Friday, November 29, 2019

We need to talk about Islam

(First published in The Dominion Post and on, November 28.)

New Zealand is overdue for a grown-up conversation about Islam.

It’s a conversation that has been made necessary because as a nation we’re conflicted, to use a popular term, about the religion founded by Mohammad. But the conversation needs to get beyond simplistic, kneejerk allegations of Islamophobia, and it needs to unpick some contradictions and inconsistences in how we view Muslims.

First, some background. There have been Muslims in New Zealand since the late 19th century. Most of those early arrivals came from South Asia (mainly India) and appear to have lived quietly without attracting public attention.

There was a surge in Muslim immigration during the 1970s and 80s, especially following the nationalist Fiji coup of 1987, which made life very uncomfortable for Fiji Indians of the Muslim faith. Political instability also resulted in the arrival of Muslim immigrants from Somalia and the Middle East.

All of this happened without controversy.  So what changed?

With the rise of Al Qaeda and the terrorist attacks on New York in 2001, a militant form of Islam emerged which was seen as an existential threat to the West. Anxiety about Islamist extremism has since been ratcheted up by repeated terrorist massacres – many of them perpetrated by radicalised Muslim immigrants striking at the countries that took them in – and by appalling atrocities perpetrated by Islamic State and Afghanistan’s Taliban.

Islam, and Muslim immigration, thus became a highly political issue.

All this coincided with substantially increased Muslim immigration to New Zealand. At the time of the 2001 census, 23,631 New Zealand residents identified as Muslim. By last year, the number had jumped to 61,455.

Muslims still make up only 1.34 per cent of the population, half the number of New Zealand Hindus, but they are highly visible and some are politically active – more so since the Christchurch mosque massacres of March 15.

As the spontaneous public reaction showed, New Zealanders were shocked and appalled by that incident and deplored the perpetrator.

The killer did not represent New Zealanders, most of whom feel nothing but goodwill toward Muslims who come here with the aim of living peaceably and contributing to their community.
That goodwill is plainly reciprocated by the many Muslim New Zealanders who, since March 15, have publicly expressed their appreciation of this country and their feeling of being welcome and accepted here.

But here’s where things get tricky. The events of March 15 have been seized by some people, not all of them Muslim, as an opportunity to promote the idea that Muslims are the victims of hatred and discrimination.

This notion is used in turn to politicise the Islamic faith and lobby for treatment not extended to other religions – for instance, seeking women-only days at public swimming pools so that men can’t see women’s bodies, or the provision of prayer rooms in public spaces.

No reasonable person would challenge Muslims’ right to follow their religion without harassment, but nothing is more likely to provoke resistance than the perception that a religious denomination is being singled out for privileged treatment. New Zealand is a secular society and no exceptions should be made.

We must also reserve the right to criticise those aspects of Islam that sit awkwardly with secular liberalism, just as we’re free to mock Christian beliefs. This is not incompatible with respect for the right of Muslims to follow their faith.

Post-March 15, however, there was an outpouring of misconceived liberal guilt that manifested itself in bizarre ways, such as the furore over the name of the Crusaders rugby team. This fuss conveniently overlooked that Muslims were invaders too, with a long history of bloody conquest that reached far into Europe on one side and India on the other.

Arguably the biggest challenge posed by Islam, though, is to the political Left, which must somehow reconcile its embrace of Islam with its promotion of rights for women and gays. Good luck with that, as they say, because the two are inherently incompatible.

What complicates the issue is that Islam is a broad church, ranging from tolerance and acceptance of difference at one end of the spectrum – i.e. the version of Islam that should be welcomed here – to unspeakable violence and repression at the other.

Why the Left champions Islam is no mystery. It’s because the Islamic world is seen as standing in opposition to the capitalist West, so must be supported.

But by railing against so-called Islamophobia without qualification, the Left lays itself open to the accusation that it turns a blind eye to the repression of women and the stoning of homosexuals. It's an exquisite ideological tangle, and the world waits with interest for the Left to declare exactly where it stands.


hughvane said...

Good point made about the Muslim atrocities throughout history. Oops, we're not supposed to mention that inconvenient truth. But it's okay to attack the so-called Christian crusades of a long time ago. To quote Steve Hansen - "time to flush the dunny and move on". Hypocrisy 101.

We await with inte ... no, trepidation, the outcome of the Crusaders name debat ... no, debacle. Discounting the first 20 years of my life when I was in learning mode, I have never in the past 50 years - until this past decade, that is - encountered such cringing spinelessness as exhibited by the "sickly white liberals" of modern NZ society. Attacks on the ideology of Western religions, mainstream Christian churches in particular, is so commonplace now as to be worthless. Those same types who rail against religion of (almost) any sort are the ones telling our politicians and population in general that our laws must be much more 'inclusive' of Islam, and Muslims. From Lost in Space ... "does not compute".

Hilary Taylor said...

We're up to our ears in 'conversations'. I've never found any reason to deviate from the age-old 'when in Rome' adage for life. I have little time for folk clinging to cultural vestiges past their use-by date and at a remove from the milieu that spawned them. Tolerance is one thing but special treatment is quite another. As hughvane says the modern mania for hand-wringing and spinelessness is quite sick-making. Just another cultural cringe.

Odysseus said...

