Karen Woo, who was killed along with nine other aid workers in Badakhhsan province, Afghanistan, this week. Photograph: AP
Did you spot the good news item about moderate Islam in the Guardian this week? It was especially welcome because the past few days have seen a more than usually grisly tally of murders perpetrated by immoderate Islam.
First, the good news. Some 1,300 young Muslims attended a three-day “anti-terror camp” at the University of Warwick, there to become better equipped to counter the views expressed by assorted radicals and extremists.
The man credited for this initiative in Steven Morris’s report is Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, founder of the moderate Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI) movement and author of a 600-page volume demolishing any theological basis for terrorism of the kind routinely practiced by radical Muslims against, well, mainly Muslims actually.
Ignorant though most of us are of the finer points of Qur’anic theology, let alone the alphabet soup of Muslim organisations in Britain, this sounds like good stuff to me. There are hate-filled exponents of all religions and none (let’s not forget them, Professor Dawkins), Christians, Jews, and others with serious leverage over their own societies in some parts of the world.
But it must be especially tough for Muslims of good faith – in Muslim countries as well as the west – to get on with normal lives and ambitions when they often live in fear of intimidation – and worse.
My own hunch is that this phase of Islamic militancy will eventually be seen as a defensive and temporary attempt to stem the modernisation of the faith, its adaption to science, rationality and respect for individual conscience. But that does not make it any less scary today.
We’ve all read this week of the latest bombs in Iraq. The US disputes Baghdad’s claim that July was the deadliest month in two years, 535 deaths compared with fewer than half that number in the American tally. Either way it’s horrible and it’s mostly Muslim militants killing innocent Muslims for sectarian advantage as US troop withdrawals loom.
Bombs in Afghanistan? Well, the tactical situation is very different but the goal is the same. Nato forces have done all sorts of wrong and foolish things there, but they don’t deliberately set out to murder innocent children, women and men – unlike their Taliban opponents.
A UN report out today underlines that point: Nato killings are falling (the McChrystal doctrine in action?) while those by the “insurgents” – current euphemism of choice – are rising.
It’s not yet clear who murdered Dr Karen Woo and her party at the weekend or why. But it’s a pretty depressing story. Whoever did it knew they were shooting doctors and other aid workers, people running an eye clinic. It’s the sort of thing rightwing death squads used to do in El Salvador in the 80s – when much of Central America was plagued by endemic violence – and the left correctly made a big fuss about it.
Visceral anti-Americanism and a misplaced respect for different cultural values in developing countries (can we call Islam a developing religion? I don’t think so, not really at this stage; it’s just stuck in a deep rut) appear to make robust condemnation of terrorist behaviour harder for the left in this decade.
It’s a new version of that cold war “moral equivalence” formula that declared that the USSR and the US were as bad as each other. Oh no they weren’t. Admittedly, high-tech warfare, US-style, is so unattractive and one-sided, it explains why their opponents deploy roadside bombs against Nato troops. But in marketplaces, hospitals and schools the bombers go much further than that. They know what they are doing.
Yet the instance of intransigent violence that should, perhaps, shock us most this week is the murder of Gul Wazir, a Birmingham taxi driver, and his wife Bagum in a distant corner of Pakistan. Their adult son, Mehboob, who was upstairs in the shower when his parents were shot over breakfast, survived and is back in Britain.
Again, motives are not entirely clear, but it looks like a so-called “honour killing” by family members over a proposed marriage deal involving the dead couple’s daughters and two young villagers. Last year, so the Foreign Office estimates, there were 1,682 likely forced marriages involving young Britons, in which it helped people involved in 377.
That’s a lot. And it’s worse than just brutal treatment of young people (it’s not just women forced into arranged marriages against their will) by family members, assault, intimidation and, occasionally, murder to expiate “shame”.
There is also the matter of visa fraud and the nasty habit of making children marry their cousins. Ann Cryer, until recently the courageous Labour MP for Keighley, got into trouble for suggesting that such consanguinity produces much higher than average deformities in offspring – and didn’t get as much support as she should have done in progressive quarters since she is likely to be right.
Who knows, perhaps Karen Woo was helping to sort out such consequences when she was shot in the mountains by insurgents/Taliban/thieves with dyed-red beards. Yet today’s Times – alas, the links are behind the pay wall – has interviews with young British women who live in fear of fathers and brothers who want to kill them for rejecting arranged marriages.
I realise the west has been guilty of much misplaced cultural arrogance in the past couple of centuries. But that phase is ending and the arrogance of the banking fraternity has contributed further to the decline of the west. It is also the case that some of the indignities we now reject – especially against women – were practised here too not so long ago.
But ignorance, intolerance and murder should be called what they are and the law enforced.
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