Friday, May 11, 2007

Karen Armstrong

How rude is it permissible to be about Karen Armstrong? Robert Spencer is jolly cross that she has been extremely nasty about his new biography The Truth About Muhammad in a review she wrote for the Financial Times. Spencer has received some uncompromising support in the London Daily Telegraph from the editor of the Catholic Herald. I’ll admit to finding Armstrong’s vacuous thinking and self righteous preaching rather irritating. But the girl has had a tough life and I’m not about to start kicking her just for being oleaginous.

The fact is that I can see where she is coming from and I think it is the right direction. Yes, it would help if she knew what she was talking about, but in this case it is not absolute truth that is important. We simply have to learn to get along with Islam and Muslims have to learn to get along with us. Attacking them, accurately or not, does not help relations one iota. That is why I am unsympathetic towards those like Spencer and Mark Steyn on the right together with Rod Liddle and Christopher Hitchens on the left, who would denounce Islam as a whole.

There are sensible and enlightened Muslims out there, like Ed Husain who has written a book about his experience as an abortive jihadi, who need support. The mistake we have been making in the UK is not the act of reaching out to Muslims (however annoying the phrase ‘reaching out’ is), but that we have been reaching out to the wrong ones. Ken Livingstone, London’s mayor, seems obsessed with some pretty unpleasant imams and the government’s attempt to bring several fanatical groups in from the cold has backfired. The successful end to Operation Crevice, with the jailing of the erstwhile Bluewater Bombers, shows how pervasive the influence of the wrong sort of Islam is. But it has also shown how hard other Muslims are resisting the radicalisation of their communities.

Smash the terrorists by all means. Show no mercy to those who are trying to destroy our society. But don’t tar all Muslims with the same brush. And above all, don’t imply, like Spenser and Liddle, that Islam is congenitally incapable of adapting to the modern world.

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