We haven’t always agreed with Yasmin Alibhai Brown, but her column in today’s Independent is an honourable and quite brave statement of principle that needs to be thrown in the face of relativist/”multicultural” (sic) idiots and religious reactionaries everywhere:
Fully veiled women hinder progressive Islam
Toleration is good but not when it prevents fair interrogation and robust argument
First a British judge, then dedicated educationalists running a British college have been defeated by the aggressive guerrilla army of Muslim Salafists and their misguided allies. At Blackfriars Crown Court, Judge Peter Murphy ordered a 21-year-old, veiled defendant to show her face. The accused had been charged with witness intimidation and pleaded not guilty. Whatever the results of that case, she and her supporters certainly intimidated the judge, who backed down so the trial could proceed.
Birmingham Metropolitan College was similarly cowed and had to reverse a directive forbidding students from covering their faces. One hooded lady crowdsourced a protest against the college. Some overexcited student union members, Muslim objectors and online petitioners have forced a U-turn. Shabana Mahmood, MP for Ladywood, Birmingham, welcomed the capitulation. Happy days. Muslim women can now to go to courts and college in shrouds.
That all-covering gown, that headscarf, that face mask – all affirm and reinforce the belief that women are a hazard to men and society. These are unacceptable, iniquitous values, enforced violently by Taliban, Saudi and Iranian oppressors. They have no place in our country. So why are so many British females sending out those messages about themselves?
Some think they are outsmarting anxious Western institutions by covering up, winning dispiriting culture wars which will give them no advantage in our fast moving world. Young women in niqabs are either testing the state as teenagers do their parents or think their garb is political action – but for what? Many women, mothers in particular, have been brainwashed by proselytisers who want to spread conservative Islamic worship across Europe and North America. They are well funded by sources based in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
And then there are those vacuous females who argue that it is their right to be objectified, that they must be allowed to live as invisible creatures. I don’t know which of these dubious forces prevailed in the examples above. But I do know that this trend is growing fast and cannot just be “tolerated” as a minority tendency, just one of many choices people make.
Toleration is good but not when it prevents fair interrogation and robust argument. I have written hundreds of times about the prejudices and discrimination experienced by Muslims, and other minorities. It isn’t easy being a Muslim anywhere in the world – not in Muslim lands or the West. But when Muslims wilfully create problems and build barriers, anti-racists and egalitarians have an absolute duty to engage with them critically and in good faith. I know frank engagement is avoided because it gives succour to the EDL, BNP, neocons and manic anti-Muslim atheists. I, too, have to think hard before penning columns like this one. In the end though, I don’t think we should abdicate these grave responsibilities because so much is at stake.
The woman before the judge must know that she or others like her will never be judges or barristers. Will she make her daughters do the same? The system wasn’t picking on her – a defendant in a micro mini would have caused as much disquiet. And the aggrieved college student, what future does she imagine? She denies herself jobs for the sake of what? They keep apart from fellow Britons by withholding proper human interactions. It’s not right or fair.
None of our sacred texts command us to cover our faces. Some branches of Islam do not even require head coverings. These are manmade injunctions followed by unquestioning women. We are directed always to accept the rules of the countries we live in and their institutions, as long as they are reasonable. For security, justice, travel, education and health identification is vital. Why should these women be exempt? We Muslims are already unfairly thought of as the enemy within. Niqabs make us appear more alien, more dangerous and suspicious. If it is a provocation for Ku Klux Klan to cover up so they can’t be recognised, it is for Muslims too.
This is a struggle between the light of the faith and dark forces here and also in Islamic countries. The clothes symbolize an attempted takeover of the religion just when believers are looking for liberty, autonomy, democracy and gender equality. Malala Yousafzai doesn’t hide her determined face. Nor do our female Muslim MPs and peers or civil rights lawyers.
Some of the bravest human rights activists are Muslim women. Take Tamsila Tauquir awarded an MBE for her charitable work with Muslims and Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, which I co-founded seven years ago. The two of them, with other idealists, have embarked on an “inclusive mosque” initiative, with pop-up prayers in various venues, where men and women, gays and straights, humanists and modernists can pray together. Many others are trying to promote progressive Islam, which fits our times and needs.
