Muslim-bashing: sign of The Times

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The Times in its headline story of 7h September ‘Hardline takeover of British Mosques‘ stated, “the ultra-conservative movement, which gave birth to the Taleban in Afghanistan, now runs more than 600 of Britain’s 1,350 mosques, according to a police report seen by The Times“. How self-important!

The truth is that the so-called police report – actually written by an external consultant Mr M Naqshbandi for the City of London Police – has been in the public domain for over a year! It can be viewed at the author’s website

The pompous hack is trying to impress us with his access to Police sources!

The series of articles on 7 September – from the front page to the Editorial ‘Forked Tongues’ – was plain scare mongering. The language was of apocalyptic violence and incitement to hatred.

The theme was that a high proportion of mosques in Britain belong to a monolithic, tightly-controlled bloc and are a threat to the Realm! ‘Extremist poison’ lurking in the ‘body politic- – according to the Editorial.

This bloc was the ‘Deobandi sect’: who are convinced “that British values pose a deadly threat to Islam has since been nurtured by Deobandis since the movement’s birth in 19th Century India….every Afghan is a Deobandi, said a Taleban spokesman…”

Andrew Norfolk et al were creating myths and feeding on subliminal fears. The connection is thus made between the pristine, wholesome ‘body politic’ of fair England and the ‘poisonous’ intrusion of dark and foreign bodies that speak with ‘forked tongue’. It is the racist’s pain appropriated as the nation’s pain.

By refering to the ‘talebisation’ of mosques, The Times is also cleverly exploiting a policy plank of the Blair era – that British troops are in Afghanistan in order to keep London safe: the front against the Taleban extends from Helmand to Hammersmith.

But why ring the alarm bells over mosques at this point in time? The Government has already served as midwife to a scheme known as MINAB  – Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board,  and a coalition of Muslim organisations are committed to developing a self-regulating framework.

For the neo-Cons (and their new fellow travellers, the ‘muscular Liberals’) in The Times, this is yet more ‘appeasement’, particularly as the coalition includes the Muslim Association of Britain and the Muslim Council of Britain –  the latter disqualified because Deobandis have ‘significant representation’ in it.

Presumably they want to push the new Home Secretary Jackie Smith and the minister responsible for Communities, Hazel Blears, into some precipitous action: ditch MINAB and introduce tough new legislation on how mosques are run. During Blair’s time, there were proposals for powers to place restriction orders on mosques and to force them by law to include women and young persons in the management structures. Both were shot down by cooler heads in the Police and government departments.

The neo-Cons may also be using their control of The Times to throw any rapprochment beween HMG and representative Muslim bodies like the MCB off track. Hence the Editorial casts the aspersion: ‘Organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain and others seeking to represent the spread of Muslim opinion cannot remain silent on the hatred in their midst’. So if Muslim bodies challenge the newspaper’s simplistic analysis, they are condoning hatred!

A third impetus may be with the other unfinished business relating to the banning of Hizb Tahrir. The neo-Cons want a head on the platter. The fact that the MCB opposes the banning of HT adds to their rile.

The reality is that mosques in Britain are far from being centrally directed and remain anarchically independent. Journalists would do well to read the whole of Mr Naqshbandi’s report and note the following comment: ‘understanding and tackling extremism is a complex process. If it is thought to be an issue then expert help is strongly advised’. In another study the same author notes, ‘the attention given to a presumed cadre of extremist and foreign imams preaching in mosques is seriously misplaced’ (paper to the Defence Academy, Problems and Practical Solutions to Tackle Extremism Problems).

The Times offers a simplistic narrative connecting the 1857 insurrection against the Raj with the emergence of the Deoband seminary and the rise of the Taleban. The Deoband dar al-uloom in post-Partition India has been a model of circumspection in its relations with the Government – a throwback to its alliance with the Congress Party. They had as little to do with the rise of the Taleban in the 1990s as Trinity College had with the Philby clique of Soviet spies.

As the MCB press release pointed out, “It would have served The Times well if it had consulted the leading academic expert on the subject, Prof. Barbara Metcalf, who notes, ‘none of the Deobandi movements has a theoretical stance in relation to political life’. She adds that the Taliban consolidated their position by ‘engaging with the emerging ethnic polarities in the country and seeking allies wherever they could find them’.”

Moreover, as any specialist on Islam and Muslims would know, there are several Islamic schools of jurisprudence, one being the Hannafi school. The Deoband seminary or madrasa follows the Hannafi jurisprudence and so it is incorrect to describe it as a sect. Such a basic error ought to have been picked up by the fact-checkers –  that is if they are still employed by the Murdoch media empire.

After publishing such Islamophobic material, The Times leader writer on 7 September had the gall to suggest that it is Muslims themselves who ‘play on fears of persecution’. Perhaps he should be taken to the intensive care unit where an imam of the London Islamic Cultural Centre is fighting for his sight after a dawn attack; or to inspect the carpets at the mosque in Bath after someone had urinated on them; or the lady who had her scarfed pulled off in Rhyll – and all that is just in the last six weeks.