Sane Voices & Responses
The London bombings of 7th July and the shadow of further outrages have affected Muslims in Britain like no other episode since the Rushdie affair of 1988-91. The shock has traumatised the entire country – as Andrew Rawnsley (see below) observes, “This is going to be with us for the rest of our lives”.
The following trends stand out in a review of how society is responding to these momentous events:
Osama bin Laden is no more a true representative of Islam than General Mladic, who commanded the Serbian forces, could be held up as an example of Christianity. After all, it is written in the Qur’an that we were made into different peoples not that we might despise each other, but that we might understand each other.
Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Inexplicably, and with disastrous consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden’s organisation would turn its attention to the west.
The danger now is that the west’s current response to the terrorist threat compounds that original error. So long as the struggle against terrorism is conceived as a war that can be won by military means, it is doomed to fail. The more the west emphasises confrontation, the more it silences moderate voices in the Muslim world who want to speak up for cooperation. Success will only come from isolating the terrorists and denying them support, funds and recruits, which means focusing more on our common ground with the Muslim world than on what divides us. [Extract]
It is easy for Tony Blair to call yesterdays bombings “barbaric” – of course they were – but what were the civilian deaths of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the children torn apart by cluster bombs, the countless innocent Iraqis gunned down at American military checkpoints? When they die, it is “collateral damage”; when “we” die, it is “barbaric terrorism”.
If we are fighting insurgency in Iraq, what makes us believe insurgency won’t come to us? One thing is certain: if Tony Blair really believes that by “fighting terrorism” in Iraq we could more efficiently protect Britain – fight them there rather than let them come here, as Bush constantly says – this argument is no longer valid.
To time these bombs with the G8 summit, when the world was concentrating on Britain, was not a stroke of genius. You don’t need a PhD to choose another Bush-Blair handshake to close down a capital city with explosives and massacre more than 30 of its citizens. The G8 summit was announced so far in advance as to give the bombers all the time they needed to prepare.
A co-ordinated system of attacks of the kind we saw yesterday would have taken months to plan – to choose safe houses, prepare explosives, identify targets, ensure security, choose the bombers, the hour, the minute, to plan the communications (mobile phones are giveaways). Co-ordination and sophisticated planning – and the usual utter ruthlessness with regard to the lives of the innocent – are characteristic of al-Qa’ida. And let us not use – as our television colleagues did yesterday – “hallmarks”, a word identified with quality silver rather than base metal.
And now let us reflect on the fact that yesterday, the opening of the G8, so critical a day, so bloody a day, represented a total failure of our security services – the same intelligence “experts” who claim there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when there were none, but who utterly failed to uncover a months-long plot to kill Londoners …. And then come the Muslims of Britain, who have long been awaiting this nightmare. Now every one of our Muslims becomes the “usual suspect”, the man or woman with brown eyes, the man with the beard, the woman in the scarf, the boy with the worry beads, the girl who says she’s been racially abused.
I remember, crossing the Atlantic on 11 September 2001 – my plane turned round off Ireland when the US closed its airspace – how the aircraft purser and I toured the cabins to see if we could identify any suspicious passengers. I found about a dozen, of course, totally innocent men who had brown eyes or long beards or who looked at me with “hostility”. And sure enough, in just a few seconds, Osama bin Laden turned nice, liberal, friendly Robert into an anti-Arab racist.
And this is part of the point of yesterday’s bombings: to divide British Muslims from British non-Muslims (let us not mention the name Christians), to encourage the very kind of racism that Tony Blair claims to resent.
But here’s the problem. To go on pretending that Britain’s enemies want to destroy “what we hold dear” encourages racism; what we are confronting here is a specific, direct, centralised attack on London as a result of a “war on terror” which Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara has locked us into.
The Independent, Friday, 8th July 2005,
On Wednesday Londoners were united in joy. Now we face the risk that fear will build walls of doubt and misunderstanding between them. All could come to feel that they are potential victims: of Muslim extremists on the one hand; of rejection and racism on the other. The proponents of the “clash of civilisations” theory will have won if we allow ourselves to become suspicious towards people of other faiths and cultures.
Where does and where shall our strength lie? First, we must condemn these attacks with the strongest energy; Muslims in unison with wider British society. But to condemn is not enough. Our values, our societies, our common future require that we become aware of our shared responsibilities. Yes, London is a multicultural society but – in common with the rest of Europe – it will preserve its pluralistic equilibrium only through the personal engagement of every individual in their daily life, within their own neighbourhood.
Muslims must speak out and explain who they are, what they believe in, what they stand for, what is the meaning of their life. They must have the courage to denounce what is said and done by certain Muslims in the name of their religion. They will not reassure their fellow citizens by pretending to be “like them”, saying only what they want to hear and becoming invisible. They have to assert their identities, refuse simplistic discourses, promote critical and self-critical understanding and get out from their intellectual, religious and social ghettos. European societies need to see European Muslims involved in the society’s questions of the day: citizenship, school, unemployment. Their strength must lie in refusing to be victims and in becoming active citizens, politically engaged both domestically and internationally.
I n the name of the rule of law, democracy and human rights, we cannot accept that the rights of individuals (Arab or Muslim) be trampled upon, or that populations are targeted and discriminated against in the name of the war against terrorism. The strength of democratic societies relies on their capacity to know how to stand firm against extremism while respecting justice in the means used to fight terrorism.
We shall achieve this balance only if every citizen, after the shock of this attack, makes the effort to get to know his neighbour better – his difference, his complexity, his values and hopes. It is not enough for progressive, open-minded people to say, “This is not Islam!” It is urgent that such people meet and act alongside Muslims – practically, concretely, daily. More and more Europeans are becoming passive, comforting themselves with pious vows and idealistic discourses: they want concrete measures against terror but think that “living together” will happen with no effort, as if by magic.
Terror will crash down on us if we fail to understand that a pluralistic society requires the personal and daily commitment of every citizen. Criminals, no doubt, will continue to kill, but we shall be able to respond to them by demonstrating that our experience of human brotherhood and mutual respect is stronger than their message of hate. Our lives are fragile, but our commitment to our ideals is strong. [Extract]
The political dimensions of this problem mean that there can be no hope of defeating terrorism until we are ready to take legitimate Arab grievances seriously. We must start by acknowledging that their long history of engagement with the west is one that has left many Arabs feeling humiliated and used. There is more to this than finding a way of bringing the occupation of Iraq to an end. We cannot seriously claim to care for the rights of Arabs living in Iraq when it is obvious that we care so little for Arabs living in Palestine. The Palestinians need a viable state, but all the indications suggest that the Bush administration is preparing to bounce the Palestinians into accepting a truncated entity that will lack the basic characteristics of either viability or statehood. That must not be allowed to succeed.
At its inception post-9/11, the war on terror was shaped by the fact that it was American blood that had been shed. This gave President Bush the moral authority to tell the world “you’re either with us or against us”. Having stood with America, and paid a terrible price for doing so, it is now time to turn that demand back on Bush. We have a vital national interest in defeating terrorism and we must have a greater say in how that is done. The current approach is failing and it’s time for a change. If Tony Blair cannot bring himself to say this, he owes it to his country to make way for someone who can. [Extract]
The ‘war on terror’ suggests terrorism is a global phenomenon but, actually, it remains almost entirely national or regional in its scope and goals. The Tamil Tigers do not operate worldwide any more than the IRA or Eta. Only al-Qaeda has a genuinely global reach, and it has been strengthened by American policies that have turned Iraq into a terrorist training ground. Western governments have helped make al-Qaeda what it is today, but it would be folly to imagine that any shift in their policies can neutralise the threat it now poses. No longer the semi-centralised organisation it was before the destruction of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda has mutated into a brand name that covers an amorphous network of groups that are linked together mainly by their adherence to an apocalyptic version of Islamist ideology. This network is the vehicle of a movement that has more in common with Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult whose members planted sarin nerve gas on the Tokyo underground, than it does with any version of traditional Islam. [Extract]
Rhetoric is a powerful weapon in any conflict. We cannot hope to convert Osama bin Laden from his vicious ideology; our priority must be to stem the flow of young people into organisations such as al-Qaida, instead of alienating them by routinely coupling their religion with immoral violence. Incorrect statements about Islam have convinced too many in the Muslim world that the west is an implacable enemy. Yet, as we found at the conference, it is not easy to find an alternative for referring to this terrorism; however, the attempt can be a salutary exercise that reveals the complexity of what we are up against.
We need a phrase that is more exact than “Islamic terror”. These acts may be committed by people who call themselves Muslims, but they violate essential Islamic principles. The Qur’an prohibits aggressive warfare, permits war only in self-defence and insists that the true Islamic values are peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. It also states firmly that there must be no coercion in religious matters, and for centuries Islam had a much better record of religious tolerance than Christianity.
Like the Bible, the Qur’an has its share of aggressive texts, but like all the great religions, its main thrust is towards kindliness and compassion. Islamic law outlaws war against any country in which Muslims are allowed to practice their religion freely, and forbids the use of fire, the destruction of buildings and the killing of innocent civilians in a military campaign. So although Muslims, like Christians or Jews, have all too often failed to live up to their ideals, it is not because of the religion per se. We rarely, if ever, called the IRA bombings “Catholic” terrorism because we knew enough to realise that this was not essentially a religious campaign. Indeed, like the Irish republican movement, many fundamentalist movements worldwide are simply new forms of nationalism in a highly unorthodox religious guise. This is obviously the case with Zionist fundamentalism in Israel and the fervently patriotic Christian right in the US.
In the Muslim world, too, where the European nationalist ideology has always seemed an alien import, fundamentalisms are often more about a search for social identity and national self-definition than religion. They represent a widespread desire to return to the roots of the culture, before it was invaded and weakened by the colonial powers.
Because it is increasingly recognised that the terrorists in no way represent mainstream Islam, some prefer to call them jihadists, but this is not very satisfactory. Extremists and unscrupulous politicians have purloined the word for their own purposes, but the real meaning of jihad is not “holy war” but “struggle” or “effort.” Muslims are commanded to make a massive attempt on all fronts – social, economic, intellectual, ethical and spiritual – to put the will of God into practice.
Sometimes a military effort may be a regrettable necessity in order to defend decent values, but an oft-quoted tradition has the Prophet Muhammad saying after a military victory: “We are coming back from the Lesser Jihad [ie the battle] and returning to the Greater Jihad” – the far more important, difficult and momentous struggle to reform our own society and our own hearts. Jihad is thus a cherished spiritual value that, for most Muslims, has no connection with violence. [Extract]
We can’t of course be sure of the exact balance of motivations that drove four young suicide bombers to strike last Thursday, but we can be certain that the bloodbath unleashed by Bush and Blair in Iraq – where a 7/7 takes place every day – was at the very least one of them. What they did was not “home grown”, but driven by a worldwide anger at US-led domination and occupation of Muslim countries. The London bombers were to blame for attacks on civilians that are neither morally nor politically defensible. But the prime minister – who was warned by British intelligence of the risks in the run-up to the war – is also responsible for knowingly putting his own people at risk in the service of a foreign power. The security crackdowns and campaign to uproot an “evil ideology” the government announced yesterday will not extinguish the threat. Only a British commitment to end its role in the bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to do that. [Extract]
John Pilger, 14th July 2005
In all the coverage of last week’s bombing of London, a basic truth struggled to be heard. It has been said quietly, politely, guardedly, as if it might somehow dishonor the dead, instead of speaking truth to the cause. While not doubting the atrocious inhumanity of those who planted the bombs (as if anyone could), no one should doubt that these were “Blair’s bombs”; and he ought not be allowed to evade culpability with yet another unctuous Bush-inspired speech about “our way of life.” The bombers struck because he and Bush attacked Iraq, having been warned by the Joint Intelligence Committee that the “by far the greatest terrorist threat” to this country would be “heightened by military action against Iraq.” [Extract]
The Muslim community is being charged with a near impossible task; as one Muslim said to me: “If even the mother of one of these suicide bombers did not know what her son was doing, how can the rest of the community be expected to know?” As another Muslim added bitterly: “It’s no longer enough that we condemn terrorists, we’ve now got to flush them out.” The perception is that Muslims are being offered a deal: the price of being trusted again is to periodically deliver some scalps. Does that go as far as shopping co-religionists for any indication of heightened religiosity? If your nephew grows a beard and visits the mosque more often, will you now be expected to let the police know?
The second painful process that the Muslim community has already embarked on is desperate soul-searching. As one imam put it to me: “Why has the Muslim community failed in reigning in their own youth and shaping their future? Why have the mosques failed to provide rigorous leadership? We must acknowledge our failure.” Again and again in conversations, the subject which kept cropping up was what one described as “shoddy Islamic theology”.
As one anguished Muslim put it: “What is it about Islam that makes people suicidal? Plenty of people are really angry about Iraq, but they don’t give up their life at 19. There’s a missing link here – what makes a boy commit suicide? It can only be if he thinks that what lies in store for him is better than life – and that’s got to be Islamic theology.
“It will have to change. In particular, the references to violence in the Qur’an have to be contextualised; in a global village, this has to be reinterpreted and that has to be done by our Islamic scholars. New thinking is desperately needed.” But alongside the heartfelt self-criticism, another issue repeatedly cited is just as important; British foreign policy is a cancer in our community, corroding trust in the British political system and poisoning our youth: “You cannot ask us to contain the anger within our community caused by this country’s foreign policy.” The honesty and new thinking required by us, say Muslims, must be mirrored by the government; it cannot pretend Iraq and Palestine are irrelevant. [Extract]
When Tony Blair describes the London bombings as a perversion of Islam, I agree. The shoddy theology that endorses the killing of innocent people must be challenged. The chilling calculation peddled by some fanatics legitimises innocent deaths as collateral damage for the higher cause of shattering the complacency of western governments and getting western troops out of Muslim lands. To sacrifice your life, on the battlefield or in a suicide bombing, is to achieve the high status of martyr. And the innocent people killed will go to heaven anyway, so their suffering and that of their loved ones is worth the political aim.
Clearly this is a convoluted equation, but one we must pay attention to if we are to get to grips with the threat that faces all of us in Britain today. What is regrettable is that the more simplistic version offered by Tony Blair is setting the parameters of debate. According to him the “perversion of Islam” driving a minority of Muslims boils down to this: hatred of the western way of life and freedom means that Muslims (wherever they live) should kill and bomb people to force them to be Islamic.
