Policy Exchange is no average research centre cum Think Tank. It’s a conservative base that has long been identified as the most vociferous mouthpiece for Neo-Conservativism in the UK, and therefore it comes as no surprise that it got the former Prime Minister, David Cameron to pen the foreword to its recent report on the voices that expressed opposition to the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, Prevent.
It also comes as no surprise to see the list of mentions, both individuals and organisations, the report cited, in what has become a tired exercise of copy-pasting, guilt-by-association, labelling and many other traits of reports and articles of this kind.
However, going through the 89 pages of this report, a number of important points emerge which need to be highlighted and which speak of the authors and their collective sponsors, more so than it does on Prevent as a government strategy, which we are told the report aimed to defend.
The first thought that came to mind was how rattled Prevent sponsors must feel to push them to publish what is objectively, quite a poor report even by Policy Exchange’s standards. This, I say in reference to the dismal track record of this set up, which came to prominence on the back of a story (https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/2008/05/policy_exchange_dispute_update.html) in which its researchers literally fabricated evidence to implicate several UK mosques in dispersing extremist material. How it could be seen by governments and politicians as a respectable organisation given that, along with the reports The Cordoba Foundation published, is something that will need to be discussed at a later date and in some length.
Back to the main theme, one would’ve assumed that for Prevent to be defended and this strategy to be upheld, the report would be full of counter- arguments to the ones put forward by its critics, and brimming with data, statistics and anecdotes all pointing to the strategy’s outstanding achievements and amazing successes over the many years since it was introduced.
Yet, the report had little else but citations of what the various critical voices have said, where and sometimes when, before adding a bit of commentary to validate the piece being ‘a report’.
Further, the fact that significant names in the neo-con, right-wing and Islamophobic spheres, including David Cameron and Sir John Jenkins in what is essentially a diatribe rather than any work of added significance to world knowledge is itself quite telling. Have these figures and their backgrounds ran out of ideas?, one could justifiably ask.
But most importantly, the fact that these prominent individuals, all of whom have a long record of claiming to uphold democracy, human rights, freedoms of expression, thought and belief, rather than pose an argument that proves the critics of Prevent wrong from a totally objective perspective, chose to go all out against those critics themselves and what they allege they represent and whom they have met in the past and with whom they might or might not have worked, as well as in my case, dedicate several lines to explain the familial tree and blood relations.
It would be fair to assume that any government policy, let alone a strategy adopted by several successive governments could and indeed should be questioned, analysed and critiqued – and if evidence was present, opposed and fought in every possible way. If every time a voice emerged criticising a law or a government policy, that voice was labelled as disruptive, rebellious and borderline treacherous, there would be no meaning whatsoever to democracy or to personal and public freedoms.
For years, the dozens of organisations, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, that have spoken against the strategy, have based their views on real evidence and on empirical data, showing clearly that the phenomenon Prevent claims it aims to tackle, is actually on the sharp rise year by year. Moreover, they have demonstrated that this strategy is having the exact opposite effect it should upon the targeted groups, i.e. the various minority communities impacted by Prevent. Rather than convincing these communities and minority groups to work with the strategy and show them that it is of benefit to them somehow, every single community targeted has suffered and felt that Prevent is simply a form of community surveillance, which brutalises and harasses those it should be befriending and gaining their trust.
The criticism levelled against Prevent is based on real evidence and clearly set out and gathered data. The children affected are real and their names and addresses known to those who are concerned. The businesses shut down are also real and so are the families obliterated, intimidated and terrorised, and the impact on communities, and indeed on British society as a whole is impossible to brush aside. For years, proof has been submitted that this is a failed, harmful and undemocratic policy, and that it must be banished, and with those who sponsored and supported it hanging their heads in shame and banned from ever holding a public role in the future.
What Policy Exchange should have published, is a report outlining the counter to all of that, and demonstrating the achievements and successes of Prevent and how Britain has gained, grown and developed because of it. Not going after the critics, like is the norm with fascist and authoritarian dictators.
This report is poor, pathetic I might even suggest. But the fact remains that it shows a dangerous trend that is gaining momentum in our public debates; you either conform to whatever the government says, or your views will be presented as dangerous, you will be seen as a threat and ultimately treated as an outsider.
WELCOME to part two of the first edition of Insights this year, focusing on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Following Dr Dževada Šuško’s exploration of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 500-year history of peaceful, and often courageous, Jewish-Muslim coexistence; in this issue, Ambassador Vanja Filipovic warns of the dissolution of peace in the Balkans.
