A view of signs as people gather together and place flowers in front of the middle-school where murdered school teacher Samuel Paty taught on October 18, 2020 in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

The divisiveness of Five Pillars

The UK’s chief website for British Muslim news sows more division than unity

Amongst British Islamists, the news, comment and analysis-based website known as “Five Pillars” has become increasingly influential and now boasts 358,000 Facebook page followers. It says it believes “in working constructively and living harmoniously with non-Muslims.”

If so, Five Pillars has a funny way of showing this.

On Friday afternoon a well-respected French history teacher Samuel Paty, 47, was beheaded for showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed from the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo during a moral and civic education class discussion about freedom of speech.

Charlie Hebdo seeks to emphasise that free speech is alive and well in France

The caricature had just been republished by Charlie Hebdo who had also published it in January 2015, and which then led to the shooting dead of twelve people, eight of them magazine journalists including cartoonists. Insensitive and offensive to Muslims as the republication has been, the magazine seeks to emphasise that free speech is alive and well in France: “We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation” the editor-in-chief once explained.

Indeed, Mr Paty’s sole purpose appears to have been to explain the centrality of secularism to French values. As the French education minister put it “Secularism allows us to have differences to believe, or not to believe, and to respect each other.”

Within hours of the beheading, Five Pillars editor Roshan Salih had this to say: “These freedom of speech supporters” were a “bunch of hypocrites” who “only really believe in the freedom to insult Muslims because they are in reality racists and Islamophobes.” Moreover, these “hypocrites wouldn’t dare insult Jews of course (and rightly so).”

Mr Salih is wrong on both counts.

Whilst for a bigoted minority, the cry of “free speech” is an opportunity to gratuitously bait Muslims, for the vast majority of citizens a core principle is genuinely at stake over the Charlie Hebdo affair: the right to offend and to peacefully debate offence.

But it is Salih’s comments about the one-sided protection of Jews that really betray his ignorance of just how embedded within western civilisation is the right to offend – a civilisation which he refers to as existing “only to worship materialism and oppress others.”

For decades tens of thousands of Jewish school children have sat through English literature lessons whilst confronted with the vilest of anti-Semitic stereotypes, reinforced from medieval England to the present day by celebrated authors like:

  • Chaucer – a Christian child martyr killed by vengeful Jews in “Prioress’s Tale” invoking the infamous Blood Libel
  • Shakespeare – the manipulative Shylock in “Merchant of Venice” who lends money to a Christian rival in return for a pound of the man’s flesh as security
  • Dickens – the vampire-like Fagin in Oliver Twist, mercilessly exploiting lost and vulnerable vagrant children, a “loathsome reptile” who “glides stealthily along creeping beneath the shelter of walls and doorways … engendered in … slime and darkness…”
  • Roald Dahl – the popular children’s author who also harboured a poisonous anti-Semitic streak: “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity … even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason”.

Do the parents of these Jewish schoolchildren plead exemption from class? No, they do not. Has any Jew ever been so incapable of self-control as to even contemplate butchering a teacher? It seems inconceivable.

Then there is the growth of Holocaust denial. To deny the attempt on an industrial scale to exterminate the entire Jewish race could scarcely be more offensive and defamatory of the Jewish people. Do Jews respond with violence against the deniers by butchering them? No, the reverse is generally true. Jews either ignore them or try to educate them out of their ignorance.

For all Five Pillar’s talk of “working constructively” and seeking “harmony” with “non-Muslims”, in 2018 they produced a slick and nasty five-minute video that could scarcely have been more divisive.

Its opening commentary contemptuously dismisses leading British Muslims who have worked tirelessly to build bridges as “‘Muslim Reformers’ … supported by Western governments”.

No doubt these “Reformers” have also felt deeply insulted by the publication and republication of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, but like their Jewish brothers and sisters, and most Muslims, they have risen above their hurt.

The video excoriates the “Reformers” for challenging Five Pillars’ version of “normative Islam” by:

  • Delegitimising the concept of a caliphate (over a map shading in southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa)
  • Erasing the concept of physical jihad (over pictures of a Saladin warlike figure urging his army onwards — and into battle)
  • Invalidating the Islamic penal code (like the death penalty for adultery)
  • Downplaying the Ummah (the global Muslim community) in favour of national identity (over a Union flag).

Another Five Pillars video refers to the “Reformers” as “Deformers.” So far as I can tell, Five Pillars is the UK’s only website focusing on British Muslim news. They make out they are promoting mainstream Muslim opinion when in truth these videos promote the inflammatory idea that “normative Islam” holds the Ummah to be more important to British Muslims than their own nation state, Britain.

If Five Pillars really are committed to “working constructively and living harmoniously with non-Muslims”, the editor could make a start by withdrawing these inflammatory videos; apologising for blaming the French authorities for not having “immediately closed down” Charlie Hebdo; withdrawing his provocation that France was heading for “civil war”; acknowledging that instead of dignifying the cartoon’s republication, Samuel Paty was attempting in a sensitive way to explain to his young students the civilising influence of openly discussing contentious ideas; and finally to stop blaming “Western civilisation” for having “completely lost its moral compass” when his own seems more likely to steer us towards the kind of “civil war” he wishes to avoid.

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