The government’s preferred Muslim spokesmen

Gary Younge has a fantastic piece in today’s Guardian which rips apart the government’s attitudes towards representatives of the Muslim community:

Somewhere out there is the Muslim that the British government seeks. Like all religious people he (the government is more likely to talk about Muslim women than to them) supports gay rights, racial equality, women’s rights, tolerance and parliamentary democracy. He abhors the murder of innocent civilians without qualification - unless they are in Palestine, Afghanistan or Iraq. He wants to be treated as a regular British citizen - but not by the police, immigration or airport security. He wants the best for his children and if that means unemployment, racism and bad schools, then so be it.

He raises his daughters to be assertive: they can wear whatever they want so long as it’s not a headscarf. He believes in free speech and the right to cause offence but understands that he has neither the right to be offended nor to speak out. Whatever an extremist is, on any given day, he is not it.

He regards himself as British - first, foremost and for ever. But whenever a bomb goes off he will happily answer for Islam. Even as he defends Britain’s right to bomb and invade he will explain that Islam is a peaceful religion. Always prepared to condemn other Muslims and supportive of the government, he has credibility in his community not because he represents its interests to the government, but because he represents the government’s interests to Muslims. He uses that credibility to preach restraint and good behaviour. Whatever a moderate is, on any given day, he is it.

I found this piece referenced from a comment on Harry’s Place, where the monkeys lightly dismissed it as “balls”, but I also get the Guardian every day, and this was the lead comment piece. His description of the ideal community representative is a bit of a caricature, but certain self-made “real moderates” and “community leaders” have become popular among both politicians and the media despite having been elected by nobody and having no credibility among Muslims, and they all display at least some of these characteristics.

Also flagged up on HP today was this in Standpoint, by Paul Goodman, the Tory MP for Wycombe in Buckinghamshire (which includes High Wycombe, pronounced like Wickham), who compares the peaceful “pir” culture which is dominant in his constituency with the nasty radicals coming in from outside:

My Muslim constituents come almost entirely from Kashmir and Pakistan. So do perhaps two in five of all Muslims in Britain. Their main Islamic tradition is Barelwi - a sufi movement within Sunni Islam. My constituents work, live, pray, gather to march in honour of their Prophet’s birthday, the mawlid - a custom viewed with horror as kufr, a “covering of the truth”, by some other Muslims - and meet to honour sufi saints such as Pir Shah Ghazi and to listen to the Saiful Malook, the great mystical poem of Mian Mohammed Baksh, “the Rumi of Kashmir”.

The overwhelming majority are far too busy earning a living and caring for their families to bother about a Sharia state. Their political views are emphatically moderate and community members serve on the local district council in growing numbers. Over eight years, I’ve developed a great respect and affection for Ahl as-Sunnat wa’al-Jama’at-the house of Sunni orthodoxy and consensus. But clouds are gathering. The Western powers and Pakistan built up Saudi-aligned groups to help topple the Soviets in Afghanistan. We live with the consequences today. I don’t know of a major terror plot in Britain whose trail hasn’t led back to Pakistan. The open wound of Kashmir is a source of pain and grievance. Extremists with slick websites, excellent English and a smattering of Arabic are targeting the children and grandchildren of the mainstream Muslim majority, who go to mosques where English may not be spoken at all.

Is that not the biggest problem with the “peaceful pirs”? The problem of mosques where English is not spoken is actually not confined to the Barelvi community, as there are plenty of Deobandi mosques where Urdu is the main language of instruction. However, we are now three generations into a British Muslim community, and a fair number of our youth no longer speak Urdu — to say nothing of those, Asian or otherwise, which come from families and regions, even in Pakistan, where Urdu was never spoken. When people who are interested in religion are confronted by imams who speak (or shout) in a language other than the one they speak, they are not going to hang round and learn a whole new language if they can find what they are looking for somewhere else.

Besides the lack of English, Barelvism has other unappealing aspects for many young people, among them the acrimonious sectarianism and “Wahhabi bashing”, mainly directed in fact at Deobandis. None of this has anything to do with any contemporary issue of security but with things that some early Deobandi scholars may have written around a century ago. I have not been to any of their mawlid gatherings recently, but when I did, there was usually at least one speech justifying the celebration that everybody was already there for. The milder forms of Islamism also look much more modern and are much more likely to feature prominent, and obviously religious, women (e.g. Salma Yaqoob, Yvonne Ridley) than the old-fashioned Barelvi (or even Deobandi) culture. They focus on uniting Muslims, while the culture of the elders often features divisive features such as biraderis, caste groupings imported from Pakistan.

So, much as some establishment figures may wish that the youth would just listen to their pirs and stop making trouble, it is not going to happen as long as a foreign language remains dominant, as long as some of them continue to try and incite Muslims to hate other Muslims, as long as their celebrations remain events of pointless self-justification, as long as they cosy up to the establishment and bad-mouth Muslims who don’t agree with them about theology as potential terrorists, and as long as there remain real political grievances that they fail to address. This is not to say that all Barelvi imams and pirs are guilty of this, but it exists and even some of the more reputable ones have been seen lending credibility to pro-establishment self-publicists like “Ed” Husain.

Oh, and Mr Goodman has his geography drastically wrong as well. He claims that “Mirpur is at the other end of Pakistan from the north-west province”, but in fact Mirpur is part of Azad Kashmir which actually shares a common border with the North-West Frontier Province, and it is the other side of Pakistan at the country’s narrowest point where Punjab, Kashmir and the NWFP meet (the major cities of northern Punjab, such as Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Sialkot, are in the same area). Muzaffarabad and Mirpur are about 200 miles each away from Peshawar (and to put that into perspective, all three cities are about 1,000 miles from Karachi, at the southern end of the country). The culture and language may be different, but it is very accessible to the extremists just up the new M1 motorway, particularly given their ability to attack government targets in Lahore and northern Punjab, and their presence in Kashmir. The Mirpuris of High Wycombe escaped before all the trouble started (i.e. before Kashmiri separatism became connected with the Afghan jihad); just because extremism is not a problem in Buckinghamshire does not mean that a region which is a stone’s throw from the Line of Control is unaffected now.

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