ISLAM: There are 2 very relevant articles at the end of this post. Both are from the Times, the first an editorial and the second a Comment article, by the Usama Hasan mentioned in the editorial:- 1. The battle is on for Muslim hearts and minds. 2. The Islamic Reformation. You might want to consider giving them wider exposure. I lived in both Iran and Indonesia before they were taken over by fanatics. In more than 7 years, I never experienced a single incident resulting from a twisted version of Islam. And I don't know anyone who did. I'm an atheist with many theist friends (and relatives). God help us to achieve this everywhere and for everyone. (Irony).
TERRORIST CLAIMS: There may well be a rational case for it but it still grates when it's reported that ISIS 'claims' rather than 'admits' responsibility for horrific crimes. The explanation, I understand, is that ISIS believes it helps them to take responsibility for attacks carried out by other nutters.
RESPONSE TO TERRORISM: Here's an idea - Why not cancel the irreligious consumerist excess which is Christmas? And at least rid us of all the bloody ads that first appeared weeks ago.
SPOKEN FRENCH: All the media attention has reminded me I'm not a fan of this, disliking its nasality. Which you might think is rich, coming from a Scouser. But I shed my (Gaelic-influenced) pronunciation many years ago, without really trying. That said, I had a French partner for 8 years and I adored her accent when she spoke English. I still would if she hadn't decided to quit Spain to go back to France. But before doing so, she managed to teach me how to pronounce the French 'u' sound. And I taught her how to say Natalie Wood properly.
MALE LIES: I read recently that one of the favourite untruths of men trying to bed women (not much of a challenge these days, I suspect) is that they own an upmarket sports car. I once gave a lift to a young woman to a party in my Morris 1000 (GT, 4-wheeled model, as I used to say) and managed to convince her I had a Porsche Carrera in my garage, kept for special occasions. But there was no malevolent intent beyond humour, as she was a friend's girlfriend. It was embarrassing to have to tell her I was joking. But she was OK.
FINALLY . . . THE IBERIAN PENINSULA FROM SPACE: Project Nasa has produced stunning fotos of Spain and Portugal from 1,000, 500 and 250 metres. Click here to surprise yourself with how green the west and north of Spain are. Not to mention wet at times.
1. The battle is on for Muslim hearts and minds
How do we condemn atrocities carried out in the name of Islam without alienating the majority of moderate Muslims? Of all the people killed by terrorism last year, 51 per cent were slaughtered by just two organisations: Boko Haram and Islamic State. Although white supremacists have killed more Americans this year than any other extremist group, nearly all global terrorism is committed by people claiming to act in the name of Islam.
That’s the reality. A second reality is that once all the victims of the Paris attacks have been named, many more Muslims will have been killed than carried out the attacks: the two Saadi sisters celebrating a birthday, the Algerian violinist stopping off at a restaurant on his way home, the Moroccan architect dining out with his new wife, and so on and bloodily on. Muslims were also the victims of attacks on Nigerian mosques earlier this year by Boko Haram, on peace demonstrations in Turkey by Isis, and on the Hazaras minority in Afghanistan by the Taliban. If Muslims are the principal perpetrators of terror, Muslims are also the most terrorised. The coexistence of these two realities creates a problem in agreeing on the causes of extremism and how to tackle it.
The problem is easily posed: how do you identify, challenge and destroy the basis of Islamist terror without implicating and alienating millions of Muslims? It is a dilemma that western governments with large Muslim minorities have been blundering around for the past decade. And there’s an added complication — to most non-Muslims the link between a religion and violence committed in its name is beyond doubt. But to many Muslims such a link appears to single them out. So when, as this week, a French Muslim of Tunisian descent tells reporters that Isis are “fascists” and that their actions “have nothing to do with Islam”, are we to congratulate him or contradict him?
Every person with a gob on them seems to know why terrorism happens. This week Ken Livingstone, new political life breathed into him by Corbyn’s zombie leadership, was across the airwaves blaming western foreign policy. Somehow he had not noticed the paucity of Islamist attacks on American targets. The veteran Trot and posterboy for the LRB-reading classes, Tariq Ali, opined that Middle East terror would go on as long as, among other things, Israel existed, so it was rather pointless bemoaning it. Better, one presumed, for us to try to persuade the Jews of Israel to give up their state than to persuade the Islamists to give up their suicide vests and butcher’s knives.
I am not sure how influential such throwbacks are, but something I was involved with the week before the Paris attacks worried me. I had been invited to address a conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies on the question of Muslim integration. I was talking on the subject of free expression. At one level it was a brave attempt by lay Muslims to get people of different beliefs to debate with Islamic scholars and academics. But, comparing notes with other guest speakers as well as my own experience, I soon realised that the secondary agenda, intended or not, was an attack on the whole idea of deradicalisation. It was apparently just another aspect of western prejudice against Muslims — the true cause of terrorism.
So Professor Christopher Bagley, a Muslim convert, said that calls for integration represented “a strong undercurrent of racism and xenophobia regarding religious minorities”.
Dr Rizwaan Sabir, a lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, attacked the moderate Muslim Qulliam Foundation which was being “used as a strategic asset by the British state to undermine political Islam at home and abroad”.
Dr Katherine Brown, of King’s College London, opposed “counter radicalisation efforts that unreflectively presume that western society and feminism had benefitted Muslim women”, when their real problems were “discrimination, poverty and Islamophobia”.
For Waqas Tufail, of Leeds Beckett University, counter-terrorism was “fundamentally racist by explicitly targeting specific minority groups and ultimately leads to the further alienation and marginalisation of an already demonised and criminalised group”. Note here how the word “criminalised” makes being a criminal something that is thrust upon you rather than chosen.
