A UK High Court judge has ruled that Islam is a religion of peace as part of a decision in a libel case. This is very troubling because it may set a precedent that could influence future court judgements in the UK. This very serious (and probably wilful) misunderstanding of the Islamic religion is now in danger of becoming entrenched in the UK legal system. The case in question was a libel action brought by one Shakeel Begg against the British Broadcasting Corporation. The full details of the case are available here:
The case was commented on quite widely in the media, for example Douglas Murray hailed the judgement as a landmark victory in an article in the Spectator. However most commentators including Mr. Murray seem to have overlooked the fact that the ruling included this pronouncement about the nature of the Islamic religion. This aspect and the details of the judgement were brought to my notice by Graham Senior-Milne, who has written a detailed paper looking particularly at this aspect of the case. Its an entertaining and thought-provoking read, he draws some interesting conclusions:
For brevity here I will just quote a few of his key points in this post.
One website that did comment on the interpretation of Islam in the judgement was a prominent UK Islamic website. I won’t link to that article as it may attract unwelcome attention from various directions, but in the article they also complained that the judgement would set a legal precedent about what is “acceptable” Islam in the UK courts.
WHAT WAS MR. BEGG COMPLAINING ABOUT?
Mr. Begg felt that he had been libelled by an episode of the BBC’s Sunday Politics program. The words he was particularly upset about were these:
The East London Mosque, which you personally and the MCB closely associated with, it’s also the venue for a number of extremist speakers and speakers who espouse extremist positions. This year Shakeel Begg, he spoke there and hailed jihad as “the greatest of deeds”. In 2009 the mosque hosted a video presentation by somebody described by US security as an Al-Quaeda supporter. You had another speaker there who in the past had described Christians and Jews as “filth”. You’ve had a jihadist supporter of the Taliban there. Why do you do nothing to stop extremism, extremists like that, at this mosque with which you’re associated with.
WHAT WAS THE JUDGEMENT?
You can see the bailii page for the full judgement, but here are some of the most important points:
It is common ground that Islam is a religion of peace. The Qur’an is a book of peace.
I find the words complained of (“WCO”) are substantially true in their meanings: (1) The Claimant is an extremist Islamic speaker who espouses extremist Islamic positions. (2) The Claimant had recently promoted and encouraged religious violence by telling Muslims that violence in support of Islam would constitute a man’s greatest deed.
The Claimant was something of a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ character: he presented a (benign) face to the local Lewisham and inter-faith community and another (extremist) face to receptive Muslim audiences on chosen occasions.
HOW DID THE JUDGE REACH HIS CONCLUSION THAT ISLAM IS A RELIGION OF PEACE?
Mr. Senior-Milne draws our attention to paragraphs 112-113. In these paragraphs the judge hears Mr. Begg’s expert say that the Quran “licences” both offensive and defensive jihad, and the BBC’s expert say that it only allows armed defence. The experts also agree that there are differences of opinion among both Sunni and Shia jurists about what even constitutes offensive and defensive jihad. Somehow the judge then perplexingly decides from all this “expert” testimony that the Quran permits only defensive jihad, despite the clear difference in opinion between the two experts and the fact they say there is confusion among Islamic jurists on the question as well. In Mr. Senior-Milne’s words:
Arriving at a clear view necessarily means that you have resolved the key uncertainties, whatever they are. This is utter nonsense. And it is nonsense in relation to the most critical question – whether Islam is a religion of peace. If Islam mandates offensive war then, by definition, it is not a religion of peace. So how can you conclude that Islam is a religion of peace while leaving unanswered the question of whether Islam mandates offensive war? You can’t.
IS ISLAM A RELIGION OF PEACE?
No, it is not a religion of peace because Islam incites violence/offensive warfare/terror against the “disbelievers”. I explained my own reasons for reaching this conclusion here:
Douglas Murray and Ayaan Hirsi Ali also managed to convince a large audience in an Intelligence Squared debate that Islam is not a religion of peace, despite the fact that they were up against Maajid Nawaz who is a Muslim who is very familiar with his own religion.
The judge came to the wrong conclusion about Islam. The idea that Islam is a religion of peace is not “common ground” at all.
WAS IT EVEN NECESSARY FOR THE COURT TO MAKE A JUDGEMENT ABOUT ISLAM?
