Boris Johnson wheels out the Sookhdevil

On the way to an early job on Friday, I always look forward to what’s going to be on the front of the political magazines, the New Statesman and the Spectator, associated with the left and right respectively. I’d sort of forgotten that last time there was any big trouble involving Muslims in Europe (the 7th July bombings in London), authentic voices from our community could not be found in either, and the same pattern is repeated now that the dust has started to settle over the riots in France. The NS leads with a front page feature by John Pilger about Hugo Chávez, but inside there’s a page by Zia Sardar on Hizb-ut-Tahrir (why this week?) and its “fascism for escapists”. The Spectator, on the other hand, gives no voice to any Muslims at all, preferring the usual right-wing Islamophobes: Charles Moore, Rod Liddle, Mark Stein and, of course, Patrick Sookhdeo. (More: Clive Davis, Magic Statistics.)

Sookhdeo’s article, Will London Burn Too? (free registration required) has as its theme “the Islamic doctrine of sacred space”. It’s the sort of paranoid conspiracy nonsense which would have its author out of the door of any publication of left or right if Jews were its target (the Muslims have yet to demand anything like the eruv scheme in London, for example); its first paragraph contains the assertion that “have become perhaps the most dominant group in British society”:

Divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, Muslims are nevertheless united by their creed, their law and the powerful concept of the umma, the totality of Muslims worldwide.

The same can be said of Jews in this country, many of whom make no secret of their loyalty to an actually existing, rather than defunct, foreign state (Israel). They also have a religious law and a concept of their religious group as a nation. In the case of Muslims, the concept of the umma manifests itself mainly in charitable donations (although much of this goes back to the “home country” rather than to needy Muslims generally).

Sookhdeo’s assessment of hijra as “the process of migrating and establishing a Muslim community in a non-Muslim context” is inaccurate. Hijra is migration, full stop. The model of migration from Muslim countries to the west for economic reasons cannot be compared to the hijra of the Companions to Abyssinia (specifically Tigray; the town in which they settled is called Negash, and is still standing) or the migration of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and his Companions to Madinah because the Abyssinian migration took place before much of the Shari’ah had been revealed, and because we are not in a position of rulership and did not expect to be. The Muslims did not “seize political and military power”; rather, they were invited, by local tribes who wished to put aside long-standing disputes.

Sookhdeo invokes “Muslim writer Amir Taheri” to make the demonstrably false assertion that “France’s policy of assimilation began to fail when (Muslim) immigrants grouped themselves in concentrated areas”. In fact, the well-known historical fact is that the areas concerned were built specifically for foreign immigrants, most of whom came from French-speaking parts of north and west Africa where Islam is dominant. “Some” are said to be calling for the establishment of an Ottoman-style millet in these areas, by which they “organise their own social, cultural and educational life in accordance with their religious beliefs”. As we will see later, “some” can be a very small number of people when the term is used by Sookhdeo. The evidence of an existing “de facto millet system” is supposedly found in “Islamic beards, Islamic headscarves, Islamic control of the administration” (how did that come about in a democracy, I wonder?) “and the elimination of cinemas, dance halls, and shops selling alcohol and pork”. You’d wonder who’d buy alcohol and pork in a Muslim-dominated area.

Then, onto another shoddy sweeping bald assertion:

Muslims in France have by and large rejected the concept of the integration of individuals and are working instead for the integration of communities. The same is happening in the UK, where the concept of multiculturalism has long been popular.

As if the French care much for their integration? It’s already been discussed at such length elsewhere that you wonder what authority Sookhdeo has to comment given that he’s obviously not been listening. You can’t integrate with anyone who will not give you a job on the level appropriate for your education and skills. Using pliant imams to “moderate” the community is not quite the same thing. In this country, the places where disturbances have taken place are those where the “French model” of permitting neglected and isolated communities to emerge is in evidence. In many places with a substantial Muslim population, including London, there have been no riots.

