After five centuries, religious war has returned to Britain

After five centuries, religious war has returned to Britain, by Tom Holland.

Last Saturday night, religiously motivated killing returned to London Bridge. … ‘This is for Allah,’ they shouted, as they slashed and stabbed their victims. …

The Church of England, offspring of the Reformation though it is, has long since forsworn the sugar-rush of fanaticism. … Not that Anglicans are alone in their commitment to what is, theologically speaking, milky tea.

Whether in GCSE Religious Studies lessons, or the speeches of politicians, or the manifestos of diversity programmes, all religions are presumed, in their essentials, to be pretty much the same. Every speaker who appears on ‘Thought for the Day’ — Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, it makes no difference — subscribes to the same inoffensive tenets. God is peaceful; God is politically correct; God probably votes Liberal Democrat. …

Their guiding principles — that religion should properly rank as a matter of personal belief, that church and state should be kept distinct, and that the law of the land should trump any legal system claimed to derive from a god — are not nearly as universal as most people in Britain might like to think. … Indeed, to assume that all other belief systems, all other ways of ordering existence, can simply be folded without difficulty into the liberal embrace of our secular state risks verging on the complacent — or the arrogant.

When, for instance, in her speech after the London Bridge attacks, Theresa May decried as a perversion of Islam any notion that it might be incompatible with Western concepts of human rights, she had things precisely the wrong way round. Classically, Muslims have believed that no human rights exist except for those that have been prescribed by God. In the Quran, it is taken for granted that the only way to know how to live well is by means of a divine revelation. Naturally, the Quran casts itself as the ultimate source of these revelations.

Anyone who does not submit to the god revealed in its pages is, then, by definition, inferior to those who do. This is all the more so because, according to one of Mohammed’s most quoted sayings, every newborn is naturally Muslim. ‘Then his two parents make him a Jew, a Christian, a Zoroastrian.’ Non Muslims, in other words, are effectively apostates. This is why, should they subsequently convert to Islam, they are termed by many Muslims ‘reverts’. It is also why, for a millennium and more, Islamic states actively discriminated against them. A Quranic injunction decreed that Jews and Christians pay a humiliating tax, the jizya, in exchange for the right to practise their respective religions. Those defined as mushrikun — ‘idolaters’ — were denied the right to practise their religion at all. …

We are witnessing a civil war within Islam and the three men who brought carnage to Borough Market last Saturday did not see themselves as murderers, but rather as warriors. They imagined that they had been divinely summoned — just as Mohammed had been — to the overthrow of kufr: unbelief.

No laws, no increase in police numbers, no boost to the powers of the security services can adequately patrol such ideas. Only by directly confronting these beliefs do we have even the faintest prospect of diminishing their potency. … To dismiss it, as Theresa May did, as ‘a perversion of Islam’ is not merely to close our eyes to the nature of the threat that it presents to Britain’s future as a free society; it actively risks making it worse.

hat-tip Stephen Neil