Thursday, March 26, 2015

It all matters

Yesterday was rather varied in activity. I was interviewed on the BBC Russian Service about the last PMQ of this Parliament and about PMQs in general. The aim of all these interviews, I suspect, is to explain to the Russian audience (which is not as big as it used to be since the Russian Service was taken off short wave radio and left solely on the internet) about real Parliaments and real constitutionalism. I also suspect that most Russians know that what they have is a shame but the big question is to what extent and to whom that matters.

As far as I was concerned there was one benefit: for the first time in years I actually watched PMQ and very entertaining it was, too. When they are back, I should do it more often. It must be admitted (says she with gritted teeth) that the Boy-King did rather well and the Leader of the Opposition, one Ed Miliband, did not. It also struck me that the Labour MPs were a little subdued in their reaction to the proceedings. Make of that what you will.

Later on I went to the launch of a joint report by the Bow Group and a new Austrian think-tank, Die Österreichische Gesellschaft für Politikanalyse (ÖGP) on the subject of abuse, much of it physical, that Muslim women face in the UK. A Parallel World - Confronting the abuse of many Muslim women in Britain today was written by that doughty campaigner for human rights, Baroness Cox and is very well worth reading (though I should issue a warning about some of the accounts: they can be horrific). The link will lead you to a PDF version. There is also a very useful analysis of the situation with regards to Sharia courts and the Bill that Baroness Cox has been trying to put through Parliament for some years. (And an explanation of the difference between Sharia courts and Beth Din ones, a subject that I read up on when I was doing some research for the Baroness.)

Moving right along, I come to a few articles that were handed out after the launch. I thought they might interest readers of this blog. One was by another highly admirable and awesome (in the true sense of the word) woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, published in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday but, miraculously, freely available on the internet. It seems to be a summary of her latest book that was due out in the States earlier this week.

Her theme: Islam needs a Reformation very badly and it needs it now. Her arguments are, as ever cogent and I was particularly interested in her division of Muslims across the world into three distinct groups:
The first group is the most problematic. These are the fundamentalists who, when they say the Shahada, mean: “We must live by the strict letter of our creed.” They envision a regime based on Shariah, Islamic religious law. They argue for an Islam largely or completely unchanged from its original seventh-century version. What is more, they take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else.

I shall call them Medina Muslims, in that they see the forcible imposition of Shariah as their religious duty. They aim not just to obey Muhammad’s teaching but also to emulate his warlike conduct after his move to Medina. Even if they do not themselves engage in violence, they do not hesitate to condone it.

It is Medina Muslims who call Jews and Christians “pigs and monkeys.” It is Medina Muslims who prescribe death for the crime of apostasy, death by stoning for adultery and hanging for homosexuality. It is Medina Muslims who put women in burqas and beat them if they leave their homes alone or if they are improperly veiled.

The second group—and the clear majority throughout the Muslim world—consists of Muslims who are loyal to the core creed and worship devoutly but are not inclined to practice violence. I call them Mecca Muslims. Like devout Christians or Jews who attend religious services every day and abide by religious rules in what they eat and wear, Mecca Muslims focus on religious observance. I was born in Somalia and raised as a Mecca Muslim. So were the majority of Muslims from Casablanca to Jakarta.

Yet the Mecca Muslims have a problem: Their religious beliefs exist in an uneasy tension with modernity—the complex of economic, cultural and political innovations that not only reshaped the Western world but also dramatically transformed the developing world as the West exported it. The rational, secular and individualistic values of modernity are fundamentally corrosive of traditional societies, especially hierarchies based on gender, age and inherited status.

Trapped between two worlds of belief and experience, these Muslims are engaged in a daily struggle to adhere to Islam in the context of a society that challenges their values and beliefs at every turn. Many are able to resolve this tension only by withdrawing into self-enclosed (and increasingly self-governing) enclaves. This is called cocooning, a practice whereby Muslim immigrants attempt to wall off outside influences, permitting only an Islamic education for their children and disengaging from the wider non-Muslim community.

It is my hope to engage this second group of Muslims—those closer to Mecca than to Medina—in a dialogue about the meaning and practice of their faith. I recognize that these Muslims are not likely to heed a call for doctrinal reformation from someone they regard as an apostate and infidel. But they may reconsider if I can persuade them to think of me not as an apostate but as a heretic: one of a growing number of people born into Islam who have sought to think critically about the faith we were raised in. It is with this third group—only a few of whom have left Islam altogether—that I would now identify myself.

