the element of doubt? Well, the Telegraph reviewer praising Innes Bowen was none other than Peter Oborne, and his judgement on these kind of issues is rarely to be trusted. 

I mention all of this because Edward Stourton's first guest on Sunday was Innes Bowen herself. Together they discussed the 'British' jihadis fighting for the bloodthirsty medieval-minded bigots of ISIS. Innes talked specifically about the jihadi from Cardiff who appeared in that video inciting other Western Muslims to come and join the slaughter:
The thing that the people who go have in common really, it's a shared set of ideals. They're young. They're idealistic. And if you look at that video yesterday you can see in this case certainly not stupid, very intelligent young man, and on that video he's appealing to other Muslims to a sense of duty. He's making them try to feel that they have a sense of duty to go to Iraq and Syria, and that is the ideology which is inspiring some people to go.  
That sounds nice - bright British kids doing their duty, joining an international Young Men's Muslim Association. So nice it almost makes me want to burst into song:
Young man, there's no need to feel down.
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground.
I said, young man, 'cause you're in a new town (Cardiff)
There's no need to be unhappy.
Young man, there's a place you can go (Iraq and Sham).
I said, young man, when you feel full of woe.
You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time slaughtering people in the name of Allah...
It's fun to fight with the Y.M.M.A.
It's fun to fight with the Y.M.M.A.
They have everything for you men to enjoy,
You can hang out with all the boys, and hang...well, anyone you like.
It's fun to fight with the Y.M.M.A.
It's fun to fight with the Y.M.M.A.
You can get yourself ritually clean, you can have a good halal meal,
You can do whatever you feel, especially if it involves killing.
Young man, are you listening to me?
I said, young man, what do you want to be?
I said, young man, you can make real your dreams of murdering kaffirs and Shia. 
But you got to know this one thing!
No man does it all by himself.
I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf,
And just go there, to the Y.M.M.A.
I'm sure they can help you today.

The next item on the Sunday website was 'blurbed' in the following fashion:
In Berlin, a project to have a mosque, a synagogue and a church under the same roof is under way. It was organised by a Protestant pastor who says it's unique - in no other place do the three faiths share premises.
Edward Stourton's introduction live on Sunday followed a similar path:
There's an intriguing project underway in Berlin to put a mosque, a synagogue and a church under the same roof.
The ordering "a mosque, a synagogue and a church" suggests the motivation behind this report. I cannot help but suspect that if the story were 'merely' the story of Berlin building a major joint Jewish-Christian place of worship in the heart of German power, with all the historic resonances of that story, it probably wouldn't have featured on Sunday. [Alan at Biased BBC has similar suspicions]. The building is being built on the remains of an old church destroyed by the East German communist regime. A well-meaning Protestant pastor, Gregor Hohberg, is behind the project. 

The BBC's Stephen Evans reported, saying that for the imam involved in the project, Kadir Sanci...
...the importance is for the signal it sends. There is antagonism towards Islam in Germany and beyond, and he's anxious to dispel that.
[There's that word 'dispel' again - and it came from the BBC reporter's mouth.]

Kadir said that the site shows that Islam is peaceful [as we all know so well from the news]. The rabbi involved in the project, Tovia Ben Chorin, said:
It's important because it's a meeting place in Berlin, and from my Jewish point of view the city where the Jewish suffering was planned is now a city where a centre is being built where the three monotheistic religions that shaped European culture are now establishing this interfaith centre with three places of prayers - synagogue, church and mosque - and in the middle of all where we can exchange views in order to get to know each other.
Cynic that I am, I did note that both the Christian and Jewish participants said good-hearted things about different religions getting on with each other while the Muslim participant merely used the occasion to say that Islam is misunderstood and that the centre might counter that impression. 

You shouldn't always be so cynical though. The next item, according to the website blurb, ran as follows:
We assess the life and legacy of Rabbi Nachman Sudak who died last week. A leader in the Lubavitch community Rabbi Shmuel Lew tells us why he was so influential.
Rabbi Lew filled in the background for Edward Stourton, who said he didn't know much about it. The Chabad/Lubavitch movement began 200 years ago in Russia, said Rabbi Lew. It's an Hasidic movement, and has "a philosophy which shows how the spiritual world and the physical world are one and how every person can touch the divine potential within themselves and express it within life in the physical world through doing the commandments - a Jewish person as many as they can of the commandments of the Torah - and all of humankind to fulfill the seven universal laws, the Noahide laws"....or to put it another way... "It's through our interaction with people that we're able to encourage them and to spread the idea of thinking about the fact that the world is not a jungle, that there is a G_d and that a part of him is within me and I have to discover it within myself and within all my interactions with the world".

Still, next it was straight back to the the theme of tolerance and Muslims:
Today the Fes festival has become not only very popular but a beacon of religious tolerance and religious pluralism in the middle of the Muslim world. 
John Laurenson reported from Morocco. Swifts go crazy at sunset, and then fall quiet. Then the Sufis begin to sing. Everything is nice:
This week I've seen non-Muslims singing along to a chorus about Allah, and Muslim families - their hair hid under head scarfs - applauding a sung version of the Lord's Prayer. 
It gets better:
The Jewish cemetery in Fes is almost all that remains of a large and ancient Moroccan Jewish community. Many of those Jews came to this country after the Christians expelled them from Spain - among them the family of the Israeli-born singer Mor Karbasi who sang to a sold-out audience here.

She sings him a song she sang at the festival "about a Jewish woman who was forced to convert to Islam but on refusing to do so was executed." John said,
It's quite brave of Mor to tell this story and sing this song in a Muslim country. It's quite brave of the Moroccan organisers to have invited her, even if they didn't dare put the "I-word" on the programme.
Mor echoed the views we'd heard earlier from Berlin:
The festival is all about bringing cultures together.
The Muslim Uzbek singer who followed echoed these sentiments that having lots of different religions together in a Muslim country was "no problem".

Next, and before this post closes for the night, came a listener e-mail from "a Manchester-based evangelist" which Ed Stourton, to do him and his programme justice, then read out:
It's worth being reminded of the influence Christianity had in founding schools. In fact, the Christian Church founded hospital, orphanages, trades unions, and any other good who can think of. Why don't we hear more of these things on these programme? We're tired of hearing about Islam."
Amen, brother. Amen.

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