Religion of peace vs. religion of sensitivity


File it under “Colour me completely astonished”:

The vast majority of Australian Defence Force personnel believes the Muslim religion promotes ­violence and terrorism, despite “cultural sensitivity training” by the ADF to have its soldiers take the view that Islam is a religion of peace.

The bombshell new study sponsored by the army finds that such “anti-Muslim sentiments” are “probably quite widespread” among Australian frontline troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the military’s efforts to reverse this trend are counter-productive.

The study by academic Charles Miller, published yesterday in the Australian Army Journal, was clearly perceived by top military brass as likely to be highly controversial, prompting Chief of Army General Angus Campbell to write a preamble saying his staff “have a number of opposing views on this article’s content” …

“I find little evidence that the official ‘Islam as a religion of peace’ narrative is widely ­accepted, nor is there evidence that cultural sensitivity training has any effect,” [says Dr Miller, a lecturer in Strategic and Defence Studies at the Australian National University]

“The best estimate … for the proportion of soldiers who have received cultural sensitivity training and who believe that the Muslim religion promotes violence and terrorism is 91 per cent.

“The corresponding figure for those who have not had cultural sensitivity training is 17 per cent.”

God help us, our troops probably address both Muslim men and women as “guys” too.

Where could they possibly get all those insensitive and Islamophobic ideas from? They’ve probably been reading too much Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt to while away their free time while on postings in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Islam is a religion of peace” is as at best as meaningless a platitude as “Christianity in a religion of peace” and at worst an outright moral and intellectual evasion. It tells you very little about how the religion has been interpreted, practiced and used and abused over the centuries. There has always been a violent, intolerant, supremacist strain of Islam, right from the Khawarij, a generation after Mohammed, through the Hanbali school of Sunni jurisprudence, the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah in the 14th century, to the rise of Wahhabism in the 19th, and then Salafism and Deobandism. The 20th century merely added the Western totalitarian influences to this already toxic mix to give it that extra, quasi-modern, political edge.

How influential is this supremacist strain in the modern Islam? At some points in the history of Islam it might have been the dominant interpretation; it is not now, but a significant minority still subscribes to it.

There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today, and of course vary enormously in terms of demographics, education and outlook. Probably around 10 cent support the sort of barbarism of violent jihad.

A larger group, between 10 and 30 per cent, disagree with the violent methods but support the ultimate goals of Islamism, i.e. the establishment of a Caliphate under Sharia law, first among all Muslims and eventually encompassing the whole world.

A larger group still – around half, maybe more – subscribe to any number of Sharia/Islamist supremacy beliefs that are at odds with what we would consider to be liberal democratic values and human rights (ranging from a belief that apostates and blasphemers should be put to death, through superiority of Islamic laws over the laws of the land, to treatment of women as second-class citizens).

(Pew Research Centre does a lot of opinion research around the world; I’ve drawn here largely on results of their surveys.)

So peace means different things to different people; for the good people conducting sensitivity training it might mean a cheerful coexistence that celebrates diversity; for a lot of Muslims out there it means submission under the law of Allah.

So where are we with all of this? Clearly, it’s silly to say that “all Muslims are terrorists” (only some on the fringes do), but it’s also silly to say that there is no problem because “Islam is a religion of peace”. There has been a battle raging for quite some time between the medievalists and modernisers over the very soul of Islam. I wish the modernisers all the best, for the sake of all of us. Christianity had to over time abandon its witch-burning, heretic-persecuting, crusading, anti-Semitic, medieval tendencies, so can – and should – Islam.

The news story I mentioned earlier goes on to say:

Dr Miller, who surveyed a sample of 182 soldiers, writes that “there are a number of issues which could arise if anti-Muslim sentiment is widespread within the defence force.

“If Australia’s Muslim community perceives the security services as inherently hostile, this may reduce the flow of intel­ligence on the activities of ­Islamic extremist organisations in Australia,” he says.

“Probably most important at present, hostility to Muslims in general could hamper the effectiveness of the ADF on deployment in the greater Middle East in a number of ways.”

To counter Islamophobic tendencies, the ADF employs cultural sensitivity training that “attempts to familiarise ADF personnel with the main ­attributes of the culture of the ­nations to which they are to be ­deployed”, Dr Miller writes.

It seems to me that on the balance, our soldiers have a more realistic view of Islam than the sensitivity experts. To call that view a “anti-Muslim sentiment”, “hostility to Muslims in general” or “Islamophobia” is not only a cop-out but a part of a bigger problem.