Islamism,  Media

The New Statesman continues to publish deluded pieces on Islamism

This is a guest post by Andy Lambert

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece which criticised one Sholto Brynes for writing an article which aimed to re-package Islamism and sell it to a western audience. The article highlighted how little Sholto knows about Islamism, Islam and geo-politics in general. There are a plethora of left leaning journalists like him who are full of white post-colonial guilt and often express the racism of lower expectations when it comes to Muslims. The only shocking part is that the New Statesman decides to publish such garbage. What makes this even more shocking is that they have not only published one piece but an entire series by this buffoon called ‘re-thinking Islamism’. I don’t know who is actually doing the re-thinking here. Maybe it should be called ‘White lefties re-package Islamism’.

Sholto’s latest piece discusses the Islamist goal of the Islamic state. He starts by discussing the various strands of Islamist movements and then decides only to focus on the ‘entryist’ strand. I suppose this makes sense from his point of view, I mean it is pretty difficult defending al-Qaeda and the Taliban but I’m sure he’ll come on to that in his future articles. He then introduces Turkey and states:

“…and it’s the political Islamism of which its AKP government is one example that I wish to concentrate on…”

Incorrect Sholto! The AKP government in Turkey is not Islamist – even though many of its key leaders have Islamist roots. The AKP are not seeking to implement any version of Shar’iah; they don’t believe that political sovereignty ‘belongs to Allah’ and they don’t advocate the re-creation of the caliphate – all key identifiers of Islamism. True, the AKP are doing a pretty good job of suppressing their minorities, denying the Kurdish people their human rights and sucking up to foreign Islamist governments in Iran, Sudan and Gaza but that alone doesn’t make them Islamists. The AKP is a party which had roots in a Turkish strand of Islamist politics but it has moved on since, realising that the Turkish nation would never accept Islamism’s core principles – such as the belief in enforcing a single interpretation of the Sharia on all Turks. The AKP is therefore a post-Islamist party that has rejected the fundamental tenets of Islamist ideology. Using them as an example is therefore disingenuous.

Having falsely presented the AKP as an example of acceptable Islamism, Sholto then moves on to other Islamists like Hamas:

“It is true that the constitutions and charters of many Islamist parties still state aims that strike the literalist reader as deeply alarming, if not blood-curdling. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that they necessarily reflect the intentions of those parties today.

So to say that because the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, talked of the “obliteration of Israel”, or that because the Hamas charter quotes that passage at its beginning and goes on, somewhat ludicrously, to mention The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that we should assume that no branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Hamas, will rest today until that objective is achieved would be most unwise — although it is a convenient assumption for those who wish to portray Islamism as monolithic, confrontational and violent.”

Oh dear. Firstly, there is a reason why those ‘blood curdling’ statements are in the constitutions of most Islamist parties and why they haven’t removed them. That’s because they still believe in them. If they didn’t they would remove them – just as Labour dropped ‘Clause 4’ (which called for the nationalization of industry) from its constitution in 1995. Secondly, there is a reason why Islamist parties such as Hamas ‘somewhat ludicrously’ mention ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, that is because they are deeply anti-Jewish (no not just anti-Israeli but anti-Jewish) which explains why Hassan al-Banna was a fan of Hitler and had his works translated into Arabic and distributed around Egypt in the 1930s.

The only thing that is ‘somewhat ludicrous’ is that the New Statesman has allowed Sholto the space to try to exonerate Islamists from justly-deserved charges of anti-Semitism. It gets worse, however:

“Similarly, to insist that all political Islamists want to impose a strictly literalist, atavistic version of sharia and to subjugate women would be even more wrong. Female politicians, for instance, have come to the fore in Islamist movements…”

Having a few token female politicians does not mean that Islamists don’t want to subjugate women. Islamists of all strands don’t allow females to lead their groups or be a leader of a nation – witness, for instance, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s decision in 2007 to announce that they would not allow women to become head of their ‘Islamic state’. Islamists, theologically, are (almost without exception) heavily influenced by the Wahhabi view of Islam and hence are literalist in their approaches to scripture.

We are then treated to a snippet of an interview with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal which was conducted by fellow self-flagellator Ken Livingstone in which Khaled dodges all the key points (such as whether non-Muslims would enjoy equal civil rights in Meshaal’s hypothetical ‘Islamic state’). I’m not sure what that snippet proved other than that Sholto is even more naive than I thought possible. After discussing another post-Islamist group in Indonesia, Sholto concludes with:

“I will close by stating that I believe that parties such as the AKP in Turkey and PKS in Indonesia should provide hope, for those countries and also for those in the west who are fearful of political Islamism. Both participate in and recognise the democratic process and, so far at least, their actions suggest their aims are for Islam to inform the state, not to replace or destroy its current incarnation — and all through free and fair elections.

Quite apart from the fact that if the voters of another country choose such a party as their government, then that is up to them: are these not people with whom we could and should do business?

For a blunter, but certainly a realistic, conclusion, I turn again to Olivier Roy. As he put it in a talk to the IPPR in 2006:

If democratisation means more nationalism and more sharia, this is far from what the western promoters of democratisation envisaged. But this problem must be faced head on by saying: there is no way not to engage the Islamists. There is no alternative. We in the west have to make a choice between [Turkey’s Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and the Taliban. And if we don’t choose Erdoğan, we’ll get the Taliban.

Sholto is half-right. The AKP does provide hope – hope that Islamist parties and individuals can over time reject key Islamist tenets and sign up instead to important principles such a democracy and equal rights. However, Sholto is entirely wrong to believe that this reflects well on Islamism – rather it is a reflection of Islamism’s failure. Sholto indeed entirely misunderstands Islamism, writing that if ‘their actions are for Islam to inform the state, not to replace or destroy its current incarnation’ then they should be supported. If this is the case though, then such groups are clearly not Islamists – rather this is an example of Muslims using their faith to inform their political decisions. Either Sholto hasn’t got a clue what Islamism is or he is genuinely trying to confuse the readers by pretending that the relative achievements of post-Islamist parties like the AKP should be used as evidence that un-reformed Islamist parties such as Hamas are also not so bad after all.

Indeed, Sholto’s above statement makes me think that Sholto and his ilk don’t know the difference between ‘Muslims engaging in Politics’ and ‘Islamism’. This leaves us with the bizarre situation where people like Sholto are arguing that normal Muslims who engage in mainstream politics (and who may happen to talk about their religion when they do so) should be used as evidence that Islamists (who conversely believe in overthrowing such political systems and establishing theocracies in their place) are not that dangerous and are nothing to fear.

This fine mess is a by-product of a larger issue. Entry-level Islamist groups, like the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen and Jamaati-islami, have for years been campaigning to be recognized in the west as the legitimate voice of Muslims around the world and the only real alternative to al-Qaeda. This strategy has naturally failed in Muslim-majority countries because most Muslims are aware of what such groups are really about – and of their woefully tenuous grasp of basic Islamic principles. These entryists have only avoided failing outright in the West because a handful of nostalgic, colonial guilt-ridden, left-leaning writers who are betraying not only their own principles (such as a belief in equal rights) but also the hopes of all liberal Muslims around the world.