Much of the British public’s awareness of madrassas – out-of-hours schools which teach Muslim children about Islam – has been shaped by the media, with high profile programmes such
as BBC Panorama and Channel 4 Dispatches focusing on instances of violence against children and allegations that extremist views are inculcated in these institutions. Moreover, IPPR analysis of media coverage since 9/11 has shown that national outlets have generally been negative and sometimes hostile. For this reason it is of ever-greater importance that the Muslim community overcomes its hands-off approach, and faces these criticisms by acknowledging it is time for reform of Islamic supplementary schooling. We have witnessed some outrageous incidents that have happened in a small number of madrassas – and these need to stop. But more fundamental changes are needed across madrassas in general.
Madrassas can be doing much more to show young Muslims how being a good Muslim and integrating into mainstream British life are not incompatible. I strongly believe that madrassas can be a force for good in UK society and I have personally benefitted from attending a madrassa. I believe that madrassas in the UK would greatly benefit from a partnership system which includes both the mainstream school and the involvement of parents. This strategy will help reduce some of the limitations that madrassas have.
First, there is a lack of flexibility in adapting to current times; second, there is a lack of engagement with wider society; and third, there is a lack of transparency about how madrassas operate. To tackle these problems we need first to recruit and train more teachers who are British-born, educated to a high level and with a greater insight into the mainstream culture and the challenges facing British youth today. Such people would be in a much better position to implement a structured curriculum that is faithful to Islamic teachings but takes account of day-to-day issues in the UK. In particular, we must be educating and training far more women to be teachers of Islamic scholarship.
Gender equality in madrassas is no straightforward matter. It is the belief of Muslims that segregation between the sexes should be embedded within Islamic schools and in other situations in life. However, curtailing the entry of Muslim female teachers based on this precept is, in my opinion, illegitimate. There is a long tradition of Muslim female scholarship which stretches back to the beginning of Islamic civilization – the best example being that of the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Aisha, who herself taught the Muslim intellectuals of her time. The gender equality I subscribe to then is very much aligned with the framework as laid down in the Quran and is also supported by the works of Asma Barlas, Jamal Badawi and Anouar Majid, among others.
Contrary to the views of Cassandra Balchin, it is my view that gender equality in Islam is not to be achieved so much by radically reinterpreting texts to meet people’s ends but to understand how we define the term ‘equality’ of both sexes in Islam. The western definition of ‘equality’ is not the only legitimate one. There are certain functions that men and women perform that are different, but can overlap. This should not be manipulated to fit a patriarchal order but rather we need to understand that this is God’s decree: we don’t submit to man, but to God.
A further issue for madrassas is that they are marginalised from mainstream society, and often almost invisible to the public eye. This can fuel accusations that madrassas are secretive and shadowy, creating an unwarranted fear of what ‘goes on’ in them. As part of its ‘Madrassas in the UK’ project, IPPR filmed at a madrassa in London earlier in the year and anybody who watches the film will see that the best of these schools are generally happy, positive places, where children can learn and have fun. There is nothing to hide and certainly nothing to worry about in these well-run institutions. Madrassas need to have the courage to be more open, raising awareness of the positive contributions they make to society. For this to occur, madrassas must begin to shift towards a partnership and networking model to gain the confidence of the wider community. This way madrassas can also secure more funding from community sources.
Madrassas are distinctive institutions. Many of them follow different creeds and subscribe to various interpretations of the Quran. Islam and Muslims respect this diversity, so long as it does not lead to abuses. Rather than seeing diversity within the community as an obstacle, Muslims should begin to embrace this difference by uniting behind the cause of bettering the standard of Islamic education. For difference of opinion has been part of Islam’s historical tradition, dating back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions. I believe this strategy of unity will minimise the neo-orientalist gaze that is cast upon the community by the media, which also locates them in the backwards ‘other’ category.
Some madrassas are still being reported in the media for failing to carry out Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks. CRB checks are important not only for the safety of the child but also that of the teacher and institution. Madrassas need to begin to see the importance of conducting these checks. One way of supporting madrassas to do this is to network with schools that can lend support in this area as well as train madrassa teachers on child protection policies. This way madrassas would be ensuring a more open approach to their educational service and create a safety net, protecting both child and teacher.
