Friday, 1 February 2008

re: The Trouble With Islam, by Pat Condell

I saw this Pat Condell video (The Trouble  With Islam) some time ago. At the time I ignored it. But the content of it has been niggling away at me. I mean, it purports to be The Truth. But is it? So I found myself writing a rebuttal, looking at each of his points and debating them. He has a lot to say, so it took me a while. But I think I've done OK. Let me know what you think.

Condell starts off with this:-

“... here in the UK religion was always pretty dormant until the Muslims came along and started burning books and passing death sentances and generally demanding special treatment for no good reason...”

Religion, dormant, in the UK? Is Condell referring to before, or after the English Reformation? I don’t know about you, but from where I’m sitting, splitting away from the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church is not a ‘dormant’ activity. Neither was Dissolution of the Monasteries and confiscation of their property. Anybody else want to discuss Catholic Emancipation?.

But I’m being facetious. Let us fast forward to more recent events.

Let us look no further than the Catholic Vs Protestant grudge match that had been played out for a long time on the shores of the UK. Condell looks old enough to remember things like this, and, my personal favourite, this. When, in 2001, Catholic parents and children couldn’t walk through a Protestant area without the British Army to escort them, would you say that religion was ‘dormant’ in the UK?

These examples demonstrate a fine tradition of religious upheaval in the UK, going back centuries. Why single out the Muslims? They are just the latest in a long line.

“... they’ve shown everybody else what can be achieved by bullying and intimidation so now every crackpot in the country feels entitled to respect for their precious beliefs, beliefs often lifted wholesale from the ramblings of an ancient desert nomad with a psychological disorder...”

What? What, prey tell, have Muslims achieved by bullying and intimidation, exactly? An example or two would have been nice. Interestingly, Condell speaks as if all Muslims have benefited from something, he doesn’t state what, but apparently, this homogenous group we call ‘the Muslims’ are all better off nowadays. It seems Condell believes that Muslims are like the Borg from Star Trek, that is to say, a bunch of bad guys with no individualism at all.

The next part of what Condell says is quite telling. Let us split it into 2 parts. Firstly, his assertion that ‘every crackpot in the country feels entitled to respect for their precious beliefs’. I wonder, has he read Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights? Even if you are a ‘crackpot’, you are legally entitled to respect for your religious beliefs. A right that Condell is freely exercising at will, but which, seemingly, he thinks other people should not have. Secondly, his assertion that these beliefs are ‘lifted wholesale from a desert nomad with a psychological disorder...’ I can only presume that Condell is here referring to Mohammed, the central prophet of Islam. The phrasing of this sentence is intriguing. Is Condell saying that all followers of Islam are crackpots? And what, specifically, is this psychological disorder Condell speaks of? Condell lists himself as a ‘comedian’, does this skill set extend to psychiatric evaluations of long dead religious figures?

“... it does seem quite ironic to me that the very people who have clearly made no attempt to think for themselves are always the most vocal in demanding respect for their ideas.."

I’ve already pointed out that everybody is entitled, under international law, to respect for their ideas. So, not content with being a comic and psychiatrist, I can only assume that Condell is also gifted in the practice of Law, otherwise, how could he possibly dream up a way to legally deny someone their fundamental human rights? I note the head tilt towards the camera at the end of this sentence. Was this the bit that was meant to be funny? Condell, who does not seem a man who lacks ideas, or words to express them, gives no explanation as to why he thinks Muslims don’t think for themselves, clearly, we must figure that out for ourselves.

“... some Muslims go further than this and claim that they are being victimised in British society, but I don’t really believe that’s true.”

Again Condell gives his view, but fails to support it with any hard evidence. One wonders if he has heard of institutional racism? Apparently it exists in our Police force and our schools, the army, fire service, Parliment and judiciary. And thats’ before we take a look at the representation of Muslims in the media. Ethnic minorities in general, not just Muslims, get a raw deal in the UK. Does a Muslim run a FTSE 100 company, for instance? In 2005, 22 of the FTSE 100 companies still had no female board members. That to me seems like institutionalised sexism! Good grief, how hard would it be if you are Muslim and female to get onto a FTSE 100 board?

