Dispatches: Undercover Mosque

The recent Dispatches, Undercover Mosque (see Youtube or Google Video), has stirred up a lot of debate. Channel 4’s reporter went into what was considered a moderate mosque and discovered it not so moderate after all. I know you can do a lot with selective editing, but it’s hard to see how context would make some of the statements in the programme sound any better. Indeed, the video response from Abu Usamah where he explains what he actually meant doesn’t really help his case.

Channel 4 has given both evangelical Christians and atheists a hard time in the not too distant past, so it doesn’t seem likely they’ve singled Muslims out for special treatment. What’s more interesting was whether these preachers are representative of “moderate” Islam. The forum of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (whoever they may be) has some interesting discussion on the topic, with many Muslims chiming in.

20 thoughts on “Dispatches: Undercover Mosque

    1. There’s plenty of demonstrably peaceful Muslims you can look at if you want to see how people behave now rather than in the 7th century (not a time noted for its large numbers of peaceful societies!)

      1. Yes. I suppose I should have been clearer.

        There are peaceful people of almost every belief, I don’t think Muslims should be any different. OTOH what you believe will influence your beliefs, and those beliefs will be influenced by the beliefs of others around you, any holy texts you have, and the history of those who followed such beliefs.

        From what I’ve read of the Quran I think there is a lot in there that would lead people to be non-peaceful, but you can argue until the cows come home as to what a religious text says. You can shortcut most of this with Islam by looking at the actions of the founder, Muhammad who is effectively venerated by Muslims.

        1. I’m not suggesting looking at the religious text, I’m suggesting looking at the people involved and their actions today. If you insist on using the beliefs and actions of someone from the 7th century to understand modern people then you will end up with stupid conclusions.

          1. OK, lets look at how many Muslims countries deal with apostates or women. These beliefs of modern day Muslims are derived to some degree from tradition (Muslims before them) and their religious text.

            If you reread what I said I think you will find that I didn’t ‘insist on using the beliefs and actions of someone from the 7th century to understand modern people then you will end up with stupid conclusions’ at all. I just showed that modern day beliefs are influenced by these things from the past.

            If religions were there was no special importance placed on the things of the past (tradition / holy texts) then this would not be a problem, but at least with Islam it is.

            1. Subject: I just showed that modern day beliefs are influenced by these things from the past
              You’ve shown no such thing. You’ve claimed it. Quite different.

    2. In terms of maturity of religion, Islam is a lot more peaceful than Christianity.

      By which I mean that Islam is around 1400 years old. At the same point in Christianity’s life, the Christians were busy fighting the Battle of Agincourt, then the wars of the Roses, conquering Spain and Portugal from the Moors, and about to start the Spanish Inquisition.

      1. Perhaps Islam is more peaceful than Christianity. I’m not sure why such a reply is so common though. Perhaps you were just adding information you thought was generally interesting, but I often find people make this claim as if that has anything to do with Islam not being a peaceful religion in of itself.

        1. Firstly, I have never heard anyone make such a comparison. But I do find it rather odd that most people try to impose the so-called “Christian” values of peacefulness onto Islam, without thinking of the history of christianity.

          Throughout most of history, Islamic societies have been extremely tolerant of minorities. Witness, for example, the jewish (and christian) communities that happily lived in islamic countries (e.g. Syria, Egypt, Morocco) for centuries, being allowed to govern their own affairs, and with their well-being protected by the state.

          1. I’ve heard people make such a comparison many times. Usually when I say I don’t really care what Christianity is like because that has nothing to do with what I said. They tell me they said that because they assume I am a Christian and I am trying to say Christianity is better.

            It is always tricky to unpick a religion from the society it is in and make useful statements about it. As you say there have been Islamic countries where they have been peaceful towards other faith communities. Doubtless this is true of most religions.

            You can be a peaceful or a non peaceful Muslim of course, but if you decide to follow the example of Muhammad then you might think that massacring people who choose not to follow your god is a good thing to do.

  1. You know what that article reminds me of? There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed and Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. People who get discussed like that, in nice “liberal” broadsheet newspapers and on nice highbrow, “minority-friendly” TV channels, are and always will be my people.

    I mean, really. They found some Muslims using the word keffir in a derogatory way. Shock horror! Our delicate feelings are so dreadfully hurt, let’s give up on all possible attempts at dialogue and multiculturalism and send all the filthy rag-heads back where they came from. Hey, it’s not like any non-Muslims ever use derogatory terms for Muslims. It’s not like any non-Muslims ever have any criticisms of democracy as a method of government, or any criticisms of the current state of society. It’s not like any non-Muslims ever advocate such a horrific thing as corporal punishment, or ever treat women any differently from men.

    I don’t think the fact that C4 also makes critical documentaries about other groups mitigates this very much. It’s xenophobic bullshit.

    I also really don’t care if Mohammed (PBUH) did some unpleasant things, of if one can cherry-pick quotes from the Qu’ran which advocate violence, or indeed if some Muslim official once wrote a letter to someone who might once have entertained some positive thoughts about Neo-Nazism. That changes nothing about the fact that Muslims have the same rights as any other British citizens and any other human beings. That includes the right to criticize the current political and social reality, and to practise their own religion with or without the approval of airy-fairy progressive sorts.

