Islam: Tenets - Question

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:17 pm on 7th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Patten Lord Patten Conservative 6:17 pm, 7th December 2017

The noble Lord’s exegesis on Islamic theology was concerning and, in one or two parts, I think confusing. I do not criticise him for that because I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher. I therefore cannot judge how much scholarly water some of his assertions hold, but I must say that I have previously reflected whether it might be a good thing if many of our government ministries had a moral philosopher or two on their staff to advise Ministers about the rectitude of the course that they were about to enter into.

I do know that there is no text in the great books of the three Abrahamic religions that directly promotes or sanctions terrorism. While the record shows that Judaism has been pretty restrained over the millennia in the matter of religious violence within or without its communities, alas, one cannot say the same about the Christian religion in England—Catholics and Protestants in particular were going at each other for hundreds of years, busily burning and then, to make a change of pace, disembowelling each other in the interests of religion. I am extremely sorry that that ever happened.

Right reverend Prelates are extremely busy doing stuff in their dioceses, but it is a pity that we do not have a right reverend Prelate on their Bench to listen to what is going on this afternoon. Perhaps the most reverent Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and his brother of York might look at this issue, because we really need their wisdom here. In exactly the same way—there are not so many formal Jewish rabbis in this place—it would have been good to have a noble Lord, Lord Sacks, as it were, to give his views.

Mercifully, the bad habits of the Catholics—and I happen to be one of those; that is a declaration of interest and complete transparency—and Protestants in dealing with each other was dropped a few centuries ago, although sometimes the theological debate can still be pretty robust between us. Christians have, in a phrase, grown out of it. Now in the final long, drawn-out act involving the Islamic world, we must be equally robust in asserting that terrorism and religion do not sit together. One is not an excuse for the other; only perverted minds seek to use religion for their perverted ends. I wonder how many so-called Islamic terrorists have actually read the Holy Koran in detail.

What is to be done? We have lots of advice on this. The new de facto Sunni ruler of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammad bin Salman, has just started bouncing around about the issue with his characteristic vigour, and said on 26 November of Islamic terrorism:

“We will pursue it until it disappears completely from the surface of the earth”.

Heigh-ho! That really is hyperbole on stilts at a time when Saudi Arabia is violently and in the name of religion pursuing proxy wars against other brands of Islam all over the Middle East and Africa, from Yemen to Libya and back. Such terror simply begets other terror.

A very important issue that was not touched on by the noble Lord in his concerning introductory speech is how much a debate on Islamic terrorism must begin with a clear recognition that, all too often, it is a case of Muslim on Muslim—Sunni on Shia with, for example, that terrible attack on the innocent Sufis in the Sinai at holy prayers in their mosque a week or two ago. Then of course, in the Middle East, Alawites and Ismailis feel a degree of fear, and feel threatened. However, we in this place and in the West cannot enforce what we see as reason on the Islamic world, nor can we be thought to be lecturing it about deep-seated and sometimes fracturing theological debates which we do not perhaps understand. I certainly do not understand some of them. In the end, the Islamic world has to sort itself out and, just as the Christian world did in England and elsewhere, grow out of the kind of stuff that it seeks now to do with us. I do not expect this to happen very soon. I happen to have a very close Muslim friend, who I have known for 20 or getting on for 25 years. We were speaking only yesterday, and I asked him how many decades it would take for the Muslim world to come out of this present epoch. He paused and said, “It won’t take decades—it will take centuries”. That is a very foreboding thought, grim but realistic. Dealing with Islamic terrorism, or what claims to be Islamic terrorism, is going to be how we live for a very long time.

The only approach to this is to treat all terrorism equally, wherever it comes from. Terrorists are terrorists by definition, regardless of their purported cause. Our security services do a very good job in keeping an eye as much as they can, particularly when things are going quiet. If you just go across the water to Ireland north and south of the border, there is that old saying that there is always a “pike in the thatch” from people on both sides of the religious divide. I believe that that is the case there—and sometimes, when things are quiet, we have to be extremely concerned.

Sometimes defending life means ending life, and that excellent and experienced Minister from his time in Iraq onwards, Mr Rory Stewart, has reminded us about that in another place. Our defences must ever be strengthened, which is why the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill making its way through your Lordships’ House, enabling us to target groups such as Daesh or al-Qaeda, is so essential to delivering safety at home and our foreign-policy aims abroad. But it is always where things seem to be quiet that terrorists will suddenly appear.

As somebody who works in financial services in the City of London, I rejoice to see how they have been put at the service of religion in making it a centre for Islamic finance in this world. My noble friend Lord Sheikh knows much more about this stuff than I ever will. We are very complacently saying that it is terribly good that we have all this going on in the City of London, but those people who use terror look to places like that and businesses like that with venom, so we must not let our guard drop.