Wasif Abu Yusuf
“Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least.” – Robert Byrne
In the run up to the 2010 elections, political discourse in the Muslim community revolved around the rise of Nick Griffin’s BNP. Carrying a renewed sense of obligation to vote for the mainstream parties, pro-voting Muslims urged the community to fight fascist elements through the ballot box. Five years later, as the curtains draw to a close in the current campaign, an identical argument prevails albeit with a new foe, Nigel Farage’s UKIP.
However, as mainstream parties have successfully remained in power since 2010, a basic review of this strategy paints a different picture; the challenges and obstacles confronting Muslims have only grown. Could it be said then, that despite the growth of fringe parties, the deteriorating situation and climate of hate can only be attributed to mainstream policy? Is Labour’s recent proposal to criminalise Islamophobia a plea to the same people who lit the fire in the first place?
Anti-Islam: Mainstream Policy
“People react to fear, not love. They don’t teach that at Sunday school, but it’s true.” – Richard Nixon
Even a cursory analysis of the growing anti-Islamic environment points to the British population being manipulated first and foremost by the traditional mainstream parties, followed closely by mainstream media. The relentless use of loaded language associating Islamic practices with fearful narratives has created a fertile environment which has radicalised the wider society towards Muslims.
The storm around the niqab and the media circus that followed grooming gangs were initiated by Jack Straw’s comments. The public commentator Melanie Philips warned against the “Islamification” of Britain. David Cameron felt the sudden urge to remind everyone that Britain is a ‘Christian country’. Michael Gove presented himself as a stalwart against an alleged “Trojan horse” Islamic schools takeover plot backed by the Labour MP Khalid Mehmood, with the BBC being the first media outlet to break the story. Despite a recent MPs enquiry concluding that the Trojan Horse affair was baseless, it did not stop Home Secretary Theresa May from shamelessly exploiting it to justify anti-Islam measures in her March 2015 speech on extremism.
Following the murder of Lee Rigby, mainstream politicians clambered over themselves to call on Muslims to root out a problem that they claimed had grown out of mosques and maddrasas.
Islamic Values Under the Spotlight
But it didn’t just stop there. Normative Islamic beliefs and practices have also been under attack. Jim Fitzpatrick the Labour MP was the first to complain about segregated seating at a Muslim wedding he was invited to. He and his wife later stormed out making his views very clear to the wider mainstream press. Later when the Universities UK (UUK) issued a recommendation to accommodate voluntary segregated seating at Islamic society events, David Cameron waded into the debate stating it should not be allowed. This forced the UUK to rethink its guidelines.
Terrorism and Islam became interchangeable in Tony Blair’s speeches, with his then Home Secretary Charles Clark reinforcing the idea that mainstream Islamic ideas of Shariah, Ummah and Khilafah were the precursors to terrorist attacks back in 2005. The Con-Dem government confirmed this view through the publication of the report in the wake of Lee Rigby’s death, “Tackling Radicalisation in UK” December 2013 report.
A year later, on the back of this report, we find that the CTS Bill enjoyed cross-party support. This means that the toxic Prevent policy is now a statutory requirement for all public bodies to implement; a draconian piece of legislation that criminalises Islamic thought and Muslim values. Furthermore, Theresa May’s March 2015 speech called for measures which criticises shari’ah arbitration, placing control orders on Islamic speakers who the government deem extremists. Even the Liberal Democrats found common ground with May as they prevented Islamic speaker Zakir Naik from entering the country.
Attributing the problems Muslims face to specific parties or individuals like Theresa May is to miss the point. It was Labour’s Home Secretary Yvette Cooper who said that she hoped May and other ministers had recognised that replacing infamous control orders with Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (Tpims) was a mistake!
Muslim MPs: Part of the Problem?
How did ‘Muslim’ MPs respond? Rather than confronting this, Labour shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said plans to ban radical Islamists from working unsupervised with children made “perfect sense”. The Zionist MP Khalid Mehmood among others openly supported the farcical Trojan Horse campaign. Following the party whip many Muslim MPs have backed anti-terror legislation. Alarmingly, backing is given while the definition of “extremist”, “radical” and other politicised arbitrary terms are so broad, that they in fact encompass all mainstream Muslims. Nonetheless, campaigners plea that if Muslims don’t vote for the same parties who have developed the anti-Islamic climate, then the right-wing Islamophobes will get into power!
The politics of fear banks on presenting Muslims with an alleged threat to their well-being, hoping it will elicit a powerful emotional response that can override reason and prevent a critical assessment of government policies, particularly foreign policy. The united stance by all parties against Islam is not coincidental but part of a wider ideological attack that transcends party allegiances due to the shared beliefs; those of secular liberal capitalism. These very values form the basis of an aggressive foreign policy that’s then prosecuted in the Muslim world under the euphemism ‘British national interests’.
Despite this, it has been demonstrated that even when Muslims in Tower Hamlets and other Muslim groups have tried to engage within the system they have been treated suspiciously as ‘entryists’ or a Fifth Column simply because they held a different belief and narrative to the Establishment.
