David Thompson


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October 07, 2007



Islam is peace. Submission is Freedom. Ignorance is strength.

Raging Tiger

It is goes beyond reason that instead of confronting such ignorance and bigotry, we are expected to validate it by making ridiculous concessions. This is not doing anyone any good least of all Muslims themselves.


“This is not doing anyone any good least of all Muslims themselves.”

Absolutely. The medical students’ behaviour raises the question of what happens when, inevitably, a patient refuses to be seen by a Muslim doctor because they fear similar lapses in professionalism and competence. Who will be deemed the villain then? That said, the real villains are the BMA, GMC and the management of Boots and Sainsbury’s, all of whom should have responded to these demands with a suitably frank refusal and a nod towards the door.


Imagine a Christian Scientist medical student.



Perhaps we can look forward to vegetarian sales assistants refusing to handle meat products, or bookshop staff refusing to handle the Qur’an on grounds of its stupid and objectionable contents. I’m waiting for a rush of Jehovah’s Witnesses to seek employment in hospital blood transfusion departments, before demanding exemption from handling any blood or blood-related items. It would seem to be the same logic, and the same voodoo vanity.


How many students are involved? What percentage of Muslim students would they constitute?

Incidentally, there are Christian pharmacists here in North America who refuse to sell contraceptive pills and condoms. They make the news from time to time. Religion is the key here, I think, not Islam per se.



I'm getting very tired of the "Christians do X, so what's the problem if Muslims do Y?" argument.

Yes, there are some devout Christian pharmacists who don't want to sell contraceptives. But here's the key difference: when they do that, they suffer. The law, regulators, and the media condemn them. The parent company shifts that pharmacist to another job, or sacks him. Angry activists call for a boycott of the store. And one can only imagine the outcry if a Christian physician refused to treat someone -- not least from churches, given Christ's example of healing the sick.

These Muslim "doctors" and "pharmacists" are not being punished for their bigotry and intolerance, they are being INDULGED. That's the real problem. Not "religion" in the abstract, but reflexive surrender.


Dr Dawg,

The article mentions only “a small number” and no precise figures are given. We may be talking about just a handful of Islamists. But I’m interested in the principle, rather than numbers.

“Religion is the key here, I think, not Islam per se.”

Well, we do have exemptions for Sikhs regarding the wearing of safety helmets, for instance. But, again, the principal is my main concern, in that once an exemption has been made it becomes difficult to deny subsequent, and increasingly bizarre, demands for special treatment. And perhaps very loaded ones.

Regarding the particularity of Islamist demands, it’s important to understand the political dimension, insofar as those who see Islam as requiring such absurd accommodation are, almost by definition, inclined towards the supremacist aspects of Islamic theology and its practical implementation. Such demands can have, and generally do have, unattractive political connotations that are rarely so explicit or codified among other religious groups. Attempts to impose an irrational prejudice on others are pretty repulsive, but moreso when those prejudices are seen as part of a larger political transformation.


I didn't say or imply "so what's the problem." I entirely agree with David that such accommodations are unreasonable. Vegetarians don't have to work on the kill floor, and Muslims need not work in off-licences. Let them choose jobs that are more suited, in each case, to their personal values and beliefs. It's simply having it both ways to carry on as some of the people mentioned have done. And when it comes to the medical profession, there is a broad social undertaking that goes along with the profession that cannot be swept aside for this reason or that. Students offended by the curriculum should become dentists or lawyers instead.

Thus far, then, I have no problem with David's indignation: in fact, I share it. But I would quarrel with the analysis, at least to some degree. I will assent to the distinct possibility that such flourishes of extremism are probably allied to an extremist politics. It's just that these newsworthy exceptions prove the rule. What we have is a handful of religious nuts who act in nutty ways, and a lot of hand-wringing about it. It doesn't sound as though the BMA and GMC are going to bend in the slightest--at least, nothing in the above says otherwise. And the mainstream Muslim associations are on their side, too:

"Both the Muslim Council of Britain and Muslim Doctors and Dentist Association said they were aware of students opting out but did not support them."

Boots (and presumably Sainsbury's) simply allow pharmacists to duck out of dispensing contraceptives "on ethical grounds," as reported. That would apply to Catholics just as well as to Muslims. Again, no big deal.

