Saturday 7 March 2015

My favourite historian on Islam

While on the subject of Islam, it is always a joy for me to come across anything written by Edward Norman, one of the greatest living historians and my favourite. I just found this, which I'd forgotten, from a book review he wrote in 2007.
In Britain public money is being allocated to identify and promote ‘moderate’ Islam, in the hope of discouraging the ‘extremists’ and ‘fundamentalists’ whose supposed misunderstanding of the Faith is, in fact, the version most practised in those societies where it is the majority religion. The result is not likely to be much more than the detachment of a favoured westernised coterie of leaders from the main body of believers.
A great friend of mine, now dead, a very erudite British Bengali Muslim, would have vehemently disagreed with this view and shown much learning in arguing against it. But he was a Guardian reader and Labour supporter, Oxford-educated and thoroughly westernised in many ways, despite his considering race the explanation for most behaviour and his covert antipathy to Jews. I suspect his Western education made him have less rather than more understanding of the Koran. 

Come to that, Nigerian Christians may understand the Bible better than affluent Ivy League educated American Episcopalians, but that's another story.

I loved Edward Norman since he delivered his drily funny attack on the modern Church of England in the Reith Lectures all those years ago. His The Roman Catholic Church: An Illustrated History  is a stimulating and mischievously provocative essay rather than a mere coffee table book, with an irony almost worthy of Gibbon, but deployed in favour of Christianity. He mentions modern Christians' apologies for the Crusades and comments
Perhaps, however, a balance of remorse might be achieved if the Islamic bodies were, in turn, asked to apologise for their own invasions of the Byzantine provinces and Holy Land some three and a half centuries earlier.
He says of Moorish Spain, 
All those placid courtyards and sparkling fountains, that poetry and art, rested upon the existence of one of the largest slave populations the world has ever seen.
He also tells us that the Moors developed savage techniques for extracting confessions from suspected heretics and
there is a sense in which the notorious Spanish Inquisition was a Moorish legacy.
This reminds me that I spent forty minutes with Augustine Ndeliakyama Shao, the Catholic Bishop of Zanzibar (an island which is 95% Muslim), when I was there. The Bishop asked me how people in England felt about Muslims and I told him about the widespread concern about Islamophobia and that Muslims being brown-skinned were seen as victims. The Bishop told me that
Muslims worry about victimisation when thy are a minority. When they are a majority they are very different.
A number of churches have been attacked in Zanzibar since we met. 

I must say that I have liked a great deal most of the Muslims I have known and I imagine their habit of praying several times a day is part of the reason they are attractive. They have remarkable qualities, a remarkable seriousness and depth, usually. However, John Buchan's description of Islam as a warlike creed (or rather Sandy Arbuthnot's) in Greenmantle is clearly accurate. Islam will give rise to countless conflicts in the future in Europe as well as Africa and Asia. 

I agree with a fair bit of the Muslim critique of the modern West. want there to be peace between the world's religions and there should certainly be peace between Christians, Jews and Muslims, who all worship the same God, but there will not be. 

The cantonisation of England along racial and religious lines became inevitable as soon as immigration from the New Commonweath reached several hundreds of thousands back in the early 1960s, I suppose. Here is very saddening article by Ben Judah, a fantastically gifted young journalist, about widespread anti-Jewish feeling among Muslims in Bradford. Nothing is written in the papers, as far as I know, about how Muslim communities in England feel towards indigenous white English Christians. It would be interesting to find out. Judging from what British Pakistani friends of mine say on Facebook, it might not be very positive. 


  1. Not long ago I read a book by Melanie Philips about the growing power and influence of extremist Muslim movements in the UK. Called "Londonistan", the book was considered too inflammatory to be published by any British-based publisher, so it was ultimately published in the USA. The book demonstrates very clearly how the Muslims in the UK exploit the well-meaning efforts of a feeble-minded British government to promote their agendas of anti-Western propaganda, violence, jihad and the recreation of the Caliphate. I consider the book a "must-read" for anyone trying to understand why and how extremist Muslims are seeking to subvert civilised Christian society.