This formulation ensures that any contextualisation will remain absent. The suffocating consensus already achieved may well protect Blair (how can he permit any linkage to the Middle East without implying his own guilt) – but it does not protect ordinary British people.
Moreover, as British Muslims we must brace ourselves for a backlash – coming not from ordinary people, but from the need of politicians to deflect attention from their own role in this tragedy.
Because what is undeniable is that the shoddy theology – no matter how “unIslamic” and easily condemned by most Muslims – is driven by political injustices. It is the boiling anger and hurt that is shaping the interpretation of religious texts into such grotesque distortions. Such extreme interpretations exist only in specific political circumstances – they certainly do not predate them, and the religious/political equation breaks down if there is no injustice to drive it. [Extract]
…Since the revelation this week that no less than three of the suicide bombers visited Pakistan in the year preceding the attack, the British press has been quick to follow the US line: last weekend the Sunday Telegraph was helpfully translating the Arabic word madrasa as terrorist “training school” (it actually means merely “place of education”), while yesterday’s Daily Mirror confidently asserted over a double-page spread that three of the bombers had all enrolled at Pakistani “terror schools”.
In fact, it is still uncertain whether the three visited any madrasa in Pakistan – intelligence sources have yet to confirm this. More important, the link between madrasas and international terrorism is far from clearcut, and new research has poured cold water on the much-repeated theory of madrasas being little more than al-Qaida training schools.
… It is true that there were good reasons for people jumping to the assumption of the madrasas’ culpability. The terrifyingly ultra-conservative Taliban regime was unquestionably the product of Pakistan’s madrasas. Many madrasas are indeed fundamentalist in their approach to the scriptures and many subscribe to the most hardline strains of Islamic thought. It is also true that some madrasas can be directly linked to Islamist radicalism and occasionally to outright civil violence. It is estimated that as many as 15% of Pakistan’s madrasas preach violent jihad, while a few have even been known to provide covert military training.
But it is now becoming very clear that producing cannon-fodder for the Taliban and graduating local sectarian thugs is not at all the same as producing the kind of technically literate al-Qaida terrorist who carried out the horrifyingly sophisticated attacks on the World Trade Centre. Indeed, there is an important and fundamental distinction to be made between most madrasa graduates – who tend to be pious villagers from impoverished economic backgrounds, possessing little technical sophistication – and the sort of middle-class, politically literate, global Salafi jihadis who plan al-Qaida operations around the world. Most of these turn out to have secular scientific or technical backgrounds and very few actually turn out to be madrasa graduates. [Extract]
We no longer know what it is to be religious, and haven’t for a while. During the past 200 years sensible people in the west have contested our religions until they lack significant content and force. These religions now ask little of anyone and, quite rightly, play little part in our politics. The truly religious, following the logic of submission to political and moral ideals, and to the arbitrary will of God, are terrifying to us and almost incomprehensible. To us “belief” is dangerous and we don’t like to think we have much of it.
Confronted by this, it takes a while for our “liberalism” to organise itself into opposition and for us to consider the price we might have to pay for it. We also have little idea of what it is to burn with a sense of injustice and oppression, and what it is to give our lives for a cause, to be so desperate or earnest. We think of these acts as mad, random and criminal, rather than as part of a recognisable exchange of violences.
The burning sense of injustice that many young people feel as they enter the adult world of double standards and dishonesty shock those of us who are more knowing and cynical. We find this commendable in young people but also embarrassing. Consumer society has already traded its moral ideals for other satisfactions, and one of the things we wish to export, masquerading as “freedom and democracy” is that very consumerism, though we keep silent about its consequences: addiction, alienation, fragmentation.
We like to believe we are free to speak about everything, but we are reluctant to consider our own deaths, as well as the meaning of murder. Terrible acts of violence in our own neighbourhood – not unlike terrible acts of violence which are “outsourced”, usually taking place in the poorest parts of the third world – disrupt the smooth idea of “virtual” war that we have adopted to conquer the consideration of death.
‘Virtual” wars are conflicts in which one can kill others without either witnessing their deaths or having to take moral responsibility for them. The Iraq war, we were told, would be quick and few people would die. It is as though we believed that by pressing a button and eliminating others far away we would not experience any guilt or suffering – on our side….
…We were dragged into this illegal and depressing war by many lies and much dissembling. A substantial proportion of us were opposed to it. During wars ordinary citizens feel they lack information and moral orientation while governments act decisively and with brutality. Governments may be representative but they and the people are not the same. In our disillusionment, it is crucial that we remind ourselves of this. States behave in ways that would shame an individual. Governments persuade individuals to behave in ways that individuals know are morally wrong. Therefore governments do not speak for us; we have our own voices, however muffled they may seem. If communities are not to be corrupted by the government, the only patriotism possible is one that refuses the banality of taking either side, and continues the arduous conversation. That is why we have literature, the theatre, newspapers – a culture, in other words. [Extract]
Blair’s order for Muslim organisations to keep their youth in line is a prime example of the British elite’s gutlessness. It just won’t face up to the source of the problem: that young Muslims feel alienated from mainstream British institutions. Instead, the issue is written off as a theological confusion, which only mosques can sort out. ‘Go on – tell them that Mohammed didn’t say that!’, is Blair’s message to the Imams. Passing the buck from the government of Britain to the Muslim Council of Britain is likely to increase young Muslims’ sense of grievance. Outside Finsbury Park mosque last night, one young man complained: ‘Everything is blamed on Muslims. But you can’t just point the finger; you have to try and understand.’ [Extract]
British Muslims feel too that the present delicate situation is being exploited by the pro-Israeli lobby. Interviewers regularly push Muslim spokespeople into an admittance that Palestinian suicide bombs are an exact equivalent of the London blasts. The suffering is the same but the two situations cannot be compared. Israel wants to cleanse itself of any culpability. To kill innocent Jewish people in clubs and at bus stops is indeed horrific but so is the shooting of young Palestinian boys and other citizens by Israeli soldiers.
Haggai Matar, an Israeli activist, writing in a new book Refusenik! (published by Zed Books), understands: “Today militarisation and racism among the Jewish population have reached a fascist level. The repression of critical thinking, the total acceptance of the occupation’s crimes, the idolisation of the army and the gradual acceptance of ‘ethnic cleansing’ – all of these constitute only a part of our society’s collapse.”
There is a deletion of history too among the ultra-Zionists who today demand Muslim compliance with their versions of the truth. After 1946, the Irgun movement led by Menachem Begin and other Jewish terrorists, were as merciless as the Palestinian terrorists today. Both were and are fighting for the same cause, a homeland. The Irgun attacked King David Hotel leaving 91 dead; an Arab village was razed – 254 dead. Tax offices, immigration offices, British administration buildings were bombed. British officials and soldiers were kidnapped, sometimes strung up.
Finally, Muslims of all classes, even those who feel irrevocably British, are increasingly dismayed by the slimy words of British politicians eager to talk about the “ideology” of evil Islamicists and not at all about their own malevolent machinations and duplicitous politics. This global threat was born when corrupted Islam mated with the corrupt foreign policies of the West and the USSR. It started in Afghanistan under Soviet occupation, in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt and Algeria where the US, UK, France and other European countries play their immoral, self-serving games.
Muslims, rightly, have been asked to wake up and act to redeem their faith and rescue the young faithful from the temptations of glory offered by murderous Islamicist warriors. But our young will not look our way if they see a duff deal, if Western governments avoid any blame for the state we are in. Their interventions in the world have made it easier for terrorism to flourish. We have yet to hear a single member of our government accept that responsibility.
British Muslims are again being made to feel that they are not entitled to the rights and respect given to others. You don’t want this resentment growing just when the country needs to come together in trust and co-operation to face the next attack, which will surely come soon. [extract]
The Independent, 24 July 2005
The second wave of attacks may have been non-deadly copycats of the first, but they have greatly increased the fear that we are only at the beginning of an open-ended struggle of attrition with homegrown suicide bombers. One of the younger members of the cabinet grimly forecasts: ‘This is going to be with us for the rest of our lives.’
As this sinks in with both the public and in government, it will change the psychological contours of the politics of terror. When he was told about the first wave of attacks a fortnight ago, at least a sliver of the Prime Minister must have shivered over the possibility that this could be the event that finally did for his premiership. Many of his friends certainly worried that a public backlash could sweep him away. As it turned out, and to gusts of relief within Number 10, rather the reverse happened. He enjoyed his best media since 9/11 for his response to the atrocities.
The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, anxious to look statesmanlike and worried about being branded as soft on terrorism, were eager to be supportive. In the immediate aftermath of the first bombings, most of the opponents of the war in Iraq judged it prudent to keep heads down and mouths zipped.
That unity is beginning to peel apart, thrusting forward questions which make the government feel very uncomfortable. First came the report from the Royal Institute of International Affairs, hardly a hotbed of Gallowayism, contending that ‘riding pillion’ with America into Iraq had ‘given a boost’ to al-Qaeda in ‘propaganda, recruitment and fundraising’.
More awkward for the government was a leak of a threat assessment by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre which concluded that the invasion of Iraq had created ‘a motivation and a focus for a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK’. This was based on the pooled findings of the government’s own intelligence agencies. They can hardly be damned as apologists for terrorism. [Extract]
The last three weeks have witnessed the rise of one of the biggest and broadest political coalitions Britain has ever seen. It includes everyone from the intelligence services and Chatham House to Ken Livingstone and George Galloway, and is supported by two-thirds of the British public representing all shades of opinion in between. It is the biggest of big tents, and yet Tony Blair isn’t in it. I am, of course, referring to the “useful idiots” who see a connection between western foreign policy and the rising terrorist threat.
It was by no means inevitable that Blair would find himself as the leader of an isolated minority insisting that nothing must change. His initial response after 9/11 was a model of the sort of approach many of his critics are now demanding, including, as he put it to the Labour conference in Brighton two weeks after, “justice and prosperity for the poor and dispossessed”. If he were to deliver that speech today, he would be denounced as a “root causer” and an apologist for terrorism.
The turning point was Blair’s realisation that President Bush wanted nothing to do with his vision of a just world order in which the rights and opinions of ordinary Muslims would receive the same consideration as those of everyone else. Forced to choose, he put obedience to Washington before his own humanitarian principles. It has been downhill for him ever since.
The argument of post-Brighton Blair and his supporters is that the bombers are simply evil and any attempt to understand them in a different context leads us to conclusions that reward terrorism and thus encourage further violence. This is the theme developed at some length by Alan Dershowitz in his book Why Terrorism Works. In it, he argues that “the real root cause of terrorism is that it is successful”. If only we would stop giving in and stick to a purely punitive response, the terrorists would eventually get the message and give up.
In fact, the evidence for this is pretty thin – and that’s putting it kindly. The examples of terrorist organisations that have succeeded in attaining their strategic goals are few and far between. What the “terrorism works” argument refers to is the willingness of governments to address popular grievances that terrorists exploit to recruit and mobilise support. Far from rewarding terrorism, political reform has usually played an essential role in defeating it.
The Malayan Communist party failed to establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the 1950s, but only because Britain was willing to promote land reform and independence. Northern Irish Catholics have the civil and political rights they should never have been denied, but the IRA has no united Ireland to show for three decades of bloodshed. The Basques have regional autonomy within Spain, but Eta has collapsed with its ambition for an independent state unfulfilled. In each case, the terrorists failed in their objective and the authorities conceded no more than was just and right.
There have been exceptions to this rule. One of the most obvious, as Dershowitz himself notes, was the Zionist terror campaign that helped to drive Britain out of Palestine in 1948. Should we therefore dismantle the state of Israel and restore the British mandate in order to prove that terrorism doesn’t pay? However logical this may be as an extension of their argument, it is a conclusion too far for Dershowitz and those who think like him. It would seem that some rewards for terrorism are more acceptable than others. [Extract]
Political leaders in the Arab and Muslim spheres may also be privately disinclined to go out of their way to help a British government whose policies they deplore and whose wounds they regard as partly self-inflicted. The Anglo-American occupation of Iraq is one obvious cause of such reluctance, just as it is a prime motivator for the terrorists themselves.
But a suddenly needful Britain may also be beginning to pay the price for a range of heedless, subservient or self-defeating overseas policies that extend beyond Baghdad to Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Chechnya and back to Bosnia. [Extract]
The government’s refusal to associate cause and consequence, which would be child-like were it not so obviously self-serving, is sustained only by hysterical warnings against the new evil of “root-causism” from the residual pro-empire liberals. This attempt to close down debate as to why Britain – London above all – is now fighting the misbegotten “war on terror” on its own streets, is doubly dangerous. Not only does it block the necessary re-evaluation of foreign policy, it also places the onus for preventing any repetition of July 7 on the “Muslim community”, which – in a form of collective responsibility – is accused of breeding an “evil ideology” in its midst. This approach risks reaping a different whirlwind in anti-Muslim attacks, physical and verbal. It also creates the climate in which Brazilians allegedly wearing coats on a hot day can become targets for a shoot-to-kill policy imported from Israel. [Extract]
The London bombings pose a dilemma. It is hard to believe that the right response to terrorism is to make concessions. But the terrorism also seems part of a cycle of violence in which we too are involved, a cycle of potential war between Islam and the west that threatens to spin out of control. Should we do nothing, leaving the violence to accelerate? Or should we make concessions that may encourage terrorism?
Political violence is often a resentful backlash to a group’s sense of being insulted or humiliated. The rhetoric of 1990s nationalism in the former Yugoslavia was filled with remembered defeats and humiliations by rival groups. The anger that blazes through Mein Kampf was a backlash against the humiliations of the 1918 defeat and subsequent peace. Al-Qaida rhetoric before 9/11 has the same tone: “The people of Islam have suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustices … Muslims’ blood has become the cheapest in the eyes of the world.” 9/11 was fuelled by this resentment, as the horrifying pictures of cheering Palestinians showed.
The terrorist attacks appal us because of the loss of life, but even more because the killing is deliberate. In London, traffic kills far more people than bombs. But we are outraged by what the bombings express. The bombers want us – any of us – dead, or at least are prepared to kill us to make a political point. It is this that arouses the resentful backlash. In the climate after 9/11, with 3,000 murdered in the symbolic heart of America, any president might have found retaliation imperative. Some of the bombs dropped on Afghanistan carried the initials of the New York Police Department. But the 20,000 killed in Afghanistan fed Islamic resentment in turn. So too did the attack on Iraq. (Some rightly say Iraq was not the cause of the London bombings. But surely it was a cause?)