The timing of Ambassador Filipovic’s contribution is pertinent and evokes conflicting feelings. Whilst only last week Bosnians celebrated their 30th anniversary of independence from the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a few days earlier the world watched in disbelief the start of a gruesome and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia. For many Bosnians who survived the 1992-1995 aggression by Serb forces, the terrible tragedy in Ukraine now is a grim reminder of their war and suffering.
The raging war in Ukraine serves as a stark reminder that as conflict is waged, so, too must peace be forged through the protection and defence of hard-won national and international agreements – such as those made at the end of the Bosnian war. Such agreements are critical to the existence of necessary values of the rule of law, tangible human rights, and cooperation in a diversely populated democratic nation such as Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Ambassador Filipovic echoes international observers’ disappointment by raising the alarm over threats posed by the breakaway of Serbian and Croatian groups from Bosnia and Herzegovina. By drawing attention to internal and external factors that have contributed to the gradual erosion of shared governance and legal frameworks that have helped sustain peace in the region, the Ambassador forewarns of the dissolution of peace in the Balkans. He concludes that two possible paths remain for Bosnia and Herzegovina: one leading to the benefits of further democratic development and the other ending in segregation, divisiveness, and uncertainty.
Responsibility lies squarely with the international community to unequivocally condemn the deliberate undermining of peace agreements by nationalist secessionist forces, along with all conflict and oppression – no matter where in the world it occurs. History is replete with testaments of the tragic consequences of silence and inaction – whether it be aggression against Ukrainians, Uyghurs in China, the Rohingya in Myanmar, Syrians, Palestinians, or countless others.
The history of human conflict teaches us that war does not happen spontaneously, nor does it occur in isolation. There is always a series of fissures that weaken relations and preclude war, always with regional, and sometimes global consequences. The future peace of Bosnia and Herzegovina remains uncertain; but as Ambassador Filipovic argues – the soul of Europe depends upon it.
WELCOME to the first edition of Insights for 2022. We have recovered from last year’s covid-induced break and are delighted to present the first edition of Insights for 2022 with a two-part special, focusing on Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In part one, Dr Dževada Šuško explores the fascinating, and largely unknown history of the peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims in BosniaHerzegovina spanning 500 years – a mark of mutual respect and civil courage.
Forthcoming in March 2022, part two is titled Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Battle for the Soul of Europe, contributed by His Excellency Vanja Filipovic, Ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the UK .
French leaders attend Republika Srpska Day celebration, glorifying war criminals and genocide of Bosnian Muslims
*Dr Admir Mulaosmanović
Exactly 30 years ago on 9th January 1992, the integrity, sovereignty, and functionality of the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina were ruthlessly attacked by Radovan Karadzic and his clique by declaring the so-called Republika Srpska (RS). Violent and illegal attempts were made to stifle this small state, but the resistance that began at the time lasted for more than 3 years and ended with the signing of the Daytona Peace Treaty.
During that period, Karadzic and his associates committed horrific crimes against Bosniaks (Muslims) and the crime of genocide in an attempt to completely ethnically-cleanse their territory. After the signing of the Dayton Peace Treaty, everything was done to make the few refugees and survivors of the Bosniak population lose their possessions in the RS entity created by the peace treaty and not return to their homes. Moreover, almost half of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina was tried in every sense to become Orthodox and exclusively Serbian. All that time, January 9th was celebrated as RS Day, and the creators (Karadzic, Mladic, Krajisnik, Plavsic, and others) who were convicted of war crimes were also celebrated. It will not be a stretch too far to compare this with the celebrations of Hitler, Goebbels and others in Munich in 1975.
The Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of course, declared the RS Day unconstitutional in 2015, but Dodik did not pay attention to that.
Today there is a celebration in Banja Luka again. Bosniaks will be threatened with slaughter, killing and expulsion. The scenography is well known to us. However, it is worrying that politicians who are also members of the European Parliament are attending the show and celebration. These are the Frenchmen Juvin and Mariani, right-wingers from the Marine Le Pen party.
Regardless of Le Pen and her limited associates, their attendance in this celebration sends a message from the French state. That is why the French state must make a very clear stance on the conduct of its officials: their participation in a celebration that glorifies war criminals, denies genocide of the Bosnian Muslims and finally threatens the emerging chauvinism.
*Dr Admir Mulaosmanović
Former member of the Bosnian Army (4th Knights Brigade) who was severely wounded in action during the 1992 war. Currently a Counselor and Associate Professor at the Council of Ministries, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Cordoba Foundation is saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Robert Dickson Crane, also known as Faruq ‘Abd al Haqq, on Sunday 12th of December 2021.