Islamic zealots must fear these developments and want to crush them. Whether they know it or not, fully veiled women are part of this reactionary mission. Our state must not aid and abet them. The judge and the college should not have retreated and handed them this victory.
NB: since this article was written, the judge in the (alleged) witness intimidation case has ruled that the accused woman must remove her veil while giving evidence and (presumably) while under cross-examination: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/09/16/muslims-woman-must-remove-veil-evidence_n_3933773.html?utm_hp_ref=uk
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatsey)
Wadjda: Joyous and Free.
Wadjda is pioneering film by Saudi Arabia’s first female director, Haifaa Al-Mansour. She is also the first person to shoot a full-length feature in the country itself.
The picture is wonderful. It also raises serious political and cultural issues.
Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a 10-year-old. She is referred to in reviews as ”sparky” and “rebellious” and, somewhat patronisingly, a “sweet scamp”.
She reminded me of Marjane Satrap in Persepolis - someone with the humour and wit to stand up for herself against the dead hand of religious pressure.
In that film Marji faced the power of Khomeni’s Iranian Islamists.
In Wadjda the heroine has to live with the Saudi educational system and the male-dominated world of orthodox Islam.
The latter appears in the trap her mother is caught in: a life dependent on the good will of her husband, a daily commute provided by a Pakistani driver who speaks broken Arabic, and her fears about him searching for another wife.
For her daughter we see the continuous surveillance of her dress, and the sudden appearance of the religious police when Wadjda is seen playing around with a boy.
The scenario revolves around Wadja’s efforts to buy a bicycle.
Bikes are, naturally, not seen as suitable for modest women.
Listening to “satanic” rock music she plots to raise the cash. But selling football team colour bracelets does not get her far.
Her efforts also get ensnared by her pious head mistress – whose constant enforcement of the Islamic ‘modesty’ codes go against the fibre of the young rebel.
Wadjda hears that winning a Qur’an knowledge and recital competition could deliver her the money.
She suddenly becomes pious and sets out for victory.
As her project gets underway there are plenty of moments with a political message.
With an admiring friend, a young boy, they pass a celebration of a suicide bomber’s death. He remarks that the martyr will be enjoying 72 virgins in paradise.
Wadjda looks at him wryly and says,”Does that mean I’ll get 72 bicycles in heaven?”
It’s hard not to relate the film to recent discussion about multiculturalism.
It is the right thing to defend plural cultural identities, and, specifically, groups targeted by the Church and King mob of the English Defence League.
But do we want to defend those who wish to introduce a moral police like that of Saudi Arabia?
The curriculum followed by Wadjda is present in this country, in Saudi linked schools – right up to their textbooks. It’s hard not to imagine that the religious policing that goes with it is not present.
Wadjda shows how women can be joyous and free.
Like the Iranian film by Jafar Panahi Offside it expresses the universal hopes for human freedom.
And it does so beautifully.
Intelligent comment from behind enemy lines.
We occasionally publish worthwhile comment from unlikely sources. It should go without saying that this does not mean that we endorse the overall politics of the author, or indeed, everything in the article itself…
By Iain Martin (Daily Telegraph 24 May)
Above: can’t we go back to ‘Team GB’?
Tune into any BBC London programme at the moment and one word dominates. That word is community. Even on a normal day on the capital’s airwaves you will hear it a great deal, but in the aftermath of the Woolwich terror attack its use has gone into overdrive. On the BBC London news last night it – or the frequently used variant communities – was averaging 11 mentions per minute.
When did this word get such a grip that even passers-by vox-popped by a TV crew will deploy it a couple of times in a sentence when they are asked to asses the impact of a particular event? I wonder whether it really is widely used in everyday discourse or whether it is just what people feel they ought to say when tensions are high and a microphone is put under their nose. Having said that, yesterday I did overhear youngsters at a bus-stop discussing their horror at the Woolwich murder, and both used the word community, as in the perpetrators were a “disgrace to their community” (in the words of one). So perhaps it really has seeped into everyday speech through constant repetition in schools and on television.
The word took hold after the riots of the early 1980s, when there was a breakdown of trust, in certain inner cities, in the police and traditional institutions. After various inquiries, public policy was reconfigured to ensure that “communities” must be consulted on policing and much else besides. The traditional approach – in which people clustered together in a particular place voted for councillors and MPs who would then represent their interests – was out. With it went the widely held understanding that to live alongside each other none of us can get everything that we want.
