Recent Religion Articles
by Suhayl Saadi
In ‘Lifting the Veil…’ (The Guardian, 21.9.13), it is admirable that Zoe Williams lets (a selected cohort of) Muslim women have their voice. It is obvious, as Williams may be suggesting, that the obsession of the political and media classes in the UK and USA with every nuance of ‘Muslims’ serves as both distraction from systemic economic criminality and a perennial divide-and-rule tactic.
Sadly and typically, though, the article errs by omission and plays into the hands of three Far Rights – the White Supremacist Far Right exemplified by the EDL et al, the Islamist Supremacist Far Right generated by Saudi Arabia and its allies and the fundamentalist capitalist Far Right represented by most of our ruling political class. The comparison drawn by Williams between women who adopt these various Douglas Fairbanks Junior coutures and the urban youth subculture of ‘Goths’ therefore is utterly inappropriate.
Can we not see what has happened since the early 1980s? The goalposts keep changing, so that Williams allows (for want of a better term) ‘women who sport hijabs’ to pose as some kind of normative middle ground. This is exactly what has happened in the UK state’s dealings with ‘subaltern’ groups domestically and it is a reflection of the specific architectures of control deployed during the days of the British Empire.
It is no accident that this process has mirrored the systemic shift to the Right in terms of the overall economic discourse. It is due, in part, to a political disconnection between feminism, anti-racism and economic critique.
And so, conveniently, by default, the public discourse in this country continues to be modulated between the three Right-wing, oppressive poles – fundamentalist capitalism, white supremacism and religious supremacism – while nice white liberals (some of whom are my best friends) flounder.
Saudi Arabia is the worst thing that has happened to Muslim societies since the Black Death.
For 40 years, billions of petrodollars have furthered the Saudi imperial project, which subsists in a structural coalition between the Al Saud family and the Sunni theocracy of the Arabian peninsula. Originally, this was, of course, in large part a creation of the British Empire.
What we see in Muslim societies globally emphatically is not a reflection of a need to keep “a connection with [our] conservative culture”. Islamism is not a conservative ideology; there is nothing ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ about it; it is a revolutionary, post-modern totalitarian ideology.
Perhaps, for a change, we would do well to ask the Left in Muslim countries what they think of Islamism? The Left in Muslim countries is under no illusions, does not mince its words or actions and regularly gets murdered by (in some places, state-sponsored) Islamist paramilitary death squads whose modus operandum most closely resembles that of the Contras in Central America. Now we see what is happening in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Libya and even Turkey.
This is not about consumer ‘choice’; we are not talking here about brands of tiles or toilet rolls. It is about Saudi imperialism and social control and the strategic alliance, baptised, presumably in oil, geostrategic advantage and kickbacks, between that entity and our ruling elites in the UK and USA.
The sooner guilty white liberals and the visible ‘Left’ in Britain begin focusing on all of that, with no holds barred, the better.
by Ben Six
The Islamic Sharia Council is the biggest Sharia body operating in Britain. The officialdom includes Maulana Abu Sayeed, Suhaib Hasan and Haitham al-Haddad. Sayeed, its President, was charged with involvement in war crimes in his homeland of Bangladesh, and has said that rape is “impossible” within marriages.
Hasan, its Secretary, was recorded by Undercover Mosque preaching that “the Khilaafah” will have “political dominance”; establish “the chopping of the hands of the thieves, the flogging of the adulterers and flogging of the drunkards” and wage “jihad against the non-Muslims”.
Haitham Al-Haddad, who represents the Council in the media, is a regular target of my blog. He is a sincere fellow and tends to be frank in expressing his principles. These are almost as obnoxious as principles can be but it is good to know where stands. It is what helps us to know that to have a man who endorses genital mutilation, tells parents to marry their daughters off while they are young, orders women to obey their husbands and tells people not to question men who beat their wives preside over familial affairs is dangerous and obscene.
Such beliefs can be reflected in the workings of the courts. I will take a moment to say that I have no grievance with anyone making the point that divorce, especially between people who have children, is a grave step that should be preceded with seriousness. What is vile about Suhaib Hasan, for one, is that he treats marital abuse with no such seriousness.
