FACT-CHECK: Violence Against Non-Muslims in the Qur’an (Sura 5:33)

Anti-Muslim activist and co-founder of the English Defense League (EDL),[1] Tommy Robinson (a pseudonym), reacted to a Qur’anic verse quoted last Sunday during an Academy Awards acceptance speech. The verse was largely overshadowed by two other notable wins, with Mahershala Ali and Iran’s “The Salesman” winning for best supporting actor and best foreign film respectively, which both drew Muslim issues into last Sunday’s awards show spotlight.

In a video published Friday by Rebel Media, Robinson slams “Hollywood elites” for constantly “ramming Islamic scripture down our throats” while unwittingly “calling for their own execution.” Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon,[2] left the EDL in 2013 and has since become involved in PEGIDA UK,[3] the British iteration of Germany’s nationalist movement that aims to counter what it views as the “Islamization” of Europe.[4]

The chapter (sura) was quoted by Orlando von Einsiedel, director of “White Helmets”: a film chronicling the treacherous lives of the famous troop of volunteer rescue workers of the same name, who chase explosions throughout warn-torn Syria to provide medical services to blast victims. The film won an Oscar for best documentary short. Receiving the award, von Einsiedel recited a statement from Raed Saleh, founder of the White Helmets,

“We are so grateful that this film has highlighted our work to the world. Our organization is guided by a verse from the Qur’an: to save one life is to save all of humanity. We have saved more than 82,000 Syrian lives. I invite anyone here who hears me to work on the side of life to stop the bloodshed in Syria and around the world.”[5]

To most rational people, Saleh’s statement reads as to a call to peace. Yet, in his response, Robinson dismisses the statement as a nothing more than a liberal deception to mischaracterize Islam. Despite the White Helmets’ acts of immense charity in the face of unimaginable horror, and Robinson’s history of anything but,[6] he still felt morally justified in his condemnation of Islam’s sacred text in this context. In his discussion of the “real meaning” of Saleh’s verse, Robinson also felt comfortable serving in the role of expert in the Arabic words “Taqiya” and “Kitman” and correctly interpreting the Qur’an—1,400 years of Islamic scholarship notwithstanding.

While the subsequent sura at the center of Robinson’s response is indeed violent and disturbing, his application of the verse—as evidence that Saleh’s “to save one life” is really a message of war against the infidel West—is unsupported, corrupted by his determination to find no moral nuance in Islam and to view all Muslims as fundamentalists, who unlike the majority of Christians and Jews, are compelled to follow every word of their most sacred text.

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