Muslims and Poppies

Muslims have been part of my world since I first entered it a century ago, spending  the first five years of my life I lived above one of Stornoway’s best known retail outlets, Bùth nan Daione Dubh, on Point Street.  I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say that in English.  They weren’t Pakistanis, because this was before India gained independence and Pakistan emerged out of the trauma of partition.  We called them “The Darkies’” and thought it no more impolite than referring to the chemist as “Kenny Froggan” or the draper as “Peter Squeak”; and it was certainly less offensive than Christopher Columbus calling America’s First Peoples “Indians” (just because he’d got his navigation wrong) and they in turn calling Europeans “palefaces”.

Anyway, when Free Church cailleachs had their annual run of fashion-adrenalin and scurried off to Bùth nan Daoine Dubh to buy hats for the Òrduighean, racism was the last thing on their minds.

After the War (the Second one: I have no clear memory of the first) we experienced a new kind of entrepreneur from the Indian sub-continent.  The first wave wore massive turbans and sported terrifying beards (at a time when sprouting facial hair was as rare as men’s handbags), and we were absolutely in awe of them, sure they carried hidden swords or daggers.  We dubbed them “Arabs”, but they were probably Sikhs; and as harmless as pussy-cats.  One of them, Kerr Singh, fell victim to Scotland’s national drink, and began to make regular appearances in the local Sheriff Court: a routine which, I fear, would have done him no more good than it did the rest of the world’s alcoholics.

The next wave were Pakistanis, who lugged their enormous suit-cases round the villages, crammed with at least as much stock as your average modern fashion-store.   Watching them re-pack and then close these cases became one of the fascinations of childhood; and there’s a brilliant portrayal of one of them, Ali, the Harris pedlar, in Finlay J. Macdonald’s Gaelic drama, “Gruth a’s Uachdar” (“Crowdie and Cream”)

These charming characters did whatever was necessary to ingratiate themselves with potential customers, even to the extent, like Ali, of learning Gaelic.  But sometimes they didn’t quite get it right.  One greeted a smiling housewife with the immortal words (for her), “Hello, fat woman,” which may have been a very flattering compliment in Pakistan, but was definitely not a flattering compliment in Bragar.

Another ventured to peddle his wares at a manse.  He was met at the door by the minister, who protested that he was too poor to buy anything.  The pedlar, who had noted the size of the house, the size of the minister and the size of the Vauxhall Wyvern parked at the door, was not impressed.  “Minister poor!” he snorted.  “Big house, big car, big belly!”  But then, we’d never have heard the story had the minister not told it himself.

But that was then, and this is now, when Pakistanis are no longer represented by impoverished vagrants determined to charm the boots off us.  Their intelligence, hard work and entrepreneurial skills have earned them honourable positions at all levels of British society, and most of them appreciate that they could never have achieved such prosperity or enjoyed such freedoms in their country of origin.

Last week, however, brought an unpleasant reminder that Britain also harbours another kind of Muslim, represented by Muslims Against Crusades: an organisation which glorifies terrorism, and was planning last week to show its contempt for Britain and its war-dead by holding a poppy-burning demonstration near the Albert Hall.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has rightly banned Muslims Against Crusdades, much to the concern of some members of Britain’s liberal establishment, who see the move as a threat to democracy.  We shouldn’t dismiss their concern too lightly.  Free speech and the right to demonstrate are indeed pillars of democracy.

The truth is, Islamic extremism presents us with a cruel dilemma.  To what extent should we accord democratic rights to those who seek to destroy democracy?  For every Ali, peacefully serving the people of Harris, there is a mosque preaching jihad.  It’s a concept deeply ingrained in the Q’ran and sacred to every Muslim theologian, and it’s time we came to terms with what it implies.  Few Mullahs publicly espouse the crude goal of exterminating all infidels.  Instead, they aim at establishing an Islamic state, and if the day ever comes when Britain returns a majority of Muslim MPs that is exactly what these MPs will feel honour-bound to deliver; and once in place, it will be self-perpetuating and impossible to overturn.

When that day comes, every British citizen will be given the opportunity to become a Muslim, with full civil rights.  Christians (and humanists) who decline the offer will be forced to pay a poll-tax and accept a position as second-class citizens.  Any Muslim who converts to another faith will face condign punishment; and anyone who tries to convert a Muslim to another faith will face almost certain death.  Such is the will of Allah.

At the moment there are few pure Islamic states, partly because countries like Iraq and Pakistan still contain powerful non-Muslim minorities, and partly because the generals (who supply the dictators) have little inclination to hand over  power to the clergy.  There is a real risk, however, that what the so-called Arab Spring will produce in countries like Egypt, Libya and Iraq will not be liberal democracies, but radically Islamic states, forcibly imposed by hard-line extremists.

In the meantime, we live with a long-standing diplomatic anomaly.  The UN keeps close tabs on Britain and America.   Why then does it deliberately turn a blind eye to violations of its own Convention of Human Rights by Islamic states?  That Convention declares, categorically, that everyone has a right to change his religion.  Yet in Iran and Saudi Arabia, any Muslim who converts to Christianity faces almost certain death.

Western liberals may genuinely believe that any Christian who is hanged must have been asking for it.  Even so, as we worry ourselves sick over whether or not to ban poppy-burning, we would do well to ask ourselves what democratic rights will remain when power falls into the hands of Muslims Against Crusades.

Never in our history has it been more important to be vigilant.  For how long?  Who can tell?  Islamic extremism may follow the same path as Irish republicanism, passing its hatreds down through the blood-line for hundreds of years.

This article first appeared in the West Highland Free Press on 18 November 2011.