Douglas Murray is an award-winning writer and commentator who is currently Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society
Last week Paul Goodman wrote a response to my criticism of his opposition to gay equality – specifically the issue of gay civil marriage. Paul’s response can be divided into the significant and the personal. Let me deal with the significant ones first.
Paul argues "if gay marriage is recognised, why not multiple sharia marriages?" Why one should lead to the other is not clear to me. If anything could possibly lead to polygamous heterosexual marriage surely it would not be gay marriage but heterosexual marriage? Yet it has not. And that is for a very clear reason. Which is that marriage, in our culture, not to mention law, is between two people. This is an idea I support. Without going into all of the reasons for this, or the virtues of it, I would cite one in particular – which is the importance in our culture of the principle of equality in marriage. By that I mean the extent to which the parties are complementary of each other.
Now I should have thought that it was obvious that a multiple, polygamous marriage cannot have that mutuality, let alone equality. We learn much of what we need to know about sharia marriages from the fact that it is only a man that can have multiple wives. No woman can have multiple husbands. Even if we knew nothing else about sharia marriages, this should be suggestive of an inherent lack of equality in sharia marriages as in so much else to do with sharia. Gay marriage is about equality between gay women or men who publicly declare their commitment to each other and heterosexual members of society. Polygamous marriage is about embedded inequality. Though some people may wish to have such a religious arrangement, it could not desirably – let alone inevitably – attain legal sanction.
But the other important thing lacking from Paul’s argument for multiple sharia marriage as a natural segue from gay marriage is an understanding of the crucial difference between a secular demand and a religious one. Whether Paul likes it or not, the majority of people in this country no longer believe that laws should be made by divinely-claimed mandate. Rather, they should be based on an appeal to reason.
Sharia marriage is a religious demand and has only a religious propulsion. Gay marriage is a secular demand with only a secular propulsion. Those of us who believe that gay people should have the same right to marry as straight people (in civil ceremonies) do so because we believe it is a matter of justice that gay and straight people in our society should enjoy equal rights and equal respect in their lives and relationships.
Sharia marriage, on the other hand, is a religious demand. If the state were to sanction it then it would be doing something based solely in, and propelled solely by, a religious precept. Paul happens to land on the Muslim precept, but it would be as possible to cite a Mormon polygamous sect. In either or any case, the writing of religious law into secular law would create the worst precedent imaginable and may well create the actual free-for-all that Paul is so concerned about.
In any case, the Prime Minister agrees with my views on gay marriage, and not with Paul’s. Obviously that fact is displeasing to him, as is the fact that I accused him of being disingenuous. Which brings me to my promised addendum – the personal aspects of Paul’s piece. It is obvious from his post that he thinks I am unreliable on the subject of Islam. I happen to think the same of him and would cite his article "The Romance of Islam" as evidence. The opening lines of that piece give its flavour: ‘For anyone trying to follow the journey begun by Abraham, conversion to Islam should recommend itself with compulsive force. It’s the most plausible of the three religions that look back to him.’ It seems to me that a Catholic cannot write such lines and remain a Catholic. It is of no interest to me if Paul wishes to change religions again, except that it seems clear that part of Paul’s compulsion in making his arguments is to do with his migration between the monotheisms and in particular his recent veneration of Islam as an attractive final berth.
Which brings me to my views. Paul makes an attack on me based on one speech I gave in the Dutch Parliament many years ago now. The fact that the speech is unpublished (and indeed that the version on the web was de-published at my request some years back) is not mentioned by Paul. Instead he silently points to a web-cached version of that withdrawn speech. The simple fact about it is that the phrases that Goodman complains of are not opinions that I hold. I realised some years ago how poorly expressed the speech in question was, had it removed from the website and forbade further requests to publish it because it does not reflect my opinions. Whilst trying to explain that extra rights should not be awarded to Muslims (such as extra welfare payments and so on) I undoubtedly framed – and phrased – the argument badly. I have written many hundreds of thousands of words on this subject – and spoken many hundreds of thousands more. My opinions have also altered significantly. But Paul does not make reference to any of this.
If Paul is interested in my work he should read – as all experts in government have done – the detailed books and reports I have published over recent years, not least ‘Islamist Terrorism: the British Connections’. This – and other recent work – has been regularly used by the government and indeed proved central to the government’s "Prevent" review. If Paul wishes to deride this then he can do so, but he is doing so against the published evidence and expertise of his political superios. In any case, I would happily compare my work in this area with Paul’s at any time.
To conclude – it is clear from his piece that Paul regards me as some kind of anti-Islamic bigot. In which case I suppose I should state that I regard Paul – in his campaign to prevent equal rights to gays – as an anti-gay bigot. I have never suggested that Muslims should be forbidden the right to marry, nor would think of doing so. I also stand by the claim that Paul was disingenuous in citing – among others – the importance of polling Muslim opinion on gay marriage. He must know what he is doing here, but since he doesn’t say so I will.
A 2007 poll conducted for Policy Exchange revealed that 71% of Muslims in Britain aged 16-24 thought homosexuality should be illegal and 37% said that they would prefer to live under sharia law than British law. Under sharia law homosexuals are regularly – and legally – murdered. And here is the most awful aspect of Paul’s stance.
Paul is falling back on well-known Islamic bigotries to bolster his own. He has opposed each step – including civil partnerships – that would lead to equality for gay people in this country. Whilst lacking the courage of his own religious convictions he falls back on the convictions of the most intransigent religion of the lot – a religion which in every country in which it holds sway wishes not just to deny gay people the right to be considered equal, but to deny them the right to life. I will leave it to readers to decide whether that is decent or not.