….Tackling the deep psychology of conflict involves persuading groups to listen to each other’s stories and to look for the possibility of a narrative that does justice to the truths in both. Sometimes this happens after conflicts, with truth and reconciliation commissions. The urgent need is for it to happen before further conflict between the Islamic and “western” views in Britain. What is needed is not a one-sided dialogue in which “we” undermine “their” fanaticism. There are indeed questions to ask about settling political issues by murder or about settling moral issues by appeals to the supposed authority of texts claimed to be the word of God. But there are also questions about “our” morality. We allowed Falluja to be destroyed like Guernica. And there are questions about the supposed moral difference between bombs in the underground and cluster-bombing civilians in an illegal war. In genuine dialogue both sides have positions at risk. Paradoxically, this can start a virtuous circle. One side admitting intellectual vulnerability may make the other side less defensive too. [Extract]
When Tony Blair says we should not “give one inch” to the terrorists, what he really means is that he isn’t prepared to give one inch to those who say he blundered by invading Iraq. It’s difficult to respect a prime minister who is prepared to put his own hunger for vindication before a serious attempt to understand where the war on terror is going wrong, but it’s hard to see what else he could do. To admit an error of such magnitude would leave him in an untenable position. If we are stuck with Blair we are stuck with his policies, however detrimental they may be to our security…The invasion of Iraq has frequently been described as the biggest diplomatic blunder since Suez. This already looks like a considerable understatement. On a worst-case scenario that now seems possible, it could very well come to be seen as one of the greatest foreign-policy own goals of all time. [Extract]
…I am revolted by the political sanctimony and the casual demonization of all Muslims, all Asians and blacks, all immigrants, all asylum-seekers – all under the false pretext of national interest. Leading white commentators, left and right, are exploiting this moment to push retro-jingoism, as if the bombers will vanish as soon as Muslim Britons are forced to kiss the Union Flag and sing God Save the Queen in Urdu.
Blood did run down the streets in London – more probably will – but our citizenry must grow closer in joint cause to beat the murderers who would divide us. The protests against the war in Iraq brought us together; this crisis must deepen the bonds. We Britons of color, Muslims in particular, understand our responsibilities. Do white Britons understand theirs? Sir Max Hastings, the former editor of The Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard is one the few prepared to ask that question and to answer it truthfully: “I acknowledge an embarrassing truth. In the course of my life I have entertained only perhaps a dozen black guests at parties and never had a Muslim to dinner in my house. The same must be true for many British middle-class people. Until interracial experience finds a path into our own lives, it remains hard to boast that we are contributing much to the assimilation we deem vital to our future. This is a two way street.” Amen I say. And yes, Sir Max, do ask me to that next shooting party. I like pheasant.
Research by the Commission for Racial Equality bears this out. Mixed race and mixed faith love is blooming; much less so is friendship between the tribes of Britons. Without socializing, real and virtual ghettoes soon form blotting out the common humanity we all share.
The reason so many young Muslim and black men feel and behave like outsiders in the UK is because they have been made to feel outsiders from the time they were children. This does not make criminality inevitable, but it does make their integration impossibly difficult. This Friday, a young black man’s life was brutally ended. He was 18-year-old Anthony Walker, a black A-level student walking with his white girlfriend. Police believe the killing was racist – and racism is, in itself, a rejection of integration.
These days, some of the most vile, racist e-mails arrive when I describe myself as British. You can never be one of us, they say, you “Paki”, “Black Bitch” and so on. How integrated do I need to be to be accepted? Some middle-class acquaintances are getting bolder about confessing their distance from people like me. I can talk like them, think like them, dress like them, but this Muslim thing makes them uneasy, they say. I return the compliment by telling them I worry about them too and don’t trust them not to turn treacherous.
Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister whose hard certainties scare me, is about to start a nationwide tour to meet Muslims. I understand the need for this. Only with wide-scale Muslim cooperation can the bombers be discovered and stopped. But is she also going to meet with Muslim professionals outside the “representative” circuit – the doctors, lawyers, teachers, writers, artists, journalists and others not part of the bearded and hijabi great and good, but people who have ease and modern, multiple identities? This outreach work is of no use if the government doggedly refuses to take seriously the anxieties and anger of Muslims who detest the war in Iraq and our blind loyalty to the neocons in the US. How dare Tony Blair lecture Muslims on the dangers of fundamentalism while remaining blindly insistent of the special relationship with the US? If integration means having to consent to that fundamentalist foreign policy, I’ll have none of it. If it requires of me acquiescence in human rights violations, you can count me out. [Extract]
It is four weeks since bombers indiscriminately killed and maimed ordinary Londoners. Protecting London from terrorists requires the best possible policing – which, in turn, needs the greatest possible flow of information from all communities. It also demands that we shrink the pool of the alienated that bombers draw on by treating all communities as equal parts of British society – not only theoretically, but in reality. And it means withdrawing from Iraq. All are interrelated.
Acceptance that the invasion of Iraq increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack on London now extends far beyond the usual suspects – from Guardian writers to MI5, Douglas Hurd, the Daily Mail, the Spectator, and a majority of the British public. Jack Straw has also acknowledged this debate. If the invasion of Iraq had been justified, it would be possible to argue that we must bear the sacrifices necessary to achieve a just outcome. However, it is evident that the war in Iraq was not justified. It has made the situation worse. The illusions with which it was launched are collapsing.
…Nevertheless, I want to make the point to some opponents of the war. It is not a policy simply to explain to people: “You are dying because Britain is in Iraq.” The bombers came to kill indiscriminately. As one Londoner put it to me: “I am a Muslim and scared – and my first fear is being blown up.” I supported action against the Iraq war and I support measures to stop Londoners being bombed.
Right now, only the police can stop bombers. Anyone who tries to avoid this is not dealing with what are literally life and death matters. But the police can only be effective if they get community cooperation. Opponents of the war should continue to oppose it. But they also have to say to London’s communities: “Cooperate with the police to catch terrorists” – and explain that the quality of information the police get will be decisively affected by the degree to which communities are treated with respect….The London bombings, demand clear thinking, not rhetoric. People’s lives depend on the decisions made. These must be for every community to aid the police in preventing attacks; to treat Britain’s Muslim community with respect, both because it is right and to shrink the pools terrorists operate in; and for Britain to withdraw from Iraq. [extract]
The public mood has certainly shifted on the question of whether we should allow foreign nationals who incite violence to enter or stay in the UK. It is time for a more proactive approach. However, today’s list of announcements has put the cross-party consensus under serious strain. The government agreed to properly consult opposition parties on their proposals, but this agreement seems to have broken down. No mention was made of the proposals during a briefing the Liberal Democrats received from the Home Office yesterday, and it appears that even they may not have been aware of the Prime Minister’s plans. The Prime Minister intends to ban Muslim organisations, seek powers to close down mosques, and deport people who visit particular bookshops or websites. He is running the risk of inflaming tensions and alienating Muslims at the very time we need the different communities of Britain to pull together. The Liberal Democrats will examine the detail of these measures, but the Prime Minister should not count on our support. We shall reserve our position until we have consulted properly ourselves – albeit against a constrained August timetable.” [Extract]
Two weeks ago, the Telegraph published a list of “10 core values of the British identity” whose adoption, it argued, would help to prevent another terrorist attack. These were not values we might choose to embrace, but “non-negotiable components of our identity”. Among them were “the sovereignty of the crown in parliament” (“the Lords, the Commons and the monarch constitute the supreme authority in the land”), “private property”, “the family”, “history” (“British children inherit … a stupendous series of national achievements”) and “the English-speaking world” (“the atrocities of September 11 2001 were not simply an attack on a foreign nation; they were an attack on the Anglosphere”). These non-negotiable demands are not so different to those of the terrorists. Instead of an eternal caliphate, an eternal monarchy. Instead of an Islamic vision of history, an Etonian one. Instead of the Ummah, the Anglosphere.
If there is one thing that could make me hate this country, it is the Telegraph and its “non-negotiable components”…..I don’t hate Britain, and I am not ashamed of my nationality, but I have no idea why I should love this country more than any other. There are some things I like about it and some things I don’t, and the same goes for everywhere else I’ve visited. To become a patriot is to lie to yourself, to tell yourself that whatever good you might perceive abroad, your own country is, on balance, better than the others. It is impossible to reconcile this with either the evidence of your own eyes or a belief in the equality of humankind. Patriotism of the kind Orwell demanded in 1940 is necessary only to confront the patriotism of other people: the second world war, which demanded that the British close ranks, could not have happened if Hitler hadn’t exploited the national allegiance of the Germans. The world will be a happier and safer place when we stop putting our own countries first. [Extract]
…Much the same could also be said about his [Robin Cook's] attitude to Tony Blair. Here his overwhelming emotion was one of disappointment that Blair’s immense talents could not be allied to a more progressive purpose. When I last saw Robin, 10 days before his death, the prime minister had just called on judges to respond to the public’s desire to get tough on terrorism and he was shaking his head in disbelief that a trained barrister could be so contemptuous of judicial independence. Yet there was no personal animus, even after the bitter disappointment of his demotion. Robin’s lack of rancour was one of the things I admired about him most.
…In February 2003, when Robin first told me that he might have to quit the government over Iraq, I urged caution. We both agreed that the threat from Iraq had been grossly inflated and that Saddam was being effectively contained. But I said that the invading troops would probably unearth some rusting stockpiles of chemical weapons left over from the first Gulf war and that Blair would be able to claim vindication. His allies were already briefing that those who opposed the war would put themselves “on the wrong side of history”.
Robin agreed with my assessment, but dismissed it as a consideration: “This war is wrong and I will oppose it in any case.” Those who knew him well will agree that by putting his intellectual reputation on the line he risked losing something far dearer to him than his ministerial limousine. That was the true measure of his courage.
Robin Cook was never allowed to realise his full potential as a politician, but he did meet that one essential standard of greatness. History is made by those prepared to risk being on the wrong side of it. Those content to go with its flow may achieve high office as a result, but they will never be anything more than passengers. In this, he set an example that others would do well to follow. [Extract]
…One of the wonders of the confrontation with al-Qaida is that the British decision-making institutions are running, cogs and wheels, in tandem with those of the Americans, feeding on sensationalism and appeasement of prejudice. The British political establishment is abandoning its traditional reliance on careful thinking, sound knowledge of current factors and a determination not to endanger historical commitments.
Is this an inevitable result of the magnitude of the challenge mounted by al-Qaida – or is it the product of attempts by politicians such as Blair to mislead public opinion, which is largely ignorant of the historical dimension of these complex issues?
Were we to look at Blair’s speech a few days after the attacks in London, we might be able to answer this question. Blair acknowledged that al-Qaida poses a big strategic challenge; that it possesses a clear objective and a determined plan; that it is able to launch attacks in 26 countries; and that it is present in all countries of significance worldwide. In short, Blair admits that al-Qaida has been growing into an international force threatening those who stand with the US.
Yet Blair did not follow his acknowledgements to their logical conclusions. He did not say that this growth of al-Qaida occurred during his and Bush’s colossal war against it, using all the military, political and intelligence powers at their disposal. The logical conclusion must be that the so-called war on terror in its present form, including the invasion of Iraq, is yielding precisely the opposite results to those intended.
If I were British, I would have been proud of my people’s reaction to the bombings in London in the first few days after the event. I saw calm, collectedness and self-control. This was the authentic British people’s reaction before their political leaders got to work.
I thought this composure would translate into alarm at Blair’s subservience to the Americans. Then the political machinery started to run, using the American method of turning the smallest of prejudices, suppressed by centuries of civilisation, into fires stoked by politicians and the media. I have been surprised at the ease with which hard-won hallmarks of civilisation, historical and ethical commitments, have been dismissed so lightly. A daily diet of sensationalism and soundbites has been presented as food for thought for the nation.
It is not for me to tell others how to run their affairs. But Britain will now have to decide whether to relinquish its time-honoured traditions and values in response to demagogic speeches and proclamations – or to look carefully at its so-called war on terror strategy and resolve to change tack. [Extract]
Hussain Osman, one of the men alleged to have participated in London’s failed bombings on July 21, recently told Italian investigators that they prepared for the attacks by watching “films on the war in Iraq,” La Repubblica reported. “Especially those where women and children were being killed and exterminated by British and American soldiers…of widows, mothers and daughters that cry.”
It has become an article of faith that Britain was vulnerable to terror because of its politically correct antiracism. Yet Osman’s comments suggest that what propelled at least some of the bombers was rage at what they saw as extreme racism. And what else can we call the belief–so prevalent we barely notice it–that American and European lives are worth more than the lives of Arabs and Muslims, so much more that their deaths in Iraq are not even counted? It’s not the first time that this kind of raw inequality has bred extremism….
…The Islamic Human Rights Commission received 320 complaints of racist attacks in the wake of the bombings; the Monitoring Group has received eighty-three emergency calls; Scotland Yard says hate crimes are up 600 percent from this time last year. Not that pre-July 7 was anything to brag about: “One in five of Britain’s ethnic minority voters say that they considered leaving Britain because of racial intolerance,” according to a Guardian poll in March.
This last statistic shows that the brand of multiculturalism practiced in Britain (and France, Germany, Canada…) has little to do with genuine equality. It is instead a Faustian bargain, struck between vote-seeking politicians and self-appointed community leaders, one that keeps ethnic minorities tucked away in state-funded peripheral ghettos while the centers of public life remain largely unaffected by the seismic shifts in the national ethnic makeup. Nothing exposes the shallowness of this alleged tolerance more than the speed with which Muslim communities are now being told to “get out” (to quote Tory MP Gerald Howarth) in the name of core national values.
The real problem is not too much multiculturalism but too little. If the diversity now ghettoized on the margins of Western societies–geographically and psychologically–were truly allowed to migrate to the centers, it might infuse public life in the West with a powerful new humanism. If we had deeply multi-ethnic societies, rather than shallow multicultural ones, it would be much more difficult for politicians to sign deportation orders sending Algerian asylum-seekers to torture, or to wage wars in which only the invaders’ dead are counted. A society that truly lived its values of equality and human rights, at home and abroad, would have another benefit too. It would rob terrorists of what has always been their greatest recruitment tool: our racism. [Extract]
…The last thing anyone should attempt is to read the Qur’an straight through from cover to cover, because it was designed to be recited aloud. Indeed, the word qur’an means “recitation”. Much of the meaning is derived from sound patterns that link one passage with another, so that Muslims who hear extracts chanted aloud thousands of times in the course of a lifetime acquire a tacit understanding that one teaching is always qualified and supplemented by other texts, and cannot be seen in isolation. The words that they hear again and again are not “holy war”, but “kindness”, “courtesy”, “peace”, “justice”, and “compassion”….
Solitary reading also enables people to read their scriptures too selectively, focusing on isolated texts that they read out of context, and ignoring others that do not chime with their own predilections. Religious militants who read their scriptures in this way often distort the tradition they are trying to defend. Christian fundamentalists concentrate on the aggressive Book of Revelation and pay no attention to the Sermon on the Mount, while Muslim extremists rely on the more belligerent passages of the Qur’an and overlook its oft-repeated instructions to leave vengeance to God and make peace with the enemy.
We cannot turn the clock back. Most of us are accustomed to acquiring information instantly at the click of a mouse, and have neither the talent nor the patience for the disciplines that characterised pre-modern interpretation. But we can counter the dangerous tendency to selective reading of sacred texts. The Qur’an insists that its teaching must be understood “in full” (20:114), an important principle that religious teachers must impart to the disaffected young.
Muslim extremists have given the jihad (which they interpret reductively as “holy war”) a centrality that it never had before and have thus redefined the meaning of Islam for many non-Muslims. But in this they are often unwittingly aided by the media, who also concentrate obsessively on the more aggressive verses of the Qur’an, without fully appreciating how these are qualified by the text as a whole. We must all – the religious and the sceptics alike – become aware that there is more to scripture than meets the cursory eye. [Extract]
The idea of rebranding our identity (letters, August 10) is ill-advised and shows the confusion within the Government. The issue is not that British Muslims cannot identify with their homeland Britain, rather that they feel excluded by a host of reasons, especially the Government’s foreign policy.
It took much campaigning to get the Government to record faith in the 2001 Census; even then it was optional. One of the key arguments used to convince the Government was that the vast majority of Muslims (and other people) identify with their faith rather than their ethnicity. Many surveys have already established that Muslims prefer the term British Muslim.
To discover what has caused disaffection in minority communities, we should look at the root causes of our current predicaments and find innovative and deliverable ways of creating a more inclusive environment.
Rebranding of identity would turn the clock back and open the door for further divisions in society.
Muhammad Abdul Bari
(Author, Race, Religion and Muslim Identity in Britain, Awakening Publishers, 2004)
‘Letter to the Editor’, The Times, 12th August 2005
The best thing that can be said for the critics of multiculturalism is that they are confused. Their muddled thinking was perfectly illustrated last week by David Davis, the shadow home secretary, when he denounced the concept and then added that he welcomed “the mainstream version of Islam as part of British society”. That is as good a definition of multiculturalism as we are likely to get.
The charitable explanation of the confusion is ignorance – an inability to distinguish between integration and assimilation. The alternative interpretation is more sinister. Muslims are accepted in Britain – but only if they cease to behave like Muslims.
At one level, the attack on multiculturalism is no more than a refined, middle-class version of “Paki-bashing”. Yet people who ought to know better have joined in the chorus of intolerance. To demand that Muslims abandon their way of life – what they eat, how they dress, which way they choose their husbands and wives – is to make a frontal assault upon their faith. Islam is a total religion. People who go to church on Christmas Eve and think that makes them Christians may not realise that devout Muslims believe that the Qur’an should inform their whole lives.
Britain has to decide if the freedom that we so value is consistent with attempts to suppress the religious practices of the country’s fastest-growing faith. The fact that most of us do not share their beliefs (and some of us have no beliefs at all) is irrelevant. Only primitive people want to destroy everything they do not like or understand. The civilised, and sensible, approach is to welcome diversity as a stimulus to renewed vitality.
It is important for Muslim women born elsewhere to learn English and far better for their children to attend state schools. And it goes without saying that Muslims should – as most of them do – reject the violence of suicide bombers. But invitations to enjoy the benefits of British society are, like insistence on obedience to the rule of British law, quite different from the demand that they abandon a whole culture.
The excuse for demanding Muslim conformity – Catholic and Quaker schools being acceptable when Islamic schools are not – is the fear of something that, for want of a decent definition, the ignorant call fundamentalism.
But it is the assault on Islam – its culture as well as its theology – that has alienated some Muslim youths to the point at which they will not condemn anyone who champions their religion. Social disadvantage (high levels of unemployment and poor housing) combines with attacks on their favoured causes (UN resolutions must be resspected in Iraq but not in Israel or Kashmir) to make them feel rejected. Assaults on their habits as well as their faith will alienate them still further. [Extract]
In the face of terror attacks Anglo-Saxon politicians mouth the same rhetoric. One sentence in particular–shrouded in layers of untruth–is constantly repeated: ‘We shall not permit these attacks to change our way of life.’ It is a multi-purpose mantra. The first aim is to convince the public that the terrorists are crazed Muslims who are bombing modernity/democracy/freedom/ ‘our values’, etc.
This is the first lie. The terror attacks, however misguided and criminal, are a result of the Western military presence in the Arab world. If all the foreign troops and bases were withdrawn, the attacks would cease. This is essentially a post-First Gulf war syndrome.
Israel/Palestine is another issue, but that has been simmering for fifty years and was not the main reason for the bombings in New York, Madrid and London. It has now been added to the repertoire, but the struggle to force Israel back to the 1967 frontiers is one waged by the Palestinians themselves. They have received little support from elsewhere.
The sentence itself is a falsehood, because the attacks have changed ‘our way of life’. The Patriot Act in the United States and the measures being proposed by Tony Blair in Britain demonstrate this quite clearly. What is being proposed in Britain is the indefinite suspension of habeas corpus. Worried by the recent judicial activism with senior Judges in Britain expressing a real concern at the growing attack on civil liberties, Tony Blair warned them in public that he would brook no dissent: “Should legal obstacles arise, we will legislate further, including, if necessary amending the Human Rights Act, in respect of the interpretation of the ECHR. In any event, we will consult on legislating specifically for a non-suspensive appeal process in respect of deportations. One other point on deportations. Once the new grounds take effect, there will be a list drawn up of specific extremist websites, bookshops, centres, networks and particular organisations of concern. Active engagement with any of these will be a trigger for the home secretary to consider the deportation of any foreign national. As has been stated already, there will be new anti-terrorism legislation in the autumn. This will include an offence of condoning or glorifying terrorism. The sort of remarks made in recent days should be covered by such laws. But this will also be applied to justifying or glorifying terrorism anywhere, not just in the UK.”
Will the British Parliament accept this view and legislate in favour of the new authoritarianism? Probably. It is a parliament dominated by cons and neo-cons. If Blair is a second-rate politician with a third-rate mind, his Conservative opponent, Michael Howard is a third-rate politician with a second-rate mind.
…it is now obvious that there will be no peace in Britain or Iraq as long as Blair remains Prime Minister. He is part of the problem, not the solution. His departure has become an important prerequisite to a safe Britain, which could detach itself from the Pentagon and acquire a tiny measure of independence. [Extract]
…The Jamaican origins of Jermaine Lindsay, one of the July 7 suicide bombers, has prompted some to ask why a disproportionate number of black males are attracted to extremism. Lindsay, 19, had spent the vast proportion of his life in England, which made tenuous the tabloid obsession with his place of birth. Intriguingly there was less of a clamour over the ethnicity of Richard Reid, the notorious “shoe bomber”, who had a white mother and a black father. In the case of David Copeland, the white, racist, homophobic nail-bomber, there was no analysis of a potential relationship between ethnicity, extremism and terror.
Black men converting to Islam should be placed within the religious context of their communities, where religion still matters. African-Caribbean men and women continue to turn out in large numbers for religious activities. But Islam is able to do what the black church cannot – attract black men.
I have spent most of my working life in conversation with African-Caribbean converts to Islam. Two relationships stand out. I have an ongoing dialogue with an artist who converted in the mid-90s. His journey began when he listened to tapes of African-American Muslim preachers while at graduate school in America. The tapes made a clearcut link between a commitment to Allah and black liberation from poverty, drugs, gangs and meaninglessness. His first visit to a predominantly African-American mosque was life-changing. Hundreds of smartly dressed black men full of self-belief, black pride, purpose and respect immediately became role models.
This is still the case today. Many black men, including Reid and Lindsay, were impressed by Islam’s African-centred preaching and positive association with blackness. After all, one of the most powerful icons of the 20th century, Malcolm X, made the journey from Christianity to Islam in search of black redemption. My artist friend says mainstream Islam provides him with a social awareness and commitment to justice that is mostly ignored in black churches.
I have a nephew who recently converted while serving a prison sentence. Spending an inordinate amount of time alone in his cell, he took to reading the Bible and the Qur’an to pass the time. Intrigued by the notion that Islam was the last testament, God’s final revelation, he pursued his interest by attending lessons with the imam assigned to the prison chaplaincy. Convinced, he became a devotee.
It was clear to me that the daily regime of Islam provided him with the tools for personal discipline and an interest in intellectual thought. He gained qualifications while inside and, most importantly, became completely dissociated from criminal activity. Having left prison, he continues to live devoutly, and is employed in a management position.
Most African-Caribbean men converting to Islam do so because it is a religion with a capacity to give their lives hope and meaning. This is not a new idea. As long ago as 1888, the Caribbean educator Edward Wilmot Blyden argued that Islam was more respectful of black culture and easier to translate into Caribbean culture than Christianity.
There will always be a few captivated by extremist versions of Islam that exploit the continued disaffection and marginalisation of working-class black youth. After all, with as little potential for social mobility as their migrant grandparents, it is difficult to sell them the New Labour dream of living in a meritocratic “stakeholder” society….[Extract]
…those who bombed London underground or those involved in 9/11 attacks in New York were all educated in the US or UK in modern institutions of learning. And that is why they were far more aware of injustices and hence got motivated to involve themselves in the revengeful acts killing innocent people. It was not hatred of the west but hatred towards its policies. One must distinguish between the two. Also, just because they hail from Saudi Arabia or Pakistan should not mislead us.
As pointed out above very complex factors determine human behaviour. The terrorist suicide bombers are no exception. There is no conclusive evidence available to show that in their case only religion or religious hatred towards the west motivated them to kill others as well as themselves. In case of London bombing on 7/7 it is being pointed out by some scholars and journalists like Amy Waldman of New York Times that “A life of total alienation led to a burst of rage in Leeds.”
These young men are motivated by both injustices at home and abroad. Their alienation and frustration play no lesser role than the sense of injustices by the western rulers against Muslims abroad. One should not discount these factors, which many often do. The young Shi’ah Muslims of Iran in seventies of last century before Islamic revolution gravitated towards revolutionary ideology not because of their fanaticism but because of Shah’s policies, which were seen as pro-US. In fact he was seen as nothing more than the US stooge.
Those who flocked around Khomeini were all modern educated young shi’ah Muslims and not products of institutions of religious learning in Qoum from where Khomeini hailed. Ali Shari’ati, the most respected intellectual of Islamic revolution was product of a French university who held doctorate from Soborne, Paris and who kept young Iranian Muslims spellbound by his speeches.
If the USA had not used the Shah for their own political gains in Middle East, Khomeini would not have succeeded in making an Islamic revolution. One can say it was not so much love of Islam but intense opposition towards US policies in Iran that inspired the youth to flock around the revolutionary cause. Also, the economic policies of the Shah was favouring the western world and causing inflation and unemployment among the Iranian youths forcing them to support Islamic revolution. People often look for desperate remedies in desperate situation.
Terrorism cannot be fought through slogans like war on terror. Such war on terror is likely to intensify terrorism. One will have to honestly examine the deeper causes and wrest the Muslim youth away from such desperate measures. I am afraid even fatwas by Muslim intellectuals against terrorist bombers will not de-motivate them unless suitable policies are adopted towards Middle Eastern policies including Palestine and Iraq. Let us also remember that terrorism has also become an industry with powerful vested interests in sustaining it. We may have to put up with it for a long time to come even after suitable policies are adopted by western countries. For the west too, it may not be possible to extricate from the complex situation so easily. The given political situation has its own dynamics and vested interests. …
…There is a real danger that the prime minister’s 12-point outburst will be counterproductive, alienating the very people that the government – and not least these agencies – need on their side.
The domestic security service, MI5, has recognised for years that it needs the help of ethnic minorities, notably Muslims, and now the secret intelligence service, MI6, whose spies operate abroad, has come to understand that too. MI6 wants to recruit what counterterrorist sources call a “different kind of person”, a reference to people who understand the causes as well as the symptoms of the problem.
The most senior ministerial advisers appear to have identified the problem more than a year ago. Internal Whitehall correspondence leaked earlier this year shows that in April 2004 Sir Andrew Turnbull, the cabinet secretary, wrote a letter marked “restricted policy” to the top official at the Home Office, Sir John Gieve.
“Are we listening enough to the Muslim communities (here and overseas) and understanding what we hear (even where we do not agree with it)?” he asked. “Are we communicating the right messages to the right parts of the Muslim community effectively?”
Sir Andrew did not shy away from addressing the government’s foreign policy. “Should our stance (eg on the Middle East peace process or Kashmir) be influenced more by these concerns?” he asked. “How do we communicate our foreign policy to the Muslim community? Where are they getting their information and opinion from?”
Sir John wrote back to the cabinet secretary a month later. It was a long letter identifying the problems, including issues of identity, the threat of terrorism, and how to overcome disaffection, of which “extremism” was a symptom. He also referred to “anger” – a word he emphasised – among many young British Muslims borne out of a perception of double standards in British foreign policy, where democracy is preached but oppression of the Ummah (one nation of believers) is practised or tolerated.
Sir John described a “perceived western bias in Israel’s favour over the Israel/Palestine conflict” as a “key long-term grievance of the international Muslim community which probably influences British Muslims”. That perception, he added, seems to have become more acute since the 9/11 attacks.
“The perception is,” wrote the permanent secretary at the Home Office, “that passive ‘oppression’, as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to ‘active oppression’ – the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan are all seen by a section of the British Muslims as having been acts against Islam.”
Sir John referred to the lack of any tangible “pressure valve” to vent frustrations or dissent – leading to a desire for what he called a simple “Islamic” solution to the perceived oppression. [Extract]
As we grope our way around the next corner of history, it would be nice to feel that we had an accurate picture of the past. But while politicians, judges and police are variously blamed for their struggle to get to grips with terror after July 7, the most guilty part of the Establishment is still lurking in the shadows offstage.
