From the latest edition of Q-News(scroll down a little):
"There are some ideological liberals in our community who take to the pulpit to argue that American, British and Canadian foreign policy is responsible for creating the fertile grounds for violent extremists to germinate. The argument is lame and they know it. It is true that Western foreign policy is often driven by greed and ignorance and in most cases it results in death and destruction to countless innocent people, many of them in the Muslim world. But to conclude that foreign policy is wholly responsible for terrorism and suicide bombings is hogwash. The people who are advancing this argument are trying to save their own skin.
"Blaming Western foreign policy for fomenting extremism is precisely the argument that Ayman Al-Zawahiri and his new sidekick, American convert Adam Yahiye Gadahn a.k.a. ‘Azzam the American’ want us to advance to justify their vision of a ‘New Jihad World Order.’ When we buy in we end up advancing the goals of this fringe group of loud and obnoxious Muslim men and women who are hell-bent on heralding The End."
But you read that argument here first folks. And blaming "ideological liberals" is also a cop-out.
Unfortunately, it appears to have become a common theme amongst the popular media and politicians that 'Muslim leaders' are not doing enough to prevent extremism amongst Muslim youngsters. I say unfortunate, because it looks in the wrong places for solutions. This idea is borne of a lack of familiarity by outsiders with the inner social dynamics of the Muslim communities across Britain, and also the (unthinking) belief that Muslims are somehow insulated from broader social and cultural trends across post/modern Britain. However, contrary to assertions, we aren't superhumans who stand outside the contingencies of history and time.
In fact, it is highly unlikely that anything Muslim leaders say or do has any great influence on Muslim youths, much less what mosque members might be saying. More often than not, they're preaching to the converted. Remember that fatwa which condemned the London bombings, or the one which rebutted the claims of al-Muhajiroun? Both texts were produced by Muslim religious leaders whose words carry weight in religious circles (and squares, triangles and most other shapes). Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Atiki, who produced the rebuttal of Bakri et al., is an authoritative contemporary jurist. But how many youngsters know about these? How many even care? And if, as we're told, Muslims place great weight on pronouncements of religious authorities, how much weight can be put on the words of the head of the MCB, who, for all intents and purposes, is a 'secular' leader?
Traditionalist Muslims, like Timothy Winter, will see this as a sign of
the loss of respect for classical learning and authority in contemporary Islam (and I'd agree
to some degree) and tie it in with the general malaise in post/modern Britain. But this loss of respect for authorities is not unique to
Muslims. It is a general cultural trend in wider society and may be a symptom of mass consumerism and individualism in post/modern societies (note, I am trying to be descriptive and not moral in my tone here).
It is also equally likely all of these people, religious scholars and public leaders, are seen as establishment figures, detached from the everyday grind of Muslim life in Britain. So blaming them for extremism and terrorism becomes a pointless exercise. What they say and do is irrelevant to most young Muslims anyway. But, there is one point on which Muslim leaders like Dr. Abdul Bari fail, and fail miserabley like only a Muslim can. That is they, like their critics, 'Islamise' problems affecting Muslims beyond all proportion.
A point I touched on earlier was about how the lack of socioeconomic opportunities causing 'alienation' does not affect Muslims only. What prominent public Muslim spokesmen need to stress when they bring up a lack of housing, jobs and good schools in the context of Muslim integration and participation in society, is that these concerns are broader social problems affecting not just 'Muslims'. They should not reduce them to a 'Muslim' issue as it appears they do. They need to address the point that if you're poor in Britain, or stuck outside the 'mainstream', or on the lower rungs of society, life isn't too pleasant or easy and it doesn't particularly matter if you're Muslim or not. They need to stress their concern for wider issues affecting Britain (health, education and so on), rather than dabbling in stupid political point-scoring (like the MCB's refusal to attend the Holocaust Memorial Day). They should divorce themselves from the public rhetoric which presents them and their organisations as single-issue bodies representing Muslims only, and transform themselves into grassroots organisation which are interested in helping society at large. They should show that theirs is an activism for goodness, and it just so happens that they're Muslims. Whether one likes it or not, in a secular society people are not really interested in your theological viewpoints. Let people connect the two (faith and deeds), rather force-feeding it down their throats. "God guides whom He wills". (And note, this is not a call for people abandon da'wah.) When they decry human rights violations against Muslims, they should also stand up for human rights violations against others who are not Muslims, which are prepetrated by Muslims (it is very real point to note is that most human rights violations against Muslims are committed by other Muslims). Pious platitudes are not enough.
