There are few braver, wittier, and savvier commentators on the present confrontation between Islam and the West than Douglas Murray. A contributing editor of The Spectator and a familiar face on Britain's political chat shows – and an eloquent fellow panelist of mine at last November's Restoration Weekend – he has now written an e-book entitled Islamophilia: A Very Metropolitan Malady.
It's about time that we started talking about Islamophilia as often as our opponents talk about Islamophobia. As Murray points out, while a healthy fear of Islam is certainly justifiable – given the events of 9/11 and 7/7, for example, and the murders of people like Theo van Gogh and Drummer Lee Rigby – the kind of extravagant praise of Islam that has become commonplace in the Western world in recent years is anything but justifiable. And yet the noxious eulogies for the religion of Muhammed keep coming – from authors and filmmakers and the news media, from “world leaders, diplomats and politicians,” from “academics or scholars who lose all critical distance when it comes to the subject of Islam.”
In my 2009 book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom I went chapter by chapter through different categories of Westerners – journalists, academics, judges, etc. – who are censoring and self-censoring in order to pacify Muslims. Murray examines much the same phenomenon, and related phenomena, from a somewhat different angle – he's interested here not so much in the readiness to appease, or in the act of censorship or self-censorship itself, as he is in full-throated expressions of respect and admiration for Islam, whether sincere or feigned. Fake Islamophilia is, of course, nothing other than sheer dhimmitude; but genuine Islamophilia is something else again, and is a very real commodity. Britain especially has a long tradition of admiration for Islam (as exemplified by none other than the current Prince of Wales), but Murray doesn't go into that history here – and with good reason, for there's plenty of Islamophilia in the Western world nowadays to keep him busy.
Like Virgil guiding Dante through Hell in the Inferno, Murray takes us on a spin through contemporary Islamophilia. Some of his examples were familiar to me, others not. While I knew, for example, that British Prime Minister David Cameron had called the slaughter of Drummer Lee Rigby an assault on Islam – what else would he say? – I didn't realize that London Mayor Boris Johnson, who I had thought to be above such folderol, had insisted that the murder of Rigby surely had nothing to do with Islam. For those who have forgotten, or are too young to remember, Murray provides a useful wrap-up of George W. Bush's habit, during his presidency, of “forever hosting dinners for Muslim holy days and visiting mosques” and generally “going on about Islam,” all of which began with his firm declaration, a few days after 9/11, that “Islam is peace.”
Murray recounts a speech in which FBI Director John Brennan, addressing a Muslim audience, kept saying things like “as the Koran reveals,” thus, as Murray notes, referring “to the origins of the Koran as though the orthodox Islamic tradition was not just an opinion, but in fact true.” Murray observes that Brennan, a Catholic, evinced in that speech “a great symptom of the Islamophile” – namely, the tendency “to park your own actual beliefs to one side for a moment and then do a fair to middling job of pretending to any given audience that you do not believe what you believe but in fact believe what your audience (if they are Muslim) believe. I suppose people think this makes people warm to them. It doesn’t always work. Usually people are left confused and wondering why, if the guy up there thinks Islam is that great, he doesn’t become a Muslim himself.”
Especially appalling to Murray – as it should be – is the institutionalization of Islamophilia among America's military brass. Recalling General John R. Allen's four-alarm response to the alleged mistreatment of a copy of the Koran on a base in Afghanistan (his speech began “To the noble people of Afghanistan: Salaam Aleikum....”), Murray suggests that the “solemn tone would not have been out of place for announcing an incoming nuclear strike on the American homeland.” As a sign of just how far General Allen was willing to bend over to pacify Muslims, he had even “learnt how to provide extra glottals. Not just as in ‘Qu’ran’ but, it seemed, something like ‘Q’u’r’a’n’. It sounded as if he was choking as he tried to swallow all the glottals.”