The intelligence services bear considerable responsibility for letting in many of the extremists who have done so much damage in this country since the early 1990s and for doing so little to curtail their activities. It is distinctly ironic that those whose complacency helped to create the problem are now overreacting by pressing for unnecessarily draconian powers. Especially when some of these will make it harder to encourage British Muslims to inform on extremists — which must surely now be the intelligence services’ best hope.
I have long pondered which would be worse: spooks living in blissful ignorance of the extremists living here, warnings from France and Algeria languishing in their in-trays while they recruited more good-looking blondes; or spooks blithely assuming that Britain would be safe if they kept a few preachers in view. Planning to assassinate Musharraf? Fine. Funding camps in Afghanistan? OK, doesn’t really affect Blighty, at least we know where they are.
The latter, it seems, is closer to the truth. The security services were still focusing heavily on the IRA in the 1990s; they thought the Muslim clerics were clowns; and having failed to infiltrate many Muslim groups, they tried to get these clerics to inform on each other. In doing so they may well have prolonged their stay. When Abu Qatada’s leave to remain expired in 1998, the Home Office dawdled over his application for indefinite leave to remain despite warnings from six countries about his links with terror. Why?
This is a man who was convicted in Jordan of involvement in two terrorist attacks, who was visited in London by the chief suspect in the Madrid train bombings and by Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. Who came to Britain in 1993 on a forged United Arab Emirates passport, and was not arrested until 2002. Who met MI5 officers on at least three occasions.
How provincial, how complacent, how staggeringly arrogant, to think that he was better left free to build what the Special Immigration Appeals Commission last year described as “the centre of terrorist activities associated with al-Qaeda”. Abu Qatada is one of the ten men that the Government is now struggling to deport. If he reveals as part of his appeal that MI5 tried to recruit him, the service will be highly embarrassed. And he may not be the only one to do so. The whispers are that several of these characters have as much on the intelligence services as they have on them.
In the 1990s Britain made a fatal decision, against the advice of other governments, to try to use these people rather than shut them down. But we weren’t even serious about using them. We thought they looked too much like pantomime villains to be the real thing. In 2001, when investigators discovered links between the 9/11 hijackers and the Finsbury Park Mosque, the Government began to put powers in place to try to convict men such as Abu Hamza, the Finsbury cleric. Even then, the Americans were often ahead of us in bringing charges.
It is possible that MI5 was partially right. In an astonishing interview in Prospect magazine carried out shortly before the bombings, a British recruiter for the Taleban stated that attacks in London were extremely unlikely because they would endanger the radical Muslim networks that work from here. Anyone involved in such an attack would be an “utterly loose cannon”, he said, on the fringes of the main terror networks. If there is any truth in that, the men now in custody may be the smallest of small fry, who will lead us nowhere.
But it makes the “Londonistan” strategy look no less irresponsible. Providing a home for a terror network can never guarantee you protection: it can only foment evil against you and your allies.
When Mr Blair returns from holiday, he must start to marshal the weapons of the State more effectively. If MI5 and MI6 are to plaster their recruitment ads over the newspapers, we must be sure they have got better at telling friend from foe. If the police are to keep up the old-fashioned detective work that led them to the suspected July 21 bombers, we must not alienate potential informants with unnecessary laws. Those men were caught partly because the parents of Muktar Said Ibrahim looked at the CCTV images of the suspects, recognised their son and called the police. That good deed is not best repaid by threats to close mosques and ban organisations that will only go underground. Nor by interning people for 90 days without trial: that was what gave succour to the IRA. Nor by creating vague laws of “indirect incitement to commit a terrorist act”, which could, a Home Office spokesman has pretty much admitted, criminalise a tone of voice.
Mr Blair will have to resist the temptation to get tough where it is easiest for him to do so, by chalking up a bevy of new offences when he has already enacted three anti-terrorism laws since 2000. And he must get toughest where he is weakest. To deport the ten suspects he will eventually have to sacrifice his Human Rights Act: he will not get round the European Convention either by derogating or by waving memos of understanding at judges who will never believe that Algeria has thrown away its thumbscrews.
He will also need to ask some tough questions of his intelligence services. Who authorised the appeasement strategy? Is it still in place? Did it produce any useful leads or is it, like information given under torture, severely compromised? And how do we now get the brothers, the fathers, the wives, on the right side? For make no mistake: the wrong side is far more dangerous than our clever spies ever realised. [Extract]
Britain’s latest package of antiterrorism measures is still being refined. But the basic thrust of the new approach was announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier this month. Some of the contemplated steps seem sensible and appropriate, like developing sterner rules to exclude foreign supporters of terrorism from entering Britain.
Others, however, are seriously troubling, like Blair’s plan to criminalize not just direct incitement to terrorism in Britain but anything the government may categorize as “condoning,” “glorifying” or “justifying” terrorism anywhere in the world. Words like that are far too vague, elastic and subject to diplomatic selectivity. Similarly troubling is the government’s plan to expand its list of deportable offenses to include the expression of “what the government considers to be extreme views.” And the idea of making naturalized, but not native-born, British citizens deportable for “extremism” is inherently divisive and should not be pursued.
Considering the costly damage the Bush administration has done to America’s reputation and liberties through its abuse of similar authority, Blair should have known better than to open himself up to a repeat of the same mistakes. Of course, he expects the British people, and Parliament, which will be called on to approve most of these changes, to trust his government to use such new powers carefully and wisely. But that is never a responsible basis for enacting laws that could be around longer than today’s government officials. [Extract]
There has been much debate about the future of our multicultural society once we learnt that the London bombers were from the UK. Trade unions were quick to call for support for Muslim communities, who were as horrified by these attacks as anyone else, but have been subject to racist attacks and far right abuse.
Of course social deprivation and poverty is no excuse for criminality, but it can be a breeding ground for poisonous beliefs of all kinds. And even if there had been no bomb attacks, a civilised country should not tolerate such high levels of poverty and deprivation.
We have had too many cheap calls for Muslims to integrate – some of which have come close to asking people to give up crucial parts of their identity. Building a tolerant liberal society where we are all free to express all the different sides that make up anyone’s identity will be that much harder when some groups suffer from such extreme levels of deprivation and poverty. [Extract]
Why is it that a significant section of liberal and left-leaning opinion has signed up with such relish to the “clash of civilisations” argument? Its champions in the media may not phrase it as such, but you can hear the creak of the drawbridge being pulled up: they believe they are surrounded by enemies – Muslims and their dastardly non-Muslim apologists – and must defend to the last man the checklist of universal Enlightenment values that sustain their mission…
Faced with such a bleak landscape, is it any wonder that erstwhile leftwing liberals have floundered – what cause is there left to believe in? – and then pounced with glee on the project that has taken shape since 9/11 and been successively sharpened by the Iraq war and 7/7. Scruples about the unsavoury rightwing company they are now uncomfortably lodged with – such as the American neocons – have been easily squashed. With curious macho posturing, they are “muscular” or “hard” liberals: enough is enough, we can no longer tolerate the intolerant, is the battle cry. They raise their standard on Enlightenment values – their universality, the supremacy of reason and a belief in progress. The west represents the apogee of civilisation and all countries can be measured up against its yardstick (and are, of course, found wanting). It is an ideology of superiority that is profoundly old-fashioned – reminiscent of Victorian liberalism and just as imperialistic….
This muscular liberal project is dangerous. We live in a shrunken world and millions of people are on the move; one of our biggest challenges is how we learn to live in proximity to difference – different skin colours, different beliefs, different ways of life. How do we talk peacefully with people with whom we might violently disagree? Not easy, but essential. Ken Livingstone’s engagement with the Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi has proved a thorn in the side of the muscular liberals. But the idea of submitting all potential interlocutors to an ideological approval rating will mean we end up talking only to ourselves. Is a reminder necessary that this is a symptom of insanity? [Extract].
The disastrous decision to invade Iraq has made Britain a more dangerous place. The war did not create the danger of Islamic terrorism in this country, which had been growing internationally even before the tragedy of the attacks on 9/11. However the decision by the UK Government to become the leading ally of President Bush in the Iraq debacle has made Britain one of the foremost targets for Islamic extremists. Personally I would have accepted that increased risk as the price of going to war if I had believed that we were driven to go to war for a just cause and a British national interest that could be pursued in no other way.
I reject the notion that fear of terrorist reprisals should ever deter a British Government from pursuing an honourable and necessary cause. I had previously supported every war embarked upon by a British Government of whatever party throughout my Parliamentary career. This was not such a case. The reasons given to Parliament for joining the invasion were bogus. Bush’s real purpose of installing quite quickly a pro-Western democracy in Baghdad, with the support of a grateful liberated population, has proved to be a sad illusion. The dangers of the invasion providing recruits and impetus to terrorist extremists were clear before the war….
The disastrous decision to invade Iraq has made Britain a more dangerous place. The war did not create the danger of Islamic terrorism in this country, which had been growing internationally even before the tragedy of the attacks on 9/11. However the decision by the UK Government to become the leading ally of President Bush in the Iraq debacle has made Britain one of the foremost targets for Islamic extremists. Personally I would have accepted that increased risk as the price of going to war if I had believed that we were driven to go to war for a just cause and a British national interest that could be pursued in no other way. I reject the notion that fear of terrorist reprisals should ever deter a British Government from pursuing an honourable and necessary cause. I had previously supported every war embarked upon by a British Government of whatever party throughout my Parliamentary career. This was not such a case. The reasons given to Parliament for joining the invasion were bogus. Bush’s real purpose of installing quite quickly a pro-Western democracy in Baghdad, with the support of a grateful liberated population, has proved to be a sad illusion. The dangers of the invasion providing recruits and impetus to terrorist extremists were clear before the war….
The roots of our present terrorism lie in the Middle East and in a series of conflicts around the world. We cannot solve these problems on our own but Britain does have a role to play in seeking peaceful resolutions to them. Our role partly derives from being a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a prominent member of the European Union. But we have many historic links with the Middle East and a close relationship with Saudi Arabia. We maintain close relationships with several Muslim countries through the Commonwealth. I believe that there is a distinctive contribution for Britain to make in addressing the underlying causes of international terrorism [Extract].
….Blair’s campaign began right after July 7 with an astonishing attempt to silence those exploring any link between British policies in the Middle East and the growth of domestic Muslim militancy. Scholars and commentators followed the lead of Manchester University’s Professor Norman Geras and condemned as “fellow travellers” those who sought to understand how British-born and -educated men could turn to terror. Such explanations imparted some legitimacy to terrorist acts, they argued.
In the US this campaign took a more ominous turn. Tom Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote that the “primary terrorism problem we face today can effectively be addressed only by a war of ideas within Islam”. His solution was to support “life-affirming Muslims” through a new US state department “quarterly ‘War of Ideas Report’, which would focus on those religious leaders and writers who are inciting violence”. Quoting James Rubin, the former US state department spokesman, Friedman wrote that the list should also include “the excuse-makers … who come out after every major terrorist incident … to explain why imperialism, Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explain why the terrorists acted. [The excuse-makers] are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists.”
Few dispute the need to outlaw incitement to terrorism. But judging from the nature of the support Blair’s initiative has received, it may threaten free speech, the bedrock of democracy and the rule of law. Terms such as “potential” and “indirect” incitement could include any advocacy of armed resistance. All mainstream British Muslim leaders stood with Blair in condemning domestic Muslim extremism in July, but many now worry about where this campaign and the proposed laws will lead.
In any event, the world has not yet agreed what constitutes “terrorism”. the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, tried to simplify matters by asserting that the killing of civilians was a terrorist act, but that was rightly rejected by the general assembly. The word “innocent”, contained in the original draft, was left out. What about the US security firm Blackwater’s security guards? What about armed Israeli civilians who create settlements on occupied Palestinian land? The kind of language proposed in the British legislation could easily characterise a call to resist allied occupation soldiers in Iraq as incitement. Is force now to be the preserve of the powerful?
The threat posed to freedom of expression aside, it is alarming that Blair seems to be focusing only on Muslim actions. Indeed, writers such as Friedman explicitly state that it is religious figures advocating violence who should be exposed. The many western scholars and writers who incite their countries to undertake wars of aggression are not to be affected by anti-incitement legislation. Such incitement is more deadly due to the awesome destructive power of the states that are being urged, invariably, to attack a much weaker country.
The political season opens in an air of bizarre unreality. This is a country at war and yet that war hardly features, even among Liberal Democrats. Political outrage or simple horror is lacking. Last week hundreds were massacred in one bloodbath after another. British military dead now number 95, not quite enough to get army mothers camped outside Downing Street – but 70,000 British soldiers have endured a heart-sinking tour in Iraq, seeing the blood, brains, guts and limbs daily littering the streets. Because no one knows what to do next, there is a remarkable absence of political recrimination.
But if Iraq is all but absent, the war on terror is hot politics. Charles Clarke’s new proposals emanate from the increasingly unreal planet of No 10, which still insists on no connection between Iraq and July 7. No one else believes it; most ministers have trouble speaking the words. But double-think and double-speak are leading us into a disastrous clash of civilisations.
Once deep in a bomb crater, stop digging. It is time to learn the lessons of Iraq – and remember those of tackling the IRA. It is all about proportionality and unintended consequences. Even if the intention is good – ridding the world of Saddam or trying to stop bombers murdering tube travellers – any action that makes the threat worse is a mistake. Labour is keen on what works; Iraq has made the world more dangerous and these anti-terror laws risk the same.
Bad responses to IRA bombs prolonged that terror. Mass internment on the flimsiest of evidence radicalised a generation, seriously limiting intelligence from informants. Most attempts to quell terror made things worse by disproportionate action taken in anger. Islamist killers took terror to a new level on 9/11, but catching and deterring perpetrators needs the same techniques. Never forget the IRA murdered publoads of ordinary people and came within a splinter of slaughtering the prime minister and cabinet. Ordinary Muslims may detect an elemental horror of dark-skinned bombers that strikes a deeper fear than Irish Catholics. Why else yet more draconian action? Clarke’s move to jail for up to five years anyone who “glorifies, exalts or celebrates” terrorist attacks is as daft as it is dangerous….Similarly, why is it only when confronting the Islamist threat in the 2000 Terrorism Act that it became a legal duty to inform on possible terrorists? Under this law the brother of the British suicide terrorist who murdered many in Israel is this week being retried after a trial where the jury couldn’t decide whether to convict. But the law never forced the Irish to inform. Perhaps it was recognised that any Irish family informer would be tarred and feathered, kneecapped or killed. But why are we putting a higher expectation on Muslim families, equally in fear? It seems as if we fear these new terrorists as more alarmingly alien, less one of us, though Catholic and Islamist bombs have the same effect. The IRA was undoubtedly the more organised enemy, so probably more lethal. Or is it just that politicians need to be seen taking “new” action, despite perfectly good existing laws? [Extract].