The judge seemed to think that it was necessary to decide whether Mr. Begg’s views were extreme compared to mainstream Islam. No it was not necessary to do this. There was no need for the court to listen to any experts’ opinions about the nature of the Islamic religion. As Mr. Senior-Milne puts it:
The question of extremism should not be judged by reference to (through the prism of) Islam at all – and for a very simple reason. If Islam itself is extreme in a certain way by the standards of the ordinary reasonable man, then a man who espouses such extremism is not extreme by Islamic standards (he is mainstream Islam), but he is extreme by the standards of the ordinary reasonable man. And it is by the standards of the ordinary reasonable man that the question of libel must be assessed – as Haddon-Cave himself acknowledges elsewhere in his judgment (para. 62).
Put it this way, if Haddon-Cave had found that Islam is extreme, would be have found that the BBC had libelled Shakeel Begg because, while he does espouse terrorism, he is not extreme by Islamic standards because Islam itself mandates terrorism?
WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THE JUDGEMENT?
The judgement has at least exposed Mr. Shakeel Begg’s activities and also shone a bit of a spotlight on what goes on in Lewisham mosque. It also has shone a bit of a spotlight on the Muslim Council of Britain, as Douglas Murray points out, serious questions now need to be asked of that organization because the Lewisham Islamic centre is a member.
Had we better perhaps investigate some more of the UK’s mosques to discover if more of them are similarly misunderstanding their religion (or should we say THE HON. MR JUSTICE HADDON-CAVE’s interpretation of their religion)? Those of you who remember the excellent Channel 4 documentary Undercover Mosque will know that this isn’t the first time that those preaching in mosques have misunderstood THE HON. MR JUSTICE HADDON-CAVE’s interpretation of their religion. To be fair those preachers had been speaking before THE HON. MR JUSTICE HADDON-CAVE had announced his decision.
Douglas Murray also draws our attention to the fact that apparently Lewisham mosque operates as a charity. Readers may wish to vent their frustration at the charity commission for assisting in the propagation of such extreme views. From Douglas Murray’s article:
Perhaps readers would like to ask the Charity Commission themselves. Complaints to the Charity Commission can be registered here:
The Lewisham Islamic Centre’s Charity number is: 285641.
Please submit your complaint.
HOW MUCH DID THIS TRIAL COST AND WHO WILL PAY THE BILL?
Mr. Senior Milne says that:
Note that the case has taken three years to determine (and there might still be an appeal).
I find it very alarming that so much of the High Court’s time has been wasted on this matter. I hope that Mr. Begg will personally have to foot the bill to cover every last penny of the costs.
ANOTHER LIBEL CASE IN THE PIPELINE
A Dr Salman Butt is apparently bringing a somewhat similar libel action against the UK government for accusing him of being an extremist. He can be heard talking about his views here:
(Note – BBC programs do not always remain available indefinitely, readers might want to download the podcast if they want to listen at a later date).
It will be interesting to see whether this judgement will have a bearing on the decision in this forthcoming case.
THE PRETEND STRATEGY
Theresa May and David Cameron have been promising for some time that they will “stamp out extremism in all its forms” as an objective of their “Prevent” strategy. Many are inclined to think the strategy is having a good effect when it upsets Muslims. However the problem with the government’s strategy is not only that it is based on the avoidance of truth about the Islamic religion, but more worryingly still they have decided that all sorts of other people merit the label “extremist”, including some of their political opponents, and that those people should be silenced using “Extremist Banning and Disruption Orders”. They also want to tar opponents of the Islamic religion with the label “extremist”, because they too fail to fall in line with the establishment version of Islam. Could it be that the judge in this case felt somehow obliged to reinforce the government’s re-invention of the Islamic religion (which some have referred to disparagingly as “MI5 Islam”)?
It should not matter in our legal system who is an “extremist” and who is not. The word is subjective, it can never therefore be a useful term in drawing up laws. What matters is who incites violence and who does not.
This judgement about the nature of the Islamic religion seems to have been inspired by the establishment’s group-think view of how the threat of Islamic terrorism should be countered. The establishment imagine (in their deluded ideological bubble) that if they redefine Islam as a peaceful friendly sort of religion that the followers of the religion will stop noticing the words plainly written in black and white in their holy books. Obviously it is a strategy not only utterly doomed to failure but also almost certainly likely to exacerbate the dangers we face – by suppressing the honest debate that needs to take place and so allowing the problems to grow unchallenged.