Author Archives: Mr Moo

Islamophobia Studies and Policy Round-Up

Just another quick line about a new book, Thinking Through Islamophobia: Global Perspectives, edited by S. Sayyid and Abdoolkarim Vakil, which is now out, and which I’ve written about before. There have been a plethora of new titles recently too, and collectively they all should help to bring greater conceptual rigour to a ubiquitous but highly contested term, which should prove very useful for policy and legal casework in this area. In fact, the next item on the to-do list should be to draft a legally watertight definition of Islamophobia in line with varous important national, EU or international legal jurisdictions.

Some of the other new or forthcoming titles include:

C. Allen, Islamophobia (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010).

A. Shyrock (ed.) Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press).

M. Malik (ed.) Anti-Muslim Prejudice (London: Routledge, 2010).

J. Esposito and I. Kalin (eds.) Islamophobia: the challenge of pluralism in the twenty-first century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Some other news is that there is a new report out tomorrow on Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies by J. Githins-Mazer and B. Lambert from the University of Exeter, which is to form part of a longer ten-year research programme.

Most importantly, the formation of an all-party parliamentary group on Islamophobia has been announced. The group is to be chaired by Kris Hopkins (Cons, Keighley and Ilkley) with vice-chairs Simon Hughes (Lib-Dem, Bermondsey, and Deputy Leader of his party) and Lord Janner of Braunstone QC (the Labour peer); some 20-odd members have signed up so far. This step could prove essential to mainstreaming Islamophobia as a serious policy and political issue.

Update: On 8th December 2010, Kris Hopkins and Lord Janner issued a press statement saying they have dropped Engage as their secretariat to the APPG on Islamophobia, although there is a dissenting view from Simon Hughes, the other Vice-Chair. It has been reported that Paul Goodman’s piece at Conservative Home has been influential in leading members of the APPGI to this decision; Engage has responded directly to Goodman’s article.

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New Book: British Secularism and Religion: Islam, Society and the State

It’s been a long time since I last posted anything here, and I aim to post more frequently. It’s not as if things of importance aren’t happening in the world.

For the time being, however, I wanted to flag up a new collection that I’ve co-edited with Dilwar Hussain and Ataullah Siddiqui. It’s the outcome of a seminar held in January 2009 on ‘British Muslims and the Secular State’, and is the first collection to my knowledge to focus on this issue. At its heart, it is an attempt to test the implications of two questions through a multi-party dialogue (or ‘multilogue’ for short), as we can see little practical utility in us British Muslims discussing this issue in splendid isolation.

The first question is to explore what religious grounds there are within Islam, and within Judaism and Christianity, to affirm secular liberal democracy.  The book as a whole concentrates upon political rather than philosophical secularism, which, in the twentieth century, many Muslim intellectuals directly equated with the promotion of atheism during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Today in twenty-first century Europe they equate it, and not without reason, with a political attack on Muslim communities and their institutions. Political secularism in a liberal democratic context, on the other hand, refers to (or, more realistically, ought to refer to) the relative separation between state and religion, to non-discrimination among religions and to the guarantees made with respect to the human rights of citizens, regardless of their creed, to which the philosopher Charles Taylor importantly adds the principles of political fraternity and the seeking of harmony.

Unsurprisingly all three discussants tackling this first issue — Abdullah Sahin, Nick Spencer and Norman Solomon — make a careful distinction between what they affirm and support as ‘secularity’, an accommodative arrangement that does not exclude religion from public life and that is committed to democratic inclusion, but are critical of a ‘secularism’ that systematically excludes religion from public life.

The second main proposition looks at the whole issue from another perspective: what reasons might the democratic secular state have to affirm a public role for religion in ways that are consonant with its underlying philosophy. Two respondents — Ted Cantle and Sunder Katwala — assess Tariq Modood’s proposition that the democratic secular state has five reasons to affirm a public role for religion: (i) the truth of religious claims made, subject to robust democratic processes, in policymaking, if not as a basis for a secular democratic state; (ii) the judicious control of violent religious fanaticism; (iii) the social and moral benefits of religious lifestyles upon society; (iv) the recognition of religious identity as a basis for participative citizenship at the levels of individual, minority group and national belonging; and (v) respect for religion as a cultural, historical or civilizational public good. Importantly Modood also points out that there is an important alternative to stricter forms of secularism, seen in France or the United States for instance, which is moderate or accommodative secularism, which is historically the hallmark of northwestern Europe, and particularly of Britain. There is an additional argument Modood makes which is that accommodative secularism better respects the mutual autonomy of politics and religion through ‘twin tolerations’, and so it should therefore be seen as central to liberal democracy. Maleiha Malik closes out the collection by looking at future prospects for the debate on secularism and religion in Britain.

