LOUISE RAW writes on the lessons to be learnt from the feminist and anti-extremist campaigner’s new book, The Battle for British Islam. This article first appeared in the Morning Star and is republished with Louise’s permission:
SARA Khan is as fascinating a figure as she is polarising. A fiercely intelligent woman, she is glamorous and charismatic but also an “ordinary” overworked thirty-something Mum of two who organises meetings around the school run. Debrett’s last year listed her as one of the 500 most influential people in Britain.
Her work defending women and opposing extremism has — as is depressingly the way of things these days — attracted as much abuse as it has accolades.
You don’t, I hope, need me to tell you that being a woman with a public opinion, always a dangerous business, has become more so with the advent of social media.
Those people who might once have shouted “Bitch!” at the telly and left it at that now can and often do go much further.
Khan is a particular lightning rod, as a Muslim who opposes Islamism — by which she means the politicisation of Islam, which she believes to be directly antipathetic to the religion’s tenets — as well as Islamophobia, and will work with the government on both.
If that wasn’t enough, she is also a feminist who is unafraid to call out abuses against women in her religion and anyone else’s. Cue the sound of a thousand internet trolls rushing to their keyboards, steam pouring from their ears.
Khan has had to involve police in threats against her, and to consider her security arrangements.
What is particularly frustrating and pertinent to Star readers is that she’s been attacked by the left as much as the right, and by other feminists.
Khan talks little about the impact of her work on her life, and complains even less. She is careful not to centre herself, but the suffering of her Muslim sisters, in interviews.
This made certain lines in the introduction of her new book, The Battle for British Islam, stand out for me all the more.
Khan co-founded Inspire, the anti-Islamist charity with a particular focus on women, and for many years ran it as a kitchen table enterprise from her home. She assumed those on the left would be natural allies and supporters.
What she found instead was what she calls a “painful rejection.” She has been called a sell-out and an informant.
And within her own religion, she and her young children have been condemned as apostates. Despite remaining a Muslim, she’s been repeatedly called an Islamophobe.
I can corroborate the latter. Khan was a speaker at the 2014 Matchwomen’s Festival, and was angrily accused of “whipping up Islamaphobia” in the Q and A that followed.
Khan’s defence was spirited, though when I spoke to her afterwards she was unflustered, I suppose because she is so used to it.
Both as a feminist and the person who’d invited her to speak, I found it mortifying.
Criticism is valid, but the intemperate rejection of a Muslim woman’s viewpoint, and by white British women, seemed to me problematic.
I felt that those who intended to support Muslims by challenging her risked, ironically, sounding rather imperial: “The white people have decided you’re not a proper Muslim!” Disappointingly, it also derailed the discussion between Khan and the majority of audience members who were enthusiastic at the chance to hear from a Muslim woman who was willing to advise on so many issues, including how to engage with Muslim students without pandering to either Islamism or Islamophobia.
That kind of open dialogue is rare, for many reasons.
Even more discombobulatingly, I know and like both of Khan’s critics and respect their views on feminism in general.
The complexities of the experience opened my eyes to the political minefield Khan herself walks through every day of her campaigning life. She has attracted even more flak for her support for the notorious Prevent programme, established in the wake of 9/11 to tackle radicalisation in the UK.
Again, activists within the NUS and NUT have what seem like valid criticisms of the way the programme operates, both in its original and relaunched forms.
Khan argues in her book, however, that much of the criticism is ill-founded and based on media distortions, or deliberately orchestrated by Islamist groups.
In evidence she breaks down the infamous “terrorist house” incident, in which a schoolboy was supposedly referred to Prevent in December 2015 because he misspelt “terraced” in an essay describing his home and family life.
On the face of it, a great story illustrating laughably out-of-touch and heavy-handed jobsworths doing more harm than good. In fact, the story has been completely debunked — but this scarcely made the press. The boy in question was never referred to Prevent, but to Child Services, because he had written about the violence he experienced at home, including the piteous line: “I hate when my uncle beats me.”
