Britain’s mosques are not a ‘swamp’

As the dust settles on the Woolwich murder, so the vultures are starting to circle and the ground is being prepared for generalised attacks on the Muslim community, however much it was made clear that ordinary Muslims condemn the murder and were not responsible for it. The Sun has another front-page story about a video’ed “rant” (meaning a lecture or speech) given by Anjem Choudary in an office in London (the same report was reproduced in the Evening Standard); Tony Blair last weekend wrote in the Mail on Sunday that the “ideology which inspired [the murder] is profound and dangerous” and that there was “not a problem with Islam” but “within Islam”, contrasting “Islamists who have this exclusivist and reactionary world view” with “the modern-minded … who hated the old oppression by corrupt dictators and who hate the new oppression by religious fanatics”, as if there were no in-betweens. Glasgow Labour MP Tom Harris (a member of Labour Friends of Israel) dismisses the idea that the EDL are bigger threat to “our way of life” than Islamists when they “can barely spell ‘fascist’”, as if you need to be able to spell to beat someone up and form a mass to cause enormous disruption and menace the public. Finally, David Cameron also harped on the “extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam” and claimed that “it is not simply enough to target and go after violent extremists after they’ve become violent. We have to drain the swamp in which they inhabit”, referring to university campuses, mosques and madrassas.

It’s pretty insulting to refer to the institutions of Islam in the UK as a swamp. It’s also rather reminiscent of how military dictators talk of suppressing organised threats to their regimes or the lifestyles of their supporters (e.g. trade unions). Saddam Hussain literally drained the marshland homes of one section of his country’s population that opposed his rule. The fact is that the extremist presence in British mosques has declined considerably since 9/11 because the government decided they were no longer willing to tolerate the embarrassment, and perhaps realised that the “covenant of security” was not taken as seriously as they thought. London is a well-known centre of Arab business and media, and was a base for a number of Arab dissidents in the 1980s and 90s and this included some extremist Saudis; many of these have been arrested or are under UN restrictions. As already explained, al-Muhajiroun are banned, their reach is considerably reduced, their ideology (or at least the one they openly displayed) has changed, and Muslims have increasingly realised that they are media-dependent and do not care for other Muslims.

There is a persistent claim that the reason behind acts like Woolwich is “the ideology”, yet this ideology is the preserve of a diminishing hard core of activists and fighters and it is off-putting to many other Muslims, as is the behaviour of its adherents when they achieve power anywhere. Much the same is true of Muslim support for the Iranian regime, which burgeoned in the 1980s when it appeared to be the only régime which stood up to the USA and implemented a sort-of Islamic state. These days, they are an irrelevance, their main mouthpiece, the Muslim Parliament, having switched to a pro-western position (certainly the EU sanctions on Iran related to the nuclear weapons issue makes it more difficult for them to fund religious organisations here, but their influence had diminished long before then). The ideology (and the theology attached to it) are alien to most British Muslims, and it is quite possible that some are driven to these groups by anger at western foreign policy and join in spite of the ideology rather than because of it. It may have been the motivating factor behind major al-Qa’ida operations such as the east African embassy bombings, 9/11 and the Madrid bombings; others, including the 2005 bombings and the recent Woolwich murder, may have been motivated by anger and disaffection, something the “drain the swamp” mentality refuses to consider.

It is quite disgusting to claim that the EDL poses less of a threat in 2013 than Islamist extremism which was connected to no successful operations in the UK between July 2005 and May 2013 — and that was not a bombing or the destruction of a building, but a stabbing — while the EDL has been a source of public disorder on a regular basis since its foundation in 2009, and while nobody has been killed as yet, it cannot be ruled out that a violent incident involving them will result in someone being killed or injured in the future. While the EDL are not linked to any political party as yet, the far right has been on the march in other parts of Europe and some of the groups that have gained popularity have militias and thug groups attached to them that also actively menace minorities, such as the Roma in Hungary. Most people go about their business freely and do not worry about terrorists as they travel to work; nobody can do this when the EDL hold one of their demonstrations, especially not Muslims, and there are signs that they embrace racism against other groups as well. So they may well be a lesser threat than the Islamists, but that’s only if you only consider the threat they pose to whites, not to the minorities they threaten. The snide remark about their intelligence represents the real “comforting distraction”: we pretend that these are boneheaded apes rather than men who all went to school, can all read and write (even if they do not bother to spell properly when on Facebook), some of whom have jobs and even businesses (like their leader), and choose to engage in street violence. They make no less of a deliberate choice than the Muslims who bomb or stab soldiers, and the same is true of other whites who fall into racism as a result of reading hysterical and bigoted stories in the tabloids. The only difference between the two groups’ choices is who suffers.

Finally, Taj Hargey again waded into this discussion last week, this time with a sympathetic interview in the Oxford Times in which he claims that two “misguided Muslims — significantly opportunistic converts to Islam — have heaped opprobrium upon observant Muslims”, before spelling out his agenda for an “authentic Qur’anic” version of Islam, in which he goes further than he has before (perhaps without realising it) by alleging:

The most egregious non-Qur’anic symbols of these twisted doctrines include face-masks, headscarves, beards, pyjama-like robes, etc.

Headscarves are not “non-Qur’anic” but fulfil this Qur’anic verse which commands that women “draw their veils over their chests” (or necklines in another translation), the type of veil referred to being a head veil or khimaar. This cannot be fulfilled, of course, without wearing a head cover in the first place. The particular type of headcovering differs from place to place, but headscarves are not “egregious” or “non-Qur’anic”. The other things mentioned are also normative Islamic practices (and beards are hardly limited to Muslim men) and have nothing to do with extremism, so it makes clear the fact that his opposition is to Islam per se, to mainstream Islam, not to extremism. He also makes a host of slurs against the entirety of Islamic scholarship, dismissing it as “priestly fatwahs — dodgy religious rulings from a wretched clergy”. His “solution” to the problem of extremism in Islam seems to be to destroy mainstream Islam altogether and replace it with his “authentic” version, when the real Muslims will not allow this to happen. Let’s be clear: this man claims to speak for Islam, to tell the world what Islam really is, but he speaks of a manufactured 20th-century religion that has a few thousand followers worldwide; as for the real thing, he hates it. A recent commentator asked me why I condemn apologists rather than terrorists: the answer is that I have nothing to answer for as regards terrorism, while this man’s “apologism” is of no relevance as it is for something we do not believe in.

This seems to be an example of the “learning from your mistakes” fallacy in action: if something bad happens (like a child going missing) then things have to change to make sure the same cannot happen again; it cannot be considered that really things were being done right, that maybe an unlikely set of circumstances happened and that this was just a tragedy. They insist that there are “implications” to the fact that an incident like Woolwich can happen, but they do not spell out what these implications are and the “implications” of a single attack linked to a movement which is dying and which last caused any damage in this country eight years ago must be pretty limited. The majority of the active extremists are off the streets or dead; a few prominent ones remain in plain sight, and the community at large do not know where the others are. A few alligators do not a swamp make, and most of us would be glad to see the back of the alligators (the few of them that remain) but any attack on the general Muslim community would be entirely unjustified. The state knows better than us who they are, and where they are.

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