Islamism

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First Published: Tuesday 6 June 2017

Our tolerance to intolerance is a familiar story. The book-burning rallies during the 1989 Rushdie affair should have been a wake-up call to religious fundamentalism. Instead we became paranoid about causing offence and tried to appease regressive community leaders who dishonestly claimed to be speaking on behalf of the “Muslim community”. We lacked the confidence to challenge them or extremists, and as a result they have thrived.

It is clear we have learned little about the diversity of Muslims. We have not only been prepared to legitimise Islamist preachers and groups, we continue to hold the misguided belief that we are serving the interests of the so-called “Muslim community”. We unhelpfully lump Muslims under the banner of a singular “community”.

This myopic perception of Muslims is part of the problem. How many times do we hear politicians and others tell us Muslim terrorists are not “true Muslims”, that they “don’t represent the Muslim community”?

Yet this outdated language conceals the problem. We fail to understand the battle taking place among Britain’s Muslims between those who advocate for a pluralistic humanistic interpretation of Islam against those who subscribe to a supremacist, intolerant and anti-Western Islam.

There are Muslims in our country who support this hostile Islam; they represent the far-Right of British Muslims, and the unfortunate truth is that they are pretty popular.

They preach on campuses, at community events, and have a large online following, some in their hundreds of thousands. Promoting conspiracy theories, calling for the establishment of a caliphate, pouring suspicion on any engagement with state agencies, endorsing anti-Semitism, and intolerance to other Muslims who don’t share their Islamist world view… they then employ the language of multiculturalism and human rights to win supporters while duplicitously playing the victimhood card.

I have seen this for a long time, yet naïve politicians with their singular myopic lens about the “Muslim community” are so eager to stand up against anti-Muslim hatred they end up legitimising the very people who provide the climate for extremism, and attack progressive Muslims who seek to counter Islamist extremism.

This tolerance to extremism was demonstrated by Citizens UK when it invited chief imam of Lewisham Islamic Centre Shakeel Begg to speak at a demonstration on child refugees outside Parliament last year. Only six weeks earlier a High Court judge had ruled that Begg was an “extremist Islamic speaker” who had “promoted and encouraged religious violence” and had glorified key 20th-century jihadist ideologues.

Citizens UK’s defence was that the event it asked Begg to speak at was about the issue of child refugees. One wonders if the charity would extend such a warm invitation to far-Right extremists who have advocated violence to come along and speak about child refugees. I doubt it.

Our tolerance to extremism is also demonstrated by anti-racist groups unwilling to challenge Islamists. Hope Not Hate is one of the very few; it has dipped its toe in the water to find itself — rather typically— of being accused of racism and Islamophobia. Yet so-called anti-racist groups like Stand up to Racism and the NUS invite groups like Cage and Mend to speak at their events, while last year the NUS “no-platformed” Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles for “being Islamophobic”. In other words, challenging Islamist extremism is seen as bigotry.

As a Muslim, I find this to be nothing but outright hypocrisy by anti-racist groups who, consumed by identity politics, are unable to see the wood for the trees. Although they are prepared to challenge traditional far Right extremists, they are not prepared to call out far-Right Islamist extremists in the erroneous belief that to do so is Islamophobic. This is the dismal out of touch state of our anti-racist movement today.

Which is why two days before the election, it is imperative that we ask our prospective candidates what their position on how they would challenge Islamic extremism. Find if they even have any understanding of the issue.

A few days ago I received an email from a councillor. For two years, he told me he had been pressing his council to deal with the alarming rising risks from Islamism, which he saw taking root among Muslims in his and neighbouring towns. With increasing segregation, it was clear policies were needed to reverse segregation. He came across resistance from others councillors “who rely heavily on the Muslim vote” but also “officers who seem to live in a parallel multicultural universe”. His story is unbearably familiar to me.

Almost 30 years on from the Rushdie affair, we remain stuck in a vortex of outdated multicultural, multi-faith policies and our ignorance about Islamist extremism remains unchallenged. Muslims need to acknowledge this without getting defensive and redouble their efforts in countering Islamist ideology. We are not doing enough. However, what is also needed is a broad coalition that seeks to defend our shared values and counters all divisive hate beliefs based on our common humanity. No such movement, fit for purpose in the 21st century, exists. It’s high time it did.