Reading Khan’s book, it’s impossible to feel that determined response to those who would and do radicalise British children isn’t needed. She points out that in some areas, the majority of Prevent referrals are in fact over far-right extremism.
As ever, women are particularly vulnerable, bearing the brunt of anti-Muslim attacks, and targeted by Islamists online.
Khan’s book opens with the story of Muneera, a schoolgirl whose mother became ill when she was 13.
As a result, Muneera spent more time left to her own devices, and found online stories about Isis — she’d never previously heard of the organisation.
She tweeted an interest in them and was astonished by the response.
She was immediately “love-bombed” by waves of seemingly like-minded, supportive new friends, girls and boys her own age, who were either curious too, or eager to tell her more about the wonderful world she could inhabit if she joined Isis.
She later described the lies she was told in words that touchingly evoke the young girl that she was: it would be an “Islamic Disneyland,” where she could “live like a princess.”
One of her new friends was a 14-year-old boy later convicted of inciting others to commit terrorist acts. An extraordinary character apparently obsessed with extreme violence, his own classmates called him “the terrorist,” and didn’t think he was joking when he talked about cutting off their teachers’ heads.
The reality for girls who do join Isis is, of course, not paradise but a hell of brutality and misogyny.
Khan quotes one nauseating line from the handbook given to Isis fighters concerning the slave women and girls given to them to rape — literally bought and sold in slave auctions: “It is permitted to have intercourse with a female slave who hasn’t reached puberty.”
Had Muneera reached Isis, her passport would have been burned and she would have been married to a fighter. She didn’t get that far and today believes Channel, the arm of Prevent that works to help children like her before they have committed any offence, saved her.
She is angry about the way she was deceived and the time stolen from her childhood as she worked to get her life back on track.
The great value of Khan’s book is as a guide for the perplexed, taking the reader clearly and in readable fashion through the rise of Islamism and Salafism, and delineating the point at which she feels the left took a wrong term on Islamism.
She cites an influential 1994 pamphlet written by Chris Harman of the SWP urging Marxists to enter a form of scorpion dance with Islamism and not reject it outright as a form of fascism.
In spite of appearances and its hatred of the left, women’s rights and secularism, Islamism (argued Harman) was not akin to nazism but more like Argentinian Peronism.
We all saw this play out as a predictable disaster, not least because it was founded on the risky assumption that the leading partner in the “dance” would be the left and not Islamists: “[In] an almost patronising way, it was assumed that the poor, oppressed Muslims could be steered by degrees from Islamism to socialism,” says Khan.
It didn’t work, it was never going to work, and it should never have been tried given the complete betrayal of women necessary to stomach, let alone support, Islamist extremism.
Khan’s book is an eloquent and necessary exposition of the state we’re currently in, and a plea for understanding and unity in the fight against extremism — whether it’s the far-right or Islamism which is so against our interests, and should be so alien to socialism done properly. It is essential reading for feminists and lefties — who should, of course, always be one and the same.
Sara Khan is the Director of Inspire, http://www.wewillinspire.com, and author of ‘The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism’ (Saqi Books, 2016)
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Above: police in Nice force woman to remove burkini
Some of the liberal and liberal-leftist opposition to the French burkini ban (eg in the Guardian) has slipped over into positive support for religious dress and “modesty” as a female virtue. This article argues that opposition to the ban should not mean offering any degree of support to religious obscurantism or misogyny.
By Theodora Polenta (very slightly edited by JD; this article also appears in Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website):
On 26 August, the Supreme Court of France ruled against bans on the “burkini” by some south-of-France municipalities. The ruling was greeted with relief by women, by Muslims (including those opposed to religiously-imposed dress rules for women), and for the millions of women and men outraged by seeing four armed policemen on the beach of Nice publicly humiliate a Muslim woman in a burkini. The Court concluded that the ban is a “serious and illegal violation of basic freedoms”, and that local authorities may take such measures only if the burkini is a “proven risk to public order”.