From that point, other techniques were developed to make “excluded” people feel included. To facilitate this there suddenly emerged the “community leader”, someone unelected and usually possessing the gift of the gab. If they were smart they might get a well-paid gig with local government, or even national government, advising on “community relations”. Inevitably, under successive governments over three decades which all wanted to avoid tensions, this hardened into an orthodoxy, underwritten by third-rate academics in new disciplines. “Community” was the key word, used over and over again.
Of course, like many linguistic devices pushed by ultraliberals it actually has ended up with the opposite meaning from the one many people seem to intend when they use it. Rather than suggesting togetherness the term is actually highly divisive. Rather than emphasising common endeavour it sets one person’s alleged “community” against that of his neighbour.
I actively dislike the term and would refuse to be described as, say, a member of the claret-drinking community. Indeed, the traditional approach is still favoured by many, many millions of us in Britain of all creeds and colours. We think of life in terms of family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, perhaps religion, charity, hobbies such as sport or music and then the nation. Sometimes the various groups and circles involved are distinct and sometimes they overlap. We also accept common institutions as a bulwark of liberty, of course. And it is all wrapped up, ultimately, in that word that I used at the end of the list: the nation. How wonderful it was for a few weeks during the Olympics. The dreaded word “communities” disappeared. We heard instead of Team GB. Can’t we go back to that?
On St Patrick’s Day, we bring you perhaps the most bizarre lyric ever sung by Louis Armstrong: “I was born in Ireland (Ha, Ha)”…
Louis Armstrong And His Hot Five, November 1926: Irish Black Bottom
Louis’s tireless biographer Ricky Riccardi writes:
Admittedly, this is not songwriting as its finest but as a novelty, it’s good fun. The “black bottom” was a popular dance of the 1920s so this tune humorously pretends that it’s also taken Ireland by storm. If Louis had to record something so silly in the 1950s, critics would scream at the producers for forcing it on him. But “Irish Black Bottom” was written by the aforementioned Percy Venable so more than likely, it was a staple of Louis’s act at the Sunset. And can’t you imagine Louis bringing down the house with that vocal? That “ha, ha” he gives after singing “And I was born in Ireland,” breaks me up every time. I can only imagine what it did to the audiences who heard him do it live.
The song begins with the funny sound of Louis and his Hot Five swinging through a sample of the Irish classic “Where the River Shannon Flows” before Louis swings out with the main melody, which is predominantly in a minor mode until the end. Louis’s lead sounds great and Dodds is bouncing around as usual but trombonist Hy Clark, a substitute for Kid Ory, sounds hesitant and doesn’t add much. After a chorus and an interlude by pianist Lil Armstrong, Louis takes the vocal. If you can’t make it out, here’s what he says:
All you heard for years in Ireland,
was the “Wearin’ Of The Green”,
but the biggest change that’s come in Ireland
I have ever seen.
All the laddies and the cooies
laid aside their Irish reels,
and I was born in Ireland
(Ha, Ha), so imagine how I feels.
Now Ireland’s gone Black Bottom crazy,
see them dance,
you ought to see them dance.
Folks supposed to be related, even dance,
I mean they dance.
They play that strain,
works right on their brain.
Now it goes Black Bottom,
a new rhythm’s drivin’ the folks insane.
I hand you no Blarney, when I say
that song really goes,
and they put it over with a wow,
I mean now.
All over Ireland
you can see the people dancin’ it,
’cause Ireland’s gone Black Bottom crazy now
I don’t know how you can’t get swept up in that offering. Armstrong doesn’t so much sing it as shout it, or talk it, but his spirit sure gets the message across (though sometimes, he’s so far from the written melody, it sounds like he’s singing a different song on top of Lil’s chording on the piano). After the vocal, Clark and Dodds take forgettable short solos and breaks before Louis carries the troops home with brio. Louis’s lip trill towards the end is particularly violent and right before his closing breaks, he dips into his bag for a favorite phrases, one that ended both “You’re Next” and “Big Fat Ma and Skinny Pa.” The concluding break is so perfect in its phrasing and choice of notes that I believe it might have already been set in stone by Pops during his live performances of the tune at the Sunset. Either way, that’s no reason to criticize him; it’s a perfect ending and puts an emphatic stamp on a very entertaining record.
