It’s little wonder liberal Muslims feel betrayed

Their views are seldom heard as ministers prefer to court radical Islamists

No political movement can hope to win arguments if it turns the best and bravest into its foes. For the most courageous British Muslims, the Labour government and wider liberal society already seem slippery and hypocritical. Soon, they will be irredeemably tainted.

Take Ansar Ullah, a Bengali leftist from the old school. Like many secularists of his generation, his life has been dominated by the struggle against Jamaat-e-Islami. The party’s name is rarely mentioned in our public life, although its supporters in the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Foundation are on the radio almost daily. The Bengali equivalents of British Observer readers know it all too well. They regard Jamaat as we regard the BNP: the sworn and potentially deadly enemy of all their best principles.

To stop the breakaway of its effective colony during the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence, the Pakistani army began by massacring the male students at University of Dhaka and forcing the women to be soldiers’ sex slaves. It targeted intellectuals and political opponents and, inevitably, the Hindu minority. Jamaat was on Pakistan’s side. Journalists at the time, and the researchers from the Bangladeshi War Crimes Fact Finding Committee since, claimed that a militia staffed by Jamaat members murdered 150 academics and journalists, including the BBC’s man in Dhaka, Nizamuddin Ahmed.

The allegation that Jamaat would want to exterminate liberals was hardly far-fetched. Maulana Mawdudi, its founder, has as a great a claim as Sayyid Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood, to be the first to argue for a totalitarian Islamic empire. “The establishment of an ideological Islamic state requires the Earth,” he said. “Not just a portion, but the entire planet.”

Ullah told me with considerable satisfaction how Jamaat had been thrashed in the last Bangladeshi elections. Then he turned to politics in his native Britain and all the pleasure vanished from his voice.

There seems no decent limit to the willingness of the British state to flatter Jamaat. After Prince Charles visited its stronghold at the East London Mosque last year, the Queen was so pleased she featured footage of his tour in her Christmas message. When Lord Phillips, the lord chief justice, declared that in his learned opinion sharia could apply to Muslim women, he made the announcement in the mosque’s conference centre, an understandable choice of venue, since Jamaat is one of the most misogynist organisations in the country.

I might have explained to Ullah that Charles Windsor was the most reactionary member of a reactionary family and that the English judiciary is nowhere near as liberal as the Daily Mail believes, but I could not explain away the behaviour of the Labour government.

On the one hand, Hazel Blears has proved she is not a fairweather feminist or selective anti-fascist. She will argue for freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and gay and women’s rights regardless of her opponents’ colour or creed. On the other, Jack Straw and Gordon Brown engage in serpentine contortions as they attempt to cover all bases and keep potential voters in Labour’s innercity seats happy. In the confusion between the principled position of Blears and the desire of her colleagues and the civil service to appease, the government has created a “tackling violent extremism” strategy that panders to extremists.

Author Ed Husain, who made the journey from Jamaat and Hizb ut-Tahrir to liberalism, tells me that a senior Jamaat supporter is now an adviser on religious policy. In the past, he saw him in the East London Mosque. Now, he sees him in Whitehall. Last week, the Observer ran the story of how Daud Abdullah, a member of the government’s Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, had signed a declaration in Istanbul opposing the ceasefire in Gaza and advocating attacks on Royal Navy ships if they imposed an arms blockade.

On the same day, the Conservative thinktank Policy Exchange issued a report on how the government’s counter-terrorism strategy was backfiring because the state showed no willingness to discriminate between reactionaries and moderates. Many of its examples were familiar – the West Midlands Police and Crown Prosecution Service attacking Channel 4 for exposing a homophobic preacher who preferred theocracy to democracy and the Met making a far-right ideologue an adviser on “countering extremism”, even though he was the subject of an Interpol “red notice” at the time.

The evident dangers to national security and to the interests of British Muslims who want to enjoy the benefits of liberal democracy do not trouble the cynics of the political left. They assume that if they mouth the necessary pieties and scratch the right backs, the votes will pile up in our Tammany Halls.