The “burkini” is a swimsuit invented in 2004 by the Australian-Lebanese designer Aheda Zanetti. The big fashion houses saw the potential of a new “market”, and took it up. It is a swimsuit that covers the entire body except the face (unlike the burqa, which covers the face, and is compulsorily loose-fitting), and is similar to diving suits and other garments for watersports. While the diving suits have never bothered anyone, and the burkini has bothered few in Australia, where many wearers are non-Muslims concerned about skin cancer risks, some French politicians have branded the burkini as a major threat to the morals and values of French society.
For readers of Solidarity, the burkini will seem reminiscent of periods we want to leave behind, when women were forced to remain invisible and silent to demonstrate that they were modest and humble. Personally I find abhorrent any suggestion that there is something inherently wrong with the body and hair of any woman or any human being, or that anyone should be condemned never to feel the sun and the air on their body in order to be considered a “woman”. Or that to cover our bodies is the answer to the voyeuristic culture that objectifies women’s bodies and imposes elusive and sometimes cruel beauty standards. However, the burkini bans bring to mind the French army operation in Algeria in May 1958. In order to add pressure for the coup in France which would bring De Gaulle to power and block what the army saw as a drift to conceding Algerian independence, the army organised a demonstration by some Muslim Algerian women to remove their veils and burn them.
Moreover, the right-wing politicians pushing the bans are instrumentalising women’s bodies and rights as a diversion and a pretext for divisive policies. Banning the burkini as “associated with terrorism” is an invention based on Islamophobia, racism and sexism. The bans are part of the official response to the murderous attacks by Daesh in Paris in 2015 and in Nice this summer. In the name of anti-terrorism, instead of promoting more equality and democracy, the government is fortifying a permanent state of emergency and targeting and stigmatising sections of the already most oppressed parts of the population. Several mayors have said they will appeal.
According to Marine Le Pen, leader of the fascistic National Front, “the soul of France itself is at stake,” because “France does not imprison a woman’s body nor hides half the population under the pretext that the other half will be tempted.” Socialist Party Prime Minister Valls has written on Facebook that “the decision of the Supreme Court did not close the debate”. “Denouncing the burkini is not calling into question individual freedom… It is denouncing deadly, backward Islamism”. Women’s rights minister Laurence Rossiynol has declared that the bans help fight against “restriction of the female body”! However, education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has stated that “there is absolutely no connection between terrorism and what a woman wears on the beach.”
The National Front and Marine Le Pen expect to make gains in the upcoming presidential elections. Ultra-rightists are feeling daring and are behind the proliferation of attacks against Muslims, who are 7.5% of France’s population. Among Muslims in France, who generally follow religious dress codes much less than Muslims in Britain, the ban was considered as a camouflaged attack not only on how Muslim women dress but also on how they self-identify.
While opposing the ban on the burkini, we should not slide into supporting the burkini and burqa under some postmodernist reasoning. For a large number of women in the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa, and sometimes in the Western world, religious dress codes are not their free choice, but a brutal coercion. They are an extreme symbol of obscurantism and repression of by hardcore Muslim Islamists. But opposition to religious compulsion is not served by such bans. The hypocrites who want to ban the burkini have no problem with the French State financing private Catholic schools. Or with the fact that in adjacent Belgium, much of the education is Catholic. Or with the mandatory religion classes, morning school prayers, and so on, in Greece.
The bans on burkinis has caused a 200% surge in sales. And such prohibitions can drive people into the open arms of fanatical Islamist organizations, which appear as the only defenders of their rights. To gain the trust of these women and engage them in the struggle for decent jobs and wages, against cuts, for a socialist society, we must defend their freedom of choice of dressing, of religious self-identification and of freedom of religious expression and exercise of religious beliefs.
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This article appears in today’s Morning Star:
We need to talk about homophobia
LGBT education is needed now more than ever in the wake of the Orlando shootings, argues RABBIL SIKDAR
FIFTY people killed because of their sexuality in Orlando. It’s clear that though 21st century is here with increasing legislations in support of LGBT people, there is still an entrenched camp of bigots who have nothing but seething hatred for these people.
What struck me the most wasn’t the incident itself. Jihadist violence against innocent people is becoming increasingly common. The appeal of Islamic State (Isis) is far-reaching.