Sookhdeo then claims that “two other Islamic principles”, namely “sacred space” and the “dar al-Islam / dar al-harb” distinction, “are important subjects of debate among contemporary Muslims”. I would argue that they actually aren’t. The “sacred space” issue has no relevance here given that no part of the UK has ever been conquered and settled by the Muslim army. Furthermore, once the Muslims are removed and all vestiges of an Islamic presence are removed, a place is no longer “dar al-Islam”. The only real “sacred space” is that of mosques, which are mosques in perpetuity and Muslims cannot use them for any other purpose. And now for another bizarre and stupid claim:

Migrant Muslim communities in the West are constantly engaged in sacralising new areas — first the inner private spaces of their homes and mosques, and latterly whole neighbourhoods (e.g., Birmingham) by means of marches and processions. So the ultimate end of sacred space theology is autonomy for Muslims of the UK under Islamic law.

Whole neighbourhoods, like Birmingham? Birmingham is a big city, not a “neighbourhood”. Does the Spectator care nothing for a reputation, printing something so out of whack with reality? Marches do not “sacralise” an area, anyway. They are are a cultural tradition in some communities, particularly for Mawlid, which is an innovated festival and therefore there is no requirement on the community to hold it, but is has nothing to do with establishing a legal “sacred space”. Similarly, the discussion about “dar al-Islam” holds no great relevance in this debate. The UK is not a Muslim country and never has been; Muslims, like others, are either equal citizens or immigrants. The only way Muslims can gain control in the present circumstances is by persuading the citizenry to elect them. As for the possibility of a “North Sea Caliphate”, try Googling the phrase. (At the time of writing, it returned not a single hit.)

Similarly, for most Muslims the “covenant of security” Sookhdeo’s “radicals” once felt themselves bound by still applies. Al-Muhajiroun was tiny as are its successor groups; Hassan Butt, who as I understand no longer lives in the UK, is a more-or-less unknown figure. With or without a covenant of security, most Muslims have neither the inclination to engage in violence in this country, nor is there the provocation, as there was in France (and as there has been to other communities here in the past), because right now, Muslims are not being persecuted in any way in this country. In other democratic countries, Muslims have faced organised pogroms where they are raped and/or murdered and their properties destroyed by mobs while the police look the other way. In short, if Muslims feel secure here, the wider community should have no reason to feel otherwise because of us.

“In Britain”, he alleges, “we already have many examples of Muslim violence,” citing “honour killings” and trouble between Kurds and Pakistanis in Peterborough. A search for any stories which might refer to such brought up an incident at the Anand Mela in 2002 involving ninety people, all described as Pakistani and Iraqi youths, “exchanging blows and hurling chairs”. It wasn’t so bad that Jayshree Mehta, the organiser, couldn’t call it “a lovely day”. (There is another article about the phenomenon by Burhan Wazir in the Times here, which discusses the general phenomenon of inter-ethnic violence between immigrant groups; it doesn’t just affect Muslim immigrants and Muslims aren’t always to blame.) “Honour killings” are by no means confined to our community, and aren’t relevant to an article on riots anyway. As for black versus Asian violence in Birmingham, again, its immediate causes are well-known (rumours of rape spread on black pirate radio stations), and the so-called black Muslims in south London are not really Muslims anyway. They are gangsters who use Islam as a gang badge.

“Most alarming of all is the prospect of Muslim secessionist violence in the UK as in Kosovo, the Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere (Huntington’s much-reviled ‘bloody borders of Islam’)”, he suggests. Again, ludicrous. You can’t “secede” if you don’t already have a designated area. In the case of the Phillipines and Thailand, the areas concerned are Muslim-majority areas of a different ethnicity and language adjacent to another Muslim country: Malaysia. In fact, Thailand formerly occupied at least two states of what is today the Malay peninsula. Sookhdeo might ponder why similar violence has not appeared in other areas of Thailand with a substantial Muslim population, such as Phuket (where mosques outnumber Buddhist wats) and Chiang Mai. Kosovo has long been a predominantly Albanian region, which was incorporated into Serbia after World War II because including it in Albania would look funny on the map. And so much of this violence was the direct result of the breakdown of empires (such as the Hapsburg and Ottoman) and federations (Yugoslavia, the USSR) into ethnically-based states, which has often resulted in civil wars, mass migrations and expulsions (Germans from the Sudetenland and Silesia, for example) as well as the “maroonings” of settler populations in potentially hostile new countries (Slovakia, Romania). You can’t entirely relate it to Islam having “bloody borders”.