    1. Frank, you might be interested in Andrew Gilligan's blog in the Daily Telegraph - do you know it?

      I often agree with Melanie Phillips and even when she is wrong her reasons for being wrong are always interesting - except when she writes about the Middle East, when she tends to become completely nonsensical. She has the great merit of annoying lots of people who should be annoyed, frequently, by someone who knows how to do it. I remember Zadie Smith told her (presumably centre left) readers: 'She is just trying to pull your bells.'

    2. Just like you Paul?

  2. Edward Norman was prescient, I think.

    1. Not prescient, he had experienced living as a Christian in a Muslim dominated country.

    2. Really? Which one? As recall, he spent his adult life at Cambridge before moving to Canterbury and now to Brighton.

    3. David is thinking of the Bishop of Zanzibar. Dr Norman was canon of York too - and famously the Chapter of Westminster threatened to resign en masse if Mrs Thatcher made him Dean there. I wish so much I had sat at his feet at Cambridge and those of Maurice Cowling. I should have gone to Peterhouse.

  3. I keep putting my two pennies into discussions which are most likely over my head.

    I came by some knowledge of Muslims during my days at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. I discovered many do drink in private. I'd have a hard time condemning them for something I do as well. I'm no hater of those of the Muslin faith either.

    Many have a strong sense of ownership. I was surprised that some hold the belief that many country are their rightful properties. Countries well out of the Middle-East region. Countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. Not to mention, Spain, Italy and part of France.

    England and the US might believe, as they are not on that list, they are safe. What they fail to realize - they might as well be on the list. How did these previous countries of the Muslim Caliphate get on that list to start with?

    The approach is not always war such as what went on in Spain and Italy. I'm reminded of the Muslin victory over Hungary. The advancing Muslin army asked the queen of Hungary to bring her child out, so that they might see the child. Against the advice of the queen's counselors, she open the city gates and took the child out to meet with the invaders.

    While she was out, other muslin soldiers entered through these open gates and began to raise Muslin flags over the city. The city was theirs to keep for many years.

    I was surprised many Muslims, I met, see themselves as in Atelier's 'Abduction from the Seraglio'. I'm sure Mozart would have been pleased with that.

    Don Patrick

  4. Muslims attacking Jews is a case of Frankenstein's monster turning on its creator because if theres one thing that Jews have worked hardest to achieve its third world immigration for Britain and laws outlawing indigenous dissent. And it isn't Muslims who are currently working to pass new EU thought crime legislation either.

    1. Actually, though I have seen this asserted before by people on the extreme right (the real extreme right, not UKIP of course, but well to the right of the Front National in France) I do not see any evidence that Jews did instigate Third World immigration into the UK. I can't think of any Jewish politicians in the UK who played an important part in this. It just happened, as the British Empire was created, in a fit of absence of mind but much facilitated by foolish, liberal ideas ideology in all parties but worst of all in the Labour and Liberal and Liberal Democrat parties.

  5. I have no grief with those of the Jewish faith, in fact I have to admit I must respect the Israeli for their determination. But history shows that corruption comes from within. Look at the faith of those that pushed Communism on to the world. Look at George Soros in his agenda today. There are some of those of the Jewish faith we could have done without.

    Having said that, understand I have the highest regard for the IDF and the Mossad. The Balfour Declaration gave them a country and they have defended it. My respects in the matter. This statement probably will alone get this blog hopping.

    Don Patrick

  6. On Muslim attitudes towards indigenous white English, you could learn a lot from some of Tommy Robinson's interviews on YouTube where he talks about growing up in Luton. For his generation of indigenous whites, race wasn't an issue - multiculturalism was working, and he was at school with a very diverse population. They all got on fine, except the Pakistanis. If there was a conflict, other boys might resolve it with a playground scuffle: the Pakistanis would call in their older brothers and cousins and ambush their opponent en masse. And they didn't observe the unspoken rule that you don't kick a man when he's down. Uniquely amongst the many minorities in Luton, they didn't integrate and they didn't want to integrate.