The refusal to ring up alcohol products is plain silly, but not very threatening. If Sainsbury's wants to put up with this, that's up to them. I wouldn't call it religious discrimination if they were not to.

So a large Caliphatic mountain is being made of a very small molehill indeed. I'm not saying we shouldn't react if, say, Muslim doctors were being licensed after refusing to follow the curriculum or treat female patients. But they aren't. The opting-out allowance for pharmacists, furthermore, doesn't appear to be reserved only for Muslims. So we're left with a store clerk who won't handle alcohol and a small religious accommodation.

Incidentally, when I was in Hawai'i a while back, I had to choose another checkout line for my alcoholic beverages because the store clerk was under-age, and not legally permitted to ring them up!


Dr Dawg,

“I will assent to the distinct possibility that such flourishes of extremism are probably allied to an extremist politics.”

Well, most of the incidents I’m aware of have involved people with Islamist political views, or have been supported and exacerbated by Islamist groups. I’m not intimately familiar with Sikh theology, but I’m not aware of anything comparable with the codified supremacism sanctioned by the major schools of Islamic jurisprudence, to which Islamists appeal. The exemption of turbaned Sikhs from wearing safety helmets would not, for instance, imply a process of mandatory ‘Sikhification’ of the host culture, and nor would it denote an assertion of superiority in anything like the same sense. But exemptions for literalist Muslims can have, and very often do have, political connotations of a definite and deplorable kind. It is, I think, no coincidence that Islamist demands in particular tend to involve some visible inconvenience for non-believers, perhaps for symbolic reasons.


"But exemptions for literalist Muslims can have, and very often do have, political connotations of a definite and deplorable kind. It is, I think, no coincidence that Islamist demands in particular tend to involve some visible inconvenience for non-believers, perhaps for symbolic reasons."

I agree, more or less. It's just that these outrageous accommodations are being demanded, but not often granted, at least judging from the article that you have cited. So we have a few Islamists dreaming of the dar-al-islam--so what? It would only be an issue for me if these accommodations were in fact made.

Meanwhile, in other news, Christian fundies in the US have forced the inclusion of Intelligent Design in school curricula. They, too, can be damned inconvenient at times. They get Presidents elected who talk about crusades. Meanwhile, those more conservative than I campaign to restore Piglet.


Dr Dawg,

“I agree, more or less. It's just that these outrageous accommodations are being demanded, but not often granted, at least judging from the article that you have cited.”

The BMA and GMC have subsequently clarified their position – reassuringly in the negative. But one has to consider the broader picture here in the UK. Demands of this kind are increasingly assertive and routine, from Islamic groups in particular, and are all too often accommodated by default, if only for fear of appearing discriminatory, insensitive or ‘racist’. In this respect, Islamist groups exploit PC leverage that is unavailable to, say, the lunatics at Christian Voice.

The pre-eminent British Muslim organisation, the MCB, was, until very recently, courted intimately by the government on matters of integration and terrorism. The results of this exchange were almost always unilateral and frequently grotesque, largely because no-one in government appeared to realise that the current and former heads of the MCB (and much of its principal staff) are, in fact, Islamists and devotees of Mawdudi. (The Harry’s Place archive is a good place to dig out the unseemly details. See also below.)


The ease with which Islamist groups claimed ‘representative’ status in political and governmental dialogue - and took control of so many British mosques – has, necessarily, heightened concerns. It would, I think, be unwise to scoff at those who take note of incidents like those above with an eye to a larger picture.



I have more respect for the vegetarian. Most vegetarians I know have thought through their ethics independently. They're showing some moral imagination. They aren't asserting vegetarianism simply because they bought their ethics wholesale from an iron age warrior. This doesn't prove they're right, mind you...

Raging Tiger

Some posters attempt to create moral equivalence between Islamists and some whacky Christian groups from mainly "only in America" category. Such equivalence is purely superficial and doesn't stand rigorous analysis. Unlike the Islamists no Christian group is protected by the establishment with religious vilification laws backed by fictitious cries of Islamphobia. Anyone is free to criticise, ridicule and belittle Christian groups to expose absurdity and bigotry of their beliefs. Why should Islam be out of bounds?

