A Few Fundamentalists

Here are a few moments from a recent conversation with an educated, middle-class, thirty-five-year-old English male. It all started with the Middle East, then moved on to the subject of revolutions and then somehow got on to this:

He: The problem is that Muslims are being allowed to take over European countries. They want everything their own way. They want to impose their religion on us. It’s like we have to give in to them over everything.

Me: Give in to them?

He: Totally. If someone says something against Christians, then that doesn’t matter. But if someone dares to say one tiny thing against Muslims, then there’s this huge fuss and the authorities have to make official apologies and the whole thing just gets massive. Look at what happened with those Danish cartoons. There was such an uproar that the Danish government had to make an official apology.

Me: I don’t think you can judge a whole religion on the actions of a few fundamentalists.

He: But it wasn’t just fundamentalists.

Me: Actually, I think it was. I’ll bet that if you’d carried out a genuinely representative survey, you would have found that most Muslims wouldn’t have condoned the uproar over the Danish cartoons. Sure, they may have been upset by the cartoons. They may even have been offended by them. But they probably would have preferred it if the whole situation hadn’t been blown out of proportion. It’s the fundamentalists who react in extreme ways. It’s the fundamentalists who get all the media attention. And it’s the fundamentalists who give Muslims a bad name.

He: But that’s not true. They’re just completely different people. They react violently to everything. They’re backward in so many ways. You can’t deny that.

Me: Umm… actually, I can completely deny that.

He: How?

Me: Well… why don’t you tell me how they’re backward.

He: If you look around the world, it’s obvious that all Muslim countries are uncivilised in all sorts of different ways. The freedoms they give people. The rights of women. Their system of punishments. They go around chopping people’s heads off.

Me: Hang on. For a start, there are very few Muslim countries where chopping off hands or heads is still an official punishment. And anyway, what you’re doing is confusing the religion with the political systems of certain countries.

He: But all Muslim countries are run in those ways.

Me: No, I don’t think you can say that.

He: Yes, they are. You can’t deny that. If you look at Christianity and you look at Islam, you cannot say that Islam gives people the same amount of freedom.

Me: Actually, there are many areas of life in which Islam gives people tons more freedom than Christianity.

He: Yeah, right!

Me: It’s true. Islam allows abortion, up to a certain number of weeks of pregnancy. Islam allows contraception. Islam allows divorce. Centuries ago, Islam gave women the sorts of inheritance and ownership rights that western, Christian women didn’t get to enjoy until just a few decades ago.

He: So how come all Muslim countries are still so backward?

Me: I really don’t see how you can say that.

He: They totally are. We’ve moved on and they’ve stayed stuck in the past.

Me: So the west’s human rights record is totally spotless, is that what you’re saying?

He: It is compared to Muslim countries’.

Me: I don’t accept that. Plenty of so-called civilised, Christian countries have done lots of things they can’t really be proud of. Don’t forget that a few decades ago, it was a deeply Christian country that took the world into the biggest war it had ever seen.

He: But I’m talking about today. Muslims just want to impose themselves on everybody. Why should I walk down my street and have to see a veiled woman?

Me: Why shouldn’t you?

He: Because this isn’t a Muslim country. If they want to come and live here, they should respect our ways. Like they have to in France.

Me: Personally, I think what they’ve done in France is awful. I don’t see any problem with religions being allowed to mix, with people from different cultures living side by side. If a woman wants to wear a veil, I don’t see what’s wrong with that. In France, Christian pupils and teachers aren’t allowed to wear crosses. I think that’s pretty awful too.

He: Yeah, well, you can see why they’ve done that in France, because they probably realise that if they don’t do something, they’ll get completely taken over. Because the fact is that Muslims are basically more violent, more aggressive people and they want to have everything their own way. They run their countries like barbarians and they want to bring their ideas and ways of life into our countries.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I will just repeat one thing, though: this was a conversation with an educated, middle-class, thirty-five-year-old English male. Bearing this in mind, was I right to be shocked or shouldn’t I have expected anything different?

But what do you make of this? Come on now, be honest. Leave an anonymous comment if you prefer, but tell me what you truly and genuinely believe. Do you divide the world along religious lines? Do you subscribe to this idea of ‘us and them’? And if you live in the UK, do you believe you’re being invaded. I’d love to know your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “A Few Fundamentalists

  1. I'm sad to say that I have been in a similar conversation a few times, maybe in a slightly different context, about how Muslims are somehow genetically wired differently. The arguments are always the same: they [Muslims] are more backwards then the folks in the west, less evolved etc. I want to know what makes Muslims so \”special\”; must be in the water I guess. I think its all based on irrational fear of the unknown. There are no monsters in the closet, just inside our heads, I guess. I'm glad you're starting this dialog.-Aamir

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  2. Aamir, it's wonderful to hear from you. Thanks for writing.I'm perfectly happy to accept that there may be cultural differences between certain people, but to make the statement that Islam itself, as a religion, is somehow intrinsically barbaric in relation to all other religions… I just don't see how anyone can say that.

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