Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Waste Time Courting 'Moderate' Muslims

Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Waste Time Courting 'Moderate' Muslims

Article excerpt

Funny the difference a few weeks can make. When I went away for an extended holiday, the subtle but unmistakable consensus on the threat to life and limb was more or less as it had been for some years: that jihadists are rotten fellows, but only small in number when compared with the 'vast majority' of 'moderate Muslims' who are, of course, not culpable. At all. Of anything. Ever.

When I came back, the consensus had shifted. Now, it appears, they might be a teeny bit worthy of blame after all -- not for the violence itself, but for failing to keep their hotheads in line. Headlines are thundering: 'We need Muslims to do more', 'Muslims have to join this battle' and 'Muslims must raise their voices in anger'. It's been the battle cry of the summer so far -- we demand that moderate Muslims persuade, cajole and convince their radicals, for all the world as if they can actually do as we ask.

The fact is, even if they would, there's not a virgin's chance in paradise that they could; you might as well have asked Terry Wogan to rein in the IRA. And nothing illustrates the inherent difficulties better than, if you will indulge me, reflections on my recent sojourn.

To wile away time in the American Bible Belt, as I do for many months of each year, is to witness Christian fundamentalism at its fruitiest, nuttiest, rancorous best. On our little coastal Georgia island it is a proud boast that there are more churches than bars, while clever sleight of county planning ensures it will stay that way; no hard liquor licence may be given to premises within 500 yards of a house of the Gud Lawd and upon that all are agreed.

They don't, however, agree on anything else.

Episcopalians fight with Lutherans who tussle with Presbyterians who despair of Methodists; the First Baptists do not speak to the Second Baptists and neither is on terms with the First Free Will Baptists (jokes about the oxymoronic nature of which do not play well; you may trust me on that). At your peril shall you confuse the Church of God with the Church of the Son of God and we should be grateful for St Williams, up on Frederica Road, because at least the others can unite in their hatred of its Roman Catholic congregation.

Notably, however, nobody appears to have a problem with us. The unfamiliarity of our atheism stirs occasional curiosity, but beyond that there is nothing they can do with it; it cannot serve as a source of dialogue, for what would we discuss? Does God Exist? No. Life -- at least for those of us unburdened by rumours of an eternity -- is just too short.

The Sarlers' interaction with the local people, therefore, is often a good deal more straightforward than they manage with each other. Without the possibility of a wrangle over the commandments of a deity, we seek common ground in a shared understanding of the more prosaic laws of Man; you do not, for instance, need to debate the evangelism of the snake handler to tell him that if that poor serpent is so much as a squished mouse short of a decent supper, you'll call on animal welfare.

It's not so much fun, of course, without the spice of scoring points -- though to be fair, while it is easy to take the mick out of the fissures of faith in the Deep South, they are not unique. …

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