UK Politics

The Dead End of Islamism

A recent report into the attitudes of Young British Muslims makes depressing reading:

Forty per cent of Muslims between the ages of 16 and 24 said they would prefer to live under sharia law in Britain, a legal system based on the teachings of the Koran.

One in eight young Muslims said they admired groups such as al-Qa’eda that “are prepared to fight the West”.

36 per cent of the young people questioned said they believed that a Muslim who converts to another religion should be “punished by death.”

If these figures are to be believed the results represent a significant increase in support for Islamism over earlier studies.

Why the increase?

Munira Mirza, the broadcaster and one of the authors of the report, argued that multicultural policies pursued by the Government had succeeded in making things worse, rather than better.

She said: “The emergence of a strong Muslim identity in Britain is, in part, a result of multi-cultural policies implemented since the 1980s which have emphasised difference at the expense of shared national identity and divided people along ethnic, religious and cultural lines.

“There is clearly a conflict within British Islam between a moderate majority that accepts the norms of British democracy and a growing minority that does not.”

A Muslim Peer on the other hand blames unemployment and Western post 9/11 policy:

“There is also a problem of a lack of opportunities. Some people have been brutalised by their experiences with the police and this war on terror.”

Britain’s foreign policies were a key issue among the Muslim population as a whole, with 58 per cent arguing that many of the world’s problems are “a result of arrogant Western attitudes”.


knowledge of foreign affairs was sketchy, with only one in five knowing that Mahmoud Abbas was the Palestinian president.

I doubt that the increased radicalism highlighted by the responses can be blamed on any one factor alone and would also argue that the results of any survey which interviews only 1000 people will be skewed depending on exactly who is being interviewed. Is the sample really broadly representative of attitudes throughout the country? It’s not yet clear from the media responses I’ve read how the sample group was selected.

Having made that point I’m quite prepared to believe that the sort of atavistic attitudes to Sharia law and apostasy indicated are on the rise among young Muslims.

I was talking to a friend recently whose description of the activities of the Islamic society at the University he teaches at differed from those I remembered at a different institution.

The Islamic Society I recalled nearly twenty years ago seemed mainly to be a social club for Indonesian, Arab, Indian and British Muslim students to meet up. While there was a religious content to their activities there was none of the aggressive proselytising or showing of films by Wahabbi firebrands that my friend described.

At Union debates members of the Islamic Society took a keen interest in world events but not one of them to my knowledge ever called for the return of Spain to the Caliphate or voiced support for Jihad.

Even allowing for the fact that my friend and I were talking about different institutions the picture he painted of the sort of activities Islamic Societies routinely engage in now was in stark contrast to those I remembered and I suspect is illustrative of a wider shift showing the growing hegemony of Wahhabi ideology among younger Muslims.

This is a shame because Islamism simply can’t solve any of the problems young British Muslims face. Structural unemployment, racism and all the other obstacles to a better life in this country are very real concerns faced by millions of people on a daily basis but there can be no real solution to these problems by retreating to the certainties of fundamentalism.

How can calling for women to be veiled and apostates to be executed help solve the problem of isolation from broader society or the lack of employment suffered by many Muslim communities?

Contemporary Islamism is a political dead end. Those who embrace it as a potential answer to their real world problems are deluding themselves that it offers more than a cul de sac which most, thankfully, will grow out of but that others – both more naive and fanatical – will pursue to its logical limit and end up buried in foreign fields or doing time in jail.

The picture painted by the Report might be depressing but are the findings so very different to the proof of support extended by a significant number of young Germans to the activities of the Baader-Meinhof Group in the Seventies or the Angry Brigade chic that campus radicals in Britain adopted in the same decade?

I don’t know for sure, but I do know that young people in general are peculiarly susceptible to the sort of grand historical narrative which appear to offer easy solutions to seemingly intractable societal problems. Young British Muslims are no different to their white counterparts in this respect – it’s only the form of the narrative that differs.

There are no quick fixes to the sort of attitudes uncovered by the Report. Only a patient long term campaign will win the battle of ideas. Let’s continue to hold Islamism up to the light, exposing its essentially regressive nature, explaining why it can offer no solution to real world problems, and pointing out the inconvenient truth that where political Islam triumphs peace and harmony are conspicuous by their absence, independent thinkers are persecuted and that poverty and underdevelopment are everywhere left unchallenged.

Reminding myself of University days I recall many friends who had fled from the Islamic Republic of Iran and who would regularly come to lectures in tears after hearing of the latest mass hangings the regime had organised for their comrades. The triumph of Islamism in their country for them meant executions, torture, and unremitting grinding poverty in a country which they had dreamt would one day show the world that an ancient civilisation with an educated population could transform itself for the better.

Iran today is a pariah state in which the brightest and best dream of escape, where the workers are thrown in jail if they attempt to better their conditions, where women are stoned, and where homosexuals are judicially murdered. It’s heartbreaking to compare my friends’ dreams for their country with the barbaric conditions the Islamists have wrought in their homeland.

My continuing to point out what a mess Islamists make when their peculiar fundamentalism assumes state power is not part of a campaign to ‘soften people up for a Western attack on Iran’ as some commenters here seem to assume – I think an attack on Iran would be wholly inadvisable – but is a very small part in the continuing war of ideas and made in memory of those comrades of my University friends who ended their lives twisting at the end of a rope in Tehran for bravely arguing publicly for secularism and democracy in the teeth of vicious Islamist repression.

Islamism may well be on the rise in Britain but the task of those on the Left is to expose it for what it is not make opportunist alliances with it.

As the old cliche goes – those who do not draw the appropriate lessons from history are condemned to repeat it.


David T adds:

The Policy Exchange report is here.