Panorama sent an undercover journalist to him, bearing a secret camera and a tale of regular, painful beatings from her husband. Hasan granted that she should go to the police as a last resort but told her that she should first ask him if she could appease him with her behaviour. To suggest that abuse might be a level response to, say, bad cooking is offensive in its silliness. To suggest that it is the victim’s duty to change her ways is obscene.
The Guardian plonked a camera down in his office two years ago. “He has hit me in the past,” it filmed a woman saying, “He hit me once”. “Only once?” Hasan replied with an obnoxious chuckle. “So it’s not a very serious matter”. How many women have been talked into staying with their husbands and endured further suffering?
Charlotte Proudman, a barrister blogging for the Independent, has explained how the courts are weighed against women.
If a husband seeks to divorce his wife, for example, he has to pay two hundred pounds. If a wife seeks to divorce her husband, she has to pay four hundred pounds. These women are not liable to have a great deal of spare cash. A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. An article on the website of the Islamic Sharia Council, which also endorsed capital punishment for adulterers almost in passing, said this is because “women…are governed by their emotions” while “man is governed by his mind”.
These courts have been overlooked because, well – they are filled with eccentric religionists doing things among themselves. This is idle. Women are being manipulated into endangering themselves, on the basis of ideas that most of them will have been raised to accept without question. Panorama alleged that kids have been ordered to be given up to violent husbands.
It is time we made it harder for them to indulge their fantasies.
What does it mean to be so alienated from civil society that none of the democratic structures available offer an outlet to articulate your anger and frustration? This is explored in Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening by Maajid Nawaz, published in 2012.
It’s worth exploring this question now given the recent killing in Woolwich and the rise in prominence of the English Defence League. The idea that ‘home-grown’ men who have functional lives in the UK and, like the 7/7 bombers, reject the dominant ideology so vociferously that they turn to violent extremism worries many commentators.
Maajid Nawaz was born and raised in Essex. To an outside observer he may have seemed relatively integrated: he enjoyed popular culture, had girlfriends, went to college and had friends. But this only tells part of the story. Growing up he was subjected to systematic racial abuse and learnt to fend for himself and others. The sense of being an outsider and the subsequent feelings of displacement had begun early.
The alienation that Nawaz experiences are a driving force for him becoming radicalised, not dissimilar to the reasons people join far rights groups. In both instances, they feel the only viable option available to them is to join organisations that give them a sense of identity and purpose. The demonisation of the ‘other’ provides an outlet for their anger and frustration.
Maajid Nawaz was politicised at university, being recruited into Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Liberation Party). Using his charisma and rhetoric to recruit other students, he was seen as an early leader. There is a particularly brutal scene when an African student is stabbed to death by another young man who has become radicalised. The fact that Nawaaz and others are able to stay affiliated to such groups illustrates the level and intensity of the indoctrination.
While studying for his Arabic and law degree, he travelled around the UK and to Denmark and Pakistan. He used this as a ploy to set up new cells to recruit other men to the cause and spread an ideology of Islamic extremism. He is later arrested, imprisoned and tortured, and then put in solitary confinement in a Cairo jail reserved for political prisoners.
By the end of this journey he publicly renounces fundamentalist Islamist ideology. He later went on to establish the Quilliam Foundation with Ed Hussain.
Tony Blair has called this a “book for our times”, which “should be read by anyone who wants to understand how the extremism that stalks our world is created and how it can be overcome”. The Labour government was to strongly back the Quilliam Foundation. This explains much of why Nawaz is demonised by some sections of the Muslim community. To be praised by a Prime Minister whose foreign policy has stoked much of the animosity British Muslims may feel, does not lend the author with much credibility within some sections of the Muslim community (and beyond).
However, if Radical provides us with one useful message, it is that it gives us a narrative to understand how important it is to address the alienation that young men (in particular) are experiencing. Without actions to address this, they are more susceptible to join groups which give them a sense of purpose and identity.
But to treat this distinct from other forms of extremism takes away a valuable opportunity for an accurate analysis of the causes of these criminal acts. It also fetishizes Muslim extremists unhelpfully and lends itself to further stigmatising Muslims within the media. This is often followed by a rise of Islamaphobic hate crime which feeds into greater levels of alienation by those being victimised. And so the cycle goes on.