To sum up, madrassa education is and can be a valuable asset to British society. At the same time, the Muslim community needs to act fast and respond to the challenges thrown down by media investigations. Issues such as madrassa inflexibility, disengagement and lack of transparency can be turned around.. Most Muslims I believe would agree that the suggestions made here of encouraging better quality teaching, including more female teachers, implementing a partnership system and carrying out security checks are a step in the right direction. This approach will help to tackle the reductive representations of madrassas, and produce a generation of forward-thinking young British Muslims.
This article originally appeared here
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Muslims and Political Participation in Britain
Call for papers
John McIntyre Conference Centre, Edinburgh
20th and 21st April 2012
This conference focuses on the involvement of Muslims in all aspects of
political life in Britain with a particular emphasis on contemporary
Muslims have played prominent roles at all levels of British politics and
have been represented in various elected positions since Bashir Maan became
a member for Glasgow City Council in 1970. Subsequent milestones have
included Muslims first holding posts such as that of Lord Mayor in 1985, MP
in 1997, life peer in 1998, Minister in 2007 and the first female Muslim MPs
were elected in 2010. For many years the Labour party dominated politics in
British Muslim communities and this relationship is still strong. Yet all
the major parties now actively seek to court a Muslim electorate as
evidenced by the establishment of groups such as the Conservative Muslim
Despite the impact that Muslims have had on election campaigns and their
roles in various political institutions, research on this topic remains
scant. Indeed, much of the existing work was couched within the broader
areas of the participation of ethnic minorities or the impact of race on
electoral politics. The conference hopes to address this lacuna and thereby
highlight current research that deals with Muslims and political
participation in Britain, whether at local, regional or national levels. It
seeks to pay particular attention to how this participation has changed over
recent years and identify new trends for the future, although historical
reflections are also welcome.
In addition to electoral politics and representation, the conference also
seeks the submission of papers on other aspects of civil society such as
social movements, trade unions and NGOs as well as papers which give
insights into developments in other European countries. Cross-country
comparisons which include Britain would be especially welcome.
Contributions could focus on (but are not limited to) the following issues:
– Selection of Muslim candidates by political parties and attempts by
parties to reach out to Muslim voters.
– Election campaigns by Muslim candidates including the role of community
organisations, mosques and social networking
– Voting patterns amongst Muslim communities. Is there a ‘Muslim vote’?
– Muslim elected representatives in office.
– Community politics, bloc voting and biraderi networks
– Participation in policymaking and implementation as well as in local and
national processes of governing
– Contentious politics and campaigning groups e.g. environmentalism,
anti-war, global justice movements
– Attitudes to political participation and the political process
– British foreign policy and international conflicts e.g. Kashmir,
– Muslim political organisations and umbrella groups both past and present
e.g. the Muslim Council of Britain, the Muslim Parliament, British Muslim
Forum, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Sufi Muslim Council,
Progressive British Muslims etc.
Please send proposed abstracts of between 200 – 400 words to Dr Timothy
Peace email@example.com before 22nd December 2011. Proposals must include a
title, your name and affiliation and an e-mail address. After the conference
and following peer review, selected papers will be published in either an edited volume or a special issue of a journal.
On the evening of Friday 20th April there will be a public debate on the future of Muslim political participation, featuring a number of elected
representatives including Anas Sarwar MP and Humza Yousaf MSP.
Further information about the conference may be found at
The conference is organised by the Alwaleed Centre at the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the Alwaleed Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge and the Muslims in Britain Research Network (MBRN).
CALL FOR PAPERS
The Association for Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism (ASEN) is please to announce the call for papers for the 22nd ASEN Annual Conference:
Nationalism, Ethnicity and Boundaries
The conference will take place from the 27-29th March, 2012 at the London School of Economics.
Confirmed keynote speakers include: Rogers Brubaker, Miguel Centeno, Mary Fulbrook, Richard Jenkins, Michele Lamont and Wendy Pullan. There will also be workshops with Jon Fox and Michael Banton.
