Submission, the 2015 novel by Michael Houellebecq, had a premise of a Parisian, middle-aged literature professor at a time when France is in the grip of political crisis. The Socialists ally with the newly formed Muslim Brotherhood Party, with additional support of the Union for a Popular Movement, the formerly main right-wing party (starting to worry yet?). They propose the Islamic candidate Mohammed Ben-Abbes for the presidency against the National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
Ben-Abbes wins the election, and enacts sweeping changes to French laws, one such change is the privatisation of the Sorbonne, thereby making François redundant with full pension as only Muslims are now allowed to teach there. Additionally he ends gender equality, allowing polygamy. Several of the protagonists colleagues, having converted to Islam, get good jobs and make arranged marriages with attractive young wives. Funnily enough, so does eventually the main character.
I couldn’t help thinking of this when I heard of the Piers-Morgan v Thommy Robinson interview. Quite a few things about the content, not just the hectoring style, were wrong. I haven’t got that much knowledge about Robinson, only snippets, and I like to reserve judgement on individuals until I do. However in this interview Piers-Morgan struck me as a strong candidate for a British follow up of the novel.
Firstly what was interesting was Piers-Morgan demands that Robinson “Put the book down” and “show some respect” for other peoples’ religion. What is Tommy doing at this time? He is raising the Qur’an slightly above his head to make a point, which I’ll go into in a minute.
As I said in this post to Muslims the Qur’an is the word of God. I can completely acknowledge that many Muslims would be offended by just such an action. I would be wary of offending them myself. However, I don’t agree that men born as men can become women and even though on a one to one basis I would call them ‘her’ Should they ‘identify’ that way. Yet I shouldn’t be instructed by others that I should or shouldn’t do this.
It’s the same with holding the Qur’an in this manner. Robinson was treating the book like you may treat any other book when trying to make a point. It is not his belief it is the word of God, he wasn’t being offensive by normal standards e.g. deliberately soiling it or damaging it. Yet Piers-Morgan demands a level of deference towards it not suitable for a none believer.
I say this as a Catholic. For me the Eucharist is Jesus made flesh when it has been transformed in the mass. Now, should there be an incidence where somebody without mal intent gain possession of a Eucharistic wafer and treat with none reverence but without malice would I be upset? Perhaps, a little. But only in so far as I believe in transsubstantiation and therefore that they are treating Jesus irreverently, but I would not hold them any ill will. I would not be offended by their actions as they would not intend such a thing. In fact, even those who are deliberately being offhand with it because they don’t believe would not, in my opinion, deserve such public reprimand.
If on the other hand a deliberate act of malice was intended – and they are at times – I would be offended. The difference is intent, but again we’ll go into that a little later.
At the time this is occurring Piers-Morgan States “Would you do that to the Bible?” However this is a pointless comparison because, firstly, such an action towards the Bible would not be deemed as offensive because the Bible is not the word of God, but inspired by God. Even fundamentalist Christians would, on the whole, have no truc with someone holding a Bible above their head to make a point. Many a preacher has imitated the action that Robinson carries out.
His reference to Christianity is wrong and dishonest in another way. He acts as if we would expect Robinson to behave with reverence toward the Bible. However that is evidently untrue. From the BBC transmitting shows that are offensive to a vast majority of Christians, to their self admission that they believe it would be acceptable to treat the Bible differently to the Qur’an, to regular offensive portrayals of Christian symbolism in ‘art‘ Christianity is not given reverence in such an overt manner by those who don’t believe it.
Piers-Morgan then compounded this with later tweets when he stated things like;
Again, the Bible is not the same as the Qur’an, but perhaps Piers-Morgan in his religious illiteracy doesn’t understand that. However he surely knows that Jesus never preaches violence, let alone commits it, so to equate the two is duplicitious as the majority of those revering the Bible in this country are Christians and his teaching supersedes what came before. Or perhaps Piers-Morgan is targeting Jews here?
But, more importantly, Morgan berates Robinson for casting a ‘slur’ on Muslims. However, 3 days after the Orlando nightclub attack and in reference to it Morgan is happy to slur the Archbishop of York demands that he redefines what marriage is saying “You’ve taken a pretty strong stance against gay marriage. Is it about time that religious leaders from all faiths came together and were more tolerant generally toward homosexuality?”
This was during a time when many were blaming Christians for this attack, despite it being committed by a Muslim.
I agree that Robinson’s comment, if he indeed blamed all Muslims for 7/7, was grossly innapropriate. As I’ve said time and again the way people engage with their religion is highly individual so such generalisations aren’t helpful (Morgan is a perfect example of this, demanding Christianity changes its teachings on gay marriage and claiming to be a Catholic).
What most annoyed me though was the way Robinson was conveniently used as a scapegoat. Whilst he was holding the Qur’an in this manner it was in a specific context. Susanna Reid asks him if he admits he is an Islamaphobe. Robinson goes onto deny there is such a thing and then says;
“Now If I hold up this book above my head and say ‘There will never be peace on this earth as long as we have this book. It is a violent and curse book’.”
As he tries to continue he is hassled by Morgan to put the book down. But Robinson is trying to make a point;”Shall I tell you who said that, Sir William Gladstone.” He then goes on to make the point that it was Gladstone who held the book above his head, as Robinson had demonstrated, and said those words. He asked the question to Reid and Morgan “Was Sir William Gladstone a bigot and an islamaphobe?”
Morgan’s response? “Now you sound like a lunatic.”
What is it about that statement that makes him sound like a lunatic?
Funnily enough here, here, here and, of course, here the conversation was reported. None of these reports had the entire conversation in it. This stifling of debate, and more importantly the misrepresentation of any argument re Islam, is dangerous. There are many ideas that have the potential to turn into violent action. There are many peaceful people associated with such ideas. My last post re the alert and violence is an example. I have many family members who are declared socialist; im not expecting them to be placing anyone in a gulag any day soon. But political and religious beliefs should come under scrutiny as it is only through rational debate that atrocities are stopped, that people can be persuade away from bad ideas.
I think Morgan’s assumptions about homosexuality are wrong (another topic that would get me in trouble to discuss publicly) but I do not think he shouldn’t be able to debate Christian beliefs precisely because I believe in rational examination.
As far as I’m concerned Morgan has shown himself to be not an ethical journalist. Just fashionable.