Chris Allen, from Birmingham University, was the most ingenious of all. In his “Tackling Extremism, Reinforcing Islamophobia” talk he seemed to suggest that the very way in which politicians talked about tackling Islamophobia “reinforced the public’s fears and anxieties about Islam”.
This is so misconceived that it’s hard to know where to start. But whatever the government says or does, this is the stuff being taught to young people with barely a challenge in colleges, universities and community centres. It’s the approach that says, in essence, that Muslims are victims of an Islamophobia that caused radicalisation and that consequently any attempt to deal with radicalisation which does not admit this is, in itself, Islamophobic.
This is the warped context in which many well-educated young Muslims will view the government’s Prevent strategy to tackle extremism. It is one thing to subject the entire population to electronic surveillance — if there’s rigorous independent scrutiny I can live with that. It’s another thing — as has been mooted — for the state to go around banning preachers from the internet, vetting people from working with children because of their perfectly legal political views, and drawing up blacklists and banning orders on non-violent (if horrid) groups which are mostly Muslim. These acts will be seen as restrictions on basic freedoms and will become the focus of resistance. They are manna from heaven for the decadent academic critics of government who, as I have seen, believe that their enemies are almost anyone but Islamist extremists.
But I worry that these acts are the greatest gift to the recruiters of jihadists. Look, they will say, how shallow is the kufr’s commitment to freedom! Better, much better, to wage a war of ideas on campuses and in schools, against the apologists and relativists. Fight speech with better speech, idea with better idea.
As Quilliam’s Usama Hasan showed in The Times yesterday[below] there are people around who will be good allies in this fight and who have as much to lose.
2. Give us time: this is Islam’s reformation
People often ask when Islam will have a reformation. The truth is that Islam is in the middle of a reformation right now — which arguably began in the nineteenth century. The Christian Reformation took several centuries, so we need to allow Islam time to adapt to the modern world.
The Ottoman royal decrees of 1839 and 1858 abolished poll taxes on non-Muslims and gave equal citizenship rights to Jews, Christians and Muslims. This was followed by the scrapping of traditional Islamic punishments as well as ending the death penalty for apostasy from Islam. Isis follows a fundamentalist and selective reading of scripture which is ahistorical and heretical. They are linked to Islam and the Koran in the way the Ku Klux Klan and Anders Breivik are linked to Christianity and the Bible.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims detest Isis, and are its daily victims. Anti-Muslim bigots and Islamist extremists ironically agree that Isis somehow represents Islam: it is essential that we don’t play into the hands of extremists, whether Islamist or far right, with this false assertion.
The Islamist movements of the 20th century, representing just one of many possible expressions of political Islam, were rooted in anti-colonial sentiment but became dominated by fundamentalism and anti-western hatred, derailing progress towards a genuine reformation.
Thinkers, theologians and activists in Muslim-majority nations are contributing to the reformation, often at great danger to themselves from intolerant, militant extremists. The issues they are grappling with include universal human rights; shared values with other religions and philosophies; gender-equality; the status of minorities; the separation of mosque and state; a critique of Islamic scripture; and the promotion of scientific and rational thinking. What all of them, and I, agree on is that Islam needs to be reconciled with the modern world and interpretations of Islam need to be normalised.
To quote one of these reformers, the Turkish scholar Recep Senturk: “The [Ottoman] declaration of 1839 may be seen as the first Islamic human rights declaration in the modern sense . . . [and when the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was announced in 1948] Turkish scholars of Islamic law, such as Kazim Kadri and Ali Fuat Basgil, said that it was consistent with Islamic law and thus deserved the support of Muslims . . . The work of ancient prophets and philosophers can be seen as achievements towards a universal concept of [the] human.”
Although the Ottoman reforms of the mid-19th century introduced equality for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and abolished traditional punishments such as stoning to death, flogging, amputation and even crucifixion, it is the fundamentalist regimes of the 20th and 21st centuries that have reinstated some of these abhorrent practices. These regimes include those of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, northern Nigeria — and now Isis.
The Muslim women’s movement Musawah (meaning “equality” in Arabic) campaigns for gender-equality in Muslim family law. It is beginning to have an effect. In 2004, the millennium-old Mudawwana code of family law in Morocco was updated to the “New Mudawwanah”, which gives women more rights.
The leading Sunni theologian Abdullah bin Bayyah recently launched a global movement for the “Promotion of peace in Muslim societies” and has been especially critical of Isis. He has also endorsed a “shared values” approach to modern citizenship, where religious and secular ideologies work towards common goals in everyday life.
The newly launched Raif Badawi Freedom Foundation calls for the promotion of fundamental liberties such as freedom of speech, expression and religion in the Arab world.
The task of reformation is primarily for Muslims. However, friends of the Muslim world who would like to see a genuine enlightenment within Islam, can help by promoting genuine reformers and challenging extremists and their apologists. It is also important that fundamental liberties are supported, especially against the military dictators, absolute monarchs and fundamentalist theocrats in the Muslim-majority world: this will empower reform-minded theologians, thinkers and activists to help to bring about change. Too many are forced into silence by intimidation, imprisonment or assassination by regimes that enjoy varying degrees of western support.
The good news is that Muslim intellectual discourse is moving in the right direction and the barbarism of Isis has helped enormously to undermine the extremist narrative. The Islam of the future, if it is to survive, will be based on liberty, equality and fraternity: a fitting tribute to this week’s martyrs of Paris.
Usama Hasan is an imam, and senior researcher in Islamic Studies at the Quilliam Foundation think tank