That’s all for now. Have a happy St. Patrick’s day and don’t forget to mix in a little Louis with your Guiness. I hand you no blarney, it’s a great combination…
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: “Islamophobia” or “legitimate criticism”?
In a recent article, Dr Leon Moosavi asserted that Muslims in the UK face “stereotyping, discrimination and even harassment.” Anyone who has glanced at tabloid headlines much over the last few years, or who follows organisations and blogs which seek to counter this bigotry, will probably agree that Moosavi has a point. He continues:
‘For example, in November 2012, the Leveson Inquiry which examined news media conduct from many angles concluded that Muslims, along with asylum seekers, immigrants and travellers, are commonly derided in the mainstream press.
‘ More recently, a couple of weeks ago, Keith Vaz MP tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament suggesting that Islamophobia be recorded by police forces across Britain so that it can be better understood.’
Towards the end of the article I began to question elements of Moosavi’s argument:
’There are also protagonists who actively seek to dismiss Islamophobia as a concept because they claim it is one that prevents free speech and criticism of Islam as a religion.
It is important here to distinguish between legitimate criticism of a religious ideology and generalisations and attacks against those who have a Muslim identity. Just like it is possible to disagree with Jewish theology without being anti-semitic, it is possible to disagree with Islamic theology without being Islamophobic.’
Is Moosavi right to say that “legitimate criticism” of Islam is not in itself a problem? I suspect that many commentators Moosavi would consider Islamophobic manage to avoid even verbal, let alone physical, “attacks against those who have a Muslim identity.” But when people criticise Islam with single-minded and passionate dislike, when they cherry pick sources to exclude less conservative interpretations of the religion, then it is hard to say that such discourse doesn’t have an impact on people’s treatment of individual Muslims.
However Moosavi is also in danger of making “Islamophobia” embrace much that one wouldn’t want to ban or even censure. There is a potentially huge contested area between “legitimate criticism of a religious ideology” and “attacks against those who have a Muslim identity.” What about illegitimate criticism? And who gets to decide what is legitimate? Some people, for example, took great exception to Tom Holland’s documentary about Islam, based on his book The Shadow of the Sword. That was a serious project; but what about Charlie Hebdo, The Innocence of Muslims, Jesus and Mo? It would have been better (assuming this is what he thinks) if Moosavi had made a stronger and more unequivocal defence of freedom. And unfortunately some of the most vocal opponents of Islamophobia (though not, as far as I am aware, Moosavi) are happy to weaponise that word in order to smear leftists, liberals and secularists who would probably be very willing to make common cause with them against racists like the EDL.
But the EDM (945) Moosavi is urging MPs to support seems like a reasonable and limited measure, responding to a genuine problem, and I have asked my MP to support it.
Guest post by Robin Carmody
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Citizen Khan (BBC 1, Mondays, 10.20 pm) has attracted formal complaints, and plenty of more informal negative comments too. It’s certainly neither subtle nor original – but I find it more difficult to be sure whether or not it deserves complaints because it is racist or anti-Muslim. The central character, ‘Citizen’ Khan, is a rather monstrous creation, and most of the characters seem stereotypical. But this is the case with many sit coms. Basil Fawlty and Alf Garnett were both grotesque. Khan’s prospective son-in-law seems a bit daft – but so was the ridiculous Alice in The Vicar of Dibley.
Of course Muslims are targets of bigotry, which does mean that Citizen Khan can’t be judged in quite the same way, perhaps, as a programme about a white, culturally Christian family. But it could be argued that the programme’s makers, by reducing the Khans to a set of cheesy stereotypes, have just helped pull Muslims more firmly into the mainstream in a way a more earnest and nervous programme couldn’t have done. Although a few complaints have focused on the disrespectful treatment of Islam, the character who uses a mask of piety to conceal her party going tastes – and gets away with it – could strike a chord with anyone who has sneaked their way round parental restraints, whatever their religious background.
It’s not a great programme. Goodness Gracious Me was cleverer and funnier. But I don’t think it’s going to be giving the EDL any comfort. As Adil Ray, who plays the title role, points out:
“The biggest, most important, thing you can do is laugh at yourself….You then negate anything anybody can ever do. It’s the ultimate weapon. If you can laugh at yourself, it doesn’t matter what anybody says to you as you’re laughing already.”
As a general rule, I subscribe to Orwell’s somewhat negative view of sport.
I have not voluntarily watched any Olympic event on telly (as opposed to being in a pub while the 100 meters final was beamed onto a big screen to the obvious carnal delight of most females present).
And I still hold to the view that the Olympics are, to a substantial degree, an execise in bread and circuses for the masses while the Tories and their Lib Dem collaborators continue with their “austerity” fraud. The ruthless “branding” by such inappropriate sponsors as Coca-Cola and McDonalds was simply shameful. Even the much-praised volunteers, whose enthusiasm and commitment is not in doubt, were in a sense, undermining the minimum wage.
And yet, and yet…
The event does seem to have brought out the best in us Brits. From Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony to Mo Farah’s double gold, it was a games that, perhaps more by luck that judgement, became a celebration of social solidarity and inclusion, happily devoid of jingoism. I’m told that the crowd cheered the heroic back-markers and the good-sport no-hopers almost as loudly as they cheered the winners.
I began to waver in my anti-Olympic resolve when I read about some jerk of a Tory MP denouncing the opening ceremony as “Leftie multiculturalist crap.” Left-wing critics and some local residents in Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets, even when making fair points, were stuck with a particularly ludicrous figure as their self-appointed leader and their campaign was not helped by attempts to link it with the increasingly desperate and bankrupt Stop The War Coalition.
Crucially, it was the emergence of such heroes as Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis (such a contrast to the manufactured “stars” and “celebrities” usually touted by the media) that convinced me. This was their Olympics – theirs and the people rooting for them . Of course not everyone who celebrated the success of the ex-refugee and the mixed-race woman will have been converted into a convinced anti-racist overnight. But it has to be A Good Thing, hasn’t it? Something we should be celebrating, not sneering at.
Most important of all, the Tory hypocrites who, on taking power with their Lib-Dem junior partners, immediately scrapped the School Sports Partnership (OK, there’s been a partial U-turn since), must not be allowed to pose as the friends of grass-roots sport in Britain, or to gain any political capital from the success of British sportsmen and women.
So if even this arch-curmudgeon can change his mind, so can I…
[NB: the Olympics have been widely described as a celebration of "multi-culturalism." My understanding of the term, used in that context, is straightforward anti-racism, not the cultural relativism that the term all too often denotes].
From the New Statesman of 9 July. An important debate in which the NS‘s self-righteous outgoing Political Editor is shown up for the lightweight, superficial bullshitter he is, by someone who really knows what they’re talking about; Hasan opens the exchange:
Assalam alaikum. Your new memoir, Radical, exploring your journey from Hizb ut-Tahrir activist to self-professed “liberal Muslim”, is bold, fascinating and, at times, insightful.
To be honest, I wasn’t always a fan of your work – and I am still bemused by the view in some circles that former extremists are the best (the only?) people qualified to identify and tackle extremism.
Nonetheless, you should be applauded for trying to answer one of the most uncomfortable questions of our time: what is it that turns a tiny minority of ordinary, young, Muslim men into fanatical, cold-blooded killers?
It is undoubtedly the case that what you refer to as a “stifling, totalitarian victimhood ideology” often plays a role in the transformation. But I worry that, in your understandable attempt to denounce and deconstruct the “Islamist narrative of a clash of civilisations”, you downplay the role of foreign policy issues (from the invasion of Iraq to the occupation of Palestine to the west’s support for Arab dictators) as drivers of radicalisation.
Would you accept that those neoconservatives who deny a link between, say, foreign occupations, on the one hand, and radicalisation and terrorism, on the other, are being dishonest? The empirical evidence is clear: the US political scientist Robert Pape, who studied every known case of suicide terrorism between 1980 and 2003, has concluded that the “specific secular and strategic goal” of suicide terrorists is to end foreign military occupations. “The tap root of suicide terrorism is nationalism,” he wrote; it is “an extreme strategy for national liberation”.
