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Silent Prosperity

The latest Critical Muslim is entitled Reclaiming Al Andalus. An Islamic society existed in what is now Spain and Portugal from 711 to 1492. It was by all accounts far ahead of many Muslim states of the time in terms of education, water supply and treatment of women. In a subsequent talk at the City Circle Ziauddin Sardar pointed out that to reclaim Al Andalus we must first understand it.

I think we also have to see it against the back drop of the present. To paraphrase the well known dictum; necessity is the mother of rediscovery, especially cultural rediscovery. What struck me was the fact that the Andalus  blossoming occurred against a political background that at no time even approached democracy. The same is true of the Italian Renaissance. I am a died in the wool democrat but it is dawning on me that for a whole range of intellectual activities democracy is a necessary but not sufficient condition or more simply you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

In the past weeks I, like so many others , have been brooding over the Woolwich murder and the role, not of Islamic Fundamentalists, but of my own community; white, intelligent and probably Christian if anything at all. Through good luck, good management and measure of ruthless colonial exploitation the UK has political, economic and cultural stability. We can afford free speech but we do not have free thought. We also have a  collective mental block when it comes to anything challenging and painful such as the Congo, Syria and trying to make sense of the tangle that is Islam today.

I think some of the self deception is conscious; nobody with a gram of brains could believe we fulfil our obligation to be responsible by giving on Red Nose Day or relying on letting Jeremy Paxman tell us what is happening out there. Most of it, though, is an accident. Many moral and intelligent people think they are free to concentrate on the family, the house and the garden because the Judges, the politicians and  the 'experts' will sort it out. It is a not an unreasonable assumption. There is also the feeling that comes from living in a very democratic country - that if a couple of million people aren't concerned about something, it's not worth bothering about: so National Trust OK; Friends of Iran not OK. The Chinese cultural revolution started with a Gang of Four, Jesus had twelve and I believe Mohammed made good progress with less than a hundred  companions. A cause may  fail but it will not be because of small numbers.

The empirical evidence for the failure of our current approach  lay bleeding in the street in Woolwich. The message of hate will grow loud in an environment of cultural silence. I have to hold my hold my hand up to this.

In the play Murder in the Cathedral Thomas Becket is assailed by three tempters, each more subtle than the last. The most subtle temptation in this case is to be a camp follower of a leading light in the cause of reason within religion. I am a great admirer of Ziauddin Sardar but he cannot speak for me; not because he is a Muslim and I am not but because he was not born in County Durham or into the white working class, he has never worked in Nigeria and, so far as I know, has never played the violin in his life. We are each unique and each has something to contribute. The companions of  Mohammed and those of Jesus included fishermen, slaves, tax collectors, the vocally gifted and women.

In his novel War and Peace Leo Tolstoy describes the Battle of Borodino, between Napoleon and Kutusov, and suggests that the Field Marshals had little to do with the outcome. He describes the long line of soldiers facing each other and how each cluster of Russian infantry knew that if they successfully held the group of French in the line immediately opposite, the battle would be won.

The good news is that because of readily available literature and the internet  we can each have superimposed rings of companionship from all places and all times to help and support us in whatever we are called upon to undertake, a kind of intellectual Olympic logo. 

We can have running water, freedom and a rich and varied culture. We can in time produce a new Jerusalem or even a new Cordoba. It will not be easy but we can take comfort from the Chinese proverb “The journey is the reward”. Somewhere along the road murderous ideology will falter and perish.

Ken Mafham is a Muslim Insitute Fellow and a Town Planning Consultant with 40 years experience. His work has taken him to Mauritius, Bauch State Nigeria , Merseyside and the East Midlands. He has also taught lessons to 30-40 individuals a week for the last fifteen years, from Year 1 to A level. This leaves little time for hobbies but he does like to play the violin and sing. Not both at the same time though.