An Open letter to Baroness Sayeeda Warsi

Dear Baroness Warsi,

The report of your speech in today’s Independent worried me so much I felt I had to write to you to explain why.

First, let me say that I completely condemn attacks on Muslims, as I would condemn attacks on any group of people based on any aspect of their identity, race, sexuality, or indeed religion. I think however that the narrative of Muslim victim-hood your speech seems to support is very much part of the problem rather than part of any possible solution. I am very aware that I am reacting to report of a speech which cites unpublished research so the scope for misunderstanding is huge and I would very much like to reach full text of your speech and the details of the research. Assuming, however, that the report in the Independent is basically accurate, I would like to make some comments.

The article says “a majority of the country now believes that Islam is a threat to Western civilisation” and later “just 23 per cent of a representative sample questioned said that Islam was not a threat to Western civilisation.”  Notice that both of these quotes say that people consider Islam to be a threat. It appears not to be a criticism of Muslims, and certainly not British Muslims, It is a criticism of the religion of Islam. This is a very different thing. I would personally be very critical of Roman Catholicism, but I wouldn’t dream of attacking Catholics, either physically or indeed verbally.

So, if the research is true, why do people have such worries about Islam? Is it, as you say, based on an “unfounded” mistrust of Muslims? I think not. If you look around the world today there is plenty of evidence that makes a fear of Islamism perfectly rational. Much of modern terrorism is conducted in the name of Islam, including specifically, the shooting of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, and of course the 7/7 bombings themselves.

You may say that these actions are not representative of, or supported by, the majority of British Muslims, and of course you are right, but there is also reasearch to show that they are not universally condemned by British Muslims either. People also see ordinary people supporting Sharia law, which many people would say is definitely incompatible with the “British way of life”.

If these worrying aspects of Islamism were loudly, publicly and unequivocably, condemned by Imams and other prominent Muslims that might help but often when these worries are voiced the reaction is an accusation of “Islamophobia”.

The whole idea of Islamophobia contributes to the narrative of Muslim victim-hood which, I believe makes young Muslims feel even more cut-off from the rest of society. There is no doubt that some Muslims are the victims of prejudice and verbal and physical attacks, but the numbers are not, comparatively, large. You mention that “50 to 60 per cent of religious hate crimes were now perpetrated against Muslims“. this is true but you do not mention that religious hate-crime forms only 4% of all hate-crime. Religious hate-crimes against Muslims are out numbered by hate-crimes against gay people and disabled people and there are 20x as many hate-crimes of racism.

The truth is that, appalling as religious bigotry and persecution are, Muslims are actually safer, and more free in Britain than they would be in most other countries and much more free than they would be in almost any “Muslim” country.

Part of the problem may be that the scripture of all the Abrahamic religions is full of what we would now call extremism. this makes it hard for religious “moderates” to wholeheartedly condemn “extremists” because the extremists can quote scriptural support for their actions, if moderates condemn them they have to admit that some parts of their scripture are not “perfect”. One you do this it is hard to then quote scripture to support your more moderate laudable aims. I think it would help if religious leaders could say that behaviour that is clearly wrong does not become right just because you can find a bit of scripture that says it is.

I hope you can read this in the spirit in which it is written. The figures quoted at the beginning of the report are indeed worrying and I think we would both like to see them change. I worry however that they will only be worsened by cries of Islamophobia. The power to change these attitudes is in the hands of Muslims themselves.

I would be delighted to hear your views on this, and as I said earlier, I would like to see the full text of your speech and the research to which you refer.


Dave Watts

I have posted this email on my blog here and list below links to some of the sources I refer to.

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