Professor Crane was a long-term friend and avid supporter of The Cordoba Foundation, for which he seldom turned down an invite to speak or write, and often heaped with praise and commendation. In 2013, he said:
“The Cordoba Foundation, Cultures in Dialogue, is the world’s most sophisticated and successful venture designed to bring together the best of all civilizations and religions in order to universalize their spiritual awareness and plurality of wisdom by interfaith cooperation in pursuing the vision of peace, prosperity, and freedom through the interfaith harmony of transcendent and compassionate justice for everyone.”
About the publications of The Cordoba Foundation, he said this:
“Your MENA Report may get wider readership than the Muslim 500… In my opinion, this [report] is the most insightful monthly publication on Islam and Muslims anywhere, and your journal, Arches, is the same among quarterly journals.”
Crane, was an American thinker, intellect, author and activist. Among his many titles and accreditations, Crane became one of the four co-founders of the first Washington-based foreign-policy think-tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in 1962. He was a key policy advisor to President Richard Nixon from the outset of the Cuban missile crisis all the way through to his victorious election campaign in 1967, thereafter holding several posts within the White House and the Department of State, and later advising President Reagan on matters relating to Islamic movements and the Muslim world.
Crane embraced Islam in 1980 and has ever since been a full-time activist and intellect, serving numerous positions, and became founder of the Muslim American Bar Association. From 1983 to 1986, he was the Director of Da’wa at the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C. In 1986 he joined the International Institute of Islamic Thought as its Director of Publications, and then helped to found the American Muslim Council, serving as Director of its Legal Division from 1992 to 1994.
In 1994 he founded his Centre for Civilizational Renewal, and in 2012 joined the Qatar Foundation where he was reassigned to be a full professor and Director of a new research centre in the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, entitled the Centre for the Study of Islamic Thought and Muslim Societies.
Throughout his distinguished life and career, he authored many books and academic papers, and was renowned for an exceptional mind and incredible drive to continue producing.
Since 2009, Professor Crane has been a strong supporter of The Cordoba Foundation, making contributions to its publications and seminars. His commendations were a source of pride to everyone at the foundation, who will miss him terribly.
15th December 2021
The Cordoba Foundation
The Evolution of Political Islam and Populist Politics: Caliphs & Democrats
By Professor John O. Voll, Georgetown University
Summary from a webinar presentation, hosted by The Cordoba Foundation
In This Issue
The puzzle of Political Islam
The many forms of Political Islam
Evolution of Political Islam – a brief glimpse
The puzzle of Political Islam
Modern Political Islam takes many forms. People and groups as diverse as Osama bin Ladin’s Al-Qa’ida organisation, and French women protesting a ban on head scarfs get called expressions of “Political Islam.” The Economist, in discussing this situation, spoke of “the puzzle of political Islam.”1 Part of this puzzle reflects important contradictions in the way we look at Political Islam. Many people use an outdated conceptual-analytical framework for trying to understand the nature of Political Islam.
There are old-fashioned ways of analysing Political Islam that still have value but are based on looking at things in a binary way – things are either “x”, or they are “y”. In analysing Political Islam, people often end up viewing movements or attitudes as binary, being either “secular” or “religious” or being “traditional” or “modern.” In that context, the immense variety of groups that are usually associated with Political Islam becomes a real puzzle. In actual operation, Political Islam appears in forms that are both secularly radical and religiously fundamentalist or express an identity that combines the traditional and modern in ideology and modes of operation.
The many forms of Political Islam
Simplistic, either/or binary identifications obscure the diversity of forms of Political Islam, creating artificial categories for analysis. It is important to recognise the real contrasts among things that have been labelled Political Islam. One might compare, for example, the militant activism and terrorism of Al-Qa’ida under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, especially in the 1990s, with the head-scarf wearing French women protesting for the right to wear the hijab whose protest slogan called for liberty, equality and fraternity. These are all part of the many forms of Political Islam.
One of the fascinating expressions of Political Islam is a very popular rapper, Amir Tataloo in Iran, who raps in Persian. During the negotiations in 2015 which resulted in the agreement on Iranian nuclear production capacity, he released a special rap video supporting the hardline position of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The video was produced by the Iranian Republic navy and had the support of the hardline Ayatollah, Sayyid Ebrahim Raisi, who was later elected President of the Republic.
It raises a question then: what is the nature of Political Islam – that it can include a radical rapper and the Ayatollahs in Iran?
The many different faces of Political Islam include women. Women in Egypt throughout the 20th century and into the 21st , for example, played important roles in protests and movements. The fashions of the day reflect some of the changes. In 1919 there was a nationalist revolution that women participated in. Some women participated with faces covered and conservative dress – but the clothing that they were wearing was not old-fashioned, it was not traditional. It was a new kind of explicit dress of identification that was Islamic but not traditional. In the same way, women in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Arab Spring protests in 2011 could be seen as being part of a variety of people protesting and their head covering reflected 21st century fashions while still being in hijab.
