Islam, Conservative leaders, and Pastor James McConnell

Pastor James McConnell's "Satanic Islam" rhetoric may not be everyone's cup of tea. But should he be facing prison for it? Conservative leaders' ridiculous rhetoric that Islam State isn't Islamic is surely more damaging to the future of the West

Pastor James McConnell in full flight
George Igler
On 2 July 2015 06:30

At 78 years of age, Pastor James McConnell is being treated for both cancer and diabetes. He faces six months in a Belfast prison for a sermon delivered to his church in May last year.

As the fate of indigenous Christians across Syria and Iraq played on the minds of his flock the Evangelical minister took to his lectern in Northern Ireland to address the exterminations being carried out by the soon to be declared Islamic State.

“Today we see powerful evidence,” he began, “that more and more Muslims are putting the Quran’s hatred of Jews and Christians alike into practice.” As always, McConnell’s remarks at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle were also streamed online.

He then delivered the sort of rhetoric, for which Ulster churchmen are renowned. “Islam is heathen,” he declared. “Islam is Satanic. Islam is a doctrine spawned in Hell.”

Within a month, McConnell was being questioned under the provisions of the Communications Act (2003) for causing a video deemed “grossly offensive” to be put on the internet.

Having publicly apologized, the Pastor refused to accept a police warning. As a result on August 6th, he will be put on trial. No jury of Ulstermen would ever convict “Jim” McConnell. But justice has changed a lot recently in the United Kingdom.

While Muslims carry out a religiously-motivated war across the globe, removing the right to speak candidly about its causes is a trifling matter to courts in Britain today. One summarily decided by a Magistrate.

The local prosecutor has enlisted eight separate witnesses to make sure no one else dares follow McConnell’s example, which lead the Pastor’s lawyer to issue a public call for expert witnesses to rally in his defence.

When speaking to Joe Rice last week, I was not surprised to learn no one else had answered his plea, despite the case against his client meaning that the unique religious diversity of the most traditionally Christian province of the UK now hangs in the balance.

Of the intelligent analysis McConnell’s prosecution has occasioned, chiefly at the Gatestone Institute, the understandable focus has been on how laws introduced to tackle militant Islam in Britain are being used against the religion’s critics.

The Pastor does not share such outrage. He is mortified at the thought of Muslims being legally prevented from preaching the violent condemnation of non-Muslims that is an integral part of the Quran. Not that they ever are.

If Muslims are allowed to come to his land, and practice their faith, McConnell does not understand why he must be prosecuted for doing likewise with his faith.

Unlike our country’s politicians, James McConnell is not blind to the truism that all faiths are, by definition, forms of blasphemy to each other. Which is what makes the case against him so alarming; the sort of landmark that independent judiciaries are supposed to guard against.

A man who has made the study of religion his whole life is being hauled into court at the exact time his nation’s leaders are declaring themselves experts on matters of theology.

Following the slaughter in Tunisia carried out last week by one of its followers, the Conservative Mayor of London took pains to declare that the Islamic State was not Islamic.

You would think it was called that by accident rather than because of the sincerity with which its sympathizers stick to the mode of warfare and governance established by the prophet of Islam, as recorded in texts revered as authoritative by Muslims worldwide.

Ten years ago Boris Johnson was decidedly less coy. Rubbishing the concept of Islamophobia straight after 7/7, he argued that no honest reader of the Quran could come away without concluding that bone-chilling fear was precisely what the text was intended to provoke.

The Prime Minister has not shared Boris’s taste for inconsistency; after 30 British citizens were murdered on holiday, he doubled down.

After saying how shocked and appalled he was by the massacre in Sousse, David Cameron was characteristically robust. Evidently more troubled by the blushes of followers of Islam than the fate of countrymen whose bodies were not even cold, he took action immediately, by chiding the BBC over its use of the term “Islamic State.”

Clearly the Prime Minister believes that offence and accuracy are mutually exclusive. They are irksomely common bedfellows.

Though appalling, Friday’s mass murder should have shocked no one. And if Britain were not so occupied with governing what citizens may say, its Foreign Office might have bothered to keep tourists informed of how more people from Tunisia had travelled to the Islamic State than from anywhere else in the world.

Of how 9,000 would-be jihadists were kicking their heels in the country after being blocked from joining them. Of how Israel warned its people in May to avoid the holiday destination like the plague.

What should concern us about the threat posed by the “so-called” Islamic State is not simply that what chiefly governs whether something can be accurately described as Islamic is how it reflects the conduct of the religion’s founder, but also the divine commandments revealed to Muhammad by the voices in his head. These are what primarily give the word meaning.

Utopian doctrines of dominance, in whose cause some deem inhuman acts of barbarism excusable, can only ever be countered effectively in three ways. They may be combated militarily. They can be attacked ideologically. Or you can do both.

The one year anniversary of the Islamic State follows the expenditure of enormous amounts of blood and treasure this century by the West. This amply shows how the first option alone has been a comprehensive failure in stemming the tide of fundamentalist Islam.

Prosecutions like those against Pastor James McConnell, while the Prime Minister again warns the UK to expect domestic bloodshed in a conflict that will last a generation, show how laws passed to keep Britons safe are doing something quite different.

They are robbing us of the only credible means of defence we have left.

George Igler is a political analyst in the City of London and the Director of the Discourse Institute

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