What particularly struck me was the grief and rage of Owen Jones later on Sky News when he was trying to explain this to two heterosexuals.
This wasn’t violence against humanity, as they blindly insisted. It was violence against one of the most viciously oppressed and marginalised groups in the world, who face varying degrees of discrimination, prejudice and violence.
What happened was a terrorist attack, but it was also an attack on LGBT people. The killer’s father would come out and say his son was openly repulsed by the sight of two men kissing.
With any terrorist incident there come the inquests. Why did it happen, the motivations, the factors, who to blame, who not to blame?
Muslims often find themselves dragged into that blame game as the far-right brigade come out in their numbers.
Atrocities become shamelessly hijacked for right-wing propaganda. With the attacks in Orlando, we had Donald Trump praising himself and the EU Leave rightwingers warning about Islamism.
The issue of gun control and the easy access that mentally deranged lunatics and terrorists have to weapons has not been addressed.
It’s a failure of Barack Obama that he has been effectively blocked from gun reforms by an NRA-backed Republican Party.
The country has shifted in its opinion, but Republicans remain firmly wedded to the free access to guns. Even as violence rips through the US, the second amendment is fiercely protected.
But those who place the biggest problem from this at gun reforms are wrong. The biggest problem is homophobia.
It’s still rampant. Within the US, the LGBT community faces immense prejudice and discrimination. The right to marry and adopt is fiercely contested.
Though many states have now legalised gay marriage, the US faces a battle with homophobia.
The Orlando killer was also a Muslim. That doesn’t automatically mark Muslims out as being uniquely homophobic, as many are claiming.
But people need to be honest: the stances towards the LGBT community within parts of the Muslim community are often extremely regressive and troubling.
It’s why gay Muslims rarely come out. In the Muslim world, the punishment for homosexuality is often death.
In Britain, polls have shown that over half of Muslims believe homosexuality is wrong.
And of course at the extreme end of the scale Isis punishes homosexuals by throwing them off towers.
This despite the Koran itself never prescribing a punishment. Homosexuality is often treated as some sort of sin that’s as morally corrupt as murder or rape.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have institutionalised and rationalised homophobia rather than showing tolerance.
Within Britain, it’s not talked enough about in households or in schools. LGBT Muslims face huge identity conflicts, fear of being marginalised and treated as freaks, unable to find mosques welcoming them.
Conservative Muslims have insisted that whatever their stance on homosexuality, murder is wrong. But it misses the point.
When you treat homosexuality as a sin and LGBT people as abominations, you strip them of their humanity and empathy and forge a scenario where acts of violence can be inflicted upon them because they are regarded as lesser beings who have strayed wildly.
When the media continuously demonises Muslims or black people, we immediately point out how the antagonist was radicalised by the social environment of hatred and poisonous bile and bigotry towards these people.
Homophobia isn’t exclusive to Islam and, indeed, polls show that overall Roman Catholics tend to be more negative towards homosexuality than ordinary Muslims.
Historically, it wasn’t always the case that Muslim society reacted like this to LGBT people.
Under the Ottoman empire, homosexuality was not treated as a crime. But right now religious authorities have to act.
Within the Muslim world, Muslims who are politically, culturally or sexually different from others are treated as deviants and heretics. Their punishment is often execution.
LGBT people still have to live in fear of being who they are. Homophobic attitudes are harder to defeat in later stages of life. So start early. LGBT education is needed now more than ever.
And acknowledging that there are huge swathes of the Muslim community that do not tolerate homosexuality, peaceful though they may be, is one of these tasks.
This is genuinely moving: please read the family’s statement, and then the information about anti-Ahmadi prejudice in both Pakistan and the UK:
Asad Shah ‘met everyone with the utmost kindness’ Credit: SWNS
Religion, colour and creed were irrelevant to the friendly shopkeeper (an Ahmadi Muslim) who died in an attack outside his store after wishing his customers happy Easter, his family has said.