The current mood is that of sombre reflection, calls to ‘carry on as normal’, anger at the killers themselves and a broad understanding that all Muslims should not be blamed for what happened on Wednesday.
This consensus won’t last long. Within a week, maybe even less than that, it will start to break down.
1) ‘Carry on as normal’
The likelihood of this happening is perhaps at zero. There have already been calls by John Reid (and encouraged by Jack Straw yesterday) to revive the Snooper’s Charter. Of course, Reid is the security industry salesman in the House of Lords so his calls is predictable, but what of the Parliamentary Labour Party? This is the time Ed Miliband should flash his pro-civil-liberties credentials, but I suspect he will be thwarted once again by Yvette Cooper’s department.
The Lib Dems may hold their nerve but it’s very likely Theresa May will revive the Snooper’s Charter and claim events like Woolwich justify it.
2) ‘All Muslims are not to blame’
By the weekend and almost certainly by next week, we’ll see a revival of editorials (led by Melanie Phillips) asking a variation of Why Do British Muslims Hate Us? We might even go back to 2005 territory when these sorts of editorials were at their peak. The English Defence League and their demonstrations this weekend will certainly keep the topic in the public eye.
There is a lot of money to be made by sensationalising and blaming all Muslims – and a lot of press commentators will certainly try. Some politicians too will be unable to resist this temptation. It won’t start immediately but will last the longest.
3) ‘Carry on as normal’ – Part 2
It’s been constantly repeated in the press today that the authorities knew of the Woolwich Butcher before Wednesday. Why should this come as a surprise?
I would hope they are tracking ALL the men when attend Anjem Choudhary’s rallies. The question is whether these men should be arrested before they commit a crime, and the answer is clearly no.
I’ve warned before that Al-Muhajiroun were a dangerous group and supported proscribing them, but I don’t believe the authorities should arrest people who haven’t committed any crimes. Neverthless, I expect the government and the press to push for a crackdown on protests anyway.
4) ‘All Muslims are not to blame’ – Part 2
The political implications are harder to ascertain. The English Defence League will gain popularity and will no doubt use this to ramp up their demonstrations.
As UKIP have recently moved away from focusing on Islamist extremism to the EU and immigration, they won’t immediately benefit from any backlash to Muslims. But I suspect UKIP are having discussions now on what outrageous things they could say to take the limelight and start a bandwagon. It’s in their nature. The question then is whether the Conservatives will follow or condemn them for being outrageous.
Obviously I don’t approve of any of this. But I can see it happening in the coming weeks. This is merely the calm before the coming storm.
Given the debate in the House of Commons, I think it’s well worth reflecting on exactly where opposition to equal marriage is coming from and, particularly, how that opposition is being organised.
As far as public opinion is concerned, YouGov President Peter Kellner laid out the actual position with admirable clarity yesterday:
The passions of grass-roots Tories who are bitterly opposed to same-sex marriage are not shared by the wider electorate. Most voters back a change in the law – and very few opponents are willing to switch their votes because of this issue.
So, among the public as a whole, 4% are pro-same-sex marriage AND say this is a vote-deciding issue, while 3% are in the opposite camp. Among those who voted Conservative in 2010, just 6% say this is a vote-deciding issue, and they divide 3-1 against same-sex marriage. So even there, the net effect is tiny.
So, not only do a majority of the public support marriage equality but its also anything but the political hot potato that its (mostly) Tory opponents are trying to make out.
However, one issue not many pick up on is the parallel problem of ‘organisational capture’, i.e. what us lefties used to refer to as ‘entryism‘.
In simple terms, it is not simply a matter of the decline in the mass membership of political parties, and other organisations, leaving them increasingly at the mercy of their residual ‘swivel-eyed’ activist rump. It also leaves them in a position where, starting at the grassroots level, they become increasingly susceptible to capture by organised minority interest groups intent on using the party/organisation as a vehicle to push their own narrow agenda.
