“POLITICAL EXTREMISM INVOLVES TWO PRIME INGREDIENTS: AN EXCESSIVELY SIMPLE DIAGNOSIS OF THE WORLD’S ILLS, AND A CONVICTION THAT THERE ARE IDENTIFIABLE VILLAINS BACK OF IT ALL.”
JOHN W. GARDNER
A counter extremism speech by the Prime Minister, concerning Islamists or nationalists, is no substitute for effective government policies that will combat extremism while still living up to the liberal principles that they seek to defend. Coherence seems to be absent – a few weeks ago Cameron was telling us not to say “Islamic State”; instead use the Arabic “Daesh” abbreviation. Now he uses ISIL where Islamic State is part of the abbreviation (as it already was with Daesh). The impression given is a Prime Minister whose opinions reflect the last person he spoke to about extremism. Someone that is prepared to do U turns after seeing which way the wind blows. Considering the storm that Islamists and their apologists will whip up, this is not reassuring. When the Home Secretary in a memo raised the prospect of pre approving public broadcasts, the worry is that authoritarian policy will be used and justified as defending freedom.
David Cameron’s speech on extremism recognised that the politicising of Islam through non violent extremism is a threat to civil society. It recognised civil society had to counter it, though what must end is “passive tolerance”. We need debate that enforces British cultural norms on issues like forced marriages, FGM etc. Nationalistic extremism needs countering too, as Cameron mentioned challenging conspiracy theories that Muslims seek to overthrow government, “or that Islam and Britain are somehow incompatible.” Apologists for extremism, and those with extreme responses to extremism, are ones any secular liberal should be concerned with. In turn, I deal with two recent examples of that.
The Apologists For Islamists
Regarding apologists, Open Democracy wrote a fine example when discussing CAGE. Discussing Asim “Jihadi John was a beautiful man” Qureshi views on adultery and stoning, and the need for four witnesses before carrying out the death sentence, the academic writers admit:
“Whilst hardly an unequivocal condemnation, this is a rather more complex picture than that recognised in the [media] headlines.”
The refusal by Quershi to condemn unequivocally stoning etc was why Amnesty International broke their relationship with CAGE. As Amnesty stated:
“the refusal of a Cage spokesperson to condemn violence such as FGM and stoning – themselves examples of torture and degrading treatment that we are campaigning for an end to – is of huge concern to Amnesty and has made any future platform sharing with Cage impossible.”
The criticism of CAGE is that without standing against Hudud punishments incorporated into Sharia, nor against cultural norms like FGM, claiming to be a human rights organisation is dubious. Terrorist suspects require their legal rights to be upheld, but one would hope their extremist views were condemned. If not, the mantle of human rights organisation cannot be claimed.
The Open Democracy piece shows how such views are excused, as just being conservative Islam. Recalling the interview Quershi had with Andrew Neil:
On the BBC, Andrew Neil confronted Qureshi about the views of Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad, a Muslim scholar who Neil claimed was Qureshi’s ‘spiritual mentor and guide’. Qureshi responded that Haddad was just ‘one scholar in the UK that I think has an important contribution to make’. Neil stated that Haddad:
believes in the following: Female Genital Mutilation is not only acceptable, it is probably obligatory; that you should not question a man’s right to hit his wife; that non-Muslim prisoners should be taken as slaves; that Jews are descendants of pigs; death by stoning is OK for adultery and homosexuality is a crime against humanity.
He asked Qureshi if he had ‘been guided to believe’ these things, to which Qureshi responded: ‘I’ve never been guided to believe any of those things’. Pressed further, Qureshi stated, ‘I am not a theologian’, and when asked directly about his comments to Julian Assange on stoning stated: ‘I do a lot of work, actually, against the death penalty’. ‘What I am about,’ he continued, ‘and what my organisation is about is due process of the law.’
There is no doubt that Haddad expresses a conservative strand of Islam, in particular on the appropriateness of punishment fitting the crime (Hudud) and on questions of sexuality. It is not clear, though, that the other views attributed to him are accurately rendered. Much of the substance of the question from Neil appears to be based on a report from the Council of Ex Muslims, an organisation close to the ‘new atheist’ movement which enjoys the ‘generous support’ of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, amongst other benefactors. Their 2014 report Evangelising Hate: Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), was drawn to Andrew Neil’s attention on Twitter in advance of the programme.” [Emphasis added]
The concerns about Haddad are entirely justified, especially if you are an ex Muslim. In the video below, Haddad explains the rationale for an Islamic State killing them. They are traitors, ones who will threaten the Islamic way of life of those around them. For Haddad, they are enemies of the people and the state. “Islam is political allegiance.”
Still, do not let the public record of Haddad get in the way of your apologia. There are way too many examples in the article like this, but I will end on this bit where they state:
“Begg may have voiced support for armed resistance to occupation and oppression, but where is the actual evidence that he opposes women’s rights, for example? Neither Sahgal, nor her supporters, nor the array of reactionary forces determined to undermine Cage’s work have to our knowledge produced any.”
We are “reactionary forces” for calling for explicit condemnation of the islamist ideals of killing ex Muslims, homosexuals and adulterers. As opposed to someone like Begg, who moved himself and his family to Taliban Afghanistan to live the Islamic life.
“He took his family to Afghanistan in 2001, when it was in the grip of the inflexibly dogmatic rule of the Taliban. They had adopted the narrowest version of Sharia law, banning music, most games, and severely restricting the education and medical treatment of women as well as dramatically extending the use of the death penalty. Osama bin Laden was given full protection by the Taliban as he planned the destruction of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the White House.” [Daily Telegraph]
We are through the looking glass, where liberals and feminists are the reactionaries and those that will not condemn stoning but want their family to live under Taliban rule are not.