Proposals are invited for papers focusing on the following themes:
Partition, succession and irredentism
The legality of boundaries and citizenship rules
Boundary surveillance and enforcement
Border controls, passports and identity documents
Territorial and non-territorial sub-national claims
Social and symbolic boundaries and everyday practices
Symbolic boundaries and identity formation
The mechanisms of boundary formation, transgression and change
Interactions between physical and symbolic boundaries
Abstracts should be submitted online no later than November 6, 2011. To submit your abstract, please follow this link
Successful submissions will be announced in December, 2011.
ASEN: The Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism
London School of Economics
London, WC2A 2AE
T: +44 (0)20 7955 6801
F: +44 (0)20 7955 6218
E: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com>
W: www.lse.ac.uk/ASEN/ <http://www.lse.ac.uk/ASEN/>
Please access the attached hyperlink for an important electronic communications disclaimer: http://lse.ac.uk/emailDisclaimer
SEN Journal: Online Exclusives is currently calling for contributions on the theme of nationalism, ethnicity and art as part of a new themed initiative for our website. The aim of this initiative is to stimulate discussion, ideas and research on a particular theme every few months. We are keen to broaden the remit of the website and therefore encourage submissions in a variety of mediums from a diversity of disciplines. In particular, we warmly welcome:
Academic writing on the theme of nationalism, ethnicity and art (1,000 words max.);
artwork, films and photography to be hosted on our website;
news about relevant exhibitions and performances;
exhibition, film and performance reviews; and
responses to articles published in Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism (SEN) volume 9 issue 2 in the themed section on “The Art of Nationalism” (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/sena.2009.9.issue-2/issuetoc).
In keeping with SEN’s editorial policy, SEN Journal: Online Exclusives encourages submissions from a broad range of disciplines with particular attention to up-and-coming scholars, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students working in the field. All submissions and enquiries should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Please note that we will post submissions on a rolling basis and there is no official deadline for submissions on this theme. We will however have a new theme at the beginning of Novermber. SEN Journal: Online Exclusives also continues to welcome submissions relevant to the study of ethnicity and nationalism that fall outside of this theme. For guidelines on submissions, please visit our website.
Please access the attached hyperlink for an important electronic communications disclaimer: http://lse.ac.uk/emailDisclaimer
Call for Proposals: Ethnopolitics Special Issues
Ethnopolitics has a long tradition of publishing Special Issues on specific topics of interest to the field, both covering particular themes or conflicts. Past special issues that have been highly successful include Moral Hazard and Intervention (guest-edited by Timothy W. Crawford & Alan J. Kuperman), Governance in Ethnically Mixed Cities (guest-edited by Sherrill Stroschein), Northern Ireland ten years after the Agreement (guest-edited by Chris Gilligan), Federalism, Regional Autonomy and Conflict (guest-edited by Graham Brown), and EU Conflict Management (guest-edited by James Hughes).
The Editors of Ethnopolitics wish to continue with this tradition of publishing high-quality special issues (subsequently also included in the prestigious ASN book series) and are therefore introducing an annual competition for proposals for Special Issues.
Interested scholars in any relevant field are invited to submit a short proposal of no more than 1,000 words outlining:
- The theme of the proposed Special Issue
- The articles and authors that it would contain
- The approximate length of individual contributions and the Special Issue as a whole
Apart from analytical and theoretical coherence, proposals should demonstrate how the proposed Special Issue will contribute to the theoretical and/or empirical advancement of the field of ethnopolitics. Please also include information about the genesis of the proposal (e.g., workshops seminars, conference panels past or planned).
A short bio of the Guest Editor/s and the names of potential peer reviewer should also be included in the proposal. Guest Editor/s will be expected to liaise closely with the Editors of Ethnopolitics.
This is an annual competition with a deadline of 1 December and envisaged publication date of the Special Issue approximately 15-18 months after acceptance of the proposal.
Informal inquiries and proposals should be sent electronically to the Editors of Ethnopolitics:
Karl Cordell: K.Cordell@plymouth.ac.uk
Stefan Wolff: email@example.com
This call for proposals is also available on: http://www.ethnopolitics.org/ethnopolitics/special-issues-cfp.htm.