Islamism, like socialism, is not a uniform entity. It is a colourful sociopolitical phenomenon with many strategies and discourses. This enormously diverse movement ranges from liberal to conservative, from modern to traditional, from moderate to radical, from democratic to theocratic, and from peaceful to violent. What these trends have in common is that they derive their source of legitimacy from Islam, just as Latin American anarchist guerrillas, communists, social democrats and third-way Blairites base theirs on socialism. To view such a broad canvas through the lens of Bin Laden or Zarqawi is absurd.
Faced with this dynamic and multifaceted force across the Muslim world, the west has two options. It can deal with it peacefully, allowing it to express itself freely and opening a dialogue with it, or it can channel its energies towards violence and destructiveness. [Extract].
…I completely accept that intelligence has to be gathered and it will be essential to get sharper, smarter policing and spying which may well require exceptional temporary powers granted by an independent judge. At times I even find myself applauding when some fanatic Muslim preacher is put away without due process, a burst of populism which is unbecoming and immoral. But I do not wish to live in a police state which uses democracy as a clever disguise to encroach on our liberties.
Every day men and women in this country are being hauled into custody as nameless suspects. They may or may not be guilty. It doesn’t really matter any more. They are Muslims. Dogs have better safeguards than these presumed terrorists. The rules of the game have changed, Blair tells us. But, as the newly retired, immensely wise judge Lord Steyn says in an interview in this newspaper: “This is not a game, this is a deathly serious and earnest matter.”
Blair and his gang, imbued with granite Christian certainties, claim our acquiescence to keep us safe, they say, in a dangerous world. Are we really living in more perilous times than during the two world wars or the Cold War when weapons of mass destruction were in the hands of war-makers on both sides? Charles Clarke, the home secretary, has capitulated on the pernicious proposed legislation which would have outlawed the “glorification” of terrorism, whatever that meant or was meant to mean. But he still wants the right to hold for 90 days people who have not been explicitly charged and to pack them off to their old countries so they don’t bother us. It is a double whammy. If you are marked out as a “terrorist” you can be incarcerated and deported, all in the silence imposed by the new anti-terrorism measures.
All too soon, this cowboy justice begins to apply to others. Internment, exiling human beings, curtailing freedom of expression, have become responses to a range of difficult problems. The duffing up of the Labor Conference heckler Walter Wolfgang illustrated the point perfectly. (I do wonder though whether there would have been such a fuss around the country if the victim had not been an elderly refugee who fled Nazism, but, say, a young Asian or Afro-Caribbean man?) Countless more people, including children seeking asylum are being cruelly deported. Every day campaigners get e-mails about these wretched people, the latest I have had is from Jessica Levy, a desperate English woman whose husband Hossain is being sent back to Iran where torture is a gadget liberally used by the state to inflict docility and compliance. Even Middle Englanders in some places are rising in protest when they witness obvious miscarriages of natural justice in such cases.
Blair has, in effect, torn up the Geneva Convention on refugees, and disdains the substance and spirit of the European Convention on Human Rights. [Extract].
The Independent, 10th October 2005
…Capacity-building in the Muslim community can’t be done quickly, and combating extremism is a project for the long haul. It requires models of community development and conflict resolution. It will certainly require a huge amount of hard local work of doggedly building relations across communities, and its success will always be vulnerable to the outcome of international events such as those in Iraq. But it has started to happen – there are plenty of local success stories.
The danger is that these local initiatives get sabotaged by an undertow of increasing irritability at the national level. The Commission for Racial Equality is in danger of losing patience with the Muslim community. In part, this is a turf war for government attention: should the focus be faith or race? But it is also an increasingly ideological position about a push to define common values – and the definitions used privately range widely to include tolerance of homosexuality, even participating in the social life of the pub.
The CRE’s push for this integration debate is in line with government thinking and the proposed commission on integration. The problem is that to Muslims feeling increasingly beleaguered and burdened with explaining themselves, the cosy huddle of integration begins to sound more like a smothering bear hug, designed to expose them to a whole new set of tests of whether they belong in the UK.
The irritability is most evident in government. Strip away the sweet talk and Paul Goggins, the minister on faith and community cohesion, has given British Muslims a nigh-on-impossible task. He tells me that over the summer, in a series of public meetings across the country, he has managed to establish that it is Muslims’ responsibility to deal with extremism. The government will help, but basically it’s down to Muslims to sort themselves out. One can hear the faux-innocent pleading of “It’s nothing to do with us, guv”. If that wasn’t a tall enough order in a country whose foreign policy incenses the Muslim community, Goggins says he’d like Muslims to speak with a more “united voice”: the internecine factionalism of minority community politics is confusing. The irony of course is that when Muslims do speak with one voice – on British foreign policy – Goggins and his government colleagues refuse to listen.
The kind of delicacy and patience required to combat Islamist extremism in Britain seems, disturbingly, to be beyond the timetables of politics. What we get instead is some posturing – a bit of finger-pointing and plenty of washing of hands.[Extract].
…There is now a concerted attempt in Britain to shift the debate about race from taking on and confronting racism and racial inequality to blaming black and Asian communities for the problems that many face. The buzzword is “integration”, now often counterposed, falsely, to multiculturalism.
Culturally distinct communities can be hugely positive and beneficial. We have many such examples of people choosing to live in an area where they are able to worship, shop and bring up their children within the context of their culture. But opponents of multiculturalism have used the post-9/11, post-London bombings climate to push their agenda. Multiculturalism, it is argued, elevates difference and therefore enhances segregation. The Trojan horse for this argument is the debate about Britain’s Muslim communities, much of which is simply Islamophobic. The rightwing press is now rampant with the argument that multiculturalism intensifies segregation.
In the real world, this onslaught translates into an approach that says: “Assimilate, accept the majority’s norms – because if you don’t, your failure to integrate, not racism, is the problem.” Counterposing integration to multiculturalism is bound to lead to castigation of black communities for supposed failings.
It is, of course, nonsense. Multiculturalism is a fact of life. Everyone is entitled to celebrate their own culture as long as they do not prevent others from doing so. In fact, researchers have found that Britain is becoming less, not more, segregated. The real problem is not the absence of integration, but that we still do not carry through multiculturalism’s lessons adequately. Black and Asian people pay their taxes too. But our police services under-represent black and Asian people. We want black boys to do better in school to break out of cycles of underachievement, but where are the black teachers to act as role models?
The celebration of diversity is what won us the Olympic games. This model values difference and requires strong commitment and political leadership. It helped to build the kind of unified response we had in the aftermath of the London bombings. This is what we put at risk when we lightly dismiss multiculturalism – a model that actually works.
None the less, the cloak of integration is being used to push aggressively what is really an assimilationist agenda. Fascists and racists swim in the pool of racism. How this manifests itself – concretely – is an onslaught on British Muslims, using the religion of Islam as a battering ram. Islam is promoted as uniquely evil, or uniquely backward. The most explicit example is the British National party, which issued thousands of anti-Muslim leaflets after the London bombings with a graphic illustration of the devastated No 30 bus. According to the BNP, multiculturalism was to blame. The BNP is feeding on the mainstream onslaught against the Muslim communities and multiculturalism.
Effective anti-racism starts from the view that we refuse to accept the onslaught, to go along with distortions and generalisations about Islam. In these circumstances, the provocative, headline-grabbing speeches by Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, are counterproductive and generate many of the most unapologetic headlines in the rightwing press, giving succour to those who want to push back anti-racism.
Asked whether the word multiculturalism should be killed off, he replied: “Yes, let’s do that. Multiculturalism suggests separateness.” Confronted by the Spectator’s Rod Liddle and asked if Islam was an issue for the CRE – in particular if it was “merely a matter of culture” rather than race – Phillips’s response spoke volumes. “Well privately I would go quite a long way down the route you’re taking. It is not primarily an issue of race.” Hence the emphasis on segregation rather than racism. But the truth is that vile anti-Muslim prejudice, using the religion of a community to attempt to sideline and blame it for many of society’s ills, is the cutting edge of racism in British society. Those who consider themselves anti-racists need to wake up to this fact. [Extract].
…But, as publication of the terrorism bill yesterday confirmed, the most dangerous and inflammatory elements in Blair’s August package are still there: not only the effective internment power, but deportation to countries that routinely torture; banning of non-violent political parties; state control of mosques and the outlawing of any statement that might be seen as inciting or glorifying terrorist acts (including in history).
… In fact, under the terms of the bill, anyone who voices support for armed resistance to any state or occupation, however repressive or illegitimate, will be committing a criminal offence carrying a seven-year prison sentence – so long as members of the public might reasonably regard it as direct or indirect encouragement. Terrorism is not defined in the bill as, say, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, let alone an assault on civilian targets by states – but as any politically motivated violence against people, property or electronic systems anywhere in the world. This is not only an assault on freedom of speech and debate about the most contentious subject in global politics. It also makes a criminal offence out of a belief shared by almost every society, religion or philosophy throughout history: namely, that people have the right to take up arms against tyranny and foreign occupation. Clarke made clear on Tuesday that this was exactly his intention. He could not, he said, think of any situation in the world where “violence would be justified to bring about change”.
Clearly, that did not apply to the invasion of Iraq or the bomb attacks on street markets carried out in Baghdad by US and British-backed opposition groups before 2003. But, as the mayor of London pointed out yesterday, support for Nelson Mandela, the wartime resistance and any number of anti-colonial liberation movements would all have been crimes under this bill. In practice, of course, the law is intended to be used selectively: it is aimed not just at those who praise bomb attacks on the London tube, but at Muslims and others who believe that Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans and others have a right to resist occupation.
The home secretary’s remarks in Washington last week that in dealing with global Islamism “there can be no negotiation about the recreation of the caliphateno negotiation about the imposition of sharia law” (when support for the latter in particular, variously interpreted, is widespread in the Muslim world) heightens the perception that the war on terror is also a war on Islam. Blair’s August announcement was designed to show the government was taking tough action to protect the country from any repetition of the London bombings – and offset the majority view that he had put his own people in danger by invading Iraq. But if the terrorism bill in its current form becomes law, the likelihood is that instead of reducing the terror threat, it will increase it.
Any operational benefit to the police is bound to be more than offset by the further alienation of exactly those sections of the Muslim community whose cooperation is needed to prevent more atrocities. If peaceful organisations are banned, Muslims are routinely locked up without charge and support for mainstream Muslim causes is criminalised, some will certainly be intimidated and keep their heads down. But others will conclude that participation in politics is pointless, that the tolerance and liberal democracy proclaimed by the political establishment is a fraud – and go underground. It is in everybody’s interests that parliament resists a panic measure which threatens us all. [Extract].
…The more Blair denies his complicity in the destruction of Iraq and its part in the terrorist cause, the more he has to find other reasons for 7 July, and the more he engages in the politics of fear to erode democratic rights and civil liberties. Conversely, the sooner he owns up to the Iraq debacle, the sooner he will be able to address the most important element in apprehending terrorists: intelligence, intelligence, intelligence.
Instead, his government substitutes authoritarian measures. The September 2005 anti-terrorist bill was the fourth counter terrorist measure in five years, expanding the definition of terrorism and creating new terrorist offences. The Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, hurried through parliament after 11 September, effectively abolished habeas corpus for foreign nationals. When the law lords ruled against this, the government merely replaced detention without trial with control orders. Now it has signalled it will extend them to British nationals, while the proposal to hold suspects for three months without trial is internment by another name.
Blair argues that ‘the rules of the game have changed’. But the game is democracy, and one part of it cannot be changed without starting a chain reaction that damages the whole and debases British values.
And yet Blair exhorts ethnic minorities to live up to these British values. When our rulers ask us old colonials, new refugees, desperate asylum seekers – the sub-homines – to live up to British values, they are not referring to the values that they themselves exhibit, but those of the Enlightenment which they have betrayed. We, the sub-homines, in our struggle for basic human rights, not only uphold basic human values, but challenge Britain to return to them. [Extract].
The Government was “driven to scrape the bottom of the legal barrel” to justify its invasion of Iraq, a senior judge said last night. Lord Steyn, who retired last month as a law lord although he continues to sit part-time, said some support could be “dredged up” for the Attorney General’s view that the war was lawful.
But Lord Alexander, QC, the former chairman of the human rights group Justice who stepped down last night, had been right to conclude that none of the Government’s grounds for intervention had any plausibility.
Extrication from Iraq would prove difficult unless the Government was now prepared to show humility, “which involves accepting the folly of the military invasion of Iraq”.
Speaking at a Justice debate after his election as Lord Alexander’s successor, Lord Steyn said: “After the recent dreadful bombings in London we were asked to believe that the Iraq war did not make London and the world a more dangerous place. Surely, on top of everything else, we do not have to listen to a fairy tale.” [Extract].
It was not what we expected. A fascinating biography of Mohammad Sidique Khan on Radio 4 last night revealed that the leader of the group which planted the London bombs on 7 July was called Sid at school, had more white friends than Asian ones, and aged 16 was so besotted with America he wore cowboy boots.
He had never been made to go to Koranic classes. He was not interested in religion. He ignored debates about the plight of Muslims abroad. When it came to cricket he didn’t even support Pakistan. “Apart from the colour of his skin, he was just an English lad,” one friend said….
So what radicalised Sid Khan? There were none of the baleful influences usually trotted out by commentators. There was no radical mosque or firebrand preacher. He did not go to a segregated Muslim school or live in a ghetto. There was no lack of integration or multicultural separatism. What turned secular Sid into a pathological religious fanatic was watching videos of the mutilation of Muslims when he was in his twenties.
The man who killed the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh last year had a similar background. Mohammed Bouyeri was born in the Netherlands to a quiet moderate Moroccan family, went to an academic high school and worked as a youth councillor. Like Sid Khan, he also became radicalised only a couple of years before his desperate act…..The usual assumption is that men like Khan and Bouyeri have overdosed on their religion. But perhaps that is wrong. Maybe they had too little, rather than too much; perhaps if they had learnt more about mainstream Islam at school they wouldn’t have embraced such a destructive version of it later in life.