This way they can transform the image (and sadly reality) of Muslim public discourse which is one of rights and politics to one of cultural and social engagement. And yes, there are grassroots organisations run by Muslims which tackle issues like drugs; I'm familiar with one in Tower Hamlets. There was also a seminar a few months ago about sexual abuse and counselling in minority communities organised by a friend of mine at a large mosque (unfortunately I was unable to attend). So these projects do exist, albeit the lack of media coverage and networking with national institutions means they do not get enough exposure. But, my argument is that should a journalist looking for good copy phone up the likes of MCB, MAB, IHRC, MPAC, SMC (who have been silent in recent weeks...) and so on, offices whose phone numbers reside in the diaries of most journalists, then instead of vexing themselves over the latest 'Muslim outrage' story, they should show a bit of nouse and ask the journalist to help cover a project to tackle drugs or illiteracy which they may be involved in or know of. Inayat Bunglawala and Faisal Bodi, from their privileged positions as public Muslim commentators, should use their next few posts at Comment is free blogging only about such projects, tuning out from the media cycles. This way they can expose those people who do have a genuine animus towards Muslims, and make friends with other people regardless of their own personal beliefs.
There are prominent Muslims who have spoken about these sorts of issues, trying to reposition public Muslim discourse as one about broader social concerns. Tariq Ramadan comes to mind, as does Yahya Birt (who is certainly capable of it). But unfortunately they're marginalised (or smeared in the case of Ramadan) by both the popular media and even Muslims (like these comments on my blog which sees Ramadan in the same category as Irshad Manji). Bunglawala and Bodi, the MCB, MAB, SMC, MPAC and so on have access to the media, and are now see as 'Muslim spokesmen' for better or for worse. If, for some reason, they start talking about these broader topics and only these topics (that is they do not discuss 'Muslim issues') and, for some reason they drop out of the public spotlight, then at least our oft-cited complaint against a biased media that is always on the lookout for the next Professional Muslim Extremist, will be fully justified. In the meantime, we could have made some friends across a wider range of society.
Here's a point which needs to be made and understood: When commentators, Muslim 'leaders' and politicians talk about 'Muslim alienation', they need to show more appreciation that many of the reasons for 'alienation' are not 'Islamised' beyond all proportion. This is especially true of the spokesmen from the MCB et al.
Many issues that are involved in alienation of Muslims, which means mainly Pakistani/Kashmiri, Bangladeshi and Somali boys, are no different to the causes that alienate people who will be categorised as white and working-class. (Of course white working class people can also become Muslim -- I've known some that have -- but our categories cross over between race and religion political and social reasons.)
White working-class boys and girls also grow up on 'ghettoes', are maginalised, the subject of ridicule and mockery in popular (liberal) culture, are 'unassimilated' and not particularly 'integrated' into so-called 'mainstream British society'. They can also become the target of extremists who threaten the good aspects of Britain. They do not always, if at all, share in the history and vision of Britain imagined by either liberal intellgentsia (cosmpolitan, rootless, urban, multicultural) or right-wing nativists (rural, warm beer, cricket, cycling spinsters, the spires of Oxford). They are, more often than not and when it is politically convenient, disdained by both.