Call for Papers
Title: Studies of Transition States and Societies (STSS)
Publisher: Institute of Political Science and Governance and Institute of International and Social Studies, Tallinn University
Frequency: 2 issues per year
Print ISSN: 1736-874X, online ISSN: 1736-8758
Access: open access journal, available at the website www.tlu.ee/stss, also in DOAJ, Proquest, Ebsco.
Published: since 2009
Editor in Chief: Raivo Vetik, Tallinn University
Articles to the Spring issue should be submitted by December 19, 2011. See the webpage www.tlu.ee/stss for information on the submission. Articles arriving later than that will be considered for the 2012 Fall issue.
Aims and Scope:
Studies of Transition States and Societies (STSS) aims to promote interdisciplinary exchange between scholars in all major subfields of sociology and political science. The substantive focus of the journal is on the transitional societies, particularly on the societal and political changes in postcommunist countries. Conceptually speaking, this journal seeks to challenge the teleological understanding of transition processes that is based on dichotomous classifications (traditions vs.
modernism, democracy vs. totalitarianism, nation-states vs.
multiculturalism etc.), placing emphasis instead on holistic approaches and gradational units of analysis. STSS contains peer reviewed articles that articulate both theoretical and comparative, as well as quantitative and qualitative approaches. Besides articles, STSS also publishes short research notes about ongoing studies, as well as review articles and book reviews. In addition, collections of articles about a common theme or debate are published as short symposia.
Karl Ulrich Mayer, Yale University; Michael D. Kennedy, Brown University; Hans-Peter Blossfeld, Bamberg University; Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Freie University Berlin; Catherin Hakim, London School of Economics; Irena Kogan, Mannheim University; David Ost, Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Risto Alapuro, Helsinki University; Pirkko Pitkänen, Tampere University; Attila Agh, Corvinus University Budapest; Hilary Pilkington, Warwick University; Paul Lewis, British Open University; Ilkka Alanen, Jyväskylä University; Peter Robert, TARKI; Carlo Barone, University of Trento; Colin Copus, University of Birmingham; Noemi Lendvai, Bristol University; Christian Toft, Universität Kassel; Jochen Franzke, University of Potsdam Leif Kalev, Tallinn University; Airi-Alina Allaste, Tallinn University; Ellu Saar, Tallinn University; Anu Toots, Tallinn University; Rein Ruutsoo, Tallinn University; Georg Sootla, Tallinn University; Rein Vöörmann, Tallinn University.
Institutional Subscription, Print € 50
Individual Subscription, Print € 30
To acquire subscription please send the following information to firstname.lastname@example.org:
name of the institution; postal address; full name, email and phone number of the contact person.
Conservative thinktanks are in a bit of a bind when it comes to responding to the rise of Islamophobia. On the one hand they want to condemn the BNP and the English Defence League for their racism and violence, but on the other they want to downplay the extent and existence of anti-Muslim racism because it might deflect attention from “Islamism” – the catch-all term for politically active Muslims, which they see as the main problem facing the UK. The difficulty with their position is that they end up condemning the peaceful political activism of Muslim groups, while downplaying and even excusing the violent modus operandi of racist and Islamophobic groups such as the EDL.
In our report we examine two of the most prominent British thinktanks engaged in work on the role of Islam in UK politics. The Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) is the smaller of the two, focusing mainly on Islam, while Policy Exchange has a wider remit. Nevertheless, their work has followed quite similar lines. They have both rejected counter-terrorism policies based on public safety and have instead sought to revive discredited counter-subversion policies from the cold war era – policies that targeted a generation of trade union leaders and peace activists, including future Labour ministers.
The counter-subversion thinking of this earlier period undermined civil liberties and had a problematic influence on counter-terrorism policy; they risked repressing those engaged in legitimate political activity, while misunderstanding those who present a genuine threat of violence. As a result of following this highly ideological approach, both thinktanks have regularly attacked politically active Muslims, Muslim organisations and traditional liberal institutions such as churches, universities, schools and libraries. In one report, The Hijacking of British Islam, Policy Exchange famously attacked mosques alleging that they were selling extremist literature. The report was subsequently removed from the thinktank’s website after the BBC discovered evidence suggesting that the report’s findings had been fabricated.