The Independent, 18th November 2005, page 43
In August 2005 I was appointed as the convenor of a Home Office working group on “tackling extremism”. It was one of seven Muslim working groups the Home Office had set up to help come up with workable recommendations on how best to prevent extremism. It was a sensible initiative with a very diverse group of British Muslims included and the final report from these working groups can be read from here.
You will notice that on page 98 of the above report – the section contributed by the working group of which I was convenor – it said:
British foreign policy – especially in the Middle East – cannot be left unconsidered as a factor in the motivations of criminal radical extremists. We believe it is a key contributory factor.
So, a question arises. Will the government “narrative” finally admit what I suspect most of us already believe: that the Iraq war, far from dealing a blow to global terrorism, has instead added to its ranks and undermined our national security? Or will the “narrative” merely quote another report and observe that “some Muslims” believe this to be the case?
All of us have a stake in ensuring that the terror threat to this country is comprehensively defeated. It does not help our cause if our own government refuses to ask itself relevant questions [Extract].
Campaign for Judicial enquiry
Attendees at meetings convened by the Prime Minister (19th July 2005) and the Home Secretary (20th July) report that a number of Muslim leaders called on the Government to establish a judicial enquiry – with the authority and remit of what Lord Scarman undertook after the 1981 Brixton riots – to throw light on how and why the events of 7th & 21 July took place, and what should be done to address the root causes. However it is believed that the Home Office is considering a less high-powered ‘task group’ – the legitimacy and relevance of such a task group remains a moot point in community circles. The Muslim Council of Britain has published its arguments in support of a Judicial Inquiry. August 2005: MCB case for an Inquiry
In September 2005 there appeared some hint of compromise from the Home Office. The Home Secretary observed that “the issue is the nature of the inquiry. We have not ruled out a public inquiry. We are ready to look at it.” He acknowledged that there was controversy between the government and the Muslim community working groups over the role of the Iraq war and other foreign policy issues in tackling extremism and said there was no direct link between Iraq and the tube bombings. The Guardian, 23rd September 2005
A Government ‘narrative’ on 7/7, leaked in The Observer (9th April 2006) indicated that “The official inquiry into the 7 July London bombings will say the attack was planned on a shoestring budget from information on the internet, that there was no ‘fifth-bomber’ and no direct support from al-Qaeda, although two of the bombers had visited Pakistan….Patrick Mercer, shadow homeland security spokesman, said the official narrative’s findings would only lead to calls for an independent inquiry to answer further questions surrounding 7 July. He said: ‘A series of reports such as this narrative simply does not answer questions such as the reduced terror alert before the attack, the apparent involvement of al-Qaeda and links to earlier or later terrorist plots’.2 The Observer, 9th April 2006
|Nottinghamshire Constabulary 14th August, 2005 The Chief Constable of the Nottinghamshire Constabulary, Mr Steven Green, responding to the increase in race and religiously motivated hate crimes in his region, has initiated a scheme of a “Good Faith” ribbon, that is being made available to all his staff and constables to wear. The aim is to show support for the local Muslim communities in the wake of the London bombings. It has the full backing of the local Muslim community. The director of the Karimia Institute, Nottingham has stated, “I’ve seen some young people, who don’t want to walk on certain roads and back streets now, which is quite strange, and I think it’s that sort of fear that will be allayed and confidence will be built through this initiative.”click here for details|
The media blitz – who represents British Muslims?
Among the questions facing the Muslim community after the July 7 bombings, and the attempted bombings a fortnight later, was whether its institutions were genuinely representative. Experts, and the not-so experts, were quick to point to a failure of mosques, or of the community’s main representative body, the Muslim Council of Britain. The fires of a new culture war have been stoked from the embers of the London bombings.
The Muslim man or woman on the proverbial Clapham omnibus would be amongst the first to argue that many mosques were not welcoming enough and lacked imaginative activities to reach out to young people. However this was a matter to be dealt with by the community itself, through the introduction of imam training schemes (which are now in place, for example at the Islamic Foundation, Leicester) or the emergence of beacon institutions (of which there are now several, such as the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel, the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, West London and the Al-Muath Centre, Birmingham). In some circles of government, it appeared as if mosques were seen as ‘part of the problem’. The reality is that the small minority of young Muslims who have resorted to the criminality of bombings are unlikely to be regular members of any mosque congregations. They inhabit a sub-culture outside mosques with quasi-scholars – repudiated by the mainstream imams – serving as role models and guides. Mosques represent the community’s most important investment and, whether the pundits like it or not, the Friday congregational sermon remains the most potent means of getting a message across to the community. Marginalising mosques and imams will not help in improving outreach to alienated sections.
A second equally misguided attempt has been the attempt to marginalize the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Various forces are at work on this agenda, from interest groups within government to the glitterati. There is a race for Muslim leadership, a natural target for neglected and aspiring persons.
The MCB is an organization that represents an immense amount of creative hard work since 1997. Ehsan Masood, writing in Prospect notes that the MCB presents “as far as possible, a single Muslim voice at least at a political level”. It makes no sense whatsoever to throw it out with the bath water because of the events of July 2005. On 19th July The Guardian reported that “Privately, ministers are concerned that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) speaks mainly for an older generation and is not fully respected in Muslim communities”. It has also been reported that after a meeting convened by Downing Street with Muslim representatives on 19th July, a senior minister remarked to the MCB team, “you have to decide which side you are on”. Also typical of the petty minded comments directed against the MCB is this: “traditional Muslim organisations -whether mosques, community or political groups -are run by obscurantist leaders. These people came to the fore in the 1960s and Seventies; many have been made ‘life presidents’. The archaic language of tradition and authority they speak is quite incomprehensible to the young. Even the so-called ‘democratic’ Muslim bodies, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, are run by aging cliques, working behind the scenes. The situation is made worse by the arrival of government-sponsored leaders the peers and MPs -who are seen as agents of new Labour; the Muslim “Task Force” consists largely of such people “(The Times, 25th July 2005).
Prominent in the campaign of vilification of the MCB and some of its major affiliates was the charge of antisemitism, which in reality was a reference to pro-Palestinian sympathies. This vilification appears as an attempt to close the debate in the UK on injustices to Palestinians. Could it reflects a concern in the pro-Israel lobby that Muslim electoral participation – which is so important for Muslims to become stakeholders and engaged – will make British foreign policy in the ME more even-handed? Perhaps the time had come to cut Muslims down to size, starting with a campaign to discredit its leadership. The big guns in the media are also rounding up on the MCB:
The Observer on Sunday 13th August 2005 carried no less than three pieces critical of the MCB, including a grilling on the front page and editorial. Journalist Martin Bright associated the MCB with an ‘extremist’ stand, “Britain’s most powerful Islamic organisation was accused last night of failing mainstream Muslim Britain after it complained of a ‘pro-Israel agenda’ at the BBC in a Panorama programme on the faith to be aired next week”. Dredging up past episodes,the paper also stated , “There is a tendency whenever there is an incident or an issue which could conceivably be viewed through a prism of ethnic or religious identity for the media or politicians to seek out ‘community leaders’. In the rush to talk, few stop to think how representative these people might be. But we should. Everyone agrees that many British Muslims feel alienated and disenfranchised. Their voices, 1.5 million of them, need to be heard. It is not right that the Muslim Council of Britain, a group that boycotts a ceremony to honour the multi-faith victims of the Holocaust and often supports hardline views that are far from universally accepted by all Muslims, should monopolise that function”.
The appropriately named Robert Blitz of the Financial Times continued with this agenda against the MCB, writing on 19th August, “The MCB is regarded by large sections of Muslims as being too weak, too moderate and out of touch with many Muslims many of whom feel alienated in Britain and resent the role of Britain in the Iraq war”.
Neither Martin Bright or Roger Blitz reveal on what research or briefings their conclusion on MCB’s “failure” and “weakness” is based. Why are their sources so keen to remain anonymous?
Interestingly, much like the Rushdie affair of fifteen years ago, these unsubstantiated assertions have only served to strengthen Muslim ranks. This display of unity has tremendous implications for the longer-term – the silver lining in the cloud.
The prominent Muslim organizations attacking The Observer’s coverage and standing up for the MCB include both stalwarth affiliates such as Islamic Forum Europe and also non-affiliates like the Islamic Commission for Human Rights.
|MAB Stands firm with MCB and Islamic Foundation 15th August, 2005The Muslim Association of Britain rejects Martin Bright’s attack on the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Foundation in a leading article in today’s The Observer.
With this attack on the official umbrella Muslim organisation and one of the most respectable and reputable Muslim educational organisations in the West, Muslims in Britain would be excused for believing that we are witnessing an all-out attack on Muslim organisations.The Muslim Council of Britain has demonstrated many an admirable stand against violence and extremism of all sorts, and has spoken well for the Muslim community on a number of platforms before governmental and non-governmental parties, whilst Sir Iqbal Sacranie continues to be a well-respected figure in representing Islam and Muslims in the best of manners. This attack on both him and MCB clearly wishes to undermine the achievements British Muslims have attained as a result of concerted efforts on a number of fronts for over a decade.The Islamic Foundation (IF) is also known to work according to the highest professional and academic standards and has gained an excellent reputation for not only its academic contribution, but its remarkable work on the inter-faith dialogue platform and research on British Muslims’ positive and constructive engagement with British society. It is surprising to read Martin Bright’s own admission that the Jamaat-i-Islami Party, which he alleges the IF has links with, is a non-violent political party, which incidentally has members in Pakistan’s democratically elected parliament. One cannot help but wonder whether Mr. Bright would have preferred them to have links with a pro-violence group that boycotts the democratic process in their home country?!!
Anas Altikriti, speaking on behalf of the Muslim Association of Britain earlier stated: “We stand in support of the MCB and the Islamic Foundation against this unwarranted attack, which only goes to undermine the excellent work these organisations and many more are doing at this incredibly sensitive time to bring the Muslim youth to an effort that is constructive, positive and non-violent. Attacks like this, which MAB has been the target of in the past, will neither break nor divide us, but will make us stronger and more determined to deliver on our principles of peaceful dialogue, positive interaction and engagement with all sectors of society and prosperity for our country. It seems that some wish to see all Muslims radicalised rather than brought to the mainstream effort to unite our country and its people, all its people”.
|Islamic Human Rights Commission 15th August, 2005IHRC denounces yesterday’s vitriolic attack by Martin Bright in the Observer on the Muslim Council of Britain and its affiliates Jamiat-ahl-I-Hadith and the Islamic Foundation. IHRC strongly urges all campaigners to contact the Observer to complain about its shocking attack on both the MCB and on Islamic beliefs and values.Recent attacks by both media and the government on Islamic beliefs held by the Muslim Association of Britain, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and now the Muslim Council of Britain have shown that it is not any individual group under attack but Islam and Muslims.In the article,’Radical links of UK’s moderate group’, Islamic teachings such as coming into contact with dogs, free-mixing and shaking hands with members of the opposite sex are attacked as “extremist”. These views and values are equally held by the Orthodox Jewish community who are not consequently labelled as ‘extremists’. The article is written in a way which depicts leading Islamic intellectuals such as Maulana Maududi and Sayyid Qutb, whose teachings are followed by a substantial number of law-abiding Muslims, as extreme and subversive.The MCB’s condition on supporting the upcoming Festival of Muslim Cultures provided its activities do not contradict the teachings of Islam is wholly reasonable and only to be expected of any Muslim organisation. Yet the MCB Secretary General_s position on this is viewed by the Observer as extreme and regressive.MCB is also condemned in the Observer’s editorial for refusing to attend the Holocaust Memorial Day and for allegedly differentiating between suicide attacks in Britain and in Occupied Palestine. Boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day is in line with the vast majority of Muslim groups who have called for a Genocide Memorial Day which will commemorate all victims of genocide both in the Holocaust and in other parts of the world since World War II. As for differentiating between attacks in London and in Occupied Palestine, even the Pope has made this distinction condemning attacks in London, New York, Madrid and Bali but explicitly leaving out Palestine due to the specific circumstances of that situation. If Muslims are to be condemned for this, then so must the Vatican and indeed other activists and scholars from different faith and non-faith backgrounds who make other, sometimes more controversial claims.The aims of this article seem to be to stigmatize Muslims and vilify Islam and to force MCB to abandon these principles. IHRC calls upon all campaigners to contact the Observer to express your outrage at such demonisation of Muslims for values held by many other religious and secular communities.|
BBC’s flagship investigative programme Panorama on Sunday 21st August 2005 broadcast an hour long documentary fronted by reporter John Ware, acting less the investigative journalist and more member of the Spanish inquisition out to show Islam and Muslims as intolerant, archaic and deceptive. Ware’s underlying concerns were the religious vision held by Muslims of bringing about social and political change (and hence ready to challenge the existing world order), the spirit of ummah or world-wide community, and the strictures in the Qur’an on other faiths. It was a galling display of condescending self-righteousness. The programme portrayed the Muslim Council of Britain as a problem organisation contributing to ‘extremism’ in the country. Actions of its Secretary General, such as attendance at a memorial service for the founder of the Palestinian movement Hamas, and non-attendance in the 2005 Holocaust Memorial Day, were ‘failures in leadership’. Prominent affiliates such as the Islamic Foundation, Leicester, and the Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-hadith Muslim Association of Britain, were also maligned. The MCB deputy Secretary General Dr Abdul Bari and Professor Khurshid Ahmed of the Islamic Foundation were also interviewed as ‘extremists’, the latter questioned on the late Maulana Mawdudi (see box below). The Panoroma programme impuned the character of the imam of the Ka’aba, and presented a number of Muslim apologists with little grass-roots support to back up its agenda.
|Extracts from transcriptJohn Ware: With the Rushdie protests, a new ideology burst into the British arena: Islamism – the fusion of a politics and faith. Where had this come from? I’m on my way to the organisation that mobilised the Rushdie protests…. The Islamic Foundation was set up in 1974 by leading figures in an Islamist opposition party from Pakistan. The Jamma’at Islami wants Pakistan to become an Islamic state governed by Sharia holy law. Chairman and Rector of the Islamic Foundation here in Leicester is also the Vice President of Jamaat Islami – Professor Khurshid Ahmad. For the professor, Islam is not only a religion but a political manifesto for changing the world.Professor Khurshid Ahmad: Islam is a revolutionary message. Islam wants the whole of mankind to accept God as creator and to live in God’s presence, in his grace….John Ware: You don’t think the idea of Islam being a revolutionary ideology is potentially a dangerous one for young Muslims living in a secular country?Khurshid Ahmad: Not at all, not at all. It’s a blessing.John Ware: It’s a blessing?Khurshid Ahmad: It’s a blessing because what is a revolutionary idea? A revolutionary idea means that let people try to change the world on the basis of values of faith in Allah, justice, service to humanity, peace and solidarity. So revolution is not something to be afraid of.”…John Ware: You’re very contemptuous of secularism, put it like that.