In a moving tribute to 40-year-old Asad Shah, his family said they had been devastated by the loss of a “brilliant” man who recognised “that the differences between people are vastly outweighed by our similarities”:
Asad Shah family statement following death in Shawlands
(released on behalf of the family by Police Scotland, 30 March 2016)
On Thursday evening (24th March), a beloved husband, son, brother and everyone’s friend, Asad Shah, was taken away from us by an incomprehensible act. We are devastated by this loss.
A person’s religion, ethnicity, race, gender or socioeconomic background never mattered to Asad. He met everyone with the utmost kindness and respect because those are just some of the many common threads that exist across every faith in our world. He was a brilliant man, recognising that the differences between people are vastly outweighed by our similarities. And he didn’t just talk about this, he lived it each and every day, in his beloved community of Shawlands and his country of Scotland.
If there was to be any consolation from this needless tragedy, it came in the form of the spontaneous and deeply moving response by the good people of Shawlands, Glasgow and beyond. As a family, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to all who have organised and participated in the street vigils, online petitions and messages. You have moved us beyond words and helped us start healing sooner than we thought possible. You were Asad’s family as much as we are and we will always remain with you.
One of our brightest lights has been extinguished but our love for all mankind and hope for a better world in which we can all live in peace and harmony, as so emphatically embodied by Asad, will endure and prevail. Asad left us a tremendous gift and we must continue to honour that gift by loving and taking care of one another.
We will not be making any further comments on this tragedy and ask everyone, especially the media, to allow us the privacy we need to grieve and heal away from the public eye.
With deepest appreciation,
The Shah Family
“Because I didn’t have my father’s consent and support, I had to step down. I was pressured into stepping down” – Shazia Bashir (above)
Another said she had been told by Labour members “Islam and feminism aren’t compatible”.
An advocate for gay rights was told: “This is un-Islamic. Leave that for white people.” And many spoke of being criticised for being too Westernised.
A comrade from a Muslim background comments, “I can tell you the number of people in my family who were surprised by this story when I mentioned it to them and that is nil – which, at an educated guess, is almost certainly also the number of people in the SWP, the NUS Black Students’ Campaign and other groups who usually fall over themselves to say how much they support Muslim women, who are likely to do anything about this issue.
JD comments: it’s not just a Labour Party problem or a problem at councillor level: just look at the misogynistic abuse Naz Shah got from Galloway and his Respect Party supporters when she stood against him in Bradford West at the general election.
Comrade Andrew Coates has already responded to Kevin Ovenden’s ignorant and/or dishonest piece in today’s Morning Star. Coatesy’s piece is republished below. But I just wanted to add that, for me personally, the most repugnant aspect of Ovenden’s semi-coherent rant, is its philistinism: the suggestion that workers don’t care about ideas, free speech or other “highfalutin” (Ovenden’s choice of word) concepts: this crude philistine pseudo-workerism at a time when we are remembering Eleanor Marx, who taught Will Thorne to read – so that he could read Capital.
Ovenden is a lumpen disgrace.
Ovenden: Mussolini, Moseley, Charlie Hebdo – même combat.
Andrew Coates writes:
In today’s Morning Star an individual, Kevin Ovenden, a prominent member of George Galloway’s Respect Party, has this article published,
Racism; The Achilles Heel of Middle Class Liberalism.
WASN’T Charlie Hebdo once something to do with the left, loosely a product of a previous upsurge of social struggle many years ago?
Yes it was. So were Sir Oswald Mosley, Benito Mussolini, Georges Sorel…
Ovenden is perhaps too ignorant of socialist history to know that Georges Sorel’s said of Lenin, after the Russian Revolution, that he was “the greatest theoretician of socialism since Marx” (see Wikipedia. The citation is from a postscript to Reflections on Violence – 1908, ‘In Defence of Lenin‘ added 1919).
Unless he means that admiring Lenin meant was proof that Sorel was a racist.
I will not dignify somebody who supports George Galloway by citing his reflections on Charlie, our Charlie, on an ill-judged ‘une’ poking puerile and forgettable fun at the pro-abortion manifeste des 343, in 1971.
