Here is a piece in Telegraph, premised on two recently published books and mainly defending British Muslims, that a friend sent to me, hoping that it will help me see the ‘light’. It is indeed a commendable effort but I reject the downplaying in this article:
Many people have come to regard Muslims as a backward group of religious extremists estranged from wider society and incapable of coming to terms with what it means to be British. This impression has been heightened by misleading press reporting and inflammatory statements from senior politicians. The so-called “Trojan horse” controversy concerning an alleged Muslim takeover of Birmingham schools – based on what looks like a fabricated document – has brought fresh ugliness to an already putrid public debate.
There are elements of truth in the popular narrative about British Islam, but much of it is based on ignorance. A 2011 Demos survey showed that Muslims are more patriotic than other Britons (83 per cent said they were proud to be British as opposed to 79 per cent of the general population), and are more integrated than is often thought to be the case. So the publication of these two books could not be more timely.
Innes Bowen, a BBC radio journalist, has written an admirable and clear-headed study which has much to teach anyone with an interest in British Islam. She explains the beliefs, historical background and political engagement of the main Muslim sects and organisations: Deobandis, Barelwis, Tablighi Jamaat, Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, Shia and Ismailis.
As far as I can tell, she does not bring her own agenda, though she is perhaps too ready to accept some of the conventional categories of mainstream British political discourse. Her volume is based on years of research. Every page is full of essential information, and she opens up a great deal that is mysterious or poorly understood.
I urge every commentator and politician who wants to open his or her mouth about British Islam to read this work. Bowman dispels a long list of myths about the role of Saudi teaching in mosques, the influence of Iran among British Shia (very little), the connection between the doctrines of Tablighi Jamaat and terrorism (none), and the alleged shortage of British-born imams (there are plenty).
Above all, she suggests that there is no contradiction between Muslim identity and loyalty to the British state. Her eyes remain open, and she is not blind to the faults of British Muslims and their, in some cases, disastrously misguided leaders. But this well-written book is a desperately needed antidote to the hare-brained commentary from politicians and writers who ought to know much better.
Arun Kundnani has written a very different kind of work. It is angrier and more polemical. Yet it too is grounded in research from both sides of the Atlantic. The case studies from the United States are shocking. He shows how Muslims there can be ensnared by the FBI into so-called plots which have been devised by the US government, arguing convincingly that Islam has taken over the role of public enemy from communism. Hostility to Muslims, shows Kundnani, is another version of the McCarthyite hysteria that swept through the United States in the Fifties, and with even less justification.
He breaks down Western analysis of Islam into rival schools of thought. According to one approach, Islamic culture is a hopeless case: incompatible with modernity because of an alleged failure to separate religion from the state. According to the second school, there is nothing wrong with Islam itself: “Rather than the legacy of a pre-modern, Oriental religion, extremism is the result of 20th-century ideologues who transformed Islam’s essentially benign teachings into an anti-modern, totalitarian, political ideology.”
Both doctrines, asserts Kundnani, have the same effect. They both place the blame for terrorism on an alien ideology. They both absolve the West from responsibility and “eschew the role of social and political circumstances in shaping how people make sense of the world and then act on it”. Kundnani is clear that Western aggression bears a great deal of the responsibility for the violence that is currently wracking the world.
His book is a harder read than Bowen’s, and his arguments more difficult to stomach. Sometimes he goes too far, as when he suggests that the 2001 attack on the US and the 2005 London bombings provided “a pretext” for a new kind of counter-terrorism doctrine. Nevertheless this is a powerful book.
Like Bowen’s it dispels myths, pointing out that “there is no Islamic doctrine of ‘kill the unbelievers’ as anti-Islam propagandists often maintain. Islam, like other religions, provides a broad moral framework for thinking about questions of violence.” Again and again this book challenges your assumptions. It is worth reading for its examination of the word “extremism” alone. Martin Luther King, Kundnani points out, was denounced in this way.
Bowen’s book is at bottom gentle and optimistic. She suggests that over time there is no fundamental contradiction between Islam and the modern Western state. Kundnani is fiercer and more pessimistic.
I hope and believe that Bowen’s outlook is closer to the truth – but these books should be read together. In their different ways they provide a compelling guide to the debate over the nature of British Islam.
The fact is that a wide majority of every religious community in Britain is patriotic and law-abiding but it is only Muslims who require constant reassurances to be given about them. Why? The answer is simple: because most radicals have been Muslims and people like Anjem Choudary get their mug all over the television. To me, rather than constantly looking for such reassurances, Muslims in Britain should be arguing against the likes of Choudary and protesting against their incendiary pronouncements and actions. It is normal that in the absence of any such posturing the suspicion grows. For instance, not all Catholic priests are paedophiles. But hasn’t many cardinals’ turning blind eyes to those who are has drawn more opprobrium than the paedophiles themselves?
