Will the real Islam please stand up?

Mosque, December 2010 by Edward Musiak

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Imagine, if you can, a Scotsman named Angus.

Angus is particular when it comes to breakfast, and indeed the intersection of nationhood with breakfast seasoning choices. He argues that Scotsmen do not put sugar on their porridge.

Unfortunately within earshot is another Scotsman named Lachlan. On hearing Angus’ musings on porridge Lachlan points out that he himself is a Scotsman and he puts sugar on his porridge.

“Well,” Angus thunders. “No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

The nature of Scottishness is not obviously linked to contemporary debate on Islamic theology. Yet the above tale, illustrating a popular logical fallacy, is surprisingly pertinent of late.

Shortly after November’s slaughter in Paris home secretary Theresa May stupidly claimed that the attacks had “nothing to do with Islam”, a statement contradicted by her own prime minister the next day.

David Cameron is one of a clutch of pols and commentators spinning the line that the Islamist (ie political Islamic) violence is a perversion of Islam rather than the genuine article.

Online it’s a popular sentiment, with the phrase “you ain’t no Muslim, bruv” recently trending on Twitter summarising the view that those who carry out attacks in the name of Islam are not proper Muslims.

It is one of the ironies of our age that whilst progressives lobby for fuzzier definitions for most labels (note the debate over whether transgender people can claim to be authentically a man or a women) the opposite is happening in relation to Islam.

Fuelling this trend are legitimate concerns over anti-Muslim sentiment in the West. Videos of people abusing Muslims on public transport show that prejudice against Muslims who have no link to Islamist terrorism is real enough.

But for somebody to say that Islamist terrorism is not authentically Islamic, but a perversion of the faith, one would have to have a “real” version of the religion as a standard to measure other against.

It is hard to establish just what this standard, or even several equally valid standards, might be. Like all world religions Islam is a broad church, often covering conflicting claims about morality, history and metaphysics.

As such two men describing themselves as Muslim might have fewer beliefs in common than a man who calls himself a Muslim and a man who calls himself a Christian, especially if the latter two live in the same city, are part of the same social class, and are even part of the same friendship circle.

Given how lightly we accept people calling themselves Muslim, or Jewish (in the religious sense), or Christian whilst barely weighing themselves down with the lightest ideological, moral or cultural baggage, it is hard to see how we can justify excluding Islamist terrorists from the wider Muslim family.

The reason Cameron does it is because of politics. He believes that it is in his interest to alienate violent Muslims who support political Islam whilst showing more moderate (or at least non-violent) Muslims that he is on their side.

Perhaps an argument could be made that the rest of us should pretend the same for the sake of public order. But if we apply the general rule that to call yourself a Muslim is to be a Muslim it is hard to see how the Paris attackers and their ilk do not qualify.

As such #AintNoMuslimBruv is merely “No True Scotsman” for the politically correct.

Image Credit – Mosque, December 2010 by Edward Musiak

Jimmy Nicholls
Writes somewhat about British politics and associated matters. Contact jimmy@rightdishonourable.com

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