Dubious as the front page may have been what that has to do with racism is nevertheless beyond me.
Ovenden then refers to the Riss cartoon in the Weekly.
Islamophobia is the Jewish question of our day. It is not simply one reactionary idea among many, which all principled socialists oppose.
It plays a particular corrupting role across politics and society as a whole.
One effect is revealed when some people’s reaction to a viciously racist and Islamophobic cartoon is quickly to start talking about freedom of speech, as if the “freedom” to pump out that stuff in Europe were at all under attack from the states and governing political forces.
I would note that the Jewish question of today is….the Jewish question of today.
It has not gone away.
If you want proof there were people immediately arguing on Facebook that publishing Riss showed that Israeli funding for Charlie and the attendance of Netanyahu at the Charlie memorial were somehow related to the publication of the Riss cartoon.
We have blogged our own critical views on the cartoon and we will not repeat them, except to say, we defend our beloved Charlie from the depths of our being, we do not defend every drawing they ever publish.
Ovenden then continues,
Freedom is under threat in France. There is a state of emergency. Scores of Muslim places of worship are slated for closure by the state.
The courts have declared that boycotting Israeli goods is illegal. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been banned.
Roma have been rounded up and deported. Trade unionists who occupied their factory against job losses have had nine-month jail sentences handed down.
The already extensive repressive arms of the state are being further extended into the banlieues and cités.
Instead of systematic and serious attention given to this — and similar developments in other countries — liberal intellectual and political life in Europe tilts at windmills.
Ovenden has skipped over the corpses of our martyred dead to make this comment,
To call to rally against a threat which is not there is, whatever the intentions of those ringing the tocsin, to divert us from those threats which really are there.
Alarm bell, false alert…..but……
Is there really no problem with violent Islamism in Europe?
Do the victims of the 13th of November count for nothing in the minds of Respect leaders?
Well totalitarian Islamism is a threat, to the sisters and brothers in Syria, of Iraq, to the Kurds, to the cause of progressive humanity, to ordinary people who have been murdered, tortured and enslaved by the Islamists of Daesh.
But to return to this extraordinary article…
The idea that liberals and leftists have ignored the French clamp down in the état d’urgence will come as fucking news to our French comrades who have protested against it from day one, from countless independent left groups, radical leftists, to this appeal from the venerable liberal Ligue des droits de l’homme: Sortir de l’état d’urgence (17th December).
This is what the comrades from Ensemble – the third largest group in the Front de gauche said on the 19th of November: Communiqué de Ensemble! Non à l’état d’urgence !.
This is what l’Humanité had to say at the end of November: Etat d’urgence. Le Front de gauche refuse l’exception permanente
This is an upcoming meeting against the repressive measures by the comrades of the French Communist Party:
Agoras de l’Humanité – 30 janvier 2016 – « État d’urgence, déchéance de nationalité, citoyenneté menacée »
But like a SWP student leaflet Ovenden has managed to confuse matters by adding everything but the kitchen sink into his rant.
How the Goodyear sentences (the trade unionists he refers to), the decision on boycotting Jewish goods are related to state of emergency would be interesting to see demonstrated.
What ever was Ovenden’s mind as he wanders further around the subject of racism in Europe, passing by Germany, his life in a working class port city in the North of England (Blackpool?), and the further faults of the high-faulting petty bourgeoisie we will, hopefully, never know.
But why does he end by stating that he stands for class solidarity.
In the “Europe of extremes, I’m staking my lot — including my own personal sense of security, of hope against fear — on the proles.”
Like one horny handed George Galloway no doubt.
Or is this perhaps the “mordant satire and mockery” he loves amongst the proles.
Just listen to what she has to say. Trump and his people are certainly racists … and pretty damn close to fascism:
Let’s just hope that this woman’s evident decency and generosity of spirit bursts Trump’s bubble.
Kenan Malik, always worth reading:-
There appears, nevertheless, to be something especially potent about Islam in fomenting terror and persecution. Contemporary radical Islam is the religious form through which a particular kind of barbarous rage expresses itself.