Khurshid Ahmad: Exactly. So what I say is.
John Ware: But this is a secular country.
Khurshid Ahmad: … I am concerned about secular issues but when I criticise secularism is that approach where we tried to resolve human issues by denying the relevance of religion and divine guidance and values. So Mawdudi has tried to emphasise the moral, the spiritual, the religious approach to life and all its problems, and from that viewpoint his thoughts are relevant to the people in Pakistan, in the Arab world, in Europe, in America, everywhere.”
|Sane comments on the Panorama affairMadeline Bunting,’Throwing mud at Muslims’, The Guardian, 22nd August“A campaign is being orchestrated through the media to destroy the credibility of many of the most important Muslim institutions in Britain, including the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). The impact of this campaign – in the Observer and particularly in John Ware’s Panorama documentary last night – will be a powerful boost for the increasingly widespread view that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim: underneath, “they” are all extremists who are racist, contemptuous of the west, and intent on a political agenda. A legitimate and much-needed debate among British Muslims about a distinctive expression of Islam in a non-Muslim country has been hijacked and poisonously distorted. Journalists need to be very careful: we are entering a new era of McCarthyism and, if we are not to be complicit, we need to be scrupulously responsible and conscientious in unraveling the complexity of Islam in its many spiritual and political interpretations in recent decades..”Faisal Bodi, ‘Panorama was a hatchet job on Muslims’, The Independent, 23rd August’Being in denial has much in common with living a lie. The distorted picture in your mind becomes ever more detached from reality as it is challenged, to the extent that the two eventually bear no resemblance at all.That’s an apt description of the political and media reaction to the July bombings. Instead of directing the heat at politicians whose neo-colonial and Islamophobic motives led Britain into a quagmire in Iraq, the chattering classes have been digging the nation into an ever bigger hole by pointing the finger at its Muslim minority. Notwithstanding fitful spurts of interest in foreign policy, “the problem with Islam” has become the dominant narrative. Whether it’s Salman Rushdie arguing for an Islamic reformation or the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair asking the community to get on side in the war against terrorism, a determined effort is afoot to keep Muslims and their faith in the blame frame, and our politicians out….The policy appears to have been taken up with a vengeance by the makers of BBC’s Panorama programme, the latest installment of which sought to expose the Muslim Council of Britain as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It accused the umbrella group of speaking with a forked tongue, saying it was opposed to terrorism while its affiliates encouraged it from the pulpits and in their publications….the inference most Muslims will have drawn from a programme savaging orthodox Islamic positions is that it is not so much the MCB but Islam itself that is being put on trial (when did we ever see a documentary grilling rabbis on some of the vile beliefs some rabbis have historically held about gentiles?)…the programme makers had decided the standard they wanted Islam to meet and anybody who didn’t was an extremist. The strongest example came when the head of the MCB, Iqbal Sacranie, was challenged about his organisation’s “extremist” refusal to attend the national Holocaust remembrance service earlier this year. The MCB’s stated reason for declining was the exclusivist nature of the ceremony, focusing as it did on simply Jewish victims – it had argued for the event to mark all genocidal campaigns and victims of occupation, especially those in the Muslim world. Leaving aside the exploitation of the Holocaust by Israel and its supporters to perpetuate Palestinian suffering, the MCB’s more inclusive position is one that is held by Muslims and non-Muslims alike…”
A ‘Letter to the Editor’ (Independent, 25th August 2005)
Sir: Like Faisal Bodi (“Panorama was a hatchet job on Muslims”, 23 August), I found the Panorama programme inadequate, unscholarly and disturbing. John Ware, the reporter, was judgmental and appeared to be ignorant of the most of the basic demands which religious faith makes upon disciples.
He appeared, for example, to invite his viewers to hold up their hands in horror that a Muslim would assert that his loyalty to Islam overrides that to his nation. Is it not just the same for a Christian? All my Christian life I have heard and taught that Christ is the way, the truth and the life and that we should love God and neighbour, first, foremost and above all else. Again, Mr Ware showed deep distaste that a Muslim should assert that he wishes to change the world; but I, for one Christian, deeply yearn for a changed world, and urge others in the same direction. What’s the difference?
In holding these views, I certainly do not consider myself a fundamentalist, and I have much time for relative, contextual moral and religious thinking. The danger of fundamentalism, however, is equally sinister from whatever source it comes, whether religious or secular. John Ware’s approach led to a most unfortunately shallow and unbalanced programme, and a badly missed opportunity.
The Rev Ben Hopkinson, Northumberland
Hate crimes & other responses
There have been a very large number of low-level harassments e.g. bus drivers refusing Muslim women with head covering on board, abuse etc, including verbal displays of hostility.
The Observer (31st July 2005) reports “The number of faith hate crimes has risen fivefold in the fortnight since the London bombings…The Metropolitan Police has recorded 800 race and faith hate crimes since the July 7 attacks. The number of faith hate crimes, predominantly directed at British Muslims, has passed the 200 mark. In the same fortnight last year, 30 faith hate incidents were reported by the Met. Nationally, the figure for hate incidents directed at Muslims has passed 1,200 as a backlash continues”.
The Financial Times (3rd August 2005) quoted Police sources, “Crimes prompted by religious hatred have risen nearly sevenfold in London in the 3½ weeks since the July 7 attacks, police said on Tuesday. Scotland Yard has recorded 269 incidents, mostly low-level abuse, minor assaults and damage to property, including mosques, compared with 40 in the same period last year”.
Mosques suffering criminal damage include:
Acton Mosque, London – graffiti paint spray (25th July)
Mazhirul Uloom Mosque, Mile End, London – 19 windows broken
Incidents also reported by mosques in Leeds, Bristol, Telford and Birkenhead
Persons and property subject to serious attacks include:
Nottingham (12th July) Fatal stabbing, currently under investigation
Edinburgh (29th July) Two men attacked by a gang of ten “who made it clear they were seeking revenge for the bombings. The gang kicked their car and threw a hammer through the window” (Metro, 3rd August 2005)
South London (16th July) Physical attack on an imam outside Southwark mosque, causing serious injuries to the head.
Sutton Common, London (29th July) Four Asian teenagers, aged between 16 and 19, required hospital treatment after assaults at Sutton Common Recreation Ground by a gathering of white youths who blamed them for the London terrorist attacks. One victim was left with a broken jaw and another needed six stitches to his lip and the possibility of plastic surgery. Two others received cuts and bruises from punches and kicks to their heads and bodies [read more]
Carlisle (30th July) Take-away owner Liakoth Ali Khondoker, has shop windows smashed; in recent weeks, stickers displaying the logo of the ultra-right-wing National Front were plastered on the takeaway’s windows and doors and on nearby lampposts and buildings (http://www.cumbria-online.co.uk/viewarticle.asp?id=268788).
Clacton (1st August) An Asian mother and her children were kicked, spat at and taunted about the terrorist attacks in London. She became concerned by a man pulling faces at her two-year-old daughter, who then started swearing at her and shouted racial insults making reference to the suicide bombings in London. Another woman – believed to be the man’s girlfriend – then joined in and challenged the mother, who was also with her nine-month-old daughter, to a fight before spitting and kicking her in the leg. reported in the East Anglian Daily Times, 4th August
Portsmouth (8th August) Four men shouted at an Asian man as he walked down the street and then two of the men walked over to him and punched him in the face. The man needed hospital treatment after he suffered a cracked cheek bone and substantial bruising to his face. [read more]
Cardiff (BBC Online report, 10th August) A Muslim woman, who did not want to be identified, told BBC Wales how her home had been attacked last week. She said: ‘We were sitting in our living room when we heard this man shouting outside our door. He was throwing things, picking up stones from our front garden and throwing them at our door and our window. And then he smashed a section of our double-glazed window” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4136472.stm).
Mile End, London (reported in blackbritain.co.uk, 11th August) A worshipper was nearly run down outside the [Al-Huda Mosque, Mile End] mosque as a motorist, described as a white man, had deliberately speed his car towards the walking worshipper. Describing the incident, the imam says: “When he [the worshipper] asked the driver why he was speeding towards him, the driver just replied ‘because I just don’t like you.’” He added, “it could be racism it could be religion.”
Watford, 13/14 August – 67-year old Muslim man subject to a violent hate attack
Other problems faced: Muslim employees on MoD or related security projects have had their security clearances withdrawn.
The Muslim Council of Britain has launched an ‘incident monitoring service’ telephone line 0800 376 3939 / http://www.mcb.org.uk/mcbdirect
|EUMC Director Beate Winkler 10th November, 2005 EUMC Director Beate Winkler said the attacks in London made many British Muslims feel vulnerable. “The strong lead given by UK ministers, police and community leaders, both in condemning the attacks and in insisting that any acts against the wider Muslim community would be dealt with firmly, has had the right result… We welcome the decisiveness of political leadership against anti-Muslim incidents, the positive engagement with Muslim communities and the support of the police services”.The report also found that other EU governments helped prevent a wider backlash against Muslims by making a clear the distinction between the acts of the bombers and the Muslim faith. Figures for London show a surge in faith hate crimes from 15 for the week before the attacks to 68 and 92 in the weeks of and after the bombings. By 10 October, the figure had dropped to 20.click here for details|
8th August, 2005 – Oldham: The Young Muslim Organisation & Islamic Forum Europe’s community event was attended by over 600 young persons and addressed by Dr Zakir Naik from the Islamic Research Foundation in India and Dr Abdul Bari, assistant general secretary from the Muslim Council of Britain. Other guests include Chief Superintendent Keith Bentley – Oldham Police,Mayor Kay Knox, Rev. Andrew Dawson and Shazia Azzam from the Oldham Interfaith Forum. The organisers report “the message was clear that acts of terrorism was carried out by criminals and not Islamic terrorists; we need to work together to combat these diseases and Muslims need to strive to convey the real message of Islam and clarify any misconceptions”. The broad-based participation, attendance and open and frank discussion, contrasted with a meeting organised in the city by the Home Office on 2nd August, attended by minister Hazel Blears
6th August, 2005 – Leeds: The Muslim Council of Britain convened a special meeting of its Central Working Committee at the Leeds Grand Mosque. Representatives from the MCB’s national, regional and local community leaders were consulted on a number of pressing matters affecting British Muslims and the wider community. Foremost among these were the need for unity, peace and security. MCB Secretary General Iqbal Sacranie noted, “As British Muslims it is our duty to earnestly uphold the noble teachings of Islam and maintain unity to ensure public safety. We must all rise together to the challenges of our times and cooperate in all that is upright and just for the common good of Britain. We recognise that some of our youth have become disaffected in recent years and believe that all of us – Muslim and non-Muslim – must work together to address the causes behind this in an honest and transparent manner”.
15th July, 2005 – Leeds: An MCB delegation met individuals affected by the 7th July bombing and representatives of Leeds-based groups at the Baab-ul-Ilm Centre, in Shadwell. Iqbal Sacranie and Khurshid Drabu also attended the Jummah prayers at Leeds Grand Mosque and held further consultations.
3rd September, 2005 – Manchester: The MCB convened a day-long meeting of representatives of youth groups across the UK. Delegates presented their recent activities and projects and later were briefed on the initial findings from the MCB’s Muslim Voices project. Two workshops were organised on the themes of ‘Identifying gaps between services and needs’ and ‘Topics requiring further research’.
Other community responses
Dr M Naseem, Chair of trustees of the Birmingham Central Mosque, Belgrave Middleway, Birmingham, writing in the mosque’s newsletter issued in August 2005 notes, “…we at the Birmingham Central Mosque have long before it became fashionable to condemn suicide bombing have condemned it outright because we hold such acts to be against the clear teachings of Islam and against the practice of the Prophet (peace be on him). We are aware that Cheri Blair, Lady Tomb and many others have expressed an understanding of why some people in Palestine are led to such acts of desperation. This, however, has not changed our opinion. We believe that no amount of suffering, no degree of injustice, justifies breaking one’s own principles. We have not considered such people as martyrs of Islam but as those who acted under the Codes of Nationalism and guided by nationalistic precedents….over the period of time we and other Muslim representatives have openly and clearly condemned every act of killing innocent people. It has been reported in the media but strangely some in high places remained oblivious of such reports. They deemed Muslims to have not spoken against such atrocities and kept on demanding more from Muslims. We feel so helpless in not being able to redress such somnolence and amnesia. In the wake of the recent atrocity, the deep rooted prejudice has suddenly manifested itself as never before and Muslim bashing seems to be more earnest than the need for the national unity and harmony….” (click here for full text).
A Statement from the Somali Community in the UK.
Following the terrible events of 7/7 and 21/7, the Somali community having mobilised and deliberated, re-affirm our unanimous condemnation of these terrorist atrocities. We are indeed deeply shocked and deeply concerned for the safety and well being of our community. We re-affirm that Islam condemns such acts of violence and we totally dissociates ourselves from the culprits who carried out these attacks These attacks targeted all sections of London’s communities; people of every race, faith and creed have been affected including Muslims and Somalis. As much as we share the frustration and hurt of Muslims worldwide feel as a result of the British Government’s foreign policy, we believe that there is no justification, whatsoever, for the indiscriminate killing of innocent people….The Somali community is aware that only the alleged Warren Street would-be-bomber is rumored to be an ethnic Somali. Yet no one in the Somali community seems to have known him personally for the past 5 to 10 years; this in a community where clan links are very strong. It is also now clear that he was in fact raised in this country from the age of 12 by British foster parents. The Somali community has no reason to believe any other detainee is of Somali origin. We strongly oppose the manner in which these terrible crimes are being sensationalized. We are being victimized and made scapegoats for the actions of one individual. Neither the Somali Community nor any other community should be blamed for the criminal actions of the few. The Somali community has suffered a great deal in the backlash that has followed the attacks. This is a community that is already suffering from racism, discrimination, Islamophobia …