Although this is problem that is, historically, most closely associated with the political left, and in the UK particular with the takeover of the Labour Party Young Socialists and Liverpool City Council by Militant, it is an issue that is increasingly coming to bedevil conservative politics, particularly in the United States. For example, one of the more alarming and poignant stories to emerge from the 2010 US election was that of Bob Inglis, a former Republican member of the US House of Representatives who was deselected in 2010 after losing a primary to Tea Party-backed candidate.
You might think this can safely be filed away under ‘only in America’, but don’t be so sure.
Take a good hard look at the following chart which I’ve put together in an attempt to map the many connections that already exist between our own right-wing Christian lobby and both their US counterparts and, more importantly, with a wide range of British conservative political organisations and politicians.
The map, which is far from complete, shows the extent to which our own religious lobby has already forged connections and assumed positions of influence throughout the right-wing/conservative movement in Britain.
It also shows the extent to which political opposition to measures such as equal marriage and legal access to safe abortion services originates with and is tied into a very narrow range of closely connected religious groups.
If you think that the religious right in Britain is no more than a bunch of fringe evangelical groups with few connections and very little political influence, this chart may well persuade you to think again.
A longer version of this post is here.
Earlier this week the Jewish Chronicle Editor Stephen Pollard appeared on the Today Programme to criticise the publication of the cartoon in the Sunday Times.
To be clear, I accept that many Jews found the Sunday Times cartoon offensive even if some pointed out it couldn’t be anti-semitic.
But what annoys me are the double-standards.
Here is what Stephen Pollard said on the Today programme:
Oh yes, you have to separate out the difference between the right to publish something, whether there’s a right to be offensive, and whether that means you always have to be offensive, and I don’t think you do.
I think this is an absolute model of how you deal with such a situation. Clearly, there was a mistake made. We’re all human – cartoonists are human, journalists are human, editors are human… The mistake was printing the cartoon. Whether it was Gerald Scarfe’s in drawing it. Whether it was the Sunday Times in printing it. Whatever. It was a mistake.
Clearly he thinks that if some people find such cartoons offensive they shouldn’t be published. He even said the date was immaterial – it shouldn’t have been published at all.
But they are certainly offensive to a large number of Muslims, as this week’s turmoil shows. But so what? Rather more offensive, one might think, than some mocking cartoons is some Muslims’ desire to murder me as a Jew.
Indeed, in some ways the cartoons were designed as a deliberate challenge. A biographer of Mohammed had lamented the fact that artists were too intimidated to illustrate his book, and the newspaper called for cartoonists who would be willing to have their pictures published. Offensive and unfunny though they might be, they none the less raise legitimate points about the beliefs and behaviour of some Muslims. Is there, for instance, any non-Muslim who does not find the notion of the 76 virgins who await suicide bombers to be both horrifying and amusing?
If free speech means anything, it surely includes the ability to question, and to mock, the belief that Mohammed rewards jihadists, just as it must also include the freedom to stage Jerry Springer – The Opera and the play Dishonour at the Birmingham Rep, against which Sikhs protested last year.
When Muslims find something offensive, Stephen Pollard thinks they raise “legitimate points” about Muslim beliefs. So what if they find it offensive? he asks, it is about free speech right?
But the last paragraph clinches it:
Such is the nature of the fight to defend Western values – half-hearted and supine. The right of a newspaper to publish unfunny cartoons about Mohammed, Jesus or any other religious figure is not a distraction in the defence of freedom from terror. It goes to the very heart of what must be defended.
Ahhh, I get it.
When we are publishing offensive cartoons about Muslims then we are defending Western values, but when we are publishing “grotesque” cartoons about certain Jewish politicians, then a line has been crossed.
The hypocrisy is simply breath-taking.
This letter sent to ThisisLeicestershire.co.uk was brought to our attention by a reader.
It’s a nice read and worth highlighting, we thought.
(An open letter to the community of the Masjid Umar mosque in Evington Road, Leicester).
I want to thank your community for the most amazing selfless act that happened on Friday night – it has truly moved me and has changed my attitude and I am feeling very humble today. Let me explain why.
Along with most of Leicester, I was crawling home at a snail’s pace and was facing the long hill of Evington Road. What I saw in front of me was truly wonderful.