But disreputable manoeuvres come at a price and Labour does not notice how its tactics repel thoughtful people from the Muslim world. The pioneer in rejecting treacherous friends was Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The death threats from Islamists her espousal of feminism brought earned her nothing but insults from Dutch leftists and English liberals. She ended up working for a conservative institute in Washington because her natural allies would not offer her their protection and support.

Ullah unconsciously picked up on her exasperation when he told me he was a Labour party member who found the behaviour of his government mystifying. “They never want to talk to people like me,” he said. When I asked Shiraz Maher, the co-author of the Policy Exchange report, why he had not offered his work to the leftish Fabians or Institute for Public Policy Research, he guffawed. They would never print what he wrote. For this Muslin liberal, the left was no longer a home but an obstacle.

Ed Husain did not laugh but exploded with anger. “Where is the centre-left movement combating extremism?” he thundered. “Who on the left stands on the side of Muslims who want to support secularism and pluralism? Do they think that fascists only have white skins?”

I had no answer for him, but sensed that his furious questions were a better indicator of the bankrupting of the long period of Labour dominance than any opinion poll.

• Nick Cohen’s essays, Waiting for the Etonians, have just been published by 4th Estate

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5 thoughts on “It’s little wonder liberal Muslims feel betrayed

  1. Brilliant. When I have played on anti-war marches with the ‘anarchist’ samba band Rhythms of Resistance, I have uncomfortable protesting alongside a certain section (extreme right Muslims) of fellow marchers. For many anarchists, the class war/race war is always more important than women’s rights.

  2. >She ended up working for a conservative institute in Washington because her natural allies<
    Well Nick, perhaps they wern’t her ‘Natural Allies’ then!

  3. “Well Nick, perhaps they wern’t her ‘Natural Allies’ then!”

    You’re missing the point. Neo-cons offered protection to Ayaan Hirsi Ali because she was cast out by the Left, by those who should have championed her cause at the first place. The Left and islamic radicalism are not natural allies either, but look how they’ve made a common cause in “anti-imperialism”.

  4. Does the moderate Muslim really exist?

    It is always being said that ‘moderate’ Muslims are against terrorism and extreme Islamism. Are they? If you can ‘understand’ (which means sympathise with) and rationalise (which also means the same) terrorist acts, are you really against such things in any other way than that you yourself, or your friends, wouldn’t actually carry them out? Take the words of Dr. Azzam Tamimi of MAB :

    ‘… and God knows what will happen afterwards [if Britain does not change its foreign policy], our lives will be in real danger and it would seem, so long as we are in Iraq and so long as we are contributing to injustices around the world, we will continue to be in real danger.’

    This is the clear threat, or the threat spoken on behalf of the terrorist, by Tamimi, that if we do not do X, Y and Z, then there will be more of the same. In other words, do X, Y and Z or you will be bombed again. But there are a multitude of aspects of ‘British foreign policy’ that the MAB , and the terrorists, are against, not just the war in Iraq . Thus they are demanding a hell of a lot from the British Government and the British people. The list could, in principle, be endless.

    Dr. Azzam Tammimi also rather cleverly – and deceitfully – keeps on using the collective pronoun ‘we’, as in ‘so long as we are contributing…’, ‘we will continue to be in danger…’ and so on. We know, and he knows, that the MAB is not part of the British ‘we’ in the first place – either the Government or its infidel citizens. Tammimi will simply not see himself, nor will any other Muslim, as responsible for ‘British foreign policy’. How can he, when the MAB spoke out against the war in the first place?

    The little fact that Islamic terrorism began well before the war in Iraq seems to have escaped Tammimi’s consciousness. That doesn’t matter because Islamic bombings, indeed all Islamic outrages against ‘the West’, would themselves have been ‘understandable’ and justifiable responses to its ‘contributions to injustices around the world’. Indeed, ‘colonialists’ are to blame for everything that has gone wrong in the Arab world and indeed in many other Islamic countries. Thus pulling out of Iraq will hardly do the trick of stopping the terrorist. There will be more bombs and then there will be more rationalisations and justifications from the MAB . Not only that, but Islamists don’t actually need ‘injustices’ of any kind to bomb the West anyway. All that most of them need is a Koran which tells them to kill the kafir or infidel regardless of his ‘crimes’ and his ‘injustices’. Tammimi’s deceit is thus all the more nauseating. And to think that he is seen as a moderate Muslim by the Government, the Guardian and all the other Islamophiles and apologists.