“I do think a lot of people are getting fed up of hearing about Muslims all the time and the wish that Muslims would just shut up and get on with their lives instead of constantly bellyaching about nothing, but that’s not the same as being victimised”

Here, I couldn’t agree more with Condell about people being fed up about hearing about Muslims all the time. But I’d hazard a guess that chief among those fed up people are, wait for it... the Muslims themselves. Condell again lumps all the Muslims into that Borg-like group. As if they are all bellyaching, all the time, when, patently, there is a silent majority of Muslims. I even see them, occasionally. They are people who work in shops, play in the park with their children, go out for a meal, and all manner of other well-balanced and normal activities. These people do get on with their lives as best they can, and, in all likelihood, would take offence at a white, middle aged man badgering them, one might say for no good reason, from the media temple that is YouTube.

“...we live in a liberal democracy and therefore have certain double standards to maintain...”

What a great statement, apparently, in the UK, we live in a liberal democracy. If you call leading the country to an illegal war, despite mass public protests against it, ‘liberal’, then yes, we live in a liberal democracy. If you call the planned introduction of ID cards ‘liberal’, then yes, we live in a liberal democracy. If you call imprisonment without trial 'liberal', then yes, we live in a liberal democracy. If you believe that allowing UK citizens to be tortured in Guantanamo Bay ‘liberal', then yes, we live in a ‘liberal’ democracy. I'm not so convinced.

What Condell means by ‘double standards’ I don’t know. If he feels that Muslims get special treatment, Condell might do well to recall the incident of BA banning crosses.

“...any criticisms of Islam or Muslims always draws the immediate accusation of Islamophobia, a dishonest word which seeks to portray legitimate comment as some kind of hate crime....”

Interesting that Condell should raise this point, considering that the title of this video bears more than a passing resemblance to the title of a book by Irshad Manji, ‘The Trouble with Islam Today: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change’. Controversially, Manji addresses some of the basic problems with Islam today, a job made easier by the fact that she is a Muslim. Manji tells of the Islamic tradition of independent thinking, or Ijtihad (pronounced “ij-tee-had”). I’d ask Condell to read this book, it might give him a more balanced view of Islam. Put bluntly. Manji knows her shit, and she knows the weak spots of Islam, and the historical reasons (legitimate or not) for them. Not something one could honestly say of Condell.

Once again I find myself agreeing with Condell with regards to his thoughts on the accusations of Islamophobia. Not wholly though. You see, unlike Condell, I don’t think the word ‘Islamophobia’ in itself is dishonest. Islamophobia exists. Some commentators even say Condell is guilty of it. Yes. Some Muslims abuse the term for their own reasons. The same as some women cry ‘sexism’ for their own reasons, and yet other people might cry ‘agism’ for their own gain. Quite frankly, It is tiring that Condell consistently lumps all Muslims into the same group, as if they have no mind of their own, but then, by his own mouth, Condell calls all Muslims crackpots.

“... the truth is that Islam has a chip on it’s shoulder the size of a mosque and it looks to take offence at every opportunity...”

The terminology Condell uses here is interesting. He purports that Islam, as a religion, is inherently designed so as to “take offence at every opportunity”. It never occurs to him that, just perhaps, it might be that some people who are ‘practicing’ the religion, do not understand the true meaning of what they are practicing. That they are applying an interpretation of the Qu’ran that is simply not correct. Either because they are ignorant of the true meaning of the Qur’an, or because they are deliberately using Islam as a guise to meet their own goals. Some people call this ‘Islamism’. Some might use the term ‘ignorant’, others might just see that Islam is being used by a few people to further their own political or personal agenda. Condell, however, actually believes that Islam itself “has a chip on it’s shoulder”. Now. Condell certainly looks old enough to have studied the Qur’an, and the myriad Hadith, and no doubt you would call me crazy if I were to suggest that Condell had come to his conclusions without doing his background research, but that is indeed what I’m suggesting.