The example of Sikhs not wearing helmets affects only Sikhs. As far as I know no Sikh has ever tried to impose this on non-Sikhs. This goes to the heart of the matter. Muslims are free to practice their beliefs as a personal matter. However, what we saw with Prophet Muhammad cartoons controversy as well as in the cases mentioned in David's post, is blatant imposition of Muslim morality on non-Muslims. Such impositions are totally unacceptable and make a mockery of our supposedly tolerant societies accommodating such bigotry and intolerance.


I for one am not making a moral equivalence. The religious right in America vs. a handful of frustrated fanatics in the UK asking for a "get out of med school free" card? No contest, and certainly no equivalence, moral or otherwise.

Raging Tiger

Dr. Dawg,

If you are not making moral equivalence, why do you feel you need to defend yourself?

The religious right of America is a tired caricature that gets wheeled out pretty much every time there is a debate about Islam mainly to shut down the honest discussion. Trimegistus, is quite right to point out the folly of your argument, so I won't go into it.


Dr Dawg,

It’s important to remember the differences in religious culture between the US and the UK. Here, we don’t have anything remotely comparable to the Christian “religious right”. The Anglican Church is impotent and absurd, and Christian Voice is literally a busload of unhappy headcases. However, the “handful of frustrated [Islamist] fanatics” you refer to has to be seen in the broader context. Almost half of Britain’s 1,300 mosques are now controlled by Islamist, Deobandi and other supremacist groups. According to recent Times articles:

“Seventeen of Britain’s 26 Islamic seminaries are run by Deobandis and they produce 80 per cent of home-trained Muslim clerics. Many had their studies funded by local education authority grants. The sect, which has significant representation on the Muslim Council of Britain, is at its strongest in the towns and cities of the Midlands and northern England. Figures supplied by the Lancashire Council of Mosques reveal that 59 of the 75 mosques in five towns – Blackburn, Bolton, Preston, Oldham and Burnley – are Deobandi-run.”



While there’s a spectrum of Deobandi and Islamist beliefs, none of those groups could seriously be regarded as tolerant or progressive. The variation in outlook often concerns degrees of paranoia and whether forms of political and coercive jihad should be waged against the host culture or “merely” overseas. Last year, MI5 announced it was monitoring more than 1,600 individuals “who are actively engaged in plotting or facilitating terrorist acts here and overseas.” Surveys suggest that the numbers “overtly sympathetic” to terrorist acts range from 60,000 to 100,000. (Sympathy being defined as, for instance, regarding the London bombings as “justified”.) And, again, the fact that openly Islamist ideology has so easily gained a mainstream footing raises broader questions as to the effectiveness of moderate believers in resisting radicalisation.

And, as is noted below, the ramifications of each ‘sensitive’ concession in that regard shouldn’t be underestimated:


“Sainsbury's, ‘keen to accommodate the religious beliefs of all staff’, now allows Muslim workers who object to alcohol on religious grounds to have a colleague take their place. The company didn’t see that such cack-handed posturing does Islam no favours, reinforcing a perception of an intolerant and unbending religion… Worse still is the atmosphere it creates within its own workforce. The craven attitude of Sainsbury’s creates a space the religious fanatics will use to bully their mostly female fellow workers, arguing they are not good Muslims if they choose to serve alcohol when they have the option not to.”



Perhaps I should have stuck solely to the British context in the first place. You point out a significant difference--in fact, two--between your country and the US. First, there is no major Christian political force in the UK, as you point out. Secondly, the fear of home-grown terrorism was obviously borne out by the London bombings. I don't want to appear insensitive about that. It was carnage, in the capital of your country.

In Canada we have something in between the US and the UK. There is a Christian Right, allied with the Conservative Party for the most part, although there are one or two insignificant splinter parties. But their influence is not that of their contemporaries in the US. Secondly, we have the occasional mad mullah, although every statement made by any Muslim leader here is parsed to a fare-thee-well by conservatives, who find all sorts of things to be afraid of.

The original story pointed to a number of requested accommodations, most of which were not granted. And when the Sainsbury one was, and demands for others continue, these seem to be used as metonyms for Islam generally, as it is manifested in Britain. Yet one of the organizations that you critiqued (MCB) actually opposed the med school students; and from the article you pointed to, it seems that Muslim authorities reacted against the young hot-headed clerk as well.