So, to understand why jihadis have been drawn into a moral universe that allows them to celebrate inhuman acts, we have to understand why political rage against the West takes such nihilistic, barbaric forms, and why radical Islam has become the primary vehicle for such rage.
Jihadis view themselves as warriors against western imperialism. Yet few anti-imperialists of previous generations would recognise jihadis as ideological kin.
There is a long history of popular struggles against colonialism and empire. While such movements often used violent means to pursue their ends, they were rarely “anti-western” in any existential sense. Rather they worked within a universalist moral framework that stressed freedom and emancipation for all humanity.
Over the past few decades these anti-imperialist traditions have unravelled. The new movements that have emerged in their place are often rooted in religious or ethnic identity, and are sectarian or separatist in form. This shift is linked to the wider decline of progressive social movements, the loss of faith in universalist values, and the replacement of ideological politics with the politics of identity. Moral norms have increasingly become tribal rather than universal. Political struggle for a better world has given way to inchoate identity-driven rage.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
A few days ago it was reported that nearly a third of Londoners – 31% – felt uneasy at the prospect of a Muslim mayor.
Some responded to the poll result with cries of bigotry – others applauded the 31% for being Islamorealists. It seems probable that people who registered unease did so for a range of reasons, and with different degrees of certainty.
It’s useful to compare that 31% figure with the percentage who would be made uncomfortable by the idea of a mayor from an ethnic minority – 13%. Presumably almost all of the 13% were also part of the 31%. Clearly such people are bigots. But what about the 18% who would be happy with a non-white mayor but not with a Muslim one – and indeed the further 13% who didn’t feel able to give a decisive answer when asked how they’d view a Muslim mayor?
You don’t have to be a racist to be an anti-Muslim bigot (though it probably helps). Although white nationalists tend to be anti-Muslim by default, many of the most prominent counterjihadists are non-racist, and of course not all of them are white.
Someone like Ali Sina would never vote for a Muslim mayor. He has said:
“It is time to put an end to the charade of “moderate Islam.” There is no such thing as moderate Muslim. Muslims are either jihadists or dormant jihadists – moderate, they are not.”
Treating Muslims as a monolithic bloc is an obvious marker of bigotry. But some of those who felt they couldn’t unreservedly say they were ‘comfortable’ with the idea of a Muslim mayor might not have meant to imply that under no circumstances would they vote for a Muslim, just that they’d want to know more. With so much debate around Islam and extremism, people are becoming increasingly alert to the sharp differences of opinion within Muslim communities. Television programmes such as The Big Questions return to the topic of religious extremism and conservatism obsessively. Those taking the survey may have felt wary about such illiberal views.
However even those actively anxious about Islamism are likely to have favourable views of Muslims who call for reform or adhere to more liberal interpretations of Islam – I bet a fair few of the 31% would have been more than happy to vote for someone like Maajid Nawaz or Sara Khan. And some of them, at the last election, were probably rooting for Muslim Naz Shah to beat her non-Muslim rival George Galloway.
And there are likely to be similar differences of opinion amongst the 55%, those who said were fully comfortable with the idea of a Muslim mayor. Some may just be easy-going types who would see any Muslim mayor as a positive symbol of multiculturalism and diversity. Others might be more actively politically engaged, perhaps opponents of the Prevent programme and of the comparatively tough approach Cameron is taking towards radicalisation. Would such Londoners welcome a Muslim mayor who disagreed with them on these issues? Probably not. Maajid Nawaz, in particular, would be the last person some Muslims would vote for – and non-Muslims from some sections of the left –Nathan Lean for example – would most likely go along with them.
In other words, at least a few of the 55% are likely to have particular questions for Muslim candidates, questions which relate specifically to their Muslim identity, not simply (as would be the case for any candidate) to their political views. In this they are no different from some of the 31%. Whereas a liberal might want to be reassured that the Muslim candidate shared their secular values (and Muslim liberals will probably be particularly vigilant) others, by contrast, will want to check that the candidate is not a ‘sell out’, an ‘Uncle Tom’. Right across the spectrum, for different reasons, people will want to be sure that a Muslim candidate is the right kind of Muslim – but their definitions of what the ‘right kind’ are will differ.
