Naomi Klein’s comment piece in the Guardian today contains much which is familiar.
Klein’s central argument is that the lesson of Sayeed Qutb’s life is that it is “tolerance for barbarism [against Muslims] committed in our name” which “fuels terrorism“.
Well that may well be true. However, we also know that intolerance of barbaric acts perpetrated against Muslims does little to douse the fire. The British role in protecting Kosovan Muslims from massacre, or indeed the restoration of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the president of Sierra Leone – who happened to be a Muslim – by British backed mercenaries, do not figure large in the publications of the MAB/Muslim Brotherhood. Neither is the return of 3.5 million exiled Afghans to Afghanistan following the overthrow of the Taliban regime highlighted in the recruiting material put out by Hizb’ut Tahrir.
Islamists see the world exclusively in terms of Belief versus Unbelief. When that is your central defining narrative, everything else falls into place. From the Islamist perspective the French Hijab ban, the massacre of muslims in Bosnia, the plight of the Palestinians, and the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan do not raise separate issues of principle. Rather, they are joined by a single connecting thread.
Naomi Klein pushes an understanding of Islamist politics which dishonours it. For her, Islamism is not self directed at all: it is simply a reflexive response to the acts of others.
There is, however, something in Klein’s article with which I strongly agree:
This last statistic shows that the brand of multiculturalism practised 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 ghettoes while the centres of public life remain largely unaffected by seismic shifts in the national ethnic makeup.
If the diversity now ghettoised on the margins of western societies – geographically and psychologically – were truly allowed to migrate to the centres, it might infuse public life in the west with a powerful new humanism.
As we know, the most visible part of the Government’s response to the growth of Islamist politics has been the focus on Hizb’ut Tahrir, which is seen as particularly problematic because its rhetoric is relatively uncompromised, and because it has historical links to Al Muhajiroun which has been a source of terrorism. These organisations, argues the paper, are components of the “Terrorist Career Path”.
The flip side of the policy – disclosed in last month’s leaked Cabinet Office policy documents – is a multi-faceted and sophisticated approach to engaging with British Muslims. In many ways, it correctly identifies the nature of the challenge and proposes many steps which should be taken to combat the growth of extremist politics.
There is, however, one part of the document which bears closer inspection. The Paper argues that the Government needs:
“… to find ways of strengthening the hand of moderate Muslim leaders, including the young Muslims with future leadership potential, through the status which contact with government can confer, and through practical capacity building measures.”
It goes on to stress:
“it is important to identify moderates correctly – some of those who are influential in the extremist world purport to be moderates.”
Sir Andrew Turnbull asks an important question:
“Research – is more needed to be clearer about the nature of the problem and the potential effectiveness of responses? Are we tapping into all external research? Have the lessons of previous problems been learnt?”
The answer is that moderates are not being identified correctly, and that external research – including, for example, Google searches – is not being used.
For example, in Annex D, Section 5(f), a ministerial visit to the Islamic Foundation is proposed in the context of the training of “Mainstream Imams”. But the Islamic Foundation was founded by Khurshid Ahmad, the Vice President of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan.
To take another example, in section 5(l), it is proposed that the Government “engage” with “new interlocutors”. These “interlocutors” include MPAC: an organisation which is a promoter of conspiracy theories and a republisher of racist material from White Supremacist websites.
There are other, similar, examples on the list of groups and persons which are thought to be appropriate, moderate, partners for Government initiatives, which in fact, are politically extreme by any standard.
The main problem with the legitimation of any faith-based politics is that it gives self-appointed religious leaders a double authority – that of the State and that provided by the religion – both to define the boundaries of the community and to articulate what they believe the community’s politics should be. It is a top-down, rather than bottom-up model. Britain is full of people who are Muslim in much the same way that others are Anglican Christians. Who will speak for them?
It makes sense to works with groups which cherish a cultural and religious Muslim identity which is broad and pluralist. The attempt to partner with those Islamists who see history as a millenial struggle between Belief and Unbelief, is fundamentally misconceived. And, as Naomi Klein observes, there is something of the “Faustian bargain” to it.
Such a policy is, in my view, likely to bear fruit. That fruit will not, however, be particularly palatable.