This tells me that there *is* a mainstream Muslim population that wants no part of these excesses. I find that encouraging. But such signs get buried in the context of some outrageous demands--Muslim reaction against the store clerk can be found way down in the article, for example ("Most Islamic organisations are as baffled by the move as I was, saying Muslims who refuse to sell alcohol are reneging on their employment agreements"). I think we all succumb to the temptation to homogenize the Other, but I haven't seen any evidence--yet--that the British Muslim population as a whole presents a clear and present danger to the rest of the population.

But I do take your point that the US and Britain are not comparable in this respect (or indeed in many others). I have perhaps been guilty of the very homogenization that I have been arguing against.


Dr Dawg,

“One of the organizations that you critiqued (MCB) actually opposed the med school students… This tells me that there *is* a mainstream Muslim population that wants no part of these excesses.”

The issue is whether that mainstream Muslim population is able or willing to inhibit the growth of dangerous zealotry in its midst. So far, we’ve seen little evidence to suggest this, or anything like it, and hence the troubling figures quoted above. I don’t think anyone here doubts the existence of moderate believers; but it isn’t clear how, or indeed if, serious pressure will be brought to bear against a common enemy. That the MCB has - belatedly and under pressure - shifted its public face slightly (and very selectively) doesn’t prove a great deal. Britain’s largest and most influential Muslim organisation is still headed by enthusiasts of a Mawdudist Islam, with all the dissembling that entails.


“I haven't seen any evidence--yet--that the British Muslim population as a whole presents a clear and present danger to the rest of the population.”

I can’t imagine ever using the phrase, “the British Muslim population as a whole presents a clear and present danger to the rest of the population”, and I think I’ve made broad but fair distinctions between the various strands of ideology concerned. Though it would be dangerously stupid to deny, as some have, that a very serious threat exists, and, more to the point, is proving extremely difficult to isolate from the broader Muslim population. Whether that differentiation becomes easier depends in large part on moderate Muslims themselves. (See first paragraph, above.)

“I think we all succumb to the temptation to homogenize the Other.”

If you *really* want to see someone “homogenize the Other”, I suggest you head for one of the Islamist–run mosques mentioned above, where there’s a chance something like this might be heard:


Still, we’ve agreed to some extent. Perhaps the stars have aligned. Allah be praised.


I should allow our agreement to conclude the discussion, but I find that I need to raise one final point: the notion of the responsibility of the Muslim community to rein in its extremists.

I question the underpinnings of this notion. It's just more homogenization. We get it over here all the time: the "Jamaican community" should do something about the young gunmen in Toronto, for example. I find all this odd coming from those dedicated to the idea of individualism. There is no one "community" of Muslims. And even if there were, is it organized enough to bring miscreants to account? This strikes me as allied to the idea of members of another culture being "the culture"-bearer.


Dr Dawg,

“I need to raise one final point: the notion of the responsibility of the Muslim community to rein in its extremists. I question the underpinnings of this notion. It's just more homogenization.”

No it isn’t. I think you misunderstood my meaning. I pointedly avoid phrases like “the Muslim community”, despite them being used elsewhere with aggravating regularity, not least by Muslim media figures.

“There is no one ‘community’ of Muslims. And even if there were, is it organized enough to bring miscreants to account?”

Indeed. That’s a key issue, as is motivation, or the apparent lack thereof. But the fact remains that growing jihadist sentiment and action cannot be stopped in a decisive way without much greater cooperation from moderate Muslims, individually and collectively. So far, great effort has been put into claims of ‘Islamophobia’ and associated grievances, rather than how one might realistically deal with people who wish to commit acts of arbitrary mass murder. (And one might note that the MCB’s reaction to evidence of jihadist preaching in mainstream mosques has been denial, evasion and ludicrous accusations of fabrication. The MCB attempted to prevent the Undercover Mosque programme being broadcast, then shot at the messenger and, bizarrely, denied the message. Useful suggestions were not, alas, forthcoming.)

One of the chief problems here is that it’s hard to think of an Islamic organisation of any real size and influence that could credibly be counted on to act decisively against Islamist and jihadist sentiment. The more high profile groups – including the MCB, MAB, MPAC, IHRC, etc - are actually inclined *towards* various forms of Islamism, and the same might be said of prominent groups in other countries – CAIR, for instance, or the MSA. It’s a bit of a fox and henhouse situation.

