What right have Muslims to claim moral superiority?

Rarely does a news story bring tears to the eyes. But when I read the account last week of the murder of Samaira Nazir in an “honour killing” (surely an oxymoron), I nearly wept. Here was a bright, articulate graduate who had her throat cut, was stabbed 18 times by her brother and cousin because she wanted to marry a Muslim man whom her family had not chosen.

The details were particularly horrific. Her mother stood and watched as she was murdered — how could any mother do that? Her two nieces, aged just 2 and 4, were forced to witness their father stabbing her, close enough to be spattered by her blood — how could any parent do that? She screamed for help and neighbours saw her blood-soaked arm emerge briefly from the front door, but their attempts to intervene were rebuffed.

Of course, grotesque acts of violence happen in all countries. The West is not free from sin. But what sets this type of murder apart is that the perpetrators believe that what they are doing is morally justified. In another (dis)honour killing in 2001, Faqir Mohammed stabbed his daughter 20 times in the head and stomach. He told police: “According to the law it was not right, but according to religion it was right.”

Of course, many Muslims will be horrified by that remark; they see honour killings as positively un-Islamic. But it is peculiarly galling for Westerners constantly to be dubbed “immoral” by Muslims, to be treated as if Muslims occupy the moral high ground while the rest of us swim in a sewer of moral decadence. In fact, many Muslims’ attitudes to the women in their families, even if they fall short of violence, are to most of us deeply immoral.

Ever since slavery was abolished, it has been considered morally abhorrent for one human being to own another. It is just as morally abhorrent for a father, husband or brother to behave as if he owns an adult woman. He has no right to determine whom she marries, what she wears on the street or how she chooses to live her life. He certainly has no right to kill her.

Yes, there are flaws in the Western liberal world, too. But it is not as if we are strikingly more tolerant of activities that Muslims consider decadent. Non-Muslim Britons have roughly the same attitudes to licentiousness as do Muslims. Some 54 per cent of Britons find public displays of drunkenness unacceptable, according to our recent poll, along with 57 per cent of Muslims. And only slightly more Muslims (29 per cent) than the general public (21 per cent) say the same about women wearing low-cut tops and short skirts.

Broadly, with only a few exceptions, ours is a law-abiding society in which we tolerate difference and get on with our lives while trying to behave well towards each other. So why, in that case, are Muslims so negative towards us? We hear a lot about Islamophobia, but to judge from a survey conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, British Muslims are far harsher on the rest of us than we are on them — and they are far more critical of us than are Muslims living in Germany, France or Spain.

Pew gave both Muslims and non-Muslims a list of positive and negative characteristics and asked which applied to each other. Between half and two thirds of British Muslims claimed that Westerners were selfish, arrogant, violent, greedy and immoral. Even Pakistanis living in Pakistan were less likely to say this than British Muslims, and German, French and Spanish Muslims had a markedly less jaundiced view of Westerners.

Meanwhile, British non-Muslims were among the least likely of all Westerners in the countries surveyed to attribute those negative characteristics to Muslims. We were also among the most likely to say that Muslims were devout, honest, generous and tolerant.

It is both remarkable and heartwarming that non-Muslim Britons are prepared to be so open and appreciative to a community that has such a censorious view of us. For if anyone deserves to have a grievance, it is surely non-Muslims whose generosity is not being reciprocated. Forget Islamophobia for a moment: why does no one ever complain about Britannophobia?


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Times Online, UK
July 20, 2006 Opinion
Mary Ann Sieghart
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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday July 20, 2006.
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