Perhaps Ireland can learn from Muslims

(Unpublished, 2005)

In a recent article (8/3/2005) Kevin Myers contends that Ireland ‘lacks any real awareness of the enormously complex problems which lie ahead of us as our cities are being transformed by immigration’ before proceeding to offer a typically superficial analysis of what he deems this “complex problem”.

The target of Myers’s ire is what he terms Islamic fundamentalism (a term rejected by most Muslims – though the Arabic neologism usuliyyah has crept into usage). This is presented by Myers as an ideology similar to Communism and Nazism that rejects the diversity at the heart of the liberal order.

Myers’s particular grievance is against the wearing of the veil by women, which he describes as ‘misogynistic and dehumanising’ and ‘a step towards Pharaonic circumcision’ – whatever that is.

The implicit suggestion contained in the article is that the Irish government should adopt the policy of the French government who banned the wearing of the veil by school girls, an injunction that has given rise to violent clashes and has heightened a sense of exclusion among French Muslim as well as pandering to the extreme right of Le Penism.

Myers falls into the same trap as the fundamentalists he fulminates against by demanding that Muslims abide by the potentially totalitarian moral norms of an aggressive secularism. Surely a true liberal, as Myers seems to style himself, wouldn’t object to the hardly totalitarian idea of an individual making free choices regarding their code of dress. One wonders whether he excoriated his sister-in-law for the choice she once made to take a veil as a nun.

A more nuanced understanding of the contemporary Islam is called for. Take the views of sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi who comes in for honourable mention in Myer’s piece.

Much of Qaradawi’s writings are to be found on the English language website where eminent clerics issue online fatwas (legal rulings) in response to questions posed by Muslims living in the West. Some of the topics addressed are surprisingly explicit including; ‘a divorced woman using a vibrator,’ or ‘undergoing a penis enlargement operation,’ as well as intimate ‘sucking a wife’s breasts,’ while others are more banal such as; ‘animals slaughtered without mentioning Allah’s name.’ One can hardly imagine a Catholic priest addressing such themes, and the frankness of the exchanges between clerics and their followers are indicative of the extent to which Islam retains its relevance to people’s lives.

Qaradawi’s approach to the question of suicide bombing is also more complex than Myer’s indicates; participation in the martyr operations carried out in Palestine given the status of the land as an occupied territory in addition to a lot of sacrilegious acts perpetrated by the Jews against the sanctuaries – is one of the most praised acts of worship.

Standard stuff but he goes on to say; Our target should be military personnel and not civilians when Israel does not attack our civilians. But as we can see nowadays, they violate the lives of all Palestinians civilians or non-civilians. Thus Qaradawi advocates that once Israel refrains from acts such as indiscriminate ‘targeted’ assassinations the taking of Israeli civilian life should cease.

Closer to home, Qaradawi unequivocally condemns recent suicide attacks against Western civilians. Trully our heart bleeds for the attacks that targeted the World Trade Centre… despite our strong opposition to America’s biased policy towards Israel. Since; Haphazard killings… where innocents are killed along with the wrongdoers is totally forbidden in Islam. Here Qaradawi seems to be offering contradicting interpretations since he previously endorses suicide operations in Israel which invariably lead to the deaths of innocent civilians, including children.

While Myers’s entreaty to deal with the issue of the arrival of Muslims in Ireland is welcome, surely the issue doesn’t always have to be addressed in terms of the constantly magnified danger it poses. His simplistic rendering of a relatively sophisticated phenomenon shows no understanding of the Islamic Revival that is occurring in Europe.

According to one of its leading lights Tariq Ramadan, who has been described as the Luther of Islam, ‘We are currently living through a veritable silent revolution in Muslim communities in the West’ because ‘Muslims may feel safer in the West, as far as the free exercise of their faith is concerned, than in some so-called Muslim countries.’

Ramadan calls on European Muslims to interact with their fellow citizens in the following way; ‘it is a question of entering into an authentic dialogue as between equals, with all our fellow citizens with respect for the respective universality of our respective values, willingly open to mutual enrichment and eventually to become true partners in action.’

The arrival of Muslims in Ireland calls for dialogue and interaction, rather than goading polemics. Certain interpretations of Islam such as justification for the physical chastisement of wives offend against universal codes of human rights but it is important to look below the surface and recognise the variety of interpretations.

Moreover, perhaps Irish people can learn from the values espoused by Muslim such as emphasis on the family, a much needed asceticism in the face of an over-weaning booze fuelled culture, and a re-activation of a humanitarianism that has been abandoned in the quest for mammon.

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