“... you never hear a peep out of any of these people when some young girl is murdered for bringing dishonuor upon her insane family. Suddenly, everyone is looking at the floor then...”

Really? What about this? Or this? In 2003, Adab Saoud, a Muslim woman sitting in the Jordan Parliment said this:-

“Obviously these killings are wrong and against our religion. But the notion of honour is a very important one in our society. And we need to accept that.”

A Muslim woman. Sitting on a Muslim Parliment. In a Muslim country. Denoucing honour killings as “against our religion”. It doesn’t get any clearer than that really, does it? Condell refers to an “insane family”, I sincerely hope he means this just in relation to their murderous intent, but I fear that he is actually talking about their practice of Islam.

“They keep telling us that Islam is a religion of peace, but all the evidence points to a religion of war. It’s holy book urges Muslims to conquer the world and subjugate everyone to the rule of God. If Islam had it’s way, elections would become a thing of the past and the rest of us would be living in the past, for the forseeable future”

Again, I’m sure Condell has studied the Qur’an and Hadith to such an extent that he is a reliable source of information on this. But he gives no examples as to how he draws these conclusions. Personally, I’d bypass reading the Qur’an on this issue, and just take a look at Turkey. Today. How Condell can ignore a secular Muslim state on the world stage is beyond comprehension. I’ve heard they have a great McDonalds in Istanbul. And let us not forget that Turkey has proved a strategic military ally by allowing the US to build air bases from which they can pound Iraq and Afghanistan from the air. Turkey does hold free and fair elections. Currently, Turkey bans the wearing of headscarves in schools, and this is still a hot issue. Turkey is something like 99% Muslim. I don’t get the impression that as a country it is trying to conquer the world and subjugate everyone to the rule of God. Do you?

“... some people are very keen to bring this situation about. Especially the loud-mouthed rabble rousing clerics who we always hear praising the suicide bombers as glorious martyrs...”

Ahh yes. Those one-eyed-hook-for-a-hand clerics, eh? Permit me an indulgence, dear reader. No. Permit me two, if you will. Firstly, orthodox Islam does not recognise any form of formal preisthood. There is no formal religious hierarchy in Islam. If we accept this to be true (and, dear reader, it is), it doesn’t matter what a cleric says about suicide bombers, the modern Muslim is left to their own devices when it comes to interpreting the actions of others in relation to Islam. Secondly. If you will allow it. I would submit that not all Muslim clerics are ‘loud-mouthed’ or indeed ‘rabble rousing’. Some of them want to just lead prayers and serve the community even. But, you see, we don’t get to see those ones on TV very often, but we are ‘always’ seeing those crazy clerics with wide-eyes, because, well, they, they make better news, don’t they?

Going on to question why these clerics don’t blow themselves up for martyrdom, Condell says

“... despite the guarantee of all those luscious virgins waiting for them in heaven, these guys are so selfless that they can always find somebody more deserving...”

Again, Condell, unwittingly I’m sure, picks up on several sore points for many Muslims. Firstly. Suicide is forbidden in Islam. It is like an affront to God. Then, the issue of virgins in the afterlife. There is a school of thought that supposes that ‘virgins’ is not the correct interpretation of what is available to Muslims in heaven, but that actually, they can look forward to a bountiful supply of raisins. Also, why blow yourself up anyway? The reward (be it virgins or raisins) to Muslims is apparently available regardless of how you pop your clogs. Why even tempt the wrath of God by committing suicide?

“... the whole 72 virgins scenario has become comedy staple, and with good reason...”

Again, must I bow to Condells’ superior knowledge of Islam, but the classic Arabic meaning of the passage in the Qu'ran that Condell refers to

"Companions pure, most beautiful of eye."
The spectrum of translations of this passage range from "virgins" all the way to a typical winged angel as you might expect to find in the Christian tradition. Condell skirts over this though.
“... the virgins are likely to be good wholesome Islamic virgins because there won’t be any infidel rif-raf in heaven...”