Extreme Reactions To Extremism
Meet Paul Weston of Liberty GB. He is so concerned with Islam that his political party campaigns for Muslims to be legally banned from holding public office. Andrew Neil asks why Weston made a video introducing himself as a racist:
Geert Wilders is the Dutch politician that wants to ban the Koran, having stated: “The Koran is a fascist book which incites violence. That is why this book, just like [Adolf Hitler’s] Mein Kampf, must be banned.” Recently, he wanted to find a common platform with far right European parties.
Neither of these positions are ones a secular liberal could support. A religious test for public office, censorship of illiberal religious texts, a platform with far right groups – they would be an anathema.
Or so you would think.
Sacrilegious caricature or art – whether blasphemous, crude, or offensive – is part of free speech. The event mentioned above is a Mohammed cartoon exhibition organised by Sharia Watch UK and Vive Charlie.
The Law Secular Society defends sharing a platform with Wilders and Weston, as free speech is a bigger cause than whether or not Weston or Wilders are secularists:
‘Another accusation against Wilders and Weston is that “they’re not secularists” or that they don’t share the other goals of secularists. I don’t even know whether they describe themselves as secularists and you know what? I don’t care.
We can’t restrict the people we share platforms with to those who describe themselves as secularists or who sign up to the entire “shopping list” of secularism causes (faith schools; Bishops in the House of Lords; council prayers, etc). Expecting to achieve goals in this way is politically stupid. It restricts secularists to sharing platforms with people they already agree with on everything and it consigns us to an eternal echo-chamber of mutual back-slapping where we mark our own homework. This strategic naivety is sadly the “Pause Button” on which I believe many secularists seem happy to remain in perpetuity. My view is that secularists should take a “Venn Diagram” approach, co-operating with people where any of our interests intersect – even if it’s only one (and especially the most important one, free speech) – while exercising our judgment on a case by case basis.
The LSS’s priority should be to defend free speech and to support this event as fully as possible, and not to guard itself against baseless accusations of “racism”.’
The naivety of this approach can be seen that this was the argument that Amnesty International used for so long in their relationship with CAGE before they recognised CAGE’s views were incompatible and detrimental to what Amnesty stood for.
How do you stand for free speech with people who are against free speech themselves? Banning the Koran and Muslims from holding public office – these are not positions compatible with free speech. Not all the Venn Diagrams in the world will square that circle.
Vive Charlie is a magazine that the twitter persona “Jihadist Joe” is behind. I discussed their conspiracy views on Muslims here. I wrote about the account:
Whilst most people seemed to get that suggesting Muslims “breeding” and having places to worship as part of “Jihadist support team” (the iceberg beneath the surface) are anti Muslim sentiments in line with extreme right wing views on Muslims, a few remain unconvinced or see this as isolated bum notes of an otherwise funny account. Whose aim is to use humour to target hatred at terrorists not Muslims. The other is how dare I be concerned about this account when people are being killed and oppressed in the name of Islam?
We need to fight bigotry and dehumanization of people by anyone.
When discussing these things with @jihadistjoe online he said the context was “The Project” by the Muslim Brotherhood. A coordinated effort, to penetrate all levels of society with a “cultural invasion” with the aim “to progressively infiltrate, confront, and eventually establish Islamic domination over the West.” [Link he provided via twitter]
All of which David Cameron warned about in his speech.
“Sharia Watch UK” emerged when Anne Marie Waters split from “One Law for All.” In an article about the split, One Law for All mentions why not sharing such a platform with the far right is important:
Since its establishment last month, Sharia Watch has publicised links like “Muslim Rape Culture” from the ghastly Frontpage Magazine, given updates on the far-Right Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller and the English Defence League, publicised videos like “Sacrificing our Daughters: On the Psychology of Islamic Rape Gangs”, and written a piece on how halal meat funds terrorism!
We want to make very clear that we have no links with Sharia Watch, UKIP or Anne Marie Waters and will oppose their brand of racist hate politics every step of the way.
One Law for All is proud of the broad-based coalition of secular Muslim, ex-Muslim, non-Muslim, atheist… groups and individuals it has helped shape over nearly 6 years of organising and activism. As is very clear from our work, our fight is not just a fight against Sharia; it is first and foremost a fight against Islamism and the religious-Right as well as countering racism and for equality, universal and citizenship rights, international solidarity, and secularism. [My Emphasis]
I have been to enough events where my life was potentially in danger without needing to be lectured to on that score. I will defend the right of bigots to gather freely, discuss what they want, to freely associate with others who might not be bigots, and for all to go home safely. Do not expect me to join the far right on a solidarity platform on free speech, when they are opposed to free speech. More fool anyone else that does, and let them show their idiocy when they claim that for free speech they can work with those that are against free speech.
Secularism needs defending not just against religious extremists but also from nationalist extremists. For when it comes to banning publications or religious tests for public office, they can be seen as two sides of the same coin. They are the enemies of liberty, and free speech exists so that we can know this for ourselves.
There will be those that debase themselves by using bigotry, calling for partial rights rather than for universal rights. Expediency, or the perceived threat, will be used to justify such reactions. Civil society will be nothing if it is not prepared to challenge government, islamists, and the far right, when liberal values are threatened.
Freedom, equality, secularism – those values are worth standing for. In doing so, it matters who you stand with.
Just after publishing became aware that Tom Owolade has written a specific rebuttal to the Open Democracy article, here.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog
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