The tedious and historical Western ambition to reform Islam was exhibited once again on BBC’s Panorama show yesterday evening. It discarded Muslim concerns as being derived from a baseless ‘grievance culture’ that drew oxygen from an ‘us and them’ mentality. All the while it posited orthodox Islamic positions as ‘extreme’ views. Keeping in line with a tired routine, token Muslim contributors were paraded on screen to demonstrate that these notions stem from the community, rather than being a foreign import.
It is now clear – politicians and the media want to criminalise what they consider ‘non-violent’ ideas. After millions marched in defence of free speech in Paris, the irony that unpleasant views should be criminalised through ‘thought police’ legislation (which is being pushed through at record speed) was lost on a number of the show’s interviewees.
Yet this is now the demand – that Muslims must reject normative Islamic positions and stop speaking against foreign policy because such views are unpalatable and therefore ‘un-British’. “Extremism” is an arbitrary term used to outlaw ideas one does not accept – it has no inherent meaning. That new legislation should be introduced to police ideas leaves Britain’s claims to free speech in tatters.
However, there was a more dangerous undercurrent to the discussion; non-violent ideas may lead to violence and therefore need to be tackled through security measures. It was suggested that a Muslim simply upholding orthodox Islamic opinions could be more susceptible to committing acts of violence. Consequently, normative Islamic ideas were now the target: from schooling to marriage, to Islam for the Muslim world.
If ideas are to be criminalised because some may one day commit acts of violence in their name, then some of the most celebrated historical events in the West should be recast as triumphs for political violence. The “Enlightenment” should be held responsible for motivating violent upheaval in the continents of Europe and North America. As should many celebrated liberation struggles that used violence to gain independence from foreign control. Why not rebrand Mandela and others like him as terrorists? The list could go on.
To claim Muslim concerns are simply baseless ‘grievances’ and that Muslims should be happy and ‘thankful’ for their lot harks back to an old imperial trick. Can one say that the devastating consequences of destroying the Muslim world and keeping it weak (a project which started during the colonial era and now taken-up by its neo-liberal successors) is a baseless grievance? Can it be said that decades of support to this day for the oil baron monarchs of the gulf, the strongmen of the middle-east and the corrupt elites in South Asia, is a baseless grievance? How about a horrendous 14 year campaign in the heart of the Muslim world as part of the War on Terror that has left the Muslim world broken – should Muslims just get on with it?
Such twisted propositions will continue to be perpetuated as grievance history can pose major problems for politicians – dismissing it allows Western governments to ignore inconvenient truths. Readings of history may be redirected against the government, which may be blamed for past mistakes which therefore, refocuses the debate. Alternatively, controlling grievance narratives can lead to the harassment and persecution of anyone perceived to be part of a Fifth Column or the ‘enemies within’.
In reality, it is the frustration over the abysmal state of affairs and the failure of Muslim governments to act in the interests of their populations that fuels a cycle of tension in the Muslim world. Consequently there is blowback against the perceived aggressors and their agents. Until the root causes of this sorry state of affairs are addressed and an honest discussion undertaken that acknowledges these simple truths, we will continue to be locked into a cycle of polarisation.
For Muslims – despite the pressure and fear – they must recognise that holding on to Islam as revealed by Allah (swt) and lived by the Prophet (saw) is our example and guide which must be upheld under all circumstances.
“And We have revealed to you the Book with the truth, verifying what is before it of the Book and a guardian over it, therefore judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their low desires (to turn away) from the truth that has come to you;” Quran 5:48
A ‘solution’ calling for Islamic reformation is a project designed to reproduce Islam in a liberal format, allowing Western powers feel to comfortable and less threatened by what is essentially a distinct and comprehensive value-system. To reform Islam in another image renders it no longer Islam, making it nothing other than that which it was forced to conform. It is a deceitful and redundant enterprise that shows no sign of taking root despite attempts lasting over a century and a half.
Ultimately, highlighting unpalatable truths about neoliberal western ventures and the failure of governments in the Muslim world to act is a truth that needs to be continually spoken. A Shariah-based state for the Muslim world on the Prophetic model still remains our desire, and remains the most popular form of government across the Muslims world despite the media narrative that casts Islam as the threat. In this light, we must continue to discuss, debate and give dawah to overcome the unfortunate depictions of Islam that have been falsely projected, dispelling the climate of fear created among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Editorial Team HTB website