    Tammimi is not only ‘moderate’ spokesman for the terrorists. What about Shahid Butt, the marketing manager of the Muslim Weekly? He simply reinforces Tammimi’s position:

    ‘At the end of the day, these things are going to happen if current British foreign policy continues. There’s a lot of rage, there’s a lot of anger in the Muslim community.’ (135)

    As I said earlier, it is not just Iraq (or Afghanistan ) that is the problem for Muslims. It never was and it certainly won’t be in the future. What other gripes do Muslims have? –

    ‘I believe if Tony Blair and George Bush left Iraq and [my italics] stopped propping up dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world, the threat rate would come down to zero.’ (135/6)

    So first it was Iraq . Then it was the ‘propping up of dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world’. And then what? Surely it won’t stop there. Of course it won’t. More importantly, these foreign grievances, as it were, will soon become domestic. Actually, that is already the case. Firstly, Tammimi and the rest justified, rationalised and sympathised with the bombers because of brutish Western foreign policy. The next step will be that they will justify and rationalise bombings on home soil which will also be seen as the ‘justifiable responses’ to, say, not providing halal meat, or allowing more Muslim schools, or not allowing sharia law in parts of Bradford. And so on. And it will be the MAB , again, that will be rationalising and justifying these future outrages on home soil because, in the end, to the MAB , Britain is not home. It is the soil of secularists and infidels. In fact, it is the abode of war – Dar al-Harb (Arabic: دار الحرب)

    There are many other moderate Muslims who justify, rationalise and sympathise with terrorism and terrorist acts:

    ‘The Muslim community in Britain has unequivocally denounced acts of terrorism. However [my italics], the right of people anywhere in the world to resist invasion and occupation is legitimate.’ (136)

    Straight away, that passage reminds me of a well-known joke (or cliché). This one:

    ‘ I’m not a racist, but…’

    In this case, because racism is such a crime and outrage, even the racist feels a little guilty about his racism. Or at least he needs to watch his words. Thus it is mandatory for everyone, even a racist, to say, ‘I am not a racist’, in order to get on in life. But this man is a racist. We know it. He knows it. Now exactly the same is true of the moderate Muslim’s –

    ‘I am against terrorism, but…’

    As with the racist, because the support of terrorism is such a crime and outrage, the moderate Muslim feels a little guilty about such support. Or at least he needs to watch his words, just like the racist. Thus it is mandatory for the moderate Muslim to say, ‘I am against Islamic terrorism’, in order to get on in life. But this Muslim does support Islamic terrorism. He knows it. We know it. However, he needs to play the game with the infidel. And the infidel (if only some of them) has to play this game with the moderate Muslim.

    Hizb ut-Tahrir does not reject terrorism in any way. So it will be no surprise that the moderates above also reject the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir – which explicitly sanctions Islamic terrorism. As you can guess, this has nothing to do with the moderate Muslim’s support of free speech – even when it comes to a ‘party’ that explicitly condones terrorism. No. These moderate Muslims find it very difficult to say anything bad against Hizb ut-Tahrir (at least to the infidel). It is the case, after all, that not even Hizb ut-Tahrir is seen as extremist according to these moderate Muslims. This means that if the extreme group Hizb ut-Tahrir are not seen as extreme by these moderate Muslims, then in what sense are they moderate Muslims at all?

    Now let the MAB actually speak out in defence of Hizb ut-Tahrir:

    ‘If the government hopes to pander to Zionist pressure by condemning and excluding from this country people [Hizb ut-Tahrir] who are critical of Israeli apartheid, it is in fact supporting apartheid.’ (136)

    – Joint Statement from Muslim groups, 16th August, 2005

  5. semua orang di halaman ini muinkgn tidak mengenal islam lebih dalam, hanya mengenal islam sebagai teroris. let me tell you guys, Osama bin laden sebenarnya bukan muslim 100%, dia lebih …

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