Who is David Cameron to say what the 'real Islam' is?

David Cameron was in Turkey yesterday endorsing Turkish membership of the EU, as blogger Laban Tall says, “doubtless driven by that grass-roots Tory pressure for a few million Turks to come to the UK”.

Personally I’m quite happy for Turkey to have our EU place, if they really want it; or to be a fellow member of a new free trade area along EFTA lines, with restrictions on free movement until some point when its median income reach western European levels.

But until that happens membership of the EU is a non-starter, and everyone knows it.

And as well as being disingenuous about the EU, Cameron is also playing the disingenuous theologian. Rod Liddle points out that he criticises opponents of a Muslim country joining the EU by claiming:

"They see no difference between real Islam and the distorted version of the extremists. They think the values of Islam can never be compatible with the values of other religions, societies or cultures."

Cameron is falling into exactly the same trap as his predecessors, by trying to play the theologian. Tony Blair called the Koran a "progressive" book, while Jacqui Smith called Islamic terrorism "anti-Islamic" activities, while the phrase "religion of peace" has been used so much by well-meaning politicians that it is now used, exclusively, in an ironic sense by cynics.

Who on earth is Cameron to say what is the real Islam? If a fresh-faced politician from the Islamic world told us that the fundamentalist Christians who funded settlements in the West Bank because they believed in some crazy end times were not "real Christians", I’d be flattered that he recognised differences within a large and wide ranging religion, but I’d also think "Who are you to say?"

When politicians start claiming to have theological insight into Islam, it usually signals a ham-fisted, expensive and counter-productive attempt to deal with radical Islam. I pray not in this case. As Douglas Murray said last month, on the Government’s disastrous "Prevent" agenda: "Government can’t do many things very well… but the thing it definitely can’t do very well is theology, in particular a theology it knows very little about, or is only starting to learn about."

The real problem, as no western politician will admit, is that Islam has no experience of secularism. I don’t mean secularism in the secondary sense used by the National Secular Society, which aims to drive religion out of all public life as it was in the Soviet Union – that’s Bolshevism, not secularism – but of a separation of church and state.

From Christ’s declaration to give unto Caesar, to St Augustine’s separation of the City of God and City of Man, to the 11th century Investiture Controversy, Christianity has long had that separation. Islam has no such history, which is why secular democracy has not flourished in the world of Islam.

This is what makes the achievements of Atatürk in setting up a secular state in Turkey so remarkable, and why he was one of the great figures of the 20th century, but his regime still depends on the army.

It is surely in Europe’s interest that Atatürk’s state survives the next few decades, and Turkey acquires western European levels of income; were to this happen, opposition to Turkish membership and free movement would recede. Until then, membership is unlikely. In the meantime Conservative politicians would do well to avoid theology lectures.

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