Ian McEwan has just come out against Islamism*, as he calls it. I’m not sure what distinguishes Islamism from Islam, other than the generally derogatory aura created by the suffix ‘ism’, but that’s by-the-by. He’s quoted as saying: “I myself despise Islamism, because it wants to create a society that I detest, based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality and so on – we know it well.” Absolutely, Ian, and I couldn’t agree more.
I read about these comments in today’s Independent on Sunday, which also contains a list of the 101 most influential gay people in Britain. Thirty years ago, it would have been hard to find ten, and they’d have been artists or in show business (I’m thinking Danny La Rue). The list certainly wouldn’t have included business executives, rabbis, EU commissioners, rugby union referees or senior policemen. Coincidentally, the IoS reports that, in Saudi Arabia, 21 young men have just been arrested for the sin of homosexuality. They were rounded up in Qatif last Friday by the religious police, not a force that would have welcomed Brian Paddick with open arms, one imagines, who operate under the aegis of something called the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a typically grandiose name for the usual befrocked gang of bigoted thugs that tend to run these things. The young men arrested can expect to be flogged or worse. Maybe they should seek asylum in an allied state.
What I can’t understand is why the IoS should consider McEwan’s views to be an ‘astonishingly strong attack’. In a country which still pays lip service to ideas of sexual equality, freedom of speech, recognition of gay rights, rational argument rather than revealed truth, etc. they seem to me to be astonishingly mild. If this is ‘hate speech’, it would be interesting to know in what way the crime distinguishes itself from the surely licit act of uttering a list of simple truths expressed in objective terms. Would any Muslim argue that Islam isn’t based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality, but on the opposite of these things – moral relativism, empirical observation, equality for all regardless of sex and sexual orientation? Wouldn’t that be seen as apostasy?
Maybe it’s just because McEwan prefaced the list with the verb ‘detest’. So ‘hate crime’ is nothing more than a statement of fact preceded by the word ‘I’ and a synonym of ‘hate’? In that case, we’re all in the shit. What about if I announce that I’m not that keen on people from the land of Nokia. Would the Finnish ambassador have a case against me?
Ian McEwan may be a public figure, but he hasn’t been elected, doesn’t depend on public money and represents no one but himself. He certainly wouldn’t defend himself by claiming to represent the word of God – unlike, say, homophobic MP Iris Robinson, who seems to have forgotten that ten percent of her constituents may not appreciate being called loathsome. Oh sorry, Iris. Love the sinner, hate the sin. Tell that to Robinson’s cronies in Saudi.
*The quotes come from an interview given to the Italian Corriere della Sera, so this may be a trans-language hiccup.