It's very difficult, if not impossible, for us ordinary white middle-class old codgers to understand much of what goes on in modern society, still less sympathise with it. Top of the list of life's imponderables is Islam, not just another fairy-tale like most religions but a force that seems to have wormed its way into a position of some power and influence in today's Britain, a force that appears to most of us to be a thing of unreason, a selfish, grabbing attitude, a fount of undeserved hatred and a progenitor of violent acts of lunacy.
We understand - because we have been told so many times - that Islam at its core is a religion of peace. We believe - trust us, we do believe - that most Muslims are sober, sensible, peaceful people who want nothing more than to get on with their lives and get on with their neighbours. We know that in the past Islam has been one of the great faiths, the glue that held together a vast civilisation, in its time far in advance of the savages in Europe, a haven of wisdom and scholarship from which sprang modern mathematics, science and medicine.
What we do not, and can not, comprehend is the way this widespread religion has become the victim of its own success, taking on the cultural traditions of the peoples it has conquered so that their various outlandish customs and beliefs have merged with the precepts of the Koran to produce something that appears to us capricious, ignorant, cruel, and abhorrent.
However, the GOS has recently been reading two books that have made things a bit clearer. They are A Caged Virgin and Infidel, both written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was brought up in Somalia, the easternmost country in Africa and one of the poorest. When she was little her grandmother told her "A woman alone is like a piece of sheep fat in the sun. Everything will come and feed on that fat. Before you know it, the ants and insects are crawling all over it, until there is nothing left but a smear of grease."
Her parents were educated people, her mother a poet and her father a teacher and politician imprisoned for his beliefs. Even so, Ayaan was brought up in a primitive society which undervalued and devalued a girl or a woman as powerless, without rights, with no entitlement to self-will, a mere chattel of her family and an object of male power and contempt - just a piece of sheep fat in the sun.
As a little girl Ayaan soon learned the realities of life in communist yet tribal Somalia. Poverty was endemic, and family members died from disease and neglect. And the predominant religion was Islam, which established her place in the family and in society quite firmly at the bottom. Her brother Mahad, the family favourite who could do little wrong, pushed her into a cesspit and for once bore the brunt of their mother's anger. What her mother shouted at the boy in her rage is enlightening: "May you rot in a hole! May you die in a fire! You communist! You Jew!" Later it was little Ayaan who was the more criticised, for allowing herself to be pushed into the latrine. She should have been more suspicious, apparently.
Though Ayaan's mother had decided that there was one tradition that was not going to apply to Ayaan and her sister, her grandmother and the neighbours had other ideas. While the mother was away, the neighbours came to the house and the little girls were forcibly circumcised. This was not the minor snip with which we are familiar, removing the end of a little boy's foreskin as is done by the Jews and used to be widespread in this country for reasons of hygiene.
The purpose of female circumcision is certainly not hygiene. It is done to prevent a woman from taking any pleasure in sex, and to ensure that when she is married she cannot be anything but a virgin, and that the act of being deflowered is violent and painful. To quote from Infidel: "After the child's clitoris and labia are carved out, scraped off or, in more compassionate areas, merely cut or pricked, the whole area is often sewn up so that a thick band of tissue forms a chastity belt made of the girl's own scarred flesh. A small hole is carefully situated to permit a thin flow of pee. Only great force can tear the scar tissue wider for sex.
Female genital mutilation predates Islam. Not all Muslims do this, and a few of the peoples who do are not Islamic. But in Somalia where virtually every girl is excised, the practice is always justified in the name of Islam. Uncircumcised girls will be possessed by devils, fall into vice and perdition and become whores. Imams never discourage the practice. It keeps girls pure.
Many girls die during or after their excision, from infection. Other complications cause enormous, more or less lifelong pain."
As Ayaan grew up her father escaped from prison and the family had to roam from country to country, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya. When she was fourteen her Koran teacher came to her house and beat her so hard that her skull was fractured. Later she began to notice her school classmates disappearing one by one - they were being taken away by their families to be married off.
To Ayaan marriage was a thing of horror. Recounting the experience of her sister's friend Sahra, she writes: "The story frightened me: a huge group of people, a bloodied sheet - a kind of rape, organised with the benediction of Sahra's family. But this was marriage, to Sahra: physical assault, public humiliation. Sahra told Haweya "I never had a childhood. They took my life away from me." Abdallah was ten or fifteen years older than she: he was some kind of cousin,. He didn't seem to beat her, but her hatred of him was implacable. Her revenge was that she did nothing for her kids. She called them "his kids". She treated her nine-year-old daughter Hasna like a slave. Hasna did the groceries, cooked and cleaned. Sahra constantly beat her, and spent all her husband's money on clothes and makeup."