The record of these thinktanks is that their publications at best exaggerate the threat posed by “Islamists” and the supposed Islamisation of public institutions. Their concern is not over the threat of terrorism or even of any illegality. Rather it is based on their counter-subversion analysis. This leads them into suggesting – as Policy Exchange has in a report titled Living Apart Together – that experiences of Islamophobia and discrimination faced by Muslims in Britain are simply “myths” attributable to a “victim mentality”.
This downplaying of Islamophobia is also seen in the thinktanks’ analysis of the far right. The CSC has produced two reports on the British far right. One, on the BNP, in particular underplays the extent to which it has been influenced by other Islamophobic currents. The BNP’s alliance with the counterjihad movement and the subsequent emergence of the EDLwere among the most significant developments on the British far right in recent years. Yet neither of the CSC’s reports on the far right adequately addressed them. This is, perhaps, not surprising in the light of the CSC’s own contacts with members of the counterjihad movement, such as the US-based Robert Spencer. In marked contrast to the CSC’s analysis of other forms of political extremism, its director, Douglas Murray, has characterised the EDL as a predictable response to political failure and has recently described the EDL as a “grassroots response from non-Muslims to Islamism“.
Events in Norway have now directed attention to the violence of the far right and in particular serve to highlight the danger presented by the spread of Islamophobic ideas. It would be a mistake to replace an exaggerated fear of Islam with a mirror image fear of the far right. However, the double standards at the heart of the approach taken by Policy Exchange and the CSC suggests that any policymaker or politician genuinely interested in public safety and the health of the democratic system should recognise that Islamophobic ideas are not just a product of violent far right groups, but equally can be fostered even by apparently respectable thinktanks.
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There is a lively debate taking place in the UK media between left and rightwing commentators as to the causes of the English riots, in which hundreds of shops and businesses have been looted. However, both sides agree that the looting has been inexcusable. I hope both sides will also agree with me that Muslims have played an important role in helping to tackle the looting and preserve public safety. This would be an especially important acknowledgment if it came from those Islamophobic commentators who consistently denigrate Muslims.
“When accused of terrorism we are Muslims, when killed by looters, we become Asian”, a Muslim student explained to me. He was commenting on the media reportingof the death of three young Muslims in Birmingham on Tuesday night. Like many other Muslims, they were bravely defending shops and communities as rioters went on a violent rampage of looting.
In recent days Muslim Londoners, Muslims from Birmingham, and Muslims in towns and cities around England have been at the forefront of protecting small businesses and vulnerable communities from looting. Having worked closely with Muslim Londoners, first as a police officer and more recently as a researcher, for the last ten years this commendable bravery comes as no surprise to me. But their example of outstanding civic duty in support of neighbours is worth highlighting – especially when sections of the UK media are so quick to print negative headlines about Muslims on the flimsiest of pretexts.
On Monday evening when London suffered its worst looting in living memory I watched as a well marshaled team of volunteers wearing green fluorescent security vests marked ‘East London Mosque‘ took to the streets of Tower Hamlets to help protect shops and communities from gangs of looters. This was the most visible manifestation of their pro-active response to fast moving and well co-ordinated teams of looters. Less visible was the superb work of Muslim youth workers from Islamic Forum Europewho used the same communication tools as the looters to outwit and pre-empt them on the streets.
While senior Westminster politicians started to pack and rush back to London from foreign holidays I watched Lutfur Rahman, the Muslim mayor of Tower Hamlets, offering calm leadership and support in the street as gangs of looters were intercepted and prevented from stealing goods in his presence.
Most important to emphasise is the extent to which everyone in Tower Hamlets was a beneficiary of streetwise, smart Muslims acting swiftly to protect shops, businesses and communities against looters. It is often wrongly alleged that Muslims lack any sense of civic duty towards non-Muslims and especially towards the LGBTcommunity. I wish peddlers of that negative anti-Muslim message had been present to see how all citizens in Tower Hamlets were beneficiaries of Muslim civic spirit and bravery on Monday night.