One of the main causes of alienation and marginalisation from the mainstream, for both "Muslim" and white youngsters, is most certainly socioeconomic. (I would argue, for better or for worse, it is also the outcome of a breakdown in social authorities; the Church and other religious authorities, politicians and ideologies and now even scientists, the high-priests of the modern age, have little respect, relevance or trust anymore.) Depending on where they live, both Muslim ethnic groups and whites will suffer from a lack of access to good schooling and healthcare; under-investment in their local area, leading to difficulty in finding work; and poor social mobility. This affects people across all racial, religious and ethnic boundaries. It is not a 'Muslim' problem, per se. More that these problems affect, amongst a whole swathe of people, those who also happen to be Muslims or of Muslim origin (since, unless you ask people, you must assume they are nominally Muslim first and foremost -- unless the data collected sets some level of being 'devout' or 'pious', we have no way of knowing). Conversely, there is a small, but significant, and largely well-integrated, Muslim middle-class which will include people whose parents forged successful business after their arrival to Britain in the 1970s and 1980s; who parents were relatively well-off on their arrival; or who are converts from the white middle-classes. I would surmise from anecdotal evidence and experiences, that they are more likely to set the 'Muslim agenda', whether it be conservative, integrationist, liberal, segregationist or extremist. And, interestingly, in my experiences anyway, the same Muslim middle-classes have little interest in associating themselves with the 'riff-raff' from the lower social groups who are also Muslims, or 'chavlims' if you will (consider, for example, ethnic, tribal and caste distinctions amongst Pakistanis). None of this means there isn't bigotry, racial or religious discrimination (including bile aimed specificially towards Muslims or Muslim peoples), or, as liberal Britain likes to delude itself into thinking, these are battles that have been won.
Yet few, if any, politicians and pundits look at these socioeconomic issues affecting white working-classes. Partly, it is to do with 'political correctness' and bad government policies. Faisal Bodi actually raised a good point in his criticism of multiculturalism about groups receiving funding without a care for what these groups should owe wider society and so foster cooperation. Peter Oborne
suggests that some in the Labour Party are now looking at these issues, but they have decided to play
politics with them to bolster their traditional vote, rather then address the
actual problems. But it is also politically convenient at the moment, as well as good copy for journalists, to concentrate on the 'Muslim problem', since, especially for dishonest politicians, it diverts attention from more pressing concerns: whether it be the claim that more children now live in poverty than before Labour came to power; the sale of everything in Britain without a second thought for the long-term consequences (the NHS, an institution even the Tories didn't dare dismantle, is clearly going down that path under neo-Labour); or the systematic de-education of our next generation (with half still failing to master basic English and mathematics), all of which have an impact on communities across Britain, white, Muslim, black, Pakistani, Bangladeshi etc. All that and more, together with the complicty of this government in a legally dubious invasion which has cost tens of thousands of lives, and over a hundred British soldiers (not forgetting people like Ken Bigley), in a country which never threatened Britain, makes for convenient positioning of the debate on multiculturalism as a 'Muslim problem' (which would be one worth having, were it not driven by odious tabloids and populist politicians).
There are a couple of book reviews (1, 2) at Deenport covering a similar topic.
Atif Imtiaz offers some advice to Muslims after a wave of negative and sensationalist headlines in the last few weeks:
"Muslims need to unplug from the mainstream media
and recognise the media cycles for what they are. There could be
countless other media cycles but this is how the media or major
sections of it decide to construct the present picture [...] At present, there is no end in sight to this
perpetual media harassment, there are enough Muslims in enough
situations throughout the world who can jump and down at the slightest
provocation to keep this harassment possible for a long time to come
yet [...] Instead we should focus our efforts on making friendships with non-Muslims from across society."
The question of free speech has been brought up several times this year.
First there were those cartoons, then the Pope, and then some opera (incidentally, opera is a rubbish, over-appreciated, underwhelming form of art). In its latest manifestation, Robert Redeker, a largely unknown French philosopher, has become an overnight darling of the Champions of Free Speech after receiving death threats for a column he write in Le Figaro.
The problem is not so much, or only, Redeker's
comments in a newspaper. Such views are quite old and have
been expressed many times by rabble rousers and scholars, some of which can probably be found in publications at a university library. They're part of the staple diet on which bigots feed to confirm their own prejudices. The pressing problem is that whilst Redeker, and others, are given column inches
that would make Patrick Vieira look inadaquete, very little is done to
provide a view from the other side. Le Figaro
allowed Redeker to express his views; and this is fine, even if the views are indecent and vulgar, because there are legal, social and cultural reasons (since there is also a "context" to be invoked when discussing French views towards a public expression of religious beliefs). But did they also invite a French Muslim to
respond and write a column of equal length and magnitude? If not, why not? (Please let me know in the comments box if they did.)