Sara Khan is author of The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism, and director of the counter-extremism organisation Inspire. Follow Inspire on Twitter @wewillinspire

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Sara Khan has spent years battling the excesses of British Islamism -Review by Justin Marozzi, first published Sunday 11th September in The Sunday Times

It is a measure of the success of the vigorous campaign waged by some British Islamists against the government’s counter-extremism policy that I began this book with a sense of foreboding. It is a tribute to Sara Khan that by its conclusion the dread was directed entirely at the noisy proponents of Islamophobia, a cottage industry of extremists who do a great disservice to British Muslims and our wider society.

Thought the EU referendum campaign was marked by lies and disinformation? Not a patch on certain British Islamists’ relentless battle against the government’s counterterrorism Prevent programme. As Khan demonstrates with great acuity, they have sought to discredit it at every level within the Muslim and non-Muslim communities and, to a large degree, have succeeded, using lies and smears to achieve their ends. Khan, the co-founder of Inspire, a counter-extremism and human-rights organisation, and her colleague, Tony McMahon, have spent years fighting on the frontline against extremism and know what they — make that we — are up against.

Their work challenging the Islamist (for which read extremist) brand of the faith, fighting gender discrimination and intervening to protect youths flirting with extremism has become considerably more difficult in recent years with the convergence of two traditionally antagonistic groups, the Salafists and Islamists, both equally undesirable. Much of the extremists’ work is promoting sharia, railing against democracy and spotting Islamophobia on every street corner. Say it often enough, and people start to believe it. Repeat it in the media, and the wider public starts to think Islam and democracy are irreconcilable.

This book reveals that just as the hard left has hijacked the Labour Party, so Islamists are seeking total control of their faith so that Islamism, with its fundamental tenets of prejudice, violence, intolerance, extremism and rejection of democracy, becomes Islam.

All ideological battles have their heroes and villains. Islamists need their useful idiots and none comes more obliging than the left and the sundry anti-racist and feminist movements that collectively refuse to address Islamist extremism “in the misguided belief that such action would be Islamophobic”. Khan names and shames them with gusto. Take a bow Shelly Asquith of the National Union of Students and Exeter University’s Feminist Society, happy to join forces with Cage, an organisation that considered Isis’s British executioner Jihadi John “a beautiful young man”.

No criticism from these quarters, Khan notes, about female genital mutilation, the widespread view of gays as a “scourge” or the appropriateness of stoning as a punishment for adultery. She diagnoses an “identity catastrophe among a small but significant section of British Muslims” who hold views entirely at odds with the British tradition of pluralism, democracy and human rights.

The section in Khan’s book on how militant Islamists have commandeered the heights of British student life makes worrying reading. Who knew, for instance, that the Federation of Student Islamic Societies constituted by far the largest voting bloc at the annual NUS conference? It helped elect the student body’s first Muslim president, Malia Bouattia. Admirable at one level, her election looks less encouraging when one realises that she has called for the dismantling of the government’s Prevent programme, considers Birmingham University a “Zionist outpost”, denounces “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets” and said that condemnation of Isis was “a justification for war and blatant Islamophobia”. Ah, that word again.

If this is dispiriting, relief comes with Khan’s pen portraits of Muslim counter-extremist activists whose bravery in fighting terrorist recruiters and their sympathisers generally goes unacknowledged. These are the people who collectively provide “antidotes to poison”. If the media wanted to hear from Muslim voices beyond the usual haranguing suspects (exhibit A, Anjem Choudary of al-Muhajiroun infamy), they could do a lot worse than speak to people such as Mina Topia, a campaigner for Muslim women’s rights, Mustafa Field, a proponent of inter-faith dialogue, and Usama Hasan, an astronomer and scholar at the Quilliam Foundation. Predictably, this trio has been vilified by the Islamists. Topia was trolled and called “drunken liberal garbage”; Field was told the Prophet would have put a spear through his head because he is a Shia; and Hasan received death threats. That is what happens when you stand up against Islamists.