The silence or acquiescence of the Muslims’ so-called ‘moderate’ majority reinforces the perception of Muslims as a group of people who cannot, or will not, control their extremist fringes. I think this is an accurate reflection of the reality and see no problem with it. To claim that not all Muslims are terrorists, jihadists, or extremists sounds hollow. For example not all men are misogynists or violent towards women, but we incessantly reiterate that men have a duty to stand up to sexism and misogyny. In the 1940’s most Germans were not Nazis. In fact most Germans wanted to live in peace. Similarly, most Hutus did not participate in the killings of Tutsis. But, as we can see, the peaceful majority are irrelevant when a minority are hell bent on waging violence and imposing itself. This is precisely, why I reject the downplaying in this article. We don’t need huge numbers to inflict huge damage. Less than a dozen people, in no position of power or authority, on 9/11 caused enough damage to change the entire world for ever. The genocide of the Native Americans or the slaughter of slave ships might be from a different era but the dark heart in mankind beats on and it is Muslims’ duty to not allow it to function under the cloak of Islam.
So to say that ‘not all Muslims are radical’ is a misplaced assertion. The real question is what they are going to do about the ones who are radical. In the recent years many Muslims have shown the tendency of dubbing those criticizing the religion of Islam as being ‘Muslimphobic’. This is utterly dishonest. Non-Muslims have every right to question the teachings of Islam just as Muslims have every right to scrutinise and question the tenets of other religions. This is an inalienable right and a practice as old as the religion itself. This kind of reaction from Muslims turns other’s lack of knowledge about Islam into a genuine fear of it. Many people’s questioning of Islam because of their support for things which are, in truth, incompatible with Islam -like abortion, gay rights, and sex before marriage- also does not mean that they do not approve of Muslims. They have also subjected their own religions to the same criticism.
Where is the uproar among the Muslims in the West against the intolerance of minorities in many Muslim countries, the murder of Christians in Egypt, kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, denial of education to girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, denial of careers to women in Saudi Arabia, death sentences for supposed adulterers in Sudan, executions of homosexuals in Iran, and “honour” killings and forced marriages just about anywhere? These, naturally, are the things that get reported. Does the author think that the media should report on Muslims going to the Mosque, working at the office, having dinner, and enjoying family time on the weekend? These same Muslims who refuse to murmur on these atrocities turn up in their thousands to protest against Google just because Google owns YouTube and someone somewhere has posted a video that they feel insults Islam. It does not matter that the Video has nothing to do with the US, UK, YouTube or Google – their honour has been slighted and, therefore, they must rally to the chant of the Ummah.
The writer fails to point out the total indifference in the British Muslim community towards the innocent Muslims being slaughtered in violence being perpetrated by ISIS in Iraq. Are the more than hundred thousand killed and millions displaced in Syria worth less attention than a supposed slur posted on YouTube? There is reason that much of the world feels that the Muslim world is not concerned with justice, peace or progress – it is concerned with honour and with the past. And that means that they don’t care how many people die (Muslim or non-Muslim) in wars and jihads and intifadas, as long as Muslim pride is restored. If that means rioting when someone records a film, so be it. If that means murdering your daughter because she’s got a non-Muslim girlfriend, so be it. And if that means keeping Palestinians in refugee camps for three generations in rich Muslims client states of the West then so be it. It is this attitude, and no imaginary Muslim-phobia, that is responsible for a number of young westerners, fuelled by dreams of Jihad, flying off to Syria and holy war. Of course not every Muslim is a jihadist, but it is also a fact that for every young Muslim guy who actually makes it out to the front in Syria or Iraq, it seems there are many more that sympathise with them.
According to a reliable study Muslim extremism claims 38 times more Muslim lives than non-Muslims, without accounting for Muslims’ wars (Iran-Iraq). Only yesterday ISIS crucified a number of moderate Syrian rebels – rebels and the Pro-Assad fighters. As always, the terrorists are Saudi inspired and are far more of a menace to Muslims than the West is. Therefore, to say “the West is far more responsible for Muslim terrorism than they are” shows a lamentable lack of knowledge of the history of Islam and its relations with surrounding civilisations.
In every Western or non-Muslim country that I have been too most people betray no signs of any animus against Muslims in general. I don’t think Muslims in the West need any such reassurances as this article and the two books, cited in it, seek to provide. On the contrary, I think it is a shame that much-needed discussions about Radical Islam are immediately turned into people shouting ‘not all Muslims are like that’ and drowning out people’s genuine concerns. Yes, non-Muslims know the majority of Muslims are not militants. That is why when people talk about jihadists, they are not talking about most Muslims, they are talking about a warped offshoot of the religion. I can express my disgust for abuse in the Catholic Church in any setting, and it is correctly assumed that I am not rebuking Christians in general. I can voice concerns about Zionism and Israeli occupation, and it is understood that I am not rebuking Jews in general. So when others talk about the dangers of radical Islam, I do not see why they should owe any explanations that they are not rebuking Muslims in general. It is obvious. Grow up and do something about your own state of affairs. To begin with, get out of the victimhood you enjoy so much. Shut down the Salafist and the Wahabbi factories of extremism paid for by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and encourage your people to shop kids who are being radicalized. Come out in droves and condemn all female genital manipulation, all forced marriages, all tribal laws, all Jihadist militancy, all sectarianism, and all discrimination against women.