What Should We Do?
Bearing this in mind, Muslims must consider a fresh approach towards tackling the rise of Islamophobia; to vote and continue to have faith in the mainstream system is to simply feed the problem. It is essential that Muslims develop a grassroots alternative to the capitalist run political system, exhausting all halal avenues to counter the government narrative with the pure Islamic concepts.
Muslims must take a strategy that safeguards and preserves Islamic values which are constantly under attack from all conventional parties; left and right. This must be done to ensure that the next generation of Muslims are protected. They should counteract the anti-Islamic environment by undermining the moral and intellectual justification for these oppressive policies as well as engaging with the wider community to dispel the propaganda pushed by the mainstream politicians and media. This cannot be done while engaging in a system that is inherently antagonistic towards Islamic interests and values, a system that is premised on a philosophy which is diametrically opposed to Islamic beliefs.
Challenging the anti-Islamic environment requires direct engagement from the Muslim community with the wider society:
- Creating a wedge between the ideologically driven central government and encourage local inaction for Prevent.We should open dialogue with local authorities and those implementing it. Chairman of the Executive Committee of Hizb-ut Tahrir Britain Abdul Wahid has communicated with a variety of teacher’s unions as well as the British Medical Council. This had a positive effect as various teacher’s unions have stated that it is not practical to implement Prevent in the classrooms nor the vague definition of “British values”. He is currently addressing the LSE Law department over the recent legislation requiring public authorities everywhere to guard against extremism and to report extremists to authorities. He will be arguing that this is an unjust policy that will stifle Muslims right to express normative Islam.On local levels, consultative documents should be developed by Muslims to express a unified stance against its application in our communities.
- Developing alternative media that can challenge the dominant Islamophobic narrative.The Muslim community have developed various online news media as well as Islamic channels that have the opportunity to challenge mainstream narratives against Islam and Muslims. These alternative media outlets give the opportunity to create a Muslim voice to current events.
- Developing activism over social media that can challenge those particular press who peddle lies and islamophobia.There are examples of Muslims who have successfully raised awareness around issues that concern them such as the Chapel Hill Shooting. The murder of three innocent Muslims were largely ignored by politicians and media even though it was alleged the murder was motivated by anti Muslim hatred, yet using the hashtag #muslimlivesmatter and #chapelhillshooting it was brought to the worlds attention. Cathy Newman, journalist for Channel 4, was forced to issue an apology and removed herself from Twitter after she misrepresented the events during her visit to a mosque. Again it was social media activists who criticised her account of events and presented the cctv footage of the incident.
- Engaging with academics and journalists.
It is important to engage with ‘opinion formers’ of society to help them appreciate Islam and Muslims and not simply adopt simplistic narratives. In the past, New Civilisation magazine was used for this approach and engaged many non-Muslim politicians, academics and thinkers. Discussions centred on complexities of the Muslim world, nature of Islam, challenges facing Muslims in the West as well as critiquing secular capitalism.
- Building capacity amongst Muslims to provide dawah to wider society (neighbours, friends and colleagues etc).A practical way of dispelling myths can be provided by building relations with wider community directly. In a country with 2.8 million Muslims, the community has the ability to reach out to their colleagues and neighbours in order to correctly present the Islamic viewpoint and counteract the misleading stereotypes perpetrated by mainstream politicians and media.
When the shared beliefs and ideological nature of Britain is understood, then friction between the British establishment and Muslim community is inevitable due to the opposing beliefs. Previous government strategies of using soft forms of secularisation under the guise of ‘multiculturalism’ have now mutated into the harsher methods of ‘muscular liberalism’. Whether it’s the carrot or the stick, the aim is constantly to take Muslims away from their Deen and make Islam like all other religions; subservient to secularism.
وَدّوا لَو تُدهِنُ فَيُدهِنونَ
“They wish that you compromise, so that they too can compromise.” [TMQ 68:9]
Unfortunately, some Muslims have succumbed to the politics of fear by reinforcing the mainstream and proposing support for Labour. Opting for what we perceive as the least hostile party is a failed strategy, effectively returning to those who light the fire. Making Muslims feel threatened is what pushes them to mainstream consensus and politics – this is where the problem lies in the first place.
It’s through developing an Islamic community that stands as ambassadors to Islam, presenting the correct Islamic views and contrasting this to the rotten culture of capitalism, which is harmful to all, can the Muslims begin to counter the demonisation of Islam. This is the only acceptable option for the Muslim community to respond in the current environment.
This is a task that will require nothing less than sacrifice and struggle, in the same way as the previous prophets struggled against the powerful elites of their day.
وَسَارِعُواْ إِلَى مَغْفِرَةٍ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَجَنَّةٍ عَرْضُهَا السَّمَـوَتُ وَالاٌّرْضُ أُعِدَّتْ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
“Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord and for a garden whose width is that (of the whole) of the heavens and of the earth prepared for the righteous.” [TMQ 3:133]