It is all good and well to defend free speech as an abstracted principle. But you'd be a fool to think that just because you can shout as much as you want on the street corner, your voice is actually heard or understood or means anything. The current world, for better or for worse, is informed by the media; sounds, pictures and words in print. It is unfair to say to people that they accept attacks on their practices and their beliefs in the spirit of free speech, and then at the same time deny them a similar platform from which to respond to such verbal assaults. It is even worse if you continouslyexclude them from contributing to society so that they may at least rise to a position where they are able to respond. Sentiments such as "you have the right to respond" concentrate on abstractions; my right to do something is, in the end, only as good as my ability to achieve that right (cf. Burke's attack on the "pretended rights of these theorists" and "speculatists" who are more concerned about "abstract" rights). How many people did Redeker reach with his column? And how many would have seen the views of a French Muslim writing in some small publication for local or ethnic consumption? You cannot tell me this distribution is fair in anyway.
Death threats are damning in this situation and merely reinforce the views of Redeker and new found fans. But I don't think some newspapers and media outlets are immune from criticism for not abiding by the spirit of the principle they claim to be defending.
"Robert Cottage, 49, of Talbot Street, Colne, appeared before Burnley
magistrates charged with possession of an explosive substance [...] Cottage was charged under the Explosives Substances Act 1883 on
Monday night after forensic experts searched his home, allegedly
discovering chemical components which could be used to make explosives [...] Police sealed off Cottage's home last Thursday and finished their search at the weekend [...] Officers claim that their find is the largest haul of chemicals of its kind discovered in someone's home in the country [...] However, the exact nature of the chemicals has not been revealed."
Update 9/10: At the end of last week, several blogs also picked up on this story. Ministry of Truth (1, 2) reminds us of a very good point. The men were charged, not under more recent legislation against terrorism, but under the Explosive Substances Act 1883. We can only speculate at this point as to why. Blood and Treasure, Wis[s]e Words, Pickled Politics, Al-Muhajabah and Anarcho Akbar have their own comments. I've seen a couple of silly comments explaining that 'they're innocent until proven guilt'. Of course, you idiots! That's the whole point being raised by these blogs; that the same principle is not extended when a 'Muslim' is arrested and charged. Instead, we're met with the usual orgy of hate from the Dhummies, murderous fantasists and small-minded bigots; the constant droning from the usual suspects in the media, deliberately or stupidly engaged in conflating and confusing different issues (I'll be kind and say they're stupid); and the usual mud-raking from the sensationlist journalism about people's past and private lives. And all this usually happens before they've even been charged with a crime.
Anacrho Akbar:"Clearly, someone in the Met thought Basha’s beef was justified. Ian
Blair doesn’t, and we know why. This story would have never made the
papers has brother Alexander been a Christian, or an atheist. The PC’s
objection was based on opprobrium against the State of Israel shared by
people of many faiths and none. What strikes me as a minor issue in
terms of police discipline has been blown out of proportion, no doubt
with the large assistance of one of the most politicised Chief
Constables in modern times."
Andrew Barlett:"The news sources are full of the story that a ‘Muslim’ officer was excused from guarding the Israeli embassy during the recent Israeli invasion of Lebanon [...] I have two questions [...] First, who leaked this story to the press, and what effect did they hope to produce? [...] Second, why are news sources concentrating on the fact that the officer was a Muslim? [...] It
seems to me that the important feature of this officer’s identity was
not that he was a Muslim, as did not ask to be excused from guarding
the Israeli embassy prior to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and once
the Israeli bombing of Lebanon ceased he returned to full duties. He
was excused from guarding the Israeli embassy during the Israeli
invasion of Lebanon because his wife is Lebanese."
Not Saussure:"As Andrew Bartlett asks, why report the incidental fact that he’s a Muslim? [...] I doubt, after all, it would have been reported as ‘Christian
excused from guarding Israeli Embassy’ to had he been married to one of
the 39% of the Lebanese population who’s Christian."
This appears story appears to be one of those that are unduly 'Islamised' in order to manufacture hysteria. What if the officier had been someone who was just extremely stressed?
Update 6/10: A good point raised last night on Question Time by someone in the audience who said he was a 'public servant who handled confidential material everyday'. Even if the officer had made such a request (which it now appears he did not), it was a confidential issue between the officer and his superiors. The more pressing should now be, as Andrew Bartlett has raised, as to who and why leaked this confidential material? And, as Yusuf alludes, imagine the hysteria the usual suspects would have generated if the Pc in question had been deployed at the Israeli embassy during the conflict. I'm sure The Scum, and the various assortment of bigots lining up to have a pop at Alexander Omar Bashar, would have been frothing at the mouth over a "Lebanese sympathiser" being stationed at the Israeli embassy with a gun.
