Muslims, show us your moderation (for the 1,236th time)

On the same day that the Times (and the ITV evening news) featured a Populus opinion poll which supposedly showed that 13% of Britain’s Muslims think that the four men who carried out the London bombings last July were “martyrs” and that 7% “agree that suicide attacks on civilians in the UK can be justified in some circumstances, rising to 16 per cent for a military target”, Tony Blair repeated a common demand for the Muslim community to root out extremists in its midst in a speech to the Commons Liaison Committee:

“I am probably not the person to go into the Muslim community … It’s better that we mobilise the Islamic community itself to do this.

“I know everyone always wants to blame the government for everything that is happening …. but we can’t defeat this extremism through whatever a government does.

“We can only defeat it if we have people in the community who are going to stand up and not merely say ‘you are wrong to kill people through terrorism… you’re wrong in your view of the West, the whole sense of grievance, the ideology is wrong, is profoundly wrong’.”

This sounds suspiciously like a repetition of a canard which has appeared again and again on blogs and on phone-in radio shows: that the Muslim community, and its “leaders” and organisations, “don’t condemn it loud enough”. Loud enough for the extremists to hear, or for those demanding it, who never seem to listen when condemnations are issued, as we saw with Dennis Prager in the LA Times last November (answered here by Wrighteous Sister and here by Juan Cole)? To repeat a point I myself have made in the past, extremists very rarely used mosques, which tend to be under the control of one group or another and very rarely theirs. They used the streets and hired halls, and when they did use mosques, they did so quietly (with a few, violent and disruptive, exceptions). Anyone who was out and about in London in the late 1990s knows this. Muslim groups, and their leaders, were in no position to stop them preaching; the authorities allowed them to continue.

His reference to “the whole sense of grievance, the ideology …” does not take into account the fact that many of those who have grievances against “the west” (primarily the British, US and Israeli governments) do not belong to any “ideological” group like Hizbut-Tahreer or al-Muhajiroun. The anger is real, and is spread widely in the community well beyond ideological groups and those which sympathise with terrorists. I personally suspect that it contributes more to attitudes like those mentioned in the Times/Populus poll than it does to terrorism, and it can’t be dismissed as a false sense of grievance which serves only to fuel extremism. This is yet another example of Blair’s arrogant dismissal of criticisms that his policies, specifically his policy of continually capitulating to US demands, has put his public in danger.

Last night, the BBC World Service’s Newshour broadcast an interview with Irshad Manji and the MCB’s Harris Bokhari (RealAudio download here) in which the latter claimed that his organisation had done everything in its power to tackle extremism. Manji alleged that the MCB still has a policy that unless a Muslim is “1,000% sure” that someone is involved in terrorism, he should not report him, a policy which Bokhari said the MCB did not have, and said “as a member of the Central Working Committee” that if someone has any terrorist tendencies whatsoever, he should be reported. Quite apart from the issue of what exactly people around the bombers of last July knew about their plans - I suspect the answer is very little - it does not become of a Muslim to tattle on someone, Muslim or otherwise, for mere “suspicion”, if that suspicion is founded on their having a certain opinion or hanging around certain people you’ve heard things about. For the police to receive a barrage of petty, ill-founded accusations makes for a wave of wrongful arrests and worse, and of course for real terrorists to slip through the net.

Manji did make a valid point, namely that one thing moderate Muslims could do is to speak English more in the mosques rather than “back home” languages such as Urdu - something which was understood to be a problem way back in the 1990s, when Muslims from backgrounds other than South Asia were becoming part of the community here and could not understand the language of whatever instruction was being given, particularly the Friday sermon. The common excuse, of course, was that the Urdu was “for the old folk” who did not understand English, while there was nobody among the mosque’s regulars who did not understand any Urdu. However, one must not assume that some people seek religion outside of mosques just because they cannot understand what is being said in them; even if they were teaching traditional Islam in English, people may be round the next corner telling the youth that the imams are teaching something deviant or are “just praying” while Muslims are murdered in other parts of the world. The fact is that moderate Muslims control only their own premises and cannot dictate what goes on, even among Muslims, outside.

The Times yesterday was rather selective in how it reported the results of the Populus opinion poll (summary of findings here). They note, for example, that 2% of the Muslim respondents would be proud, and 16% indifferent, if a close family member were to join al-Qa’ida; they did not bother reporting that 78% said they would be angry. Osama Saeed suggests that the general population should have been asked whether the Iraq war was the primary cause of the bombings, whether the bombers were acting according to Islamic principles, whether they were martyrs, and whether they were wrong but their cause was right. Callers on the Vanessa Feltz show yesterday said that the figure of 13% believing the bombers were martyrs was probably higher among young men, but even if so, it only reveals ignorance about Islam among them. Most mosques do not teach much beyond how to pray and the rules of fasting, paying the zakat and so on; the finer points of who is a martyr and who isn’t is not something one might learn in a mosque.

I was surprised that only 50% of the Muslims asked said that they thought the Iraq war was the primary cause of the bombings, although it’s possible that some in the community thought that something like this had been brewing for a long time (the sense of grievance goes back to the 1991 Gulf War, and is directed not only at the western governments which participated but also at the Arab regimes which allowed the coalition to operate on their territory). As with all opinion polls, the authority of this one is undermined by its small number of respondents, in this case 1,131 Muslim adults. They do not say where the respondents lived, but if we assume they were drawn from several cities and towns and across a wide age range, the chance of the sample of, say, young Muslims in Nottingham not being very representative of young Muslims in Nottingham becomes very high. It strikes me as somewhat irresponsible to present the results of this survey as facts and put them on the front page, but given the editorial slant of this newspaper, this should not surprise anyone.

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