Raging Tiger

David & Dr. Dawg,

Sorry to butt in on your conversation. But I think the issue of the "notion of the responsibility of the Muslim community to rein in its extremists" is very important.

While I agree with both of you, I think even if "Muslim community" wanted to rein in the extremists, most Western government’s policies are presently unsupportive. The politics of multiculturalism are largely about lumping various individuals into ethnic groups and then feeling warm and fuzzy towards them. Multiculturalism is based on ignorance where we are not supposed to know about or differentiate between Deobandi or a Wahhabi, Sunni or Shia. Who cares about their ideology, when we can all join hands and celebrate diversity all day long. And as we all know, only dirty racists would ever want to criticise or question someone of exotic faith. At the same time, as David rightfully points out, Islamic organisations are largely hostile to any idea of critical examination of Islam and are the first to shut down any initiative with loud cries of Islamophobia and racism.

To this day I cannot believe that Tony Blair found it easier to take Britain to a hugely unpopular war in Iraq but could not find the courage to crack down on Islamic extremists at home in UK which would’ve been a lot more popular. So let’s forgive the “Muslim community” for not acting as they must release full well, that the governments aren’t going to stick their necks out for them and Muslim organisations will probably dismiss them as self-hating white man wannabees.


Perhaps an effective customer response to this nonsense would be to abandon the trolley load of intended purchases and walk away?



More on the communitization of Muslims, this time with a distinct "collective punishment" edge to it:

"n an essay entitled The Age of Horrorism published last month, the novelist Martin Amis advocated a deliberate programme of harassing the Muslim community in Britain. 'The Muslim community,' he wrote, 'will have to suffer until it gets its house in order. What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation - further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they're from the Middle East or from Pakistan ... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children...'"

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2187641,00.html


I have my own difficulties with official multiculturalism: it essentializes and reduces culture. But I don't think that we are encouraged by the government (well, certainly not my own) not to make cultural, social or political distinctions within "communities." The homogenization of those "communities" is very much a product of stereotyping, the old "they all look alike" thing.

They aren't all alike, as we all agree here. My concern is that we're perhaps jumping to conclusions if we assume that mainstream Muslims aren't speaking out. I have no idea what goes on in those "communities." I speak no Arabic, Urdu, etc. at all. I watched the documentary squib that David pointed me to with some dismay--hateful, totalitarian nonsense spouted in a few mosques--but perhaps, in meetings, sidewalk cafes, at work and in homes, a lot of Muslims are saying the same thing. I wish I could be a multilingual fly on the wall sometimes.


Dr Dawg,

Yes, I saw Eagleton’s article; but I’m not sure how that relates to anything I’ve said, particularly my most recent comments.



This was not a reduction of what you said. It simply bears on the point that I myself made earlier about "communitization" or homogenization of the Other. I thought we had both agreed, in fact, that this was a Bad Thing.


Aye, that we have. It’s bad medicine, whether imagined from outside or inflicted on oneself. Oh, and it seems Eagleton has taken a few liberties:


I’m still disturbed by the consensus. Is it time for cake?





Not that many liberties, in fact none at all. He got his source wrong, but he got the quotation right.

Amis is not even being particularly subtle or sly in his phrasing.

"What can we do to raise the price of them doing this?" he begins, and then comes his list of collective punishments. Does he say, "Well, that's extreme, of course, and we shouldn't give in to our emotions; here's what we should do instead?"

No, he does not. Assorted humiliations and harassments are the only things he puts on the table, and he doesn't take them off. So, in the final analysis, Eagleton got his source wrong. Big whoop. Amis said what he said Amis said--that's the main point, and no added context changes the obvious message.


Dr Dawg,

“Not that many liberties, in fact none at all.”

Amis was, it seems, talking about an “urge” that was felt at a particular time, not advocating a serious course of action. It’s not an attractive urge, I grant you, indeed it’s a ridiculous one, and I’m not about to defend the sentiment, whatever its qualifications. But Eagleton is nonetheless taking serious liberties in taking the comment out of its original context, misattributing it to a different and more considered argument, and thus insinuating a formal, argued position that’s not known to be held by Amis. It’s sly and not entirely honest. No, scratch that, it’s dishonest.

But we’re veering off topic somewhat.


More cake, please.


Incidentally, Martin Amis responds:


I think we can consider the matter closed. And Eagleton dishonest.

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