Condell, I'm sure, is well versed in the Qur’an. But maybe he missed the bit about Allah judging all the different people on the Day of Judgement (22:17). In fact, Islam recognises Jesus as a prophet of God. This surely means that Jews, Christians and Muslims are all following the same God? Just through different practices. If so, would this God cast all his children out, apart from the Muslims? Funny that Condell uses the word ‘infidel’. It is in fact an English word, with no basis in Islam, although it provides as a rough translation for the Arabic word ‘Kafir’.

“...[about the virgins in heaven] presumably they will have brothers and cousins and uncles who are all determined to defend their honour by killing anyone who makes eye contact with them...”

I’ve already looked at how the concept of ‘honour killing’ (lets face it, murder has no honour) is not a belief of Islam, but something which society has dreamed up. Therefore Condell has no basis for this statement. Also, the issue of wether it’s ‘virgins’ or ‘raisins’ on offer in the afterlife could have an impact. I’ll reserve my judgement on this issue until after I know the outcome of that particular debate.

“They haven’t really thought this whole thing through it seems to me. For this they blow themselves up? Wouldn’t it be easier to get an inflatable woman and blow her up, and then if one of your friends happens to glance at her with lustful eyes, why you can simply stone her to death and get another one in the usual way...”

Is this really the pinnacle of Condells’ comedy? Note that he doesn’t mention how the concept of stoning is not peculiar to Islam, it is referred to in both Christian and Jewish religious texts. But that doesn’t make it right. Regardless, the Qur’an is very clear:-

‘The adulterer shall not marry save an adulteress or an idolatress, and the adulteress none shall marry save an adulterer or an idolater. All that is forbidden unto believers.” (24:3)

Why would an adulterer or adulteress be able to marry anybody if they were to be stoned to death? I also would draw Condells’ attention to Turkey. You remember, don’t you, that democratic state that is 99% Muslim? If Islam can exist in a secular country, where religious rulings and the law can be kept seperate, what exactly is Condells’ issue here?

Next, Condell moves on to Muslim women covering themselves in Britain:-

“... I think Muslim women in Britain who cover their faces are mentally ill...”

A bold statement indeed. At least though, he seems to recognise that not all Muslim women cover their faces. Some scant recognition that there is a choice available here. Some Muslim women are happy with a head scarf. Others are happy to wear the fashion of the day. My only problem with Condells’ view on this issue is that it is my belief that men and women, of any race or religion, should be entitled to wear what they want. As long as they don’t potter about the streets naked, it’s fine by me. It follows, therefore, that if she so chooses, a Muslim women should be able to cover herself from head to toe without fear of being called ‘mentally ill’. What about Burqinis? I’d not be phased if I saw a Muslim lady wearing a Burqini at my local swimming pool. They are modest, but note that they don’t cover the face, and appear to be selling like the proverbial hot-cakes. One could say that wearing a shell suit, or maybe MC Hammer pants, or even a mullet might indicate a slight personality imbalance, but then, as with the niqab (face veil), I would defend the right of someone to wear those styles if they so wanted to, even if they are not quite to my liking.

“...I realise that in some parts of the world women don’t actually have any choice in this matter, governed as they are by primitive pigs whose only achievement in life is to be born with a penis in one hand and a Qur’an in the other...”

A scathing attack indeed. I wonder if Condell is attempting a double insult by calling the Muslim men of which he speaks ‘pigs’. Can we credit him with knowing that pigs are forbidden to Muslims? I think so. In fact, the illustrations of pigs on Condells' personal home page serve to ram his point home. No need to get personal Condell! But the rebuttal of this argument is simple. 

There are two schools of thought within Islam on covering of the face. The first is that it is ‘compulsory’ to do so. The second that it is ‘recommended’ to do so, as the wives of Mohammed covered their faces around men they did not know. As I’ve already said, there is no formal priesthood within Islam, so this leaves Muslim woman to - and get this - make up their own mind on the matter. Freedom of choice. No Muslim man has the right to require any Muslim woman to wear or do anything she does not want to. Condell, on the other hand, obviously feels that he should be able to write the rule book on which types of clothing women should wear.