There were many Muslim men, wrapped up and facing icy winds and freezing temperatures, stopping the traffic to guide cars out of side roads, to make sure the traffic flowed and pushing the more modern computerised cars up the hill.
They were putting themselves in front of heavy vehicles that could have slid and crushed them – still they carried on.
I knew my old car would make it – no computer to tell it not to.
I chugged up the hill, but also saw your men pushing the less able and the whole event really opened both my eyes and my heart.
It didn’t matter who was in these cars – black, white, any creed and any colour, all were assisted, without any prejudice.
At 52, I have grown up with prejudice in my heart.
My cousin was blown up in a market in Afghanistan, serving his Queen and country, so my prejudice was strengthened even further.
A bit of snow and community spirit has changed my outlook on many things. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Annie Ward-Pearson, Leicester.
This is how you change hearts and minds.
A growing number of East London citizens are being harassed by a (likely very small) group of religious fanatics calling themselves ‘The Muslim Patrol’.
The men video themselves confronting people on the streets and ask them to throw away alcohol or tell women to cover up. In one video (below) they harass and abuse a man by calling him a “bloody fag” and tell him to leave from what they say is a ‘Muslim area’.
The disgusting tactics are straight out of the play-book of the now banned group al-Muhajiroun, who also occasionally surface as ‘Muslims Against Crusaders’ and have been known to burn poppies on Remembrance Day, hold pickets against British soldiers returning from abroad and demonstrate in front of the US embassy.
The group is also shunned from almost all British Mosques.
East London Mosque released a statement last week condemning the men:
Individuals claiming to be self-styled ‘Muslim patrols’ have been harassing members of the public on the streets of east London late at night, including outside our mosque after it has closed. They have anonymously uploaded their exploits to the internet.
These actions are utterly unacceptable and clearly designed to stoke tensions and sow discord. We wholly condemn them. The East London Mosque is committed to building co-operation and harmony between all communities in this borough. The actions of this tiny minority have no place in our faith nor on our streets.
The Mosque says they’ve also got in touch with the police to report incidents.
For many activists the videos are reminiscent of a campaign last year by a group of men (very likely the same) who kept putting up homophobic stickers around East London. That campaign came to an abrupt end when 18 year old youth was arrested and found guilty.
Videos uploaded by the ‘Muslim Patrol’
Following the tragic death last week of the digital activist Aaron Swartz, here’s an interesting post by a US theologian and priest, A K M Adam:
when a force of digital nature (as it were) falls silent, stills, stops, one might anticipate at least a murmur of theological deliberation about what’s at stake, how we cane to this pass, how churches might take a deep breath and rethink their relation to copyright and the commons, to digital technology and the increasing centralisation of digital power
We found out yesterday that the government’s law on same-sex marriage will not apply to the Church of England. It will continue to be illegal for these churches to marry same-sex couples.
But how long will this remain illegal? Why should CoE churches who want to offer same-sex marriage services not be allowed to?
So the question is: will the Labour party commit to changing this exemption once in power?
In his endorsement of SSM, Ed Miliband earlier said:
We will be pushing the government to get on with the process for legislating for equal marriage, and we’ll also be saying to them, where faith groups want to provide that opportunity for gay couples as well as straight couples, they should be able to do so.
Yesterday evening Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary & Minister for Women & Equalities, Yvette Cooper MP, sent out a more pointed statement:
Why is the Government now rowing backwards on equal marriage? Having said that churches would be able to hold same sex marriages if they wanted to, they now say it will be illegal for the Church of England to do so even if it wants to in future. How can that be freedom of religion?
The Government is right to say that no church should be required to hold same sex marriages. But freedom of religion goes both ways. Churches that want to show they treat all loving couples equally should be able to do so.
Although the Church of England has said it does not support same sex marriage right now I hope it will change its position in time. But Parliament should not make it harder for them to do so by ruling that out.
This seems to me quite pointed opposition from Labour to the Church of England’s special exemption.
Indeed, the Archbishop of Wales has condemned the government’s plan to explicitly ban the Church in Wales from performing gay marriages.
Would Labour commit to over-turning this ban?
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