Giles Fraser: smug, banal idiot
If asked to nominate the most annoying commentator presently to be heard and read in the British mainstream media, I think I’d go for Giles Fraser – the Guardian‘s ‘Loose Cannon’ and regular contributor to Radio 4’s ‘Thought For Today’ and ‘The Moral Maze.’ I am, of course, ignoring right-wing scum like Toby Young, Rod Liddle and Katie Hopkins: they’re simply beyond the pale and so don’t really annoy me. Liberals and leftists with whom I’m supposed to be on the same side, are the ones who infuriate me – and none more so than Fraser.
What I object to most about Fraser is not so much his sanctimony (after all he is a priest of some sort), nor yet his evident stupidity. It’s his smugness – his wheedling, self-righteous tone (to be heard on the radio and sensed from his Guardian columns), implying that he’s got something really profound to tell us, when all it is, is a load of half-baked relativist bollocks from someone whose political education stems from a brief passage through the SWP at university. He really is a caricature comes true – or rather two caricatures, both old favourites from Private Eye: the Rev JC Flannel and Dave Spart.
If Fraser has any consistency, its’s his admiration for Islam and – indeed – politicised Islam or Islamism. We’ve had cause to take him up on this before, when he endorsed Lady Warsi’s suggestion that criticism of Islam is the last acceptable form of racism, but his most recent swooning in the Graun over Islam is perhaps his most preposterous yet – comparing militant, politicised Islam (ie Islamism) with … the Levellers (a movement, you may recall, that was rather keen on democracy). He also doesn’t seem to ‘get’ the point that it is quite possible to encourage violence yourself, whilst remaining personally uninvolved in any acts of violence: for Fraser the concept of non-violent extremism is, by definition, not a matter of concern and he goes on to suggest that to to attack it “is simply an attack on thinking big, thinking differently and arguing passionately.”
Presumably, as a C of E priest (albeit a turbulent one), Fraser has no theological sympathy with Islam. What seems to excite him about it (and he’s not alone amongst Christians and other non-Islamic religious people here) is its militancy, assertiveness, and willingness to engage in politics. How he wishes the dull, inoffensive, middle class C of E would show just a little of Islam’s virility! He spells it out in his piece for the Graun, entitled “I believe in an authority greater than David Cameron’s. Am I an extremist?”:
“And then along comes Islam – and, thankfully, it disrupts this absurd game and refuses to play by the rules. Its practitioners want to talk about God, sex and politics rather than mortgages, school places and the latest Boden catalogue. And good for them.”
To be honest, when I read Fraser’s ridiculous piece I felt annoyance and frustration that such rubbish gets published in a ‘serious’ newspaper. But I couldn’t be arsed to write a reply. Life’s too short to respond to every example to half-baked nonsense spouted by prating prelates. So I’m happy to hand over at this point to the author of a new blog, Exit Pursued By Bear:
Giles Fraser’s recent defence of radical Islam from what he sees as David Cameron’s assault on it – has grown to become the focus of the piece. What’s interesting about this article is that both on its surface, and on every level underlying the surface, it’s nonsense confected with absurdity: a liberal Christian minister writing in defence of the most totalitarian and oppressive interpretations of a faith he doesn’t belong to. Nowhere does Fraser indicate that he finds the views obnoxious, but nevertheless wishes, Voltaire-style, to advocate their right to be expressed. Quite the opposite: he seems enraptured by the audacity of asserting, frankly, medieval ideas as – at the very least – worthy of consideration, and caricaturing those who hold qualms about this type of approach as not just opponents of free speech but the modern-day equivalents of those who would shoot the Levellers. The interesting question then becomes: what explains this monumental myopia on the part of somebody who is clearly well-educated and whose heart, broadly speaking, appears to be in the right place?
Read the full piece here
And has the wretched Fraser even considered where the exciting “refusal to play by the rules” by people who “want to talk about God, sex and politics” can lead in, say, Bangladesh?
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