As for Condells’ comments about “penis in one hand and Qur’an in the other”. Well, he was doing OK up until that point. Fairly reasoned debate, even. But really, there was no need for that.

“...if God had intended you to cover your face then, in his wisdom, he would have provided you with a flap of skin for the purpose. Of course, if it gave you any sexual pleasure it would have to be removed...”

Oh dear. Now Condell has simply degenerated into uneducated slurring. In fact. Islam is one of the least sexually repressed religions. Certainly, if Condell consults the hadith, he might find this:-

“In three matters, the weakness of a male is disclosed. Firstly if a lover meets his beloved, and then they separate without enquiring into their mutual condition and health; secondly, rejecting the honour which someone wishes to pay him; thirdly to engage in sexual intercourse with the wife or the female who is legally permitted, without talking to her or kissing her or by being unable to restrain the ejaculation of semen before that of his wife." (Related by Daylami)

Hold on there. Is it really the duty of a Muslim man to sweet talk his wife into bed and ensure she has an orgasm before him??? Cripes. I bet a lot of Muslim men need to buck up their ideas.

“...I think years from now a lot of intelligent Muslims will be looking back on all this medievalism and jihad nonsense with embarrassment and shame...”

Well, at least Condell recognises that there can be intelligent Muslims. Maybe not right now. But sometime in the future. Interesting choice of words again from Condell. I wonder if he is aware of the debate around the meaning of the word ‘jihad’. There are two possible meanings, one is that jihad is a physical military struggle, the other that jihad is an internal struggle with oneself, a struggle against vice and ignorance, for instance. Once again, Muslims are split on this issue, and so, without guidance from a formal priesthood, each Muslim must decide for themselves the type of jihad they want to promote.

So, that basically tackles the major gripes against Islam that Condell elucidates in his video.

But what about my gripe with him?

You see, I find Condell very offensive. Not for what he says mind. I’m not against freedom of speech. I’m mildly offended that he is blatently ignorant of the internal politics of Islam, blurting out, what I would label, the typical bigots’ view of Islam, and yet purporting to be a free thinker with a firm handle on the way things are.

But do you want to know what really gets my goat? What really winds me up about Condell? He says he is a comedian. And yet, I found nothing of what he said even mildly amusing.  Where are the punch lines? Good grief, Islam provides such a wealth of material to poke fun at, and the guy didn’t raise even a smirk from me. Am I the only on who finds him deeply unfunny?

I'm not the only one that thinks the comedy of Condell leaves something to be desired.  His YouTube videos seem to be an extension of his 'Faith, Hope & Sanity' stand up show, but there was at least one reviewer who didn't think much of the act in 2006-

"... when you joke about religion, you’re judged against the very best there is. And, disappointingly, Condell is not quite up to the job."

Well, the material hasn't aged well, thats for sure.  The reviewer goes on:-

"There’s no structure, no building up to a passionate, climactic conclusion, no ebb and flow of storytelling."

Phew.  At least this guy knows how I feel!

Then there is Ian Shuttleworth, a Theatre critic for the Financial Times, who had this to say of 'Barry Sorts It Out', a play by Condell:-

"...a sordid East End comedy written by stand-up Pat Condell. It repeats ad nauseam the same gag, in which Barry's narrative recounts his calm, reasonable thoughts followed with a "so I..." by his crassly Neanderthal actions. Andy Linden looks as if at any moment he is going to ask the audience menacingly who they are looking at, but this is a play with all the bite of a set of joke-shop fangs".

Ouch.  Speaks for itself really.

But I think I know what the problem is.  Condell is, in fact, only one half of a double act.  He is a straight man, without the aid of a funny sidekick. like Bob Mortimer without Vic Reeves.  Tommy Cannon without Bobby Ball.  For the non-UK readers, he is like Tommy Lee Jones without Will Smith. That is to say. Just. Not. Funny.