A timely column and well argued thank you Karl. The Left use "Islam" as a battering-ram not only against "capitalism" but also against the Enlightenment values - Reason, Logic, Freedom of the Individual - that were once the basis of our civilization. And they are succeeding, at least in New Zealand. I am glad I am now in my twilight years and am therefore unlikely to live to see in its full blown form the future that I fear awaits this country.

Doug Longmire said...

Thanks Karl.
Once again you have given a clear, balanced and articulate description of this situation.
The Left are basically haters of Western civilization as we know it, so extreme jihad Islam who are also haters of the West are on obvious choice for the Left to align with.
I noticed with interest that TV1 news last night downplayed the terrorist background of the knife attack Jihadi in the U.K. Fortunately Daily Mail gave us the full story of his well established terrorist background.
The mainstream TV media in this country is of an abysmally low standard.

Trev1 said...

Karl, if Andrew Little and Paul Hunt get their way the content of this column will become a criminal act. Sadly it is clear few are prepared to defend free speech in New Zealand and an Islamic blasphemy law to combat the fabricated nonsense charge of "Islamophobia" is just around the corner of the New Year. We might call it "the Little fatwa".

transpress nz said...

The perception problems have been exacerbated by the Wahhabist sect of Islam created and promulgated via a tsunami of oil money by Saudi Arabia: a firebrand, intolerant, ultra-conservative and literal version of Islam. This version of Islam has led directly to the formation of Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda, Islamic State and numerous other terrorist organisations.

Leftists and the Mainstream Media fail to identify Islam as an ideology/religion and pretend it is a race, thus those who oppose the ideology are automatically 'racists'.

Brendan McNeill said...


We cannot deal with any problem unless we can first name it. We cannot name it. Even Britain that has suffered its fare share of Islamist attacks (there is only Islam, but I use the name Ironically, it being a western construct), saw the authorities rushing to assure us that the perpetrator 'acted alone' just a couple of days ago.

Ah yes a "lone wolf", no doubt suffering from mental illness, rejection, low self esteem... nothing to see here.

And so we forget.

Until the next time.

Brendan McNeill said...


Mark Steyn, who has for decades now explained why our 'conversations' are getting us nowhere in the struggle against Islamic Jihad (there I've named it) has an excellent article today on the recent (and second) slaughter of innocents on London Bridge. As an aside, I'm beginning to wonder if London Bridge is about to become the iconic 'destination of choice' for those "Brits" who are intent upon waging war against the infidel.

Steyn's essay as usual explores the background story behind one of those who lost his life, Jack Merritt, and his connection with the Jihadist who killed him. It also reflects on the attitudes of Jack's father who was invited to write an article for the Guardian. As always it touches upon the civilisational issues behind our inability to defend ourselves.

Brendan McNeill said...


I do appreciate your call for a 'grown up' conversation about Islam here in New Zealand. Arguably it's still time for us to have such a conversation, however it will need to take place early next year before this Government in conjunction with the HRC decides that any criticism of Islam is Hate speech, and therefore a criminal offence.

In this context I refer you and your readers to an article by Gavin Ashenden. Gavin is a theologian and student of Islam. In his article (below) he points out that Islam is both a political and religious construct. It has an eschatology of global victory and seeks to implement it through a three pronged strategy in the west: Immigration, population and violence.

"Because the West treats Islam as if it were only a system of piety, instead of being both a religion and a political way of life as ambitious for world domination as any other group who have set out to achieve it, be they Romans, Marxists or Nazis, we misunderstand Islam, and Usman Khan."

Usman Khan is the young jihadist who recently killed to men on the London Bridge. Full article here - scroll down past the newspaper images to the text below:

Unknown said...

In any discussion on Mulslims I post this

Even the most well-intentioned policy expressions overlook that Muslimness covers a considerable variability, which is usually glossed over by essentialization. In reality Muslimness covers a broad spectrum of expressions, beliefs, habits, and customs that defies clear standardization. Not unusually doctrinal issues of Islam are mixed up with habitual, customary, or regional traditions. Another confusing issue lies in while being Muslim may not necessarily prevent the adoption of Western "core values" (religion-state separation and democratic governance and processes, embracement of human rights and of domestic "man-made" law, the presidency of secularity in society, etc.) other forms of Muslim identity may contain ingredients which are clearly at odds with Western "mainstream" culture, conventions, values, and norms. Such cultural elements may then be falsely construed to be representative of Islam and Muslimness per se. For instance, difficulties arise when Muslimness is based on an "ultra-orthodox" version of Sharia while on the liberal end of the spectrum Sharia may be used more vaguely as a very personal "moral compass" but may make no demands on expressing it overtly and publicly. Some notions of the desirability of following the Sharia, however, may include requirements of unusually harsh forms of punishment, or aversion to democratic governance and to free speech, or incline toward distinct gender inequality or toward extreme notions of family honor. At the very extremity of Muslimness is the violent, eschatological, and Salafist political Islamism which despite it being a minority expression within Islam tends to tamish all of it with a disastrously bad reputation and seems to give credence to the worst prejudices. To uncouple this expression from the version of Islam that prides itself as a religion of peace and tolerance, commensurate with the modern Western concept of religion, is an enterprise fraught with difficulties.46
Eric Kolig
Muslim integration: pluralism and multiculturalism in New Zealand and Australia

Unknown said...

You should think again about peoples acceptance of multiculturalism. Are Europeans prepared to be the agar for the petri dish?