You denounce those on the “regressive left”, such as the Guardian columnist Seumas Milne, who dare to join the dots between the west’s wars and Islamist extremism. Forget Milne. Consider instead the verdict of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden tracking unit and the author of three acclaimed books on al-Qaeda. “I don’t think there are a lot of people who want to blow themselves up because my daughters go to university,” Scheuer told me in an interview last year. “People are going to come and bomb us because they don’t like what we’ve done.”
Is he wrong?
As Amnesty’s UK director Kate Allen noted in her preface to Radical, it is a story about racist violence and a struggle for human rights, just as much as it is a story about the impact of a divisive ideology. Rather than explicitly prescribe factors that cause extremism, I chose to bring them out through the means of storytelling, so that readers could step into my world.
I have attempted to strike a balance between the two extremes of the neoconservative right, which tends to blame Islam itself for an increase in Islamist-led violence, and the regressive left, which tends to blame only foreign or domestic western government policy. The fact is that human beings are complicated animals. Unlike water, we don’t all boil at 100° Celsius. No catch-all cause of extremism can be identified. It is best to approach this subject with some general principles in mind that inevitably contribute to the phenomenon – grievances, identity crises, charismatic recruiters and ideological narratives.
It matters not whether the grievances are real or perceived. The perception of a grievance is sufficient to act as an agitating force. Where policy is wrong, such as with the invasion of Iraq, it should be changed to protect our own values rather than to succumb to the demands of terrorists. Where policy is right but perceived as wrong, more needs to be done to engage the aggrieved parties, as citizens and not as segregated communal blocs.
One million Britons marched against the Iraq war. Of these, a tiny minority, from within the non-Iraqi British Muslim communities, reacted with violence on 7 July 2005. To interpret this simply as a “nationalist struggle” to remove occupation ignores the blatantly obvious fact that, first, the terrorists were not Iraqis, they were British-Pakistanis (though British Iraqis have lived here for a long time); second, the vast majority of the Stop the War protesters were non-Muslims, yet only a handful from among a minority of Muslims reacted to the war with terrorism. Even though occupation may have caused agitation among the 7 July bombers, these northern-born lads with thick Yorkshire accents confessed in their suicide tapes to considering themselves soldiers with a mission to kill our people (Britons) on behalf of their people (Iraqis). The prerequisite to such a disavowal of one’s country of birth is a recalibration of identity; this is the undeniable role of ideological narratives.
I’m glad we seem to be in agreement on this: yes, radicalisation is as much a product of foreign policy “grievances” as it is one of a hate-filled “divisive ideology”. I am delighted to see the head of the Quilliam Foundation, “the world’s first counter-extremism think tank”, taking a much more nuanced approach to Islamist-inspired violence than some of its well-known outriders (step forward, Michael “Islamism Is Nazism” Gove). For far too long, the debate over the “root causes” of terrorism has been dominated by simplistic assumptions, sweeping generalisations and lazy stereotypes.
So here’s my confusion. In your memoir, you write that David Cameron’s speech on extremism in Munich in February 2011 was the result of a meeting you had with him in Downing Street and that it “included almost all of my suggestions”. Yet this was a speech as inflammatory as it was superficial, peppered with stereotypes and straw men. On the day that the English Defence League marched against Muslims living in Luton, Cameron bizarrely decided to blame the rise of Islamist-inspired violence in the UK on “segregated communities”, “the doctrine of state multiculturalism” and “the passive tolerance of recent years”. Conveniently, he had little to say about the well-documented links between “our” foreign policy and “their” violent extremism.
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of the Prime Minister’s now-notorious address was his enthusiastic endorsement of the so-called “conveyor belt” theory of radicalisation, which states that young Muslims start off alienated and angry, slowly become more religious and politicised, and then almost automatically turn to violence and terror. Or, as Cameron put it, “As evidence emerges about . . . those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called ‘non-violent extremists’, and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence.”
But this claim has been contradicted by the PM’s own officials. In July 2010, a leaked memo prepared for coalition ministers on the cabinet’s home affairs subcommittee concluded that it was incorrect “to regard radicalisation in this country as a linear ‘conveyor belt’ moving from grievance, through radicalisation, to violence . . . This thesis seems to both misread the radicalisation process and to give undue weight to ideological factors.”
Isn’t it time we ditched the unhelpful and discredited analogy of the conveyor belt? Shouldn’t we be more rigorous in our analysis of the radicalisation process and less obsessed with “non-violent extremists” – who, by definition, pose no physical threat to us?