Is there meant to be some irony in that he has called his video 'The Trouble With Islam', but it is in fact nothing but an ill-researched rant, based largely upon common misconceptions about Islam?  Is that the joke I'm not getting?

If you are going to be telling jokes about Islam, why not take a leaf out of Omid Djalilis’ book? Eh? Something like this perhaps. Or this. If you want a general ethnic minirity view, Chis Rock does a nice line, following in the fine tradition of Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor. Or what about Russell Peters who manages to get laughs all the way across the ethnic spectrum? Who would have thought that Muslims in America can have a laugh about Islam? Even random Muslim kids on the Internet and relative unknowns do a better job of poking fun at Islam than this guy. How does that work, exactly?

I’ll tell you how it works.

They, unlike Condell, know what they are talking about.


DrMaxtor said...

One thing I would add is that Manji has never been a Muslim. She's an atheist from an Ismaili background until 911, then she became a neocon spokespuppet on all things Muslim, for a good price ofcourse.

agl said...

You say:
"I wonder, has he read Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights? [...] you are legally entitled to respect for your religious beliefs."

Wrong. Nowhere in either the preamble or Article 18 does it say you are entitled to respect for your beliefs. Every mention of respect refers to respect for human rights.

I am emphatically not required to respect any belief you may have in an imaginary friend. I am however expected to respect your right to harbour such illusions.


whypatcondellisntfunny said...

agl, that is a good point.

I wonder, do you think that calling women who wear face coverings "pepper pots" with a mental disorder who are demonstrating a "willful refusal to assimilate" is respecting their rights under Article 18?

If we are saying that people have the right to do these things - and be aware, it is Article 18 that also give Atheists the same rights as Theists! - should we not be defending those rights (respecting them).

Do you have anything else to say about the myriad other points I made against Condell?

Anonymous said...

you think it's ok if muslim women walk around a city with they faces covered up? a place where towsands of citisens go in public covering they identity behind the mask should be a paradise. especially for bank robbers.

whypatcondellisntfunny said...

So we should tell all women what to wear just on the off-chance that a bank robber might cover their face? Are you for real?

Perhaps we should also all wear steel toe capped boots in case we drop something on our poor ikkle tootsies when in public?

Anonymous said...

The bottom line is this:

Do you want to live in a society governed by Sharia Law, or not?

There is no middle ground. Even today, 40% of muslims want Sharia Law in the UK. If current demographic/immigration trends are allowed to continue, Sharia Law in the UK is inevitable. In fact, it is already openly operating in some areas.

That cannot, and will not be tolerated. It will be stomped into the ground because Sharia is a mockery of everything the West stands for.

naturist said...

not funny, that depends on your sence of humour I guess...

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Joe of Idaho said...

Pat Condell's message appears to me to be a bit like "We live in the middle of a very dry forest and I smell smoke" type of message. Why don't we consider pondering the intent of the message instead of dissecting the medium? Best of luck.

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Anonymous said...

Fair points all of them, but its largely pointless making a rational argument against Pat Condell. The man is a failed playwright who seeing that his attempts at real comedy failed decided to go down the shock route. He's very similar to Roy Chubby Brown, a comedian who opened a show with 'you know what gets my bastard! Fucking asylum seekers!' people don't laugh at this stuff, they sit and agree with it, it is only called comedy for the sake of safety, if it were called political commentary then you'd be locked up for it. Also, Pat Condell clearly gets off over the sound of his own voice, better just take the piss out of him to be honest, you'll never educate an ignorant rabble rousing fool like him.

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Garsha said...

agl, if you @and others have a right to mock and disrespect our beliefs, then we have a right to call you and Pat on such bigotry.

How about you actually try to understand religion and recognize the reality of what turns people towards God? These billions of people are not illusionaries. They thought for themselves and determined that atheism is not true. How about you try it out?

And I am indeed grateful for this blog. Well written.

Garsha said...

And Western ideology is wrong and is responsible for murdering millions of lives. See where I went there?

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