I am not sure if the Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan was robbed of his bike by looters in Tower Hamlets or in another part of London as he cycled home from Hackney to Greenwich on Monday night, but even his incessant negative reporting of Muslims associated with the East London Mosque would not have excluded him from their neighbourly support had they been in the immediate vicinity to help him.
Gilligan reports that police were unable to offer him any advice other than to go home when he finally received an answer to his 999 call as a victim of a violent street robbery. London policing on Monday night was stretched as never before and Gilligan was one amongst hundreds of victims who had to fend for themselves as looters ran amok around the capital city. In these unique circumstances the street skills of Muslim youth workers, who are routinely helping police to tackle violent gang crime and anti-social behaviour in Tower Hamlets, Walthamstow, Brixton and in other deprived neighbourhoods, were a key ingredient in filling the vacuum created by insufficient police numbers.
I first saw East London Mosque and Islamic Forum Europe street skills in action in 2005 when they robustly dispatched extremists from Al Muhajiroun who were in Whitechapel attempting to recruit youngsters into their hate filled group. I saw the same skills in action in the same year when volunteers from the Muslim Association of Britain and Muslim Welfare House ousted violent supporters of Abu Hamza from the Finsbury Park Mosque. More recently, Muslim bravery has been seen in Brixton when extremists spouting the latest manifestation of Al Muhajroun hatred were sent packing out of town. In all these instances, and so many more, the brave Muslims involved have received no praise for their outstanding bravery and good citizenship, and instead faced a never ending barrage of denigration from journalists such as Gilligan, Melanie Phillips, Martin Bright…. sorry I won’t go on, it’s a long list!
Sadly, many of the brave Muslims helping to keep their cities safe have not only grown used to denigration from media pundits but also faced cuts in government funding for their youth outreach work with violent gangs. This is not as a result of widespread economic cuts caused by the recession, but because the government adopts the media view that they are ‘extremist‘. Street in Brixton is a case in point. Yesterday Dr Abdul Haqq Baker director of Street was forced to close a Street youth centre in Brixton as his reduced team of youth of workers struggled to keep pace with the task of tackling gang violence and its role in rioting and looting.
Significantly, the same potent mixture of Muslim street skills and bravery was evident last summer when the Islamophobic English Defence League (EDL) began to prepare for a violent demonstration in Whitechapel. On that occasion police commended the skills of Muslim youth workers who helped reduce tension and manage anger towards the EDL.
Two weeks ago, under the banner United East End neighbours of all faiths and none gathered at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel to express solidarity with their Muslim neighbours who are the target of another provocative English Defence League demonstration planned for 3 September. It is no co-incidence that Anders Breivik found common cause with the EDL.
The EDL regards the East London Mosque as the hub of the Muslim extremism it purports to oppose. Regrettably, EDL’s hate-filled analysis of Muslims is based on the work of mainstream media commentators who should now reflect on the unintended if not unforeseeable consequences of their Islamophobic discourse.
It is also worthy of comment that Muslim bravery during this outbreak of looting has taken place during Ramadan when Muslims are fasting – without food or water – from sunrise to sunset. This is a hard enough regime when relaxing, but when taking part in dangerous operations against looters, it is worthy of special reward – no doubt something their religion caters for.
Today, as Muslims in Tower Hamlets and around the country continue to work with their neighbours to repair damaged shops and to restore public safety, it is important I conclude this article by paying special tribute to Haroon Jahan, Shahzad Ali and Abdul Musavir, the three typically brave Birmingham Muslimswho were killed while defending their neighbourhood on Tuesday night. I pray their legacy will be a wider appreciation of good Muslim citizenship, a reduction of media anti-Muslim denigration, and the elimination of EDL anti-Muslim intimidation and violence.
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Yesterday survivors and relatives of those who died in the 7/7 bombings announced that they were finally abandoning their legal attempt to force the government to hold a public inquiry into the attacks, acknowledging that proceedings would be likely to be unsuccessful and would inevitably cause “further unnecessary distress”.
My own interest in a public inquiry has been to examine the root causes of 7/7 and to assess the legitimacy and effectiveness of UK counter-terrorism. As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the launch of the war on terror the need for a complete overhaul of counter-terrorism is urgent. What has worked and what hasn’t. In the absence of a public inquiry we will have to make do with a public debate instead.