It is a comforting irony that some Muslim commentators believe the West leads the way in Islamic values. Khan cites Professor Hossein Askari of George Washington University, who rated Ireland, Denmark and the UK as far more Islamic than Malaysia or Kuwait. Many purportedly Islamic countries, he wrote, are “unjust, corrupt and underdeveloped”. One thinks of Saudi Arabia, whose malign influence in propagating a rigid, intolerant and puritanical brand of Islam over many years is not dwelt on here but accounts for many of the problems we are encountering today.

Let us not despair. As an open, free and tolerant country, Britain is well placed to withstand the extremist assault. Government, activists and the media all have important roles to play. As Khan says, “our greatest defence lies in the defence of our shared values”. This is an important book full of compelling, disturbing and inspirational material, required reading to understand what is happening in our midst and what we can do about it.

Read the first chapter on the Sunday Times website

Saqi £14.99 pp256
Justin Marozzi’s books include Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood. Sara Khan is at the Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on Monday, October 10, at 1.45pm; cheltenhamfestivals.com

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Inspire is shocked and disappointed that some British imams, Muslim groups and individuals in our country have expressed their support and paid tribute to Mumtaz Qadri following his execution* yesterday in Pakistan, by declaring him to be a “martyr” who defended the honour of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)

Mumtaz Qadri assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 for his stance against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and his robust defence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who is currently on death row for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). 

Governor Taseer pointed out in November 2010 in an interview with CNN that the blasphemy law is not a religious law but a political tool implemented in 1979 when he stated: 

“The blasphemy law is not a God-made law. It’s a man-made law. It was made by General Ziaul Haq and the portion about giving a death sentence was put in by Nawaz Sharif. So it’s a law which gives an excuse to extremists and reactionaries to target weak people and minorities.” 

Also in 2010, during an interview with Newsline Governor Taseer made the following statement:

 “The thing I find disturbing is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask how many of them are well-to-do? Why is it that only the poor and defenceless are targeted? How come over 50 per cent of them are Christians when they form less than 2 per cent of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is misused to target minorities.” 

Such remarks angered Qadri enough to murder Governor Taseer in cold blood. Yet today in Pakistan thousands of supporters cheered and threw flowers at the casket of Mumtaz Qadri. Here in the UK since yesterday, a number of imams, Muslim groups and individuals have praised and defended Qadri’s act of murder.
 

We believe there is absolutely no justification – whether religious, moral or ethical – for supporting individuals like Qadri, least of all from an Islamic perspective. Qadri’s supporters have argued that he honoured the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by murdering Taseer when in fact Qadri and his supporters have tainted the name of the Prophet and dishonoured his teachings by murdering a man in cold blood who showed solidarity with minority communities, as did the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  As Governor Taseer rightly pointed out: “Islam calls on us to protect minorities, the weak and the vulnerable. 

This Islamic position was recently re-emphasised at the historic Marrakesh Declaration which was attended by Muslim theologians from 120 countries in February 2016 and can be read here

We at Inspire believe that we must stand for equality, human rights and the rule of law. We also recognise we must challenge those who seek to bring our faith into disrepute by justifying violence and death in the Prophet’s name.

1st March 2016

*Inspire do not support the death penalty

 

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No-one can be under any doubt about the incredibly difficult times we find ourselves living in particularly here in Europe.

With a sense of foreboding, I often wonder what I should be more worried about. On the one hand we have the rise of far right politics, neo-fascist extremism and violent anti-Muslim sentiment across the face of Europe, leaving many concerned about what kind of a Europe our children will live in. Just two days before the Paris attack, Germany witnessed the biggest ever anti-Islam march organised by Pegida with an estimated 18’000 people in attendance. As news emerged about the cold-blooded murder of staff and others at the Charlie Hebdo offices, #killamuslim initially began to trend on twitter provoking revenge attacks against mosques and French Muslims. But it’s not only Muslims who fear attacks; Jews often also fear and feel the impact of rising far right politics and anti-Semitism. Yesterday one of the gunmen attacked a Jewish supermarket in Paris, because he wanted to defend [1] Palestinians and target Jews.

