The election in May of 1997 of Mohammad Sarwar, a Pakistan-born Muslim, to British Parliament was hailed as a momentous event in British history. Taken as a sign of cross-cultural tolerance, Sarwar’s success was seen by many as an important milestone on the country’s road to becoming a truly multicultural society.
Eager to assert his Muslim identity from early on, Sarwar took the oath of office on the Koran, bucking a centuries’ old tradition of pledging allegiance to the Queen. Ever mindful of the sanctity of that Holy Writ, Sarwar insisted that the book be placed inside a protective envelope so as not to be accidentally "touched by one not of the faith."
Ten years on, Mohammad Sarwar has announced his intention to resign his seat. His decision comes after a two-year long campaign of death threats and abuse that made him fear not only for his own life but also for those of his children and grandchildren.
Many will be surprised to learn that this campaign of intimidation was not carried out by some native racists or extreme British nationalists, but by Sarwar’s fellow Muslims. But we can only fully appreciate the full import of this affair when we learn what has so enraged his co-religionists.
The troubles of Mohammad Sarwar began on the morning of March 14, 2004, when a group of five Muslim men were cruising around Glasgow looking for a white male to kill. Eventually, they zeroed in on Kriss Donald, a slightly-built schoolboy. Suspecting what lay in store, the boy pleaded with his captors as he was being bundled into a waiting car: "Why me? I'm only fifteen."
Having failed to evoke their pity, Kriss was taken on a 200-mile round trip while his tormentors were looking for a house in which to kill him. As he lay bound on the floor of the car, he was subjected to brutal torture, which included castration and repeated stabbing. Unable to find a suitable house, the kidnappers drove to a garbage dump where they doused him with gasoline and then set him on fire. Despite all the torture he had endured, Kriss Donald was still alive and tried to crawl into a muddy hollow to extinguish the flames. When a walker found his body the next morning, he thought it was a mutilated animal carcass.
Within days the police arrested two of the perpetrators; the other three managed to flee to their relatives in Pakistan. It soon became clear that getting them back would be no simple task as there was no extradition treaty between the two countries. It was at this point that Mohammad Sarwar, in whose constituency the murder took place, intervened. He traveled to Pakistan and used his contacts to arrange for the murderers to be sent back to Britain. Once returned, they were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Although most people appreciated Sarwar’s efforts, many of his fellow Muslims saw things otherwise. They unleashed a campaign of abuse that featured death threats by torture not only against him but also against his children and grandchildren. This is how Mohammad Sarwar described this experience in an interview earlier this year:
Life is not the same, to be honest with you, since I brought them [the three murderers] back. I was subjected to threats. I was told they wanted to punish my family and make a horrible example of my son - they would do to him what they did to Kriss Donald. I received threats to my life, to murder my sons, to murder my grandchildren.
Even though he has been reluctant to admit it publicly, his associates revealed that it was fear of reprisals that made him decide not to seek re-election. This would make Mohammad Sarwar the first British Member of Parliament in modern history to be forced out of office by intimidation.
But apart from being an infamous first, the story of Mohammad Sarwar stands as a dire warning of the dangers posed to the West by its rapidly growing Muslim population.
To grasp why, we need to keep in mind that Westerners have long ago relinquished force as a way of settling internal differences. No matter how passionately we feel about our convictions, we resolve our disputes through public debate. Instead of using physical violence, we seek to triumph in the realm of ideas and at the ballot box. In addition to providing a safe environment for the adjudication of differing points of view, this method of governance has proven exceptionally conducive to progress. Since the lives and rights of all are strenuously protected, there is no fear of proposing new and creative ways of dealing with difficult issues from which the most appealing can be chosen via the democratic process.
This approach, however, is foreign to many Muslims, who have little tolerance for opposing points of view. Hostility to non-Muslims that can be found in Islamic texts further produces disturbing attitudes on the part of many of Islam's followers. The most alarming one is that anybody who holds contrary ideas is either to be silenced or killed. The concepts of jihad and fatwa – the bald-faced murder of those perceived to be opponents of Islam – are the direct expression of this frame of mind.
This way of thinking has unfortunately also come to define many Muslims’ view of politics. Unsurprisingly so, since Islam does not allow for any meaningful distinctions to be made between the religious and political spheres, and as a result many Muslims employ the same methods against their political adversaries as they do against their religious ones. The coercion, gagging and murder of their opponents have thus become part and parcel of their political activism.
If such Muslims behaved in this fashion only in their own lands, there would be less reason for alarm. The problem is that many of them retain their ways even after immigrating to western countries. And once they gather there in sufficiently high numbers, they often present a destabilizing influence. The story from Glasgow Central – where Muslims managed to remove a democratically elected public official by means of the crassest form of intimidation – should give us an idea of the seriousness of this problem.
Equally alarming is the obvious lack of moral conscience on the part of Sarwar’s critics. Let us not forget what enraged his Muslim censors: it was his bringing to justice three vicious killers for the brutal murder of an innocent child. Only a depraved mind could ever think that this was an act undeserving of condemnation and severe punishment. Yet Sarwar’s castigators obviously thought otherwise and by their actions made it clear that they would have preferred for the crime to go unpunished and the murderers remain free.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that many followers of the Islamic faith lack two qualities essential for the successful functioning of western societies: a sound moral conscience and respect for those who hold opposing points of view. Those who still harbor doubts about this need only to contemplate the downfall of Mohammad Sarwar. By doing right, he ran afoul of his own Muslim constituency.
Most ominously, this story is only a portent of more dire things to come. As the West’s Muslim population continues to expand, incidents of this kind are bound to become more frequent. The question is whether western governments can summon the will to do something about it.