Sookhdeo mentions some bloke preaching in Hyde Park last Sunday and “calling for what happened in France to be repeated here”, with Muslims moving into Muslim areas, “after which any Churches would be expelled”. Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner is in my experience not very well-attended; I personally stopped going after finding that it had become dominated by hostile “debate” between Christian missionaries and Muslims. Being next to Edgware Road, it has a substantial Arab presence. I would estimate that the preacher Sookhdeo witnessed had an audience in the lower two figures, at least at any one time. Even so, as if it were relevant, he then moves on to the rising Muslim population figure in Bradford, in order to frighten his audience with the news that some dying mill towns might come under Muslim control when they become the majority of the population.

His assertion in the penultimate paragraph that there is a real possibility of “Islamic enclaves … defined by Islamic values, education, politics, religious practice and above all law” is as stupidly alarmist as everything else in his article. He may not have noticed, but very little of Islamic politics has ever made itself felt in actual mainstream politics; no candidate has ever been elected to Parliament on an Islamist platform anywhere in the UK. The community is overwhelmingly tied to mainstream parties, only managing to secure the election of different non-Muslims where their efforts made a serious difference in the 2005 election for example. And the presence of Shari’ah mediating councils do not constitute “an unofficial parallel legal system”, and so what if it does? It’s only the same as is found in other religious communities with laws, such as the Jewish community. One might wonder what Sookhdeo thinks of the Jewish concentrations in places like Finchley; perhaps the reason they don’t riot is because they are not marginalised and impoverished. Given that no “Israel on Thames” has established itself, it might cast doubt as to whether anyone should fear a “North Sea Caliphate” either.

Sookhdeo concludes thus:

Unless the multiculturalist policy — which has been indirectly facilitating the separatist agenda of radical Islamists — is reversed immediately, we shall wake up and find we have sleepwalked into a situation of apartheid and segregation. If we sleep long enough, we may even wake up to find that, like Paris, London is burning. Or that we are living in an Islamic state.

He conveniently ignores the fact that all the trouble which has occurred anywhere in Europe where Muslim communities exist can be traced to other factors besides Islam: poverty, police brutality, inter-communal hostility, possible commercial corruption, rumours. Not all of it has been Muslims’ fault, and in the case of Paris the religious factor has been played down by pretty much everyone except those who want to make something of it. If it had been significant, the rioters in France would not have been called rascals, but terrorists or something similar. Paris is not burning, anyway. Cars burned; buildings, for the most part, haven’t. And London is nothing like as segregated as Paris.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but I’m still shocked that a political magazine associated with a mainstream political party in the UK prints such shoddy, alarmist, hate-driven rubbish. And I’m not a Tory and never have been (I’m not sure if this shaytan is a Tory either, for that matter), but this sounds like it’s coming from somewhere far more extreme. The cover of the magazine is black, bearing the headline “Eurabian nightmare” with a red crescent extending across northern Europe with a big red star in eastern England, and many little stars on the various riot sites - including one where Nantes is marked Rennes. (Rennes is further north and inland.)

Also featured is Rod Liddle, who comes out with the equally stupid statement that “there are a string of towns and cities, from Rennes in the south” (west, actually) “through Lille, Brussels, Antwerp, Zeebrugge, Rotterdam, Bremen to Aarhus in Denmark in the far north, where the Muslim population approaches or exceeds 20 per cent (and in some cases constitutes a majority)”, which “drawn on a map … describe an almost perfect crescent across the North Sea seaboard of Europe”. The map on the cover exposes this lie for what it is, as the outline, even when you include Paris, resembles a trapezoid, not a crescent. I can’t be bothered to take apart Mark Stein’s rambling two-page piece.

If this is anything like typical of the Tory mentality, it’s no surprise that they are still in the wilderness. Perhaps they do in fact consider any future for the Tory party to lie in attacking Islam and Muslims as “Will Cummins” suggested in his notorious four-article diatribe last July, but they are banking on exploiting anti-Muslim sentiment that might result from future terrorist incidents. Given the profusion of centre-to-left magazines which exist and which can be picked up at any decent bookshop (New Statesman, Prospect, Red Pepper among those I can think of off the top of my head), the Spectator does a really bad job of representing Tories as anything other than uncivilised, dishonest bigots, which most aren’t. Perhaps it’s time for someone to start a magazine which might do the job better?

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