On the other hand, as we have witnessed across the world, we have the rise of Islamist extremism, which at its core despises freedom and human rights. The threat to both Muslims and non-Muslims, posed by this ideology is real and underplaying it only creates a major obstacle in dealing with this challenge. But all too often that’s exactly what I see happening time and again. The constant denial of the role of extremist ideology serves no-one and in fact insults many victims. By denying the role of extremist ideology, you in fact insult the poor parents who have discovered their sons and daughters have left the UK to join the unIslamic State, you insult victims like Ahmed Merabet, the French Muslim policeman who was executed, you insult the 17 killed in Paris, you insult the 132 children killed in Peshawar gunned down in December, you insult the thousands of women in Syria and Iraq who have been raped en masse and sold in sexual slavery markets. And of course let’s not forget that the overwhelming majority of victims killed by Muslim extremist organisations are indeed Muslim.

While some Muslims are at pains to deny the role of extremist ideology, the extremists time and again tell us they are doing it in the name of Islam. One cannot deny, no matter how perverted, that the interpretation of Islam they have been taught has convinced them about the Islamic justification of what they do.

Twitter over the last few days has often seemed like a race to the bottom in moral terms. Tweets calling for all Muslims to be killed as the only viable response to this “war on western culture,” were many including “Islam is a vicious cult. Muslims have no place in any civilised country. Deport and kill them before they kill you!” But these tweets were among the many tweets glorifying the deaths of staff at Charlie Hebdo: “You (kuffar) have taken away the free speech of Muslims in the west with laws and jails. We will take away your ‘free speech’ with death.”

“Only coconuts would condemn the attack on #CharlieHebdo. I’m proud of those who did it!”

“May Allah swt reward our brothers in France who are real men, fear & love Allah swt, who have gheera and took revenge for the Ummah. #IS”

“Allahu akbar! This is the right response 2 those who mock with Islam! #Paris”

Two sides of the same extremist coin, both these hatreds and degenerative positions can all too easily transform into violence; but both are also rooted in fear of the other.

After the terrorist attacks in 2011 by far right extremist Anders Breivik who killed seventy seven people, Norwegian’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg stated, “We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values…our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity.” In the challenging times we find ourselves in, with the rise of both far-right and Islamist extremism, I hope and pray that now more than ever, we hear that message echoed over and over; a message that is fundamental in combatting the narrative of hate and extremism. Stoltenberg is right; we need more openness, more democracy not the opposite if we want to overcome the extremism on both sides.

In countering both these extremist outlooks, Europe must cling to its hard won freedoms protecting speech, belief and minorities, while Muslims must reject and challenge the supremacist ideologies which are an affront to the victims of this ideology and indeed to Islam itself. I’ve repeatedly written[2] about moving on from mere condemnation (which by the way is not, nor has ever been, about “apologising”) in order to challenge the extremist narrative but as Fraser Nelson wrote[3], we also need better and stronger Muslim leaders to be able to deal with this challenge. And let us not be under any illusion about this challenge. Yesterday the MI5 head Andrew Parker stated[4] that Al-Qaida are planning to attack Britain; for those of us who work to counter extremism, this isn’t all too surprising, shocking maybe.

At Inspire we will continue to do what we can and are taking our Making A Stand[5] campaign out to Muslim women. We know the impact women have when they take the lead in countering extremism. And now more than any other time, we need to make a stand and take the lead. Join us.

 

[1] http://news.sky.com/story/1405224/charlie-hebdo-al-qaeda-threatens-more-attacks

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sara-khan/lee-rigby-killing_b_4484732.html)

[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11333721/British-Muslims-deserve-better-leaders-and-theyll-need-them.html

[4] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/01/six-key-points-from-mi5s-andrew-parker-speech-on-terrorism-in-britain/

[5] http://www.wewillinspire.com/making-a-stand/

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