by Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation
Breaking news! Quilliam dispatched a paper to ministers advising them that the ideology of Islamism is not the same as Islam the diverse faith. Rather, Islamism is the politicisation of Islam.
And finally, that though non-violent Islamists have a legal right to exist, they should not be endorsed or facilitated by Government. We then proceeded to identify those groups most influenced by the ideology of Islamism.
You may be thinking…hold on, is that not what Quilliam has been consistently advising since its inception through both the Labour and coalition Governments? So what’s new?
The mere repetition of our stance in the form of a briefing paper for the new coalition Government was enough for certain regressive commentators to shout ‘McCarthyism’! By ‘Regressive’ I mean some who claim allegiance to the left yet fail to apply their anti-fascist principles when confronted with brown-skinned fascists, seeing them as alienated minorities and therefore choosing to ally with them.
Indeed, yesterday’s sensationalised Guardian article by Vikram Dodd was, as Andrew Gilligan so rightly observed, nothing short of an “Islamist press release”. By writing such a one-sided propaganda piece in favour of Islamist bigots Dodd firmly established himself as a regressive, and by no means a progressive leftist. And I say Islamist bigots because as Dodd’s colleague Brian Whitaker admits “the underlying problem” even with non-violent Islamism is that it is essentially an “anti-libertarian” ideology.
After listening to some of our critics, Quilliam had kept this paper out of the public limelight to avoid sensationalism. It seems, however, that a disgruntled civil servant decided to leak the hard copy we sent to the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) online, where it has now been read over 10,000 times.
Dodd’s write-up focused entirely on a three and a half page appendix to the briefing, ignoring the 57 pages of detailed and nuanced recommendations that preceded it.
Contrary to the Guardian’s misleading headline, the briefing was sent to all concerned ministers, special advisors and senior civil servants, not just to the “terror chief”. Again contrary to Dodd’s take, we argued in favour of restricting rather than expanding the Government’s counter-terrorism brief to only one department, namely the OSCT. The main thrust of our briefing was that rather than approaching all of Britain’s diverse Muslim communities through the prism of counter-terrorism, the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) should be liberated from the terrorism brief to focus more on promoting national cohesion by challenging non-violent extremisms.
For example, in our briefing we criticised attempts to tackle extremism at universities that were crudely directed at institutions that merely happened to be located in areas that had a large local Muslim population. Instead we advised that only where totalitarian views appeared, represented in this case by the spread of Islamism, should there be serious concern for either of the two departments and their respective roles.
In our briefing, we warned that certain non-violent Islamist groups try to present themselves as part of the mainstream. These groups want to monopolise and stifle discourse, denying a voice to other Muslims who disagree with their politicised interpretation of Islam. We advised ministers that, rather than repeating the mistakes of the past and continuing to engage with these Islamist groups regardless of their intolerant and anti-democratic views, they should engage with a wider range of Muslim voices. Contrary to Brian Whitaker’s misreading, we explicitly advised Government not to get involved in theology but simply to endorse any group that is willing to challenge Islamism and promote Britain’s shared secular democratic values, regardless of which sect it belonged to.
Our briefing then gave a clear definition of Islamism as an ideology, distinguishing it from the diversity of Islam the faith, and outlined Islamism’s inherent totalitarianism. We said that Islamists all broadly agree on certain goals (for example, that an interpretation of shari’ah should be enforced as state law) but that they disagree on how those goals should be achieved. We explained that only groups espousing the militant strand of Islamism – the ideology of al-Qaeda – should be banned. Other groups should face a civic, not legal challenge.
Of course, non-violent Islamist groups have a right to exist in the same way as the non-violent BNP. However, just as we would not expect Government to fund or endorse far right groups opposed to equal rights for all, the same should apply to Islamists.
For example, the East London Mosque has a leadership that is closely linked to the South Asian Islamist political party, Jamaat-e-Islami. Despite this it has repeatedly been treated by prominent figures – including Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson and even Prince Charles – as though it represents mainstream Muslims in the UK. Jamaat-e-Islami was founded by Abu Ala Mawdudi, who taught his followers:
It must now be obvious that the objective of the Islamic jihad is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system, and establish in its place an Islamic system of state rule. Islam does not intend to confirm this rule to a single state or to a handful of countries. The aim of Islam is to bring about a universal revolution. Although in the initial stages, it is incumbent upon members of the party of Islam to carry out a revolution in the state system of the countries to which they belong; their ultimate objective is none other than a world revolution.”
(Jihad in Islam by A A Mawdudi, chapter 3, p10)
It would be almost poetic if Dodd and other Regressive-leftists should argue for nuance be found in such categorical statements made by Mawdudi, yet a Quilliam briefing paper can be so grossly generalised as being “McCarthyite” with the focus being on an appendix and not on the actual recommendations made. It remains unclear how it is ‘McCarthyite’ to call for the government to cease empowering Islamist groups that promote intolerance, reject democracy, and wish for – as Azad Ali, chair of the ‘Muslim Safety Forum’ and British civil servant, said in 2008 – ‘the resurgence of the Khilafah [caliphate]‘. Would it also be ‘McCarthyite’ to discourage the government from engaging with and empowering homophobes or racists?
Dodd’s generalisations of our report as ‘McCarthyite’ are made even worse by their omission of our consistent stance in support of civil liberties and human rights, even when it concerns Islamists and other extremists. For example, during parliamentary questions the last Prime Minister cited our views as one reason why Hizb ut-Tahrir in the UK should not be banned. We wrote against extending the remit of the terror laws. I personally appeared on Newsnight to oppose ethnic or religious profiling in airports. Again on Newsnight, we even opposed Keith Vaz – quoted in Dodd’s piece as being critical of our briefing – when he supported preventing a non-violent extremist (in that case, Geert Wilders) from entering the UK. We have spoken on numerous occasions against the use of torture and arbitrary detention.
Despite all of the above, for Dodd and the regressive-left the mere fact that we call upon civil society and Government to treat Muslim extremists with the same disdain that non-Muslim extremists are shown is somehow McCarthyite. By arriving at such lazy and ideologically driven conclusions, Dodd and the regressive-left only undermine the noble cause of social justice and liberty.
By constantly shouting Islamophobia or “McCarthyism” at people trying to defend democratic values by promoting a civic challenge against extremism, the Regressives only serve to fuel the propaganda of both the far-right in their claim that Muslims are above scrutiny, and the Islamists who seek to use such cries as cover for their bigoted views. The progressive-left should be weary of such ‘boy cried wolf’ tactics, for eventually it is their flock that will be devoured by fascist wolves invited in by regressive pandering in the name of ‘fighting oppression’.
This is our response since The Guardian declined to publish this on their website.
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Filed in: Islamists,Religion,Terrorism