‘Ed’ Husain and the Muslims’ dirty linen

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Last Saturday the Guardian printed a full-page interview with “Ed” Husain (full name, Mohammed Mahbub Husain, as has already been established elsewhere on the Internet), the author of a memoir entitled The Islamist, recently published (although not that widely available, since I’ve yet to see it in any bookshop other than Foyles) in the UK to praise from, among those named by Madeleine Bunting, Martin Amis, Simon Jenkins, David Aaronovitch and Melanie Phillips, who published two blog entries ([1], [2]) telling us all to read it. I wrote a letter in reply on Monday (perhaps too late), but since it is Thusday and it has not yet been printed, I will reply here, insha Allah.

First, Madeleine Bunting makes this observation about the Muslim reaction to the book:

What brings less satisfaction is that on blogs and among many Muslims, he has been condemned as a government stooge, an MI5 agent and even ranked with that small coterie - along with former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji, the outspoken Canadian critic of Islam - who are frequently vilified by their fellow Muslims as apostates. Husain, a devout Muslim himself, admits it’s not a “comfortable place” to be but believes the fury is the “price to pay” if dangerous tendencies of Islam in the UK are to be effectively challenged.

The implication is that this is typical of Muslim reaction to the book (which I’ve not been able to buy for financial reasons, but I’ve read large parts of it in Foyle’s). In fact, there has also been cogent criticism, for a good example of which one should read this entry by Yahya Birt. Among the grounds for criticism is that Husain’s own particular experiences, which date back to the early 1990s, are generalised. Not everyone who joined the Young Muslims Organisation, for example, ended up joining Hizb-ut-Tahrir - in fact, various Mawdudi-inspired organisations have members who have spent most of their adult lives with them; not everyone (by any means) who joined HT followed Omar Bakri off into al-Muhajiroun when he took his trouble-makers out of HT in 1996. Not everyone who was involved in al-Muhajiroun is now in the even more extreme spin-off groups such as al-Ghurabaa, or whatever they are calling themselves now. Finally, the number of people who actually involved themselves in terrorist activity is insignificant compared to all this, and not all of them, even if they had brief contacts with al-Muhajiroun, had been among their activists. In calling for HT to be banned now, he ignores the reason why they are not: because the troublemakers left ten years ago. HT now are a quiet intellectual group, at least in the UK, and we do not ban parties in this country simply because we dislike their ideology. If such was the case, the Communist party, and its spin-offs, would have been banned, along with Sinn Fein and the British National Party.

Like Taj Hargey, he makes accusations regarding Muslims’ use of the word kufr among themselves:

Husain points to the declaration (the wording varies) still used in some mosques: “Oh God, bring destruction on the kufr [unbeliever]”. “It’s used less and less in mosques I go to, but will only change completely when people recognise that kufr are our neighbours.” Similar concerns are voiced privately among mainstream Muslims, but Husain is the first to go public.

I’ve been in, and worshipped in, a number of mosques in this country, and have yet to see or hear such words as part of routine prayers or engraved or painted on the walls. When Muslims use the word kufr, which actually means unbelief, or its derivatives, they are normally not talking about their neighbours but about people who are hostile to Muslims or Islam, such as the occupiers of Muslim countries and disreputable “journalists” who spread fear and hostility against Muslims. The term has been part of Islamic usage since the beginning, and is used commonly in the speeches and writings of those Husain presents as moderates. The word kafir has acquired a racially derogatory meaning since the Dutch started using it for that purpose in South Africa, but historically it meant unbeliever. It was not used as a term of abuse; it was (and is) used because it is Arabic for unbeliever.

Towards the end, Bunting makes this observation:

It is as if, just as Husain once swallowed large chunks of Hizb ut-Tahrir propaganda, he now seems to have swallowed undigested the prevailing critique of British Muslims. He has no truck with the idea of Islamophobia, which he dismisses as the squeal of an Islamist leadership pleading special favours; he criticises Asian racism and castigates Muslims “who go back home to get married” and produce “another generation confused about home”. On issues such as segregation, he is confident it is the fault of multiculturalism.

Anyone who can lightly dismiss the idea of Islamophobia in this country has clearly not bothered to read the front pages of at least one major British newspaper, which commonly uses its front page to carry stories vilifying Muslim women and calling for a ban on veils. I am not sure if he is comfortable with Melanie Phillips being an admirer, but Phillips has expressed admiration for Robert Spencer, has contributed to (and received a fawning interview from) Front Page Magazine, and has included alarmist falsehoods about Muslims in her book, Londonistan: for example, claiming that “district after district seems to have become a distinctive Muslim neighbourhood”, when in fact no part of London is predominantly Muslim, other than (perhaps) some small areas of Tower Hamlets borough. A cluster of Muslim-owned businesses does not equal a “Muslim area”, even if there are a lot of local Muslims and people call it that. I also think that Husain can have such an attitude regarding Islamophobia because he is a man, and is not as easily identifiable as a Muslim as a woman in hijab.

Husain has not really said anything new about the Islamist scene in the UK; he has little to tell us about the scene as it exists now, because he has not been part of it for a decade or more. All of the issues he raises have been amply discussed in the pages of magazines like Q-News and on Muslim fora, blogs and other websites, and there was no need to run to the media other than to make a fast buck by bad-mouthing the Muslims. Ironically, last September, in a discussion on DeenPort about the so-called Sufi Muslim Council, he had this to say:

Must we wash our dirty linen in public? Clearly, there are issues inside the Naqshbandi-Haqqani tariqa that the elders and murideen are trying to rectify. But why battle it out in public? So sad.

I am not a Naqshbandi, but I respect Shaikh Qabbani’s courage in warning the US and other governments of the threats from Islamist/Wahhabi extremism.

The context was a discussion about the representation of Shaikh Nazim, and whether his sole representatives were Adnan and Hisham Kabbani, or whether others represented him also. The discussion was between fellow Muslims and took place on a web forum, albeit a public one, rather than, let’s say, at the US State Department. How can we take anyone seriously when he tells us not to air dirty linen in public while writing a book which does precisely that, on a much larger scale?

It is interesting that he is being credited with “courage” in writing this book, as the same was said of Melanie Phillips and Londonistan. It brings to mind this hilarious article about Phillips’s and various other stupid books from 2006:

A perfect companion piece, looking at the homegrown threats to democracy here in the West, is Mullahland: The Terrifying Secret World Within My Head, by the Daily Mail commentator Melanie Phillips. The word most often used to describe Phillips is “courage” - it’s there on the jacket of this book - and I have to agree. Whether rescuing disabled children from burning tower blocks, scaling sheer alpine mountain faces without ropes, or simply searching for a cure for cancer, it is pure courage that always shines from Phillips. I’m lost in admiration for every word she writes, and also for the way she joins them together into sentences.

Of course, it really takes no great courage to stand up in the courts of the powerful and slag off a not very powerful or popular minority, any more than it takes courage to write a farrago of half-truths and scare stories and sell it to a gullible, bigoted foreign audience that already thinks the sky is falling thanks to your writing. Of course, the movement Husain advocates in this book is a real one and composed of a large number of very sincere people, and was build from the ground up over several years by people seeking authentic, mainstream Islam away from Subcontinental sectarianism and “salafi” self-righteousness and intolerance, and it does not need someone like him exposing it to accusations of selling-out and hypocrisy. I do not expect Husain to come to harm for writing this, but it should not make him very popular, since his voice has been amplified vastly out of proportion to his authority.

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