One of her own friends, Jawahir, married and told of her own experience: "Every night it was almost as painful, and always the same: Ali would push inside, move up and down inside her, and then ejaculate. That was it. Then he would stand up and take a shower to purify himself. She would get up and shower, also to purify herself, and apply Dettol to the parts that were bleeding."
Ayaan managed to escape forced marriage for a long time, but was eventually obliged to flee to avoid it. Her adventures were complex, and her bravery enormous - the temptation just to think "This is too difficult. Much easier to give in and accept marriage" must have been very great. Being part of a large extended family and the daughter of a well-known political activist seem to have helped. She ended up in Holland, where she was able to settle and attend university. She writes of her astonishment at a government whose main function seemed to be taking the rubbish away once a week, at policemen who were helpful instead of beating people up, and at trams and buses that ran exactly on time, and more than once a week.
She had a few lessons to learn about herself, too. When her new friends - all asylum seekers like herself - tried to persuade her to wear short skirts and pretty clothes like they did, she said "But if men see women dressed like you are now, with your arms bare and everything naked, then they will become confused and sexually tempted. They will be blinded by desire, they won't be able to work, the buses will crash …" Her friends just pointed out that the whole of Europe was running like a machine, buses did not crash, and nobody was running berserk through the streets …!
Ayaan studied Political Philosophy, and also began translating for immigrants at an abortion clinic which led her to her life's work of representing oppressed minority women. She eventually became a member of the Dutch Parliament and an outspoken opponent of Islam as promulgated by extremists, but things went seriously wrong for her when she wrote the script of a short television film, Submission, with film-maker Theo Van Gogh. This was received calmly at first, but evidently provoked outrage among some Muslims who took their usual course of action - Van Gogh was gunned down in the street.
There followed for Ayaan a long and bizarre episode in which she was held - "for her own protection" - in custody by Dutch secret police. Her fame and her status as an MP didn't seem to protect her as they rushed her from place to place, making her stay in seedy hotels and abandoned airforce bases, incommunicado, wrenched from her friends and colleagues for weeks on end. Later she was released from custody, but instead the government "discovered" an irregularity in her original asylum application, claimed that she had lied, and kicked her out of the country. The publicity eventually led to the fall of the government in Holland. Fortunately the United States offered her sanctuary and a university job, and she lives there still though under constant threat of execution by fundamentalists.
I venture to suggest that few Grumpy Old Sods have led a life half as eventful. Few of us would want to. Ayaan's example, accounts and opinions must surely be an outstanding guide to the facts about Islam.
Her description of the barbarity of some Moslems' behaviour towards their womenfolk and children we have already touched on. If ever there was an argument against the multicultural society, this is it. If you believe, as many politically correct law-makers and commentators in this country have believed, that it is right to encourage immigrants to bring with them their own cultures and practices and to maintain their own ways of life in their new homes, that doesn't just mean respecting their colourful costumes, learning their interesting languages, teaching schoolchildren about their religious festivals and eating in their fascinating ethnic restaurants.
It means accepting that left to themselves they will sometimes treat each other with vicious cruelty. Western civilisation might "rub off" eventually - especially once their children or their children's children get educated and find well-paid jobs - but this will take generations. In the meantime, these can often be deeply ignorant, ill-educated people who hold views that we cannot and should not respect. If we went to settle in their countries of origin, we would no doubt be expected to accept and follow their laws. We should expect them to do the same, and any rational immigration process would include some real citizenship education with real teeth where the mutilation of little girls and the cultural rape of young women are concerned.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali's first book, A Caged Virgin, is harder to read because it is a collection of essays rather than a continuous narrative. A reader's persistence will be rewarded, though, with an improved understanding of some of the things we find so hard to take on board. Why are some young Moslem men so disaffected? Why do they think it's OK to blow up dozens of innocent people on buses and trains? Why have young Moslem men in parts of Australia been indulging in campaigns of gang rape? Why are many Moslems so deeply prejudiced against Jews?
Ayaan explains that many of the answers lie in the social structure that became embedded in Islam right from the start, when the accounts of the prophet Mohammed were first written and naturally enough reflected the prevailing Arab culture of the time. The inferiority of women, their chattel status, dates from this time. Ayaan tells in the autobiographical Infidel how little boys are indulged and favoured from infancy, how they are allowed to treat their sisters like dirt, and how later on they are encouraged to watch and spy on their sisters to make sure they are behaving themselves in society. It is these same favoured brothers who are entrusted with the task of beating or even killing their sisters if they transgress strict moral codes - by being so silly as to fall in love with a boy, for instance, or by getting raped. In Holland, eleven such "honour killings" were reported in one year, and in more distant countries like Pakistan they occur with monotonous regularity.