    1. How would you suggest a religion is looked at to see if the religion does have negative effects / treats women badly / etc?

      I think the points you made are fair but religions seem to have such a hazy cloud around them their adherents argue it is unfair to criticise them in any way. If they had done a program about the Qu’ran doubtless people would say their interpretation was bad, which of course would happen whatever they said.

      I haven’t seen the documentary yet (I’m about to watch it) but if it makes an argument that all Muslims are in some way dangerous and bad then clearly that is fallacious. If it argues that some Muslims are, and perhaps are so because a reasonable way of reading their holy book leads them to such beliefs then I think we ought to know.

    2. Channel 4 certainly aren’t suggesting Esther-style ethnic cleansing, although the programme would be grist to the mill of anyone who would.

      The documentary’s point seems to be that these are the places that are supposed to be moderate, and yet our expectations of what moderate might mean were confounded by the stuff people were coming out with. I don’t think the documentary showed enough evidence that these were part of a general trend rather than isolated incidents, but it was worrying, nonetheless.

      I agree that there are other religions which use derogatory terms, teach that women are intrinsically inferior to men, believe in funny theories and so on. What with previous Dispatches and C4’s screening of 2 hours of Dawkins (plus the upcoming stuff on New Age stuff), I think C4 has said so (or at least, documented such beliefs in a “sunlight is the best disinfectant” sort of way). Add to that Rod Liddle’s documentary on why atheists are bad, and I think C4 is covering the current interest in religion and its impact on UK culture.

      The stuff about Mohammed and the Qu’ran wasn’t addressed by the documentary. I agree things are more complicated than that, but what worries me about Islam is that there doesn’t seem to be a liberal wing which isn’t regarded by the vast majority of Muslims as heretical. Stephen Weinberg’s article reviewing Dawkins’s book says pretty much that.

      Of course Muslims have the right to say what they want, but they shouldn’t be surprised if C4 reports it.

  2. What’s the point of all this “Islam is a violent religion” “No it isn’t” “Yes it is” etc etc stuff?

    Religions, per se, can’t commit crimes, although their followers can. I don’t think it makes sense to label a religion as violent or peaceful. Even if you proved that members of a particular religion were more likely to commit a violent crime than non-members, it would have little practical use, because it would be unfair to persecute the non-offending members of the religion.

    1. The reason I’d want to determine if the ideas in Islam lead people towards violence is not to persecute people that followed the religion, but rather to educate people about the religion so hopefully they can avoid it.

      1. I think it’s more to do with the people and the politics than the ideas.

        For example Stephen Weinberg’s article (referenced by pw201 above) says:

        “…in the ninth century, when science barely existed in Europe, the greatest centre of scientific research in the world was the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. Alas, Islam turned against science in the twelfth century. The most influential figure was the philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, who argued … against the very idea of laws of nature, on the ground that any such laws would put God’s hands in chains. … After al-Ghazzali, there was no more science worth mentioning in Islamic countries.”

        So the Koran didn’t change between the 9th and 13th century; only the prevailing opinion about science. It’s not possible for me to say whether the Islam before or after was more genuine.

        In the same way, moderate Muslims may say Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance (and practice accordingly), and extremists may scream different sentiments. I have no way to decide what ‘Islam’ is – all I can say is that I think peace and tolerance are a good thing and that violent behaviour is a bad thing, no matter what the religion of the perpetrator.

        1. So you don’t think there is a correlation between the religious text and the beliefs held by believers, and again a correlation between the beliefs and their actions?

          1. Yes, there is a correlation between the contents of a religious text and the behaviour of believers. However, believers can interpret a text in different ways.

            For example, some Christians use their beliefs to justify violence (the invasion of Iraq, the crusades, burning witches etc). Other Christians point to Jesus’ message of peace and may choose to conscientiously object to participating in a war.

            Some Jewish people see the Torah as a mandate for Israel’s defence policy; others don’t.

            The communist manifesto was intended to liberate the common people but instead resulted in curtailment of freedom for half the world. It was intended to make sure that the poor always had food to eat, but under Mao millions died of starvation in the ‘Great Leap Forward’.

            Similarly, the Koran apparently contains some verses in favour of peace and others in favour of war and can be quoted selectively to support either viewpoint.

            You were talking about determining whether Islam contains ideas that lead people towards violence, with the aim of ‘educating’ people to avoid Islam if so.

            I think that’s a bit of an odd idea.

            Educating people about resolving conflict without resorting to violence is a great idea, and there are a number of international organisation which try to do that.

            However, if someone believes that Allah is the one true God and Mohammed is his prophet, they are hardly likely to change their mind about being Muslim because the Koran contains some verses in favour of war or because some Muslims commit violent crimes. After all, they probably know that already.

            1. So you’re saying you agree there is a correlation but you think the correlation is pretty small?

              I would want people to reject Islam because I would want them to believe things that are true and as far as we can tell there is no good reason to believe Islam is true.

              Knowing that Islam tends lead people to certain behaviours we don’t like towards women and non believers is also helpful because we can see that as well as being a delusion it is a type of potentially dangerous delusion. As such you’d want to put more energy into refuting it.

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