My modest contribution to public debate, published next month, Countering al Qaeda in London challenges much received wisdom about terrorism, counter-terrorism and public safety in Britain. I argue that the best kind of counter-terrorism remains narrowly focused on the terrorist threat and seeks to avoid stigmatising or criminalising those communities where terrorists seek recruits.
In particular I challenge the popular assumption that many politically active Muslims have either wittingly or unwittingly been part of the terrorist problem – sometimes described as a “conveyor-belt” model of radicalisation.
This pernicious account of radicalisation has been adroitly promoted by neo-conservative think-tanks on both sides of the Atlantic. Significantly, two neo-conservative think-tanks in Westminster, Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion (recently subsumed by the Henry Jackson Society) are examined in a report published today by Spinwatch.
A detailed and revealing report ‘The Cold War on British Muslims’ perfectly captures the sense in which both think-tanks have a core mission of undermining Muslim individuals and organisations deemed to be subversive by recourse to counter-subversion strategies and tactics employed during the Cold War.
Having worked closely with many of these so-called Muslim subversives for many years I am inclined to suggest that the vast majority are far less subversive to British democracy than some of the individuals funding and implementing this new Cold War strategy against them. Significantly, many of them also have far more impressive counter-terrorism credentials than their counter-subversive opponents.
“Funded by wealthy businessmen and financiers, and conservative and pro-Israel trusts and foundations”, both think-tanks are assessed in the report to be “inspired by the operations against peace activists and trade unionists during the Cold War and explicitly seek to revive this tradition of political counter-subversion”. Their targets are said to be “politically engaged Muslims, liberals and leftists, as well as liberal institutions such as schools, universities and public libraries”.
Of the two think-tanks Policy Exchange is by far the most influential, helping to shape the government’s recent shift towards counter-subversion under the guise of countering non-violent ‘extremism’.
In my book I explain how Policy Exchange has gradually won government backing for a Prevent strategy that is a counter-subversion strategy in all but name. Significantly Prevent no longer purports to be tackling ‘violent extremism’ but simply ‘extremism’. As a result several outstanding Muslim community projects that have reduced the adverse impact of al-Qaeda influence in Britain have been shelved and risk stigmatisation as ‘extremist’ or ‘subversive’ instead.
Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph columnist and former chairman of Policy Exchange, invoked the image of arch subversive Arthur Scargill when warning an audience in 2008 of a threat to democracy posed by several reasonable, mainstream Muslim organisations.
Moore outlined a counter-subversion strategy every bit as clandestine and ruthless as the alleged threat it sought to undermine. Now as then when combating communists like Scargill, embedded supporters within the enemy camp would, Moore argued, be crucial players in efforts to undermine ‘the extremists’.
Thus Moore identified Ed Husain, co-founder of the ‘counter-extremist’ Quilliam Foundation, playing a similar role to Frank Chapple, a ‘moderate’ trade union leader who was willing to tackle Scargill:
“One of the most powerful lessons from Ed Husain’s remarkable book, The Islamist, is that the people most intimidated by Islamist extremism in this country are Muslims themselves….We need to realise that every time the wider society enters into dialogue with the extremists we are not only dealing unwittingly with bad people, we are also empowering them against good people”.
Moore considered it apposite to quote Edmund Burke’s description of revolutionary agitators as a “half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern [who] make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the British oak, chew the cud and are silent”.
In fact the research I present in my book suggests that Muslims targeted by Policy Exchange have more community legitimacy and support than Policy Exchange and their allies in two separate periods of London politics.
Sharing an elitist top-down vanguard approach to politics Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion share a lack of experience of real urban street life. Indeed, it is perhaps inherent to this kind of top-down political thinking that it is considered legitimate for a small, elite group of Cambridge alumni to forge a counter-subversion strategy against their less privileged political opponents.
As the Spinwatch report concludes, “the policies advocated by the Centre for Social Cohesion and Policy Exchange will have grave consequences for British politics if they are not challenged”. Lets start that debate now.
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