This extremism agenda must remain non- partisan, my friend. To be fair to the coalition, its policy has been to try to turn the Bush-era doctrine on its head. Instead of developing a state-heavy response to terrorism, while tolerating non-violent extremism in civil society, this government has tried to curtail state-led excess, while doing more to focus on civil society responses to non-violent extremism. Consequently, legality and civil liberties are better protected now than they were during the Bush era. Obviously there is still much more that can be done.
I’m glad that the Prime Minister’s Munich speech addressed non-violent extremism and I’m proud to have influenced this. I agree that raising multiculturalism in the speech was an unnecessary distraction. But the desire was to highlight non-violent extremism, because in recent years it had been such a taboo, unlike complaining about grievances, which Britons have a long tradition of doing.
Non-violent extremism may not pose a physical threat but that doesn’t mean it is not a challenge requiring a robust policy response. Casual racism in society poses no direct physical threat, but we can all recognise that where it spreads unchecked, without a civic challenge, it is an unhealthy phenomenon. Islamism – which can advocate anti-democratic views, divisive sectarianism and ideas that discriminate on grounds of gender and sexuality – is analogous in this respect to racism. This does not mean we ban such ideas, but it does mean that, as with racism, we require a popular civil society approach in challenging them.
I agree there is no conclusive evidence that extremism is a “conveyor belt” to terrorism, just as there is inconclusive evidence to the contrary. In such cases, common sense surely should prevail. To become a jihadist terrorist, one first becomes an Islamist, though not all Islamists will go on to violence. Joining militant racist groups like Combat 18 seems unlikely if one is not first exposed to a level of racist rhetoric.
However, ultimately, this entire issue is a red herring. Whether or not there is a “conveyor belt”, we must surely agree that the spread of extremism in societies is unhealthy for integration in its own right. Just as many on the left challenge anti-Muslim hatred while they object to challenging Islamist ideology, many on the right challenge Islamist ideology but neglect anti-Muslim hatred. I value consistency. Why not challenge both?
“An unnecessary distraction”? The Prime Minister’s decision to bolt a supposedly nuanced analysis of counter-extremism and radicalisation on to a conservative critique of “state multiculturalism” was reckless, irresponsible and inflammatory.
Above all, it lacked a factual basis. Multiculturalism has little, if anything, to do with the rise of Islamist-inspired terrorism. Otherwise, how would you explain the presence of extremist groups inside monocultural societies such as Saudi Arabia or the Gaza Strip?
Remember: the 7 July bombers were, by any conventional definition, integrated into wider British society. None of the four spoke English as a second language; one of them was a convert to Islam. The ringleader, Mohammad Sidique Khan, once nicknamed “Sid”, was a teaching assistant who had refused to have an arranged marriage. Shazad Tanweer, the Aldgate bomber, was an avid cricketer who worked part-time in his father’s fish-and-chip shop. Their actions were horrific and unforgivable but their grievances were political, not cultural.
You asked why some on the left “challenge anti-Muslim hatred while they object to challenging Islamist ideology” and you issue a call for consistency. But are you really comparing like with like? Mainstream Muslim groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) may have their flaws and limitations, but is it fair or accurate to compare them to the hate-mongers and bigots of the British National Party or the EDL? How does such a divisive, such a black-and-white, approach to engaging young, politically active British Muslims help to build the bonds and civic relations that you say you cherish? Isn’t it a dangerous mirror image of the terrorists’ own “with-us-or-against-us” mentality?
To be honest, the analogy between racism and Islamism that you constantly invoke in your writings and public appearances worries me. We’re all clear about what racism is and why it is so offensive and abhorrent. But what is “Islamism”? How do you define it? Here is a term so elastic that it stretches from the elected, pro-western AKP government in Turkey to the anti-western barbarians of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan; it is a deeply contested idea. And what defines this new and equally nebulous phrase: “non-violent extremism”? Are the Haredi Jews of north London “non-violent extremists”? How about Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, who compared the introduction of gay marriage to the legalisation of slavery?
Or is the expression, as I suspect, just the latest code for referring to politicised Muslims with whom we might disagree?