With all of this diversity of types of activism and direct political participation, it becomes helpful to make at-least one distinction. Some of the activities that get called Political Islam are actions taken by Muslims because they are participating in politics – it is a mode of acting politically. It is the broad spectrum of ways that Muslims act politically. Some scholars have called it Muslimism. This kind of Political Islam was visible in Tahrir Square. It was not formally organised, not part of a formal group, not part of an institution, but rather a mode of acting politically.
The other, more common usage of the term is to apply it to specific movements, like the Iranian Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini, specific organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qa’ida, and ideologically influential intellectuals like Abu al-Ala Mawdudi.
Evolution of Political Islam – a brief glimpse
An analysis of the evolution of Political Islam in the 20th and 21st centuries could begin by looking at the emergence of the believing community in the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. However, Political Islam is also a distinctive modern phenomenon as well as a long-term historical dimension of Muslim history.
If we are conscious of trying to avoid a binary analysis which identifies movements as either “secular” or “religious,” either “traditional” or “modern,” it changes the narrative. All of the movements of what is called Political Islam are in many ways modern. The distinction between traditional and modern fades into a synthesis of traditional and modern. And in the same way, movements that are active in the secular world may be religious and movements that are active in the religious world may be secular. And so we have what might be called a religio-secular synthesis of political activism within the Muslim world.
An important transition time in the history of Muslim political activism was World War I. That war brought an end to old-style empires like the Ottomans and Hapsburgs – and opened the way for the modern Muslim politics of nationalism and new state creation. Claims to leadership based on the call for re-establishing a caliphate lost support. New state systems based on national or Islamic identities – like the newly established Turkish Republic and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – articulated political visions that combined religious and ethno-cultural identities in the period between the two World Wars. In Egypt, for example, the nationalism of Sa’d Zaghlul and the Islamism of the then-newly-created Muslim Brotherhood were political competitors but this was not a competition between “modern” and “traditional” politics, since both movements were modern political entities.
Following World War II, the older style nationalism was challenged in many places and replaced by a new radicalism in which nationalism provided the major vision and Islam tended to be a secondary element in articulating political ideologies. However, this “secular” nationalism was not anti-religious but rather presented a religio-secular political synthesis. By the 1970s, this radical nationalism had created authoritarian dictatorships and an opposition articulated in Islamic terms emerged as the most effective form of political populism and reform.
By the 1980s, a broad set of movements emerged as major political forces and observers used the term ‘Political Islam’ to identify them. Among the most important of these are the Iranian Islamic Republic, the Muslim Brotherhood in a number of countries, the Islamic Tendency (later organised as a political party, al-Nahda) in Tunisia, and the Muslim Youth Movement in Malaysia.
By the beginning of the 21st century, Islamically articulated political visions and populist appeals became a major element in the evolution of Muslim political activism and global politics. It was possible for a very well-informed observer in 2002 to say, “Islamism has become, in fact, the primary vehicle and vocabulary of most political discourse throughout the Muslim world… The region’s nationalist parties are weak and discredited, and nationalism itself has often been absorbed into Islamism.”2
The continuing evolution of Political Islam in the 21st century involved a number of diverse developments. The development of Al-Qa’ida from a local militant group in Afghanistan into a globally significant set of terrorist networks and the establishment of the Taliban as rulers of Afghanistan both reflected the importance of locally-based manifestations of a militant Political Islam. A very different part of the spectrum of Political Islam involves the self-re-definition of Islamists like Rashid Ghannouchi as “Muslim democrats.” An important factor in the changing nature of Political Islam is the increasing importance of the Internet and social media in creating communication networks of activists and providing ways of recruiting new supporters. As a result, a sense of political populism is an increasingly important aspect of global Political Islam.
“Political Islam” has become a useful label for the significant developments of Muslim political activism. It provides a way of noting the global and local dynamism of Muslim politics in the 21st century. In a time when it is possible to speak of “multiple modernities,” it is important to recognise that Political Islam is not a form of traditional society and culture opposing modernity. Instead, it is an important element in the efforts to define the various possible forms of Islamic modernity.
1. Cover, The Economist, August 26th-September 1st, 2017. 2. Fuller, Graham E. (2002). “The Future of Political Islam,” Foreign Affairs 81, No. 2 (March/April), p.50.
John O. Voll is Professor Emeritus of Islamic History at Georgetown University. He is a past president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America. His most recent book is the co-authored volume, Islam and Democracy after the Arab Spring.
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Editors Dr Anas Altikriti – Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Faliq – Managing Director H.D. Forman Sandra Tusin