Ayaan says in the preface to A Caged Virgin "We Muslims are chosen by God. They, the others, the kaffirs, the unbelievers, are antisocial, impure, barbaric, not circumcised, immoral, unscrupulous and above all, obscene; they have no respect for women; their girls and women are whores; many of the men are homosexual; men and women have sex without being married. The unfaithful are cursed."
This partly explains the Australian rapes. Australian girls wear skimpy clothes in the warm climate. They expose their limbs wantonly. They are whores anyway, because they are not Muslim. So … they are asking for it, aren't they?
A faith that vilifies non-believers and claims that everything non-believers say or teach is false, is guaranteed to keep its own followers in ignorance. How can a true believer go to a university run by non-believers who teach falsehood? How can a child take any notice of teachers who teach falsehood because they are non-believers?
Consequently all too many young Muslim men are poorly-qualified. They get rotten, dead-end jobs. They earn low wages.
The wages don't matter too much - they come from large families, they support and help each other, they share housing. But the lack of status is a real problem for boys who have been brought up to believe they are special, they are Chosen, they should be looked up to and respected, they should give as good as they get, they are in charge of their families and all the women. After all, did not Mohammed himself write that men have authority over women because God made one superior to the other?
In Western culture we often say that respect has to be earned. In Muslim culture, respect is due automatically to men whatever they do. But here they find themselves doing dead-end jobs and surrounded by a society which doesn't seem to respect them at all. What are they supposed to think? Naturally they're resentful. Naturally they're disaffected. Why are we surprised at the difficulty of engaging them? - we're just kaffirs, after all.
The question of violence and hatred towards the nation in which you live is explained, at least in part, by Ayaan's observation about a fundamental Muslim trait, also probably inherited from Islam's early beginnings in the Arab world: the group always comes before the individual. If you don't belong to the relevant groups - family first, then clan, then tribe, and finally the ummah, the community of the faithful, you will be treated with suspicion.
Within the community of the faithful, anyone who claims to be a Muslim is closer than a non-believer. Muslims feel an emotional bond with all other Muslims. And you'll notice that none of these groups is the "nation", a comparatively modern concept. Kurds in Turkey feel kinship with Kurds in Iraq, they feel kinship with Muslims anywhere, but they don't feel anything very much for other Turks. Translate that to England, and the waffling of the politically-correct multiculturalists begins to seem rather silly. There are people here who aren't going to take any notice of you not just because as non-believers you are inferior, but because for them you hardly exist at all. "England" or "The United Kingdom" has nothing to do with them.
I'll leave the last word with Ayaan: "Muslims were involved in two-thirds of the thirty-two armed conflicts in the year 2000 while only one-fifth of the world population is Muslim, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
If nothing is wrong with Islam, why then are so many Muslims on the run? Of the top ten countries from which people have emigrated to the Netherlands, nine are primarily Muslim. Why do we Muslims move to the West, while at the same time condemning it? What does the West have that we don't? If we Muslims are so tolerant and peaceful, why is there so much ethnic, religious, political and cultural strife and violence in Muslim countries? Why are we Muslims so full of feelings of anger and hate … both toward ourselves and toward others? Why are we incapable of criticising ourselves …?"
There you are. Straight from the horse's mouth, you might say.
The GOS says: And in case you think we're exaggerating, a primary school headmaster of my acquaintance told me recently about one of his teachers. She was a Muslim girl, bright as a button and fresh from college with A-levels and an education degree. She taught the nursery class, and was an absolute gem, loved by the children, praised by inspectors and popular with the parents.
This rosy success story didn't last long, however. Before long she came under pressure from her family to marry. They had picked out a husband for her, a young cousin from Pakistan. She was distraught, and went round asking everyone including my friend the headmaster, what she should do. Everyone told her she should resist, and refuse the marriage. She was clever, she had a successful career, she was going to make something of herself.
In the end, however, the pressure was just too great. She couldn't resist, but left the school. She married, moved with her new husband into an ethnic community in Tower Hamlets, and now spends her time serving her husband, obeying her mother-in-law, and not going out much - just waiting until the babies start coming.
What a bloody waste. What a bloody tragedy. What a bloody crime that we should allow this to happen to an educated woman in a civilised society.
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