If monocultural Saudi and Gaza harbour “extremist” groups, this is an argument against you. It is obvious that divided, monocultural areas in Britain are bad for integration, regardless of one’s view on multiculturalism. I did not compare the MCB with the BNP. A more accurate comparison would be between my former group Hizb ut-Tahrir and the BNP. My critique of the MCB is far more nuanced and involves my views on the unhealthy nature of communalist identity politics, and my preference for the citizenship model over the “umbrella” model, except in dealing with narrow religious matters.
Arguing that challenging Islamist extremism through civic activism is divisive and isolates angry young British Muslims is as absurd and insulting as saying that challenging racism is divisive and isolates the angry young white working class. Either challenging (without banning) racism and Islamism is correct, or appeasing both racists and Islamists is correct. It is an offence to Islam and to Muslims to pander patronisingly to anti-Semitic, or anti-woman, or homophobic, or bigoted sectarian views when they emanate from brown Muslims – as if that’s just our culture anyway – but simultaneously be forthright in challenging white racism.
I am also very surprised to read that you claim there’s a consensus around racism as you try to prove that there’s no such thing as non-violent extremism. I have been raised on a diet of racist hammer and knife attacks. I can tell you, as someone who’s lived it, unlike some champagne socialists: “we” are not “all clear” on what racism is and “why it is abhorrent”. And, speaking in the context of rising right-wing extremism across Europe, we have certainly not overcome it.
Likewise, just because we are not all clear what Islamism is, that does not mean it doesn’t exist. Islamism is the desire to impose an interpretation of Islam over society as law. By definition, this raises urgent questions about human rights, and usually it is we Muslims who are the first victims of Islamism. Absurdly, this is excused by the regressive left as if brown culture were discriminatory anyway – a poverty of expectations. Yes, Islamism is diverse, but so was communism. Stalin killed Trotsky. Is this proof there’s no such thing as communism?
Tunisia’s post-Islamist Ennahda party recently went through its own “Clause Four” moment when it ditched a condition that its interpretation of sharia must be the source of law. Tunisian civil society (all Muslims) pressured Ennahda for reform – which is exactly what I endorse. Were Tunisians being divisive and anti-Islam?
Naturally the term “non-violent extremism” should not be used to dismiss politicised Muslims with whom we disagree. After all, you’re a politicised Muslim and I’m quite evidently disagreeing with you. When the abhorrent views I’ve listed are subscribed to by Christians or Jews, I have indeed labelled them as extremist, too. While the regressive left is inconsistent, I believe the best way to address this issue is to reverse the neoconservative model; that means we must jealously guard the civil liberties of extremists, yet at the same time challenge non-violent extremism in society through grass-roots civic action, rather than exploding bombs and grossly violating human rights.
Maajid Nawaz is chairman of the think tank Quilliam and the author of “Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening”, newly published by W H Allen (£12.99)
Nick Cohen has written some shite over the years and his uncritical enthusiasm for liberal interventionism is not shared by anyone at Shiraz. But, like the little girl in the poem, when he’s good, he’s very, very good.
If you don’t read anything else today, read his latest Observer column, Tales of hope from modern young Muslims. It’s absolutely spot-on:
Is opposition to reaction, reactionary? Or a loathing of religious bigotry, bigoted? To slam “Islam as oppressive of gay and women’s rights”, said a Guardian columnist last week, is to manifest the “progressives’ prejudice”. True liberals did not criticise illiberal religion. They denounced criticism of prejudice as prejudiced.
Arguing against what has become orthodoxy is difficult because most of the people who hold to its tenets are not malicious, just indolent and a little frightened. They have a genuine fear of racism, however ill thought through, and that speaks to their credit. Argument must be joined, however, because supporters of identity politics bundle the objects of their concern into racial and religious boxes, and label them “handle with care”.
They deny individuality. They ignore conflicts within ethnic minorities. They behave as if women with brown skins should not have the same rights as women with white skins, although they lack the intellectual honesty to make their racism of low expectations explicit. For all the excuses you can make for them, theirs is a species of malice, albeit closer to a sin of omission than commission.
This week sees a reply that is also an admonishment with the publication of the summer’s second “escape memoir” – if I may coin the term. Despite its title, Alom Shaha’s The Young Atheist’s Handbook is as much an autobiography as an argument against religion…
…Read the rest here