Well, Madeleine Bunting has interviewed Qaradawi. I wonder why she bothered.
The interview is little more than an extended apologia for the man, which follows the same script which Ken Livingstone has been using to justify his embrace and vocal support of a man who is a clerical fascist. It touches on the ‘tricky’ points all right – his support for wife beating, his ‘problematic’ views on homosexuality, the advocacy of the terrorist murder of civilians – but only to “mbunderstand” them and explain them away. The interview is, quite simply, advocacy journalism of the crassest sort, which brims over with the kind of gushing triteness – ‘a man with many enemies and many more admirers’, ‘a far cry from his humble origins’, ‘he talks late into the night with undimmed energy and passion’ and so on – which is the hallmark of Bunting’s literary style.
Qaradawi has been compared to Nelson Mandela and Pope John XXIII. Neither analogy, as I’ve argued, is apposite: a better parallel might be somebody like José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange Española. The comparison is not a perfect one, but it does encapsulate the blend of authoritarianism, violence, and faith which Qaradawi promulgates.
Qaradawi is the leading theoretician and spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the political tradition from which modern Islamism developed. In its early days, the Muslim Brotherhood was a violent revolutionary movement, forged in opposition to Nasserism, which attempted and ultimately failed to co-opt it. Although groups which split from the Muslim Brotherhood have continued along the path of violence – Sadat was assasinated by one such faction in 1981 – the Muslim Brotherhood has now become a gradualist and populist movement, which seeks to achieve its goals by building religious and political solidarity between Muslims: not only in the Middle East but also in Western Europe. It is opposed – for strategic reasons – to terrorism in the West, and in Arab countries, having discovered that outrages lead to crackdowns which curb its ability to proseltise. By contrast, Qaradawi’s position on terrorism in Israel and in Iraq is that he supports it: he regards no Israelis as “civilians [or] innocent” and therefore fair game, and the Shi’ites as “treacherous”.
The Muslim Brotherhood has had little success in Great Britain, where it is represented by the Muslim Association of Britain, a group which is presently in alliance with the Socialist Workers’ Party. The reasons for its failure are twofold. First, the Muslim population of Britain is largely South Asian and the Muslim Brotherhood is an Arab phenomenon. Secondly, most British Muslims do not identify themselves, politically, primarily in terms of their faith. Furthermore, although Madeleine Bunting describes Qaradawi as “the foremost scholar of Sunni Islam”, he is nothing of the sort. Yusuf Smith put the point well earlier this year when he observed:
The real question is why Ken chooses to talk to al-Qaradawi rather than a scholarly representative of the British Muslim community, most of whom are not Arabs and a fair number of whom, as I have mentioned before in fact, are likely never to have heard of this imam. The Arabs happen to control the “central mosque” at Regent’s Park, and he is a famous scholar who makes appearances on al-Jazeera, but he is the reference point for a small minority of London’s – never mind Britain’s – Muslim community.
Moreover, the “sheikist” salafis regard the Muslim Brotherhood and Qaradawi as having polluted the pure message of Islam with a Bannaist political subtext, which they reject as extraneous to Islam.
Bunting must know all this. She is, after all, a winner of the Muslim News award for excellence, which praised her ability to draw “clear distinctions between fact and popular fallacies regarding Muslims” and received the Commission for Racial Equality’s Race In the Media Award for her article, “Young, Muslim and British“. But to discuss Qaradawi in his full political and religious context would undermine the basis on which friendly relations with Qaradawi and the Muslim Brotherhood is publicly justified by the section of the left from which she comes.
The version of Qaradawi which we are urged to accept is summed up in Bunting’s suggestion that “western governments need Qaradawi”. Qaradawi may support terrorism in some parts of the world, but crucially, he has condemned it in Great Britain. Therefore, the argument goes, we should cultivate an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, who are the sole bulwark which stands between young British Muslims and Al Qaeda. This is nonsense. First, the Muslim Brotherhood has abandoned terrorism in order to build alliances within secular states, the better to promote its sectarian, theocratic politics. Secondly, pandering to one form of clerically-inspired fascism is no way to fight a militant form of the same philosophical tradition.
The real attraction of Qaradawi and the Muslim Brotherhood movement to the far left is not that he is a moderate. Rather – as the Socialist Workers Party explained in the Prophet and the Proletariat – it is that they share a common commitment to “anti-imperialism”. It is his opposition to US foreign policy in the Middle East which makes Qaradawi such an valuable ally. Everything else follows from this last point.
Bunting’s article is essentially a piece of soft soaping. Take, for example, the passage of the interview in which Qaradawi justifies suicide bombings:
These operations are best seen as the weapon of the weak against the powerful. It is a kind of divine justice when the poor, who don’t have weapons, are given a weapon which the fully equipped and armed-to-the-teeth powerful don’t have – the powerful are not willing to give their lives for any cause…Sometimes they kill a child or a woman. Provided they don’t mean to, that’s OK, but they shouldn’t aim to kill them. In every war, mistakes are made and non-combatants get killed and usually military commanders come forward (as in the case of the US) and apologise – why can’t they accept others do the same?”
That is not Qaradawi’s true view at all. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not so short of grenades, rocket launchers, and guns that they need to use the bodies of young Palestinian men and women. They do not restrict their attacks to infrastructure or the military and choose instead to target civilians. Indeed Qaradawi wouldn’t “apologise” for the killing of women and children at all. In fact, he has argued, furiously – and against other prominent muslim scholars – that:
“We must realize [sic] that Israeli society is a military society – men and women. We cannot describe this society as civilian. We cannot say that the casualties were innocent civilians. They are not civilians or innocent.””
The key point is this. When Qaradawi endorses suicide bombings, he is not simply expressing a view. He is rendering these murders theologically legitimate. He has issued fatwas encouraging suicide bombings, which he describes as “one of the most praised acts of worship”. For this reason, over 2,500 Muslim intellectuals from 23 countries have signed a petition to the United Nations calling for an international treaty to ban the use of religion for incitement to violence, and have specifically accused Qaradawi of “providing a religious cover for terrorism.”. When Qaradawi issues his fatwas he isn’t providing detatched commentary: he is procuring a war crime.
None of this is explored in Bunting’s interview. To ask the hard questions would spoil the story she’s telling.
Readers of this site will also know that Qaradawi endorses the punishment of homosexuality by stoning, being thrown from a high building, being whipped 100 times or imprisonment until death. You will also know that Qaradawi supports female genital mutilation, even though he does not regard it as religiously obligatory, and teaches that a husband should compel his wife to wear a hijab, and that a husband should “admonish” his wife “lightly with his hands” if he “senses that feelings of disobedience and rebelliousness are rising against him”. All this it touched on by Bunting, only to be explained away as the words of an old man with a “patchy…understanding of the West” and a “horror of immorality and materialism”.
There are three possible reasons for Madeleine Bunting’s myopia over Qaradawi. The first is that she is a supporter of the politics of RESPECT and Ken Livingstone, and that her primary concern is to sanitise Qaradawi in order to promote the alliance between Islamist politics and a section of the left. The second is that she has an orientalist view of Muslims – including British Muslims – as extreme sectarians who can only be kept in check by cultivating moderate-sounding populists like Qaradawi.
The third possibility is, simply, that Bunting has become a Miss Jean Brodie figure: hero worshiping a muscular authoritarianism which she prefers to any type of liberalism.
(Also, read Gene below)