These are the Muslim dissidents. A few of us have been forced by experience to conclude that we could not continue to be believers; yet we remain deeply engaged in the debate about Islam’s future. The majority of dissidents are reforming believers—among them clerics who have come to realize that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.
Not being an Islamic scholar I cannot pronounce on the theological problems she raises but I have listened to a sufficient number of such people to realize that the article simplifies those problems somewhat. It is obvious even to a non-expert that a closer analysis of the Quran and the Haditha are needed for that Reformation to take place; it is also true that such analyses are taking place despite the fact that the people who are carrying them out are in some danger but, so far, the results are little known.

What we, outsiders, need to do and Ms Hirsi Ali says so in her article (also very well worth reading in full and is considerably less stressful than the pamphlet) is to support people who are willing to risk much to spread ideas of freedom and reform in the Muslim world.

And that brings me to the problem we are facing with our own officials and Ministers who have, on the whole, aligned themselves on the wrong side of this debate though there is some indication that they are beginning to realize that.

Two more articles, one published in the Sunday Telegraph on February 22 and a more recent one on Lapidomedia. The latter, by Dominik Lemanski, may well have taken the former, by Andrew Gilligan as the basis with some extra research added.

Andrew Gilligan's article is entitled Islamic 'radicals' at the heart of Whitehall and puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of Baroness Warsi who allowed entryism by people connected with radical Islamic groups into Whitehall and, particularly, the "cross-Government working group on anti-Muslim hatred".
Baroness Warsi, the first Muslim woman to sit in Cabinet, handed official posts to people linked to Islamist groups, including a man involved in an “unpleasant and bullying” campaign to win planning permission for the controversial London “megamosque” proposed by a fundamentalist Islamic sect.

He sits – alongside other radicals or former radicals and their allies – on a “cross-Government working group on anti-Muslim hatred” set up by Lady Warsi and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister.

Some members of the group are using their seats at the table to urge that Whitehall work with Islamist and extremist-linked bodies, including one described by the Prime Minister as a “political front for the Muslim Brotherhood”. Some are also pressing to lift bans on foreign hate preachers from entering Britain, including Zakir Naik, who has stated that “every Muslim should be a terrorist”.

Fiyaz Mughal, a former member of the working group, told The Telegraph that he had resigned in protest at its activities. “I was deeply concerned about the kinds of groups some of the members had connections with, and some of the groups they were recommending be brought into government,” he said. “It seemed to me to be a form of entryism, by people with no track record in delivering projects.” Mr Mughal is head of Tell Mama, the national organisation for monitoring anti-Muslim attacks.

Another member said: “The working group was Sayeeda [Warsi]’s personal project and she was responsible for the appointments. There was very little transparency about who was put on.”

The working group, set up in 2012, has continued after Lady Warsi’s resignation last summer in protest at the Government’s “morally indefensible” policy on the Gaza crisis. It is based in Eric Pickles’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and includes officials from there, the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the Department for Education, the Foreign Office and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Among its most prominent non-government members is Muddassar Ahmed, a former senior activist in the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), an extremist and anti-Semitic militant body which is banned from many universities as a hate group.

During Mr Ahmed’s time, MPAC campaigned heavily against “Zionist” MPs, in particular Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, and Lorna Fitzsimons, the former Labour MP for Rochdale. She lost her seat after MPAC sent thousands of leaflets to local Muslim voters saying they should sack her because she was “Jewish”. She is not Jewish. MPAC has stated that Muslims are “at war” and that “every Muslim who does not participate in that war is committing a major sin”.
Mr Ahmed maintains that his MPAC days are long over and he had nothing to do with various unpleasant events that his present PR company is supposed to have been connected and one might believe him. Nevertheless, one has to ask why he and people like him were singled out by Baroness Warsi for various appointments. Unfortunately, the evil that men (and women) do lives after them and the people promoted by the Baroness, herself seriously over-promoted as everyone knew all along, are still there and still active.

Dominik Lemanski raises the question whether it is the influence of Baroness Warsi's appointees that has pushed back the most recent decision on the Megamosque in Newham over which the battle has been going for a considerable number of years. Of course, I do not rule out the possibility that the decision has been pushed back for reasons of political pusillanimity.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article. It is heartening to hear that some people in government are beginning to realise that they have taken wrong steps, but how soon will we see real intent to expel muslim extremist sympathisers from all the nooks and crannies of government and institutions?