Then there's Hollywood. I love some of director Ridley Scott's work, but Murray convincingly shows that Scott's movies Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and Robin Hood (2010) are pure Islamic propaganda. Among the other film-world Islam-boosters whom Murray skewers are Liam Neesen and Oliver Stone's Muslim-convert son, Sean. Moving on to the pop-music world, Murray makes the telling point – although this seems to be less a case of Islamophilia than of good, old-fashioned dhimmitude – that while Justin Bieber, on his current world tour, fought with paparazzi in Britain, made an ass of himself in the guest book at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and let himself be caught in Sweden with drugs on his tour bus, when he arrived in Turkey he suddenly “behaved like one of those bad boys who knows just how to behave when he actually has to be good. In Istanbul, he halted his concert twice in order to observe the Muslim call to prayer.” (Did you know that? I didn't.) As Murray sums it up: “In London you can keep your fans waiting so long that had they felt so inclined they could have packed in a whole day of prayer sessions. But in Istanbul you turn up on time, respect the local customs and remember you’re dealing with Islam here, not any of those sappy European ‘Beliebers.'”
I wrote here recently about a traveling museum exhibit, “Sultans of Science,” currently on display in Oslo, that exaggerates to the point of parody the debt that modern science owes to Islam. Murray describes about another exhibit, “1001 Islamic Inventions,” that could be seen at London’s Science Museum in 2010 and at the National Geographic Museum in Washington in 2012-13. It sounds even worse than “Sultans of Science.” Talk about Islamic invention! The snake-oil salesmen behind the London installation claimed – and I'll quote this passage from Murray at length because it's all so thoroughly outrageous –
that it is only thanks to the Islamic world that we have universities, libraries and bookshops. All disciplines, including maths, chemistry, geometry, art, writing and agriculture come from Islam. So do dams, windmills, the concept of trade, textiles, paper, pottery, glass, jewels and currency. All medical knowledge also comes from Islam, including, strangely, inoculation and not forgetting the toothbrush. In its attempt to show that there is nothing that Islam has not given us the exhibition claims that Islam invented not just the countryside but the town as well, including everything about the buildings in towns, including vaults, spires, towers, domes and arches.
Now that's Islamophilia at its reality-defying worst. And while we're talking about science, let's mention Richard Dawkins, the fearless atheist, who in a recent interview on Al-Jazeera, as Murray reminds us, lustily savaged Judaism and Christianity but, when asked about Islam, hemmed and hawed and finally said, “Well, um, the God of the Koran I don’t know so much about.” Murray gives the pusillanimous Dawkins exactly what he deserves. And Murray also tells us – here's something else I didn't know – that Pope Francis, when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, chided Pope Benedict XIV for the Regensburg speech in which he dared to speak less than glowingly of Islam “and even called on fellow Catholics to criticise him – an extraordinary breach of authority.” An interesting – and depressing – insight into the current pontiff.
For all the failings of presidents and pop stars, G-men and generals, Murray seems to be capable (as I am) of particular disappointment in – and contempt for – members of our own profession who play at being gutsy until something is actually on the line. Hence he singles out for special – and deserving – ridicule two highly celebrated British writers. Martin Amis, who for many years was the Justin Bieber of English fiction – a “bad boy” who made headlines tipping over sacred cows – made the mistake a while back of saying something critical of Islam in an interview, and, faster than you could say “Allahu akbar,” he'd published a piece in the Observer that, in Murray's apt words, “set a new high-water mark in Prophetic prostration.” Amis wrote, in part (and if you haven't already taken out the barf bag, do so now): “no serious person could fail to respect Muhammad – a unique and luminous historical being.”
Novelist Sebastian Faulks had an almost identical experience: taken to task for being less than reverential of Islam in an interview, he rushed into print with his own nauseating mea culpa. In short, as Murray puts it, “at the slightest whiff of receiving a bit of Islamic opprobrium these two big beasts of letters folded. It’s an interesting lesson in abjection. Our cultural and literary front-runners, like our film-makers and artists, forever portray themselves as fearless truth-tellers, willing to fight in the last artistic ditch to say what they think to whoever they like. And yet Islam comes along and it turns out that not only did they not stay around for the fight, they hauled down the flag and cleared out before any fighting had begun.” Bingo. And bravo.
Murray's book is valuable not only for its accumulation of all this evidence (stomach-turning though it is) but for its lucid, no-nonsense analysis of the perverse phenomenon that gives his book its title. “Of all the reasons why people have become Islamophiles,” he proposes, “perhaps the most common – apart from terror – is the combination of the desire to be nice with the knowing of very little.” While many professed admirers of Islam are acting out of fear, and others out of ignorance, some, he insists, are genuinely driven by a fierce need to believe that Islam truly is “not just a peaceful religion but a wonderful religion – a religion to which we owe so much.” Because the alternative to thinking this is – well, unthinkable.
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