Wednesday, January 14
The Czech Republic that I know is populated by people who are moderate, tolerant, good at considering different viewpoints, and generally rejecting of conflict (except, unfortunately, when driving). Unlike in Hungary, Poland or Austria, Czechs have always resisted extreme right wing populist "solutions". They deserve better leaders. Unfortunately, when they do not see good leaders, many Czechs choose to withdraw from the political process. The danger in such situations is that this allows extremists to appear more representative than they actually are, and thereby to gain more power than they should.
This problem is particularly important now as Czechs contemplate the horror of events last week in France. Even prior to this. I had noticed that Czechs close to me start to ponder and discuss the Muslim community here, and what views and ambitions that community typically holds. In my home city of London it would not be hard to find out; Muslims would be some of your neighbors, work colleagues and quite possibly friends. Here they are far less visible.
But they have been forced into the spotlight recently because of the rantings of the ridiculous Tomio Okamura. I don't really want to write much about this man, except to say that he probably appeals to the Czech sense of the absurd. Here is a man who is himself obviously partly foreign, a beneficiary in his life of traditional Czech tolerance, who tells citizens to "exercise" their dogs around mosques. He appears oblivious to his own fundamental hypocrisy.
Inevitably, the media seeks a viewpoint from the other side; the Muslim community. For this reason many of us have become for the first time acquainted with Mr Mohammed Abbas. It might, on reflection, not have been sensible to invite him on to "Hyde Park" last Thursday evening, while events in France were still unfolding, but it made for a compelling programme. At the end I felt that the Czech Muslim community should ask itself if they should allow someone like Mr Abbas to present himself as their leader.
He did not, to be fair, come across as "extremist" (unlike some who have been given media publicity in the UK). He said very clearly that such an attack was not compatible with Islam. However I did not find him to be a good ambassador for the Muslim community in the Czech Republic. Bohumil Klepetko - and many viewers - pointed out to him that the Czech Republic is a secular country (with many atheists), and unlike the UK or France, has no history of colonization, which might imply some responsibility to welcome people from colonized Muslim countries. It was therefore pretty insensitive of him to suggest that Sharia law should be allowed in the Czech Republic. He also claimed that it will soon be allowed in the UK. This claim is totally without foundation. It was also highly insensitive of him to suggest that the recent executions by IS were somehow staged (a typical modern conspiracy theory). On the day when journalists had been murdered in Paris he ignored the fact that several of those publicly executed by IS were also journalists, known and loved by many other prominent international journalists who rushed to write tributes them; and many other Iraqi journalists were also executed, without too much comment from the wider world. His final mistake was to finish the programme by suggesting to Mr Klepetko that he too should convert to Islam. It would suggest to many Czechs that Muslims do not just want to live peacefully in the Czech Republic, but to change it. Mr Abbas said that his father was a diplomat here. Diplomatic skills were not much in evidence in this performance.
There are more questions when we consider Mr Abbas himself as a "representative". Ideally this community, in a secular society should be represented through parliamentary democracy, and it is not even necessary to form a new party. Indeed in the UK we have several Muslim MP's in our parliament. However they do not belong to a Muslim party. They are members of one of all three main political parties. Some are on the right, some are on the left. In the UK each small area votes for its own MP, so of course these MP's represent a sizeable Muslim community - but not just the Muslim community. These MPs are a symbol of genuine integration of Muslims into a democratic society.
It seems to me therefore that Czech Muslims should be represented by those who are willing to participate in the Czech democratic process. Form a party if they so wish, but better to be part of an existing party. Then, if the wish of the Muslim community really is for sharia law to operate, they can put the case for this to the rest of the population to decide on. If the population says no, then Muslims will have to accept this, or choose to go to a country where sharia law is accepted. It is the same for me after all; there are many aspects of the British political system, which I consider superior, but the maximum I can do is to tell people why, and hope enough people consider adopting some of the British approach. If it bothers me so much that I cannot live under this system, then I will have to leave.
Mr Abbas cannot represent Czech Muslims in Parliament because he is not a Czech citizen. But more importantly, his organization is not democratic, as far as I can tell. I believe he founded it himself. I cannot clearly learn whether it has "members" and if so, how many members he has. But I do not say Mr Abbas should not appear in the media. I say that Czech Muslims should organize themselves democratically, and choose as a leader someone more likely to persuade Czechs of the genuine needs of the Muslim community. That is how democracy works.