Just over a week ago, around 3,000 people marched on Downing Street to protest against the use of the Prophet Mohammed in any kind of depiction, not long after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France. The idea of a blasphemy law is the thin end of a very nasty wedge. While it is true that many moderates are deeply offended by images of the Islamic prophet, it is also true that no-one has a right not to be offended. Blasphemy laws are the symbol of a lack of tolerance in a society where speech is extremely limited.
Many like me who critique extremist organisations, some of which are Islamic in their philosophy such as Al-Qaeda, are often sidelined shouted down and sometimes even called racist. Many argue that extremist groups use religion as their justification but not their underlying reasoning for extreme violence. I would argue that these groups have an ideology of islamofascism; they believe in Islam and they also have other political beliefs which fuse together to form a toxic mix. To proclaim these groups are not at least in part motivated by religion or do not use religion as part of their guidance is a severe mistake and actually impedes counter extremism guidance in this country.
While it may be true to argue that not all their fighters and adherents are radical Islamists, to then prescribe such lack of ideology to the entire structure of an organisation is false and misleading. I have not heard any respectable commentator argue that every extremist militant has the same motives. A Vice film on ISIS alone shows that religious law, in this case the Sharia, is implemented and implemented brutally.
Almost all religions have gone through a violent chapter, including Christianity. The example of Thomas More, who burned individuals for reading the bible in English, is a chilling case of someone who was motivated by an omnipotent god which, in his mind, could not be questioned. The fact is, terrible things have been done in the name of almost all religions. Critics are not therefore picking Islam out as the only religion to have violence invoked in its name. They are warning that we should be on guard about all religious fanaticism.
It is not just a question of being anti-Islam, it is about being against extremism in general. For too long people have buried their heads in the sand about this issue. Yes there are a great number of moderate Muslims, especially in the Western world, who have liberal beliefs. However, there is also a fringe which believes in truly abhorrent practices. Islam isn’t the first and it won’t be the last religion to be evoked in the name of barbarity. The point is simple; we cannot shy away from confronting extremism when we see it, wherever we see it.