Whether or not David Cameron, who has been doing his best impression of a Chimera, was thinking of "Muslim ghettoes" in his recent conference speech when he mentioned 'cohesion', this is what London's Evening Standard has picked up on. This is what they ran with, both as a headline on their front page (to your left) and in their reporting (the headline also appeared on the front of the free recycling paper they give out across London marked Standard Lite):
"David Cameron today vowed to break up Muslim ghettos in Britain's cities [...] The Tory leader said Islamic schools should in future admit a quarter
of their pupils from other faiths. And he said that housing estates
should be planned to avoid creating isolated communities."
I've had a read through the speech. Here is the relevant part (parapgraphs collapsed):
"The Cantle Report into the riots in our northern cities in 2001 talked about many communities living "parallel lives."
Communities where people from different ethnic origins never meet, never talk, never go into each others' homes. Ultimately, it is an emotional connection that binds a country together. Sympathy for people you don't even know, and who may be very different to you. It is by contact that we overcome our differences - and
realise that though our origins and our cultures may vary, we all share
common values. The most basic contact comes from talking to each other. So we must make sure that new immigrants learn to speak English. And one of the most important ways we make connections with people is at school. So let me face head-on the question of faith schools. I know that people feel strongly about this issue.So do I. I support faith schools. Many parents want to send their children to them, and trust their judgment. All faiths want them. And let us say, clearly, that Islam is one of the great
religions of the world, and that British Muslims make a fantastic
contribution to our country. Today, a new generation of Muslim schools is emerging. If these schools are to be British state schools, they must be part of our society, not separate from it. The Cantle Report recommended that faith schools admit a proportion of pupils from other faiths. Only this week the Church of England said it would implement this recommendation in all new church schools it creates admitting a quarter of pupils from non-Anglican backgrounds. That is a great example of what I mean by social responsibility. The Church deciding to take responsibility for community cohesion. Society - not the state. I believe the time has come for other faith groups to show similar social responsibility. And if we are to bring our society together, then schools - all schools must teach children that wherever they come from, if they are British citizens, they are inheritors of a British birthright."
Cameron doesn't mention "Muslim ghettoes", but does talk about the Cantle Report into the riots in the summer of 2001, between gangs of Asian and white youths, and the police. Maybe he was thinking about (only?) Muslims when he talked about "parallel lives"? (Osama Saeed does not have a high opinion of him when it comes to his views on Muslims.) It is not clear from his words that he was thinking this, and all he seems to have done is repeat what the Cantle Report concluded, couched in the usually Conservative rhetoric about responsibility and society. Of more concern is the patronising, almost hypocritical, tone he adopts with regards to 'community integration'. Afterall, I doubt he'll be asking suburbanites to decamp from their middle class, leafy, ghettoes and let their children play with kids from council estates. And I doubt he's going to tell private schools to take on a certain percentage of children from deprived areas and so aid 'community cohesion' (not that I disagree with asking all state-funded schools to open their doors a little wider). And I wonder how many friends from lower down the class ladder a blue-blooded Old Etonian has? In any case, I do not see any animosity expressed by Cameron towards Muslims, per se. His speech was standard party conference verbal ornamentation.
What is of more concern is the Evening Standard's spin and coverage when it comes to any story involving the word 'Muslim'. They've obviously extrapolated something about "Muslim ghettoes" from Cameron's words. But we shouldn't be surprised. Don't forget this is the same rag that tried tosmear a perfectly respectable west London bookshop run by Muslims, claiming it sold literature encouraging terrorism. The Standard published a picture of their shop together with their telephone number; after which the shop owners began receiving abusive calls and personal threats. Alas, no Champions of Free Speech came to their rescue or stood for their right to say what they want (even if they never actually said what they were accused of). The snivelling cowards at the Standard also engaged in a cheap hatchet job on Tariq Ramadan. The animosity towards Muslims of the current editorial staff at the Evening Standard is clear enough.
Incidentally, I'm sure David Cameron will be making an appearance on the Dhummies website for calling Islam a "great religion".