Mo Ansar dropped everything on hearing that Tommy Robinson was taking part in a press conference at The Quilliam Foundation, rushing from his home in Hampshire to London. Having taken part in the television documentary “Quitting the English Defence League: When Tommy met Mo” (aired last night) Ansar had seen how impressed Tommy had been with Usama Hasan and Maajid Nawaz. Discussing openly with them issues with 7th century thought and the need to discuss and review application of sharia in an Islamic state. Tommy saw there were Muslims prepared to challenge “No Answer” as he called him, and that maybe it would make sense to work together with Muslims to tackle extremism. Abandoning the English Defence League to be more able to do so.
Nawaz had previously invited Ansar to condemn sharia sanctioning chopping the hands off a thief – Ansar obfuscated and, oddly for someone introduced as a theologian by the media, said he would want to see what other scholars said (note on The Daily Politics today he does call such punishment “abhorrent” – if only the follow up question was should it still happen in an Islamic state?). Unlike Nawaz in the documentary, he could not say no to sharia being implemented without considering whether it was Islamic and therefore legitimate to do so. It appeared like religion being put before being humane by Ansar.
Mo Ansar will revise history, deflect criticism and even refuse to answer criticism of Islam as islamophobic – even though when it comes to women, homosexuality and punishment we would say the same about the bible. Historians and scholars are open about the bible and being the subject of its time in a way that Mo Ansar will not when it comes to the Koran and hadiths. As Tom Holland mentions by Islam going through the same historicising process with societal pressures maybe hadiths on apostates and homosexuality can be phased out as the last word.
This process is more plausible than Mo Ansar stating in a room full of EDL supporters that “Islam is not homophobic.” Mehdi Hasan acknowledges homophobia as an issue. For 15 years Mo Ansar said he has advocated for gay rights. Great thing to say. On his blog I cannot find a single post where he has done so and hope readers can help me out where he has written in defence of gay rights within Islam and that an Islamic state should not punish homosexuality. As a “theologian” one might hope he has written a scholarly article or two as a gay rights activist.
On The Daily Politics Ansar was a little more accurately introduced as a “Muslim commentator”, and what becomes apparent in the documentary is the more Tommy meets Muslims who disagree with Mo, the greater the distance between them grows. Whether it is Yaqoob (formerly Respect) stating head covering is a choice for women and not something for children – Mo wants parents to choose for their children – or Usama Hasan saying openly Koranic verses are problematic for 21st century rather than misunderstood and timeless as Mo would claim.
Ansar claimed to agree with the “European” human rights model on The Daily Politics. Yet parents do not get to enforce religious observations on children, whether fasting or veil covering and gender segregation is not “groovy” and only opposed by “swivel eyed loons” as he has claimed on twitter – if we endorse a universal human rights model. Muslims are as Mo says not a monolithic bloc – clearly they disagree with him – what actually comes out of the documentary is Mo is not so much the moderate Muslim, one that as Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra might say has to be a good human being first before a Muslim. Mo came over as an apologist and revisionist first and foremost, one concerned that women prevent men concentrating on prayer when together, but women looking at men from behind women would not be put off. For a civil rights activist Mo, you really do not seem to understand what women want.
For Tommy talking to Muslims, and groups like Quilliam is the way forward. However the memory of his rhetoric lingers on, and Tommy seems to be moving from no mosques being built unless integration happens, to regulation of mosques for more to be built when on Newsnight. He states in the documentary: “have to keep this as a Christian country … When does tolerance become take over?” which rather undermines the secularist claims of EDL – though the emblem of the cross and motto “in this sign you will conquer” should have been enough to dissuade as a secularist organisation.
I would advise that Tommy meets up with secularists and political theorists too, to examine the concept of religious freedom and freedom from religion in a pluralistic, secular and open society. The concern is that Quilliam (and if he wants to be included if it goes wrong Mo Ansar) have given Robinson a veneer of respectability to rise beyond the football hooliganism tradition that EDL grew out of. That we can forgive his own criminal history as a bad boy who has since learnt the error of his ways, and that there is a better way. I watch to see if this is a new media career with the same rhetoric or a thoughtful activist focused on extremism not Muslims.
What has come out of all this is the importance of dialogue and listening to each other. I noticed however one listener to Tommy became angry when he suggested the Koran be reformed the same way the Bible was – though she had spent over an hour and a half mostly agreeing with his points till he concluded with that.
No one is saying this dialogue is going to be easy. People will have agendas, ideologies to defend, gravy trains, salaries and funding to keep drawing on that may make conversation and accord difficult. We might not even want an accord when it comes to veils on children, or female genital mutilation. There are limits to what can be done to another in the name of tradition and subjective opinion claimed as religious.
The death threats that Maajid Nawaz, Usama Hasan, Tom Holland, Tommy Robinson and Mo Ansar have had should indicate this is not a straight forward debate within a democracy. Hopefully moderate Muslims will not be intimidated, will speak up, and hopefully will be given a platform to speak on. Otherwise we will have more people thinking it is just a cultural difference to be respected rather than a human rights issue that cannot be reduced by a faith claim.
Mo Ansar finally arrives at the press conference, however he is not admitted. On twitter he claims to be responsible for Tommy leaving the EDL. Tommy reminds us that while incarcerated white pride types came back into EDL, and trying to prevent that and being associated with that prevented what he wanted to concentrate on – Islamic extremism. What surprises Tommy are Muslims that are working on that too and prepared to examine and historicise the Koran and Hadith. He decides leading EDL is more a hinderance than a help, and Quilliam make that easier for him, where he makes the announcement.
Mo sadly does not seem to understand that he has yet to go on his own journey of discovery. Surely another documentary needs to be made. Maybe When Tom Holland Met Mo …
Update: till BBC pull down from youtube here is the documentary (hat tip Sam Harris)
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog