Scares and irrelevances in the New Statesman

An example of the sort of “Ikhwanophobia” which might be bolstered by the recent “Project” revelations is the piece on page 14 of the current New Statesman, entitled “…and yet more leaks”, apparently written by Martin Bright (editor of the Observer). It reports on how “concern is growing over the increasing influence of one of Jack Straw’s closest advisers on Muslim affairs”, namely Mockbul Ali, named as “Islamic issues adviser at the Foreign Office”. It appears that he doesn’t think the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jama’at-e-Islami are dangerous and has recommended giving Yusuf al-Qaradawi a visa.

The author claims that “government documents leaked to the NS suggest that Ali has promoted British government links to groups with a radical version of Islam committed to the introduction of sharia law and the creation of an Islamic state” - as if Islamic states of one form or another did not already exist in several of the countries in which they operate - Pakistan, in particular. In Pakistan, the notion of turning the country into a secular state is not on the agenda; even Parvez Musharraf does not (at least in public) suggest that the country’s “Islamic Republic” status be abolished, while in Egypt, the home of the Muslim Brotherhood, the relationship between the religious establishment and the state has been described as a “creeping theocracy”.

The leaked document, a PowerPoint presentation which is “used across Whitehall” and was “co-authored by Ali’s unit in the Foreign Office” - in other words, Mockbul Ali was one of several authors - the Jama’at-e-Islami and the Brotherhood are called “reformist” groups:

“The root of the reformist movement can be traced to the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami, which was orthodox but pragmatic.”

Of course, a lot of traditional Muslims would thoroughly disagree that the writings of the JI’s founder Abul-Ala Mawdudi were “orthodox”; a number of major scholars of the time thoroughly disagreed with many of his ideas. To take an example, in a biography of the late Shaikh Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi, the main teacher of the founder of the madrassa at Bury, mentioned that Mawdudi died within the Islamic century in which he was born, negating his (or his followers’) claim that he was a mujaddid or renewer. The ideas of Sayyid Qutb, one of the most influential figures of the Brotherhood, are also very controversial and the idea of his being “orthodox” would raise much disagreement. That said, many genuine scholars have attached themselves to the Brotherhood.

“However, the reformist trends have evolved into a progressive and liberal movement, adapting to their own socio-economic context, especially those in Britain.” This may be the case, but both groups are founded on radical Islamic principles. The brotherhood is committed to establishing an Islamic state and is banned across large parts of the Middle East and Jamaat-e-Islami has introduced sharia law in Pakistan’s North-West Fronteir Province.

The accusation of “radical Islamic principles” is meaningless given that both groups were founded in the mid 20th century during the British occupations of the then Indian subcontinent and Egypt. Understandably, many religious people in both countries did not want to establish a corrupt secular dictatorship in either country. They will have desired a return to the Islamic principles by which their countries were governed in the pre-colonial period, and looked to both organisations to deliver this.

The fact that the Brotherhood is banned in some Middle Eastern countries is pointed out without mentioning that these countries are dictatorships and pseudo-democracies. These rulers do not like the idea of being voted out of power, or that their control over their countries’ wealth be taken away from them. And it was not the JI alone which formed the Islamic government in the NWFP; it was a coalition, whose leader was not in the JI.

Bright alleges that when choosing advisers, “ministers are in a dilemma: when does understanding of a radical mindset turn into sympathy?”. As a possible example of his sympathies, he cites a piece he wrote in the obscure “radical Islamic student magazine” called Student Re-Present after 9/11, containing fairly familiar comments about how the western nation states treat non-white peoples, and that “liberation” for the latter normally consists of “bombings, massacres and chaos”, something which has been clearly demonstrated since then in Iraq. “In a separate article,” Bright alleges, “he accused the Indian government of failing to protect Muslims from torture, massacre, murder and burnings”. Since the federal Indian government at the time was under BJP control, that is not an unreasonable accusation and is one which has currency far beyond the circles of “radical Muslims”. In fact, in the case of the Gujarat violence in 2002, the authorities stand accused of complicity and of furnishing the mob leaders with such details as which businesses were Muslim-owned, even when their names did not reveal it.

Apparently some Labour MPs are concerned at the Foreign Office’s apparent tendency for “forging links with radical religious figures in its search for a solution to Muslim alienation”; those named include Denis MacShane and Louise Ellman. The policy could, of course, equally be aimed at preserving British interests in the event that the religious movements become more influential, or come to power, in any of the countries in which the JI and Ikhwan operate, in much the same way that some corporations contribute to both Democratic and Republican campaigns in the USA. The government also clearly understands that there are not many votes to be gained from pursuing a policy of aggressive secularism. The well-known rabble-rousers have been taken out of circulation, much as certain countries have policies of keeping certain racist demagogues out, while more moderate figures, as distasteful as the government may find them, are tolerated. Al-Qaradawi does not come to this country to cause trouble; until that changes, the government may find it more politically advantageous to let him in.

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