Copies can be ordered from Amazon Marketplace or from Kube Publishing.

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Dilemmas of Authenticity and Belonging

Yahya Birt

It is obvious enough that the debate about the place of Islam in Europe has probably never been so important or sharply contested. The numbers of those who think there can be no genuine or settled place for Europe’s second largest religion seem to be growing; and this sentiment now mobilises politics in many European states, the Swiss vote in 2009 against the building of minarets being a recent example of this politics of fear. The outcome of this vote seems to suggest that if Muslims are to retain a presence in Europe, it should be rendered unnoticeable or even invisible, and that the normal religious freedoms others enjoy are to be especially curtailed for Muslims. Populist politicians like Gert Wilders in the Netherlands can now gain sizeable constituencies by promising to end mosque construction or banning the Qur’an. France, having banned the headscarf from French public schools in 2004, is now debating in 2010 whether to ban face veils from the country altogether, as they are, it is argued, deemed to be incompatible with republican values. Similarly the debate over whether Turkey can be part of the European Union touches upon the very political definition of what Europe is. As the former president of France, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, argued in 2002, Turkey was not fit to be the member of a “Christian club” and, if accepted into Europe, Turkish membership would in any case “destroy the EU” if it went ahead.

Similarly Europe now lives with an ongoing terrorist threat from those whom al-Qaeda inspires to strike in the name of Muslims everywhere. Al-Qaeda operates with a cosmic idea of incessant violent struggle; catalytic acts of political violence, it is believed, will somehow galvanise and unite the Muslim world against the West to restore lost honour and power through indiscrimate carnage as seen in New York and Washington (2001), Madrid (2004), London (2005) and Glasgow (2007). And there have been a number of other foiled plots in the last decade, some dating to even before 9/11. Of course some have been radicalised recent migrants from the Muslim world, but others were European born and bred, and it is around trying to understand how these European Muslims became radicalised that some of the most intense debate about the place of Islam in Europe has raged.

However, I would suspect that even more divisive than the violent fringe have been the political and cultural clashes between liberal Europe and its often conservatively-minded Muslim minorities. Muslim identity politics in Europe can only become widely mobilised across different ethnic, sectarian and class divisions and be able to connect Muslim diasporas with political actors, state or non-state, in the Muslim world for two main reasons. The first cause is a military attack on a Muslim people by a non-Muslim power, where the Muslims are clearly not the aggressors, e.g. the conflict in Bosnia, 1992-95. The second cause is a cultural or political attack on a universal Islamic symbol; this attack is deemed to be a collective insult to Muslim dignity that besmirches the honour of their religion, e.g. the Danish Cartoons Crisis, 2005-8. Both causes relate to the victimization of Muslims, whose pain and suffering because of cultural contempt or political marginalisation plays not only into post-colonial angst and racialized politics in Europe today, but into deeply-felt frustration at the contemporary democratic deficit in the Muslim world and its inability to shape its own future and destiny. Yet what is also noticeable is the very fragility, or thinness, of this universal Muslim identity politics. As soon as any complexity is introduced, such as Muslim-on-Muslim conflict or the public ridicule of any non-universal Muslim taboo, then its appeal and scope is quickly curtailed.

 A similar observation might be made of anything that might be held to somehow undermine the idea of Europe: any universal appeal to a European identity politics must be equally thin to garner together such a diverse constituency of Europeans. At the heart of this European identity politics is cultural uncertainty: an aging continent feels threatened by younger non-European migrants, many of whom are Muslim by faith, and whom it is felt do not sufficiently share Europe’s values; and, as Asia rises and develops multiple modernities, the notion central to European identity that it gave birth a universal and singular modernity appears to be increasingly anachronistic.

So it might be surmised that identity politics is partly based on the anxiety created by the inability to engage with the loss of credible universal narratives. In the case of Islam, European colonialism decisively ended its narrative of imperial and religious manifest destiny in the nineteenth century, and, for the post-colonial Muslim diaspora in Europe, this tension is intensified by the fact of being a European minority of low, or at least ambiguous, social status. This status anxiety is more acute and prolonged that in the case of Europe’s, which has only really slowly developed in the latter half of the twentieth century with the challenges of decolonisation, the rise of America, the divisions of the Cold War, and now the slow shifting of the centre of the world economy to East Asia.

Within a context where many are seeking to diffuse mutually-antagonistic identity politics between Islam and Europe, I want to reflect on one small initiative with which I was recently involved. In 2009, the University of Cambridge won a competitive tender to host a series of seminars to reflect upon “Contextualising Islam in Britain” that was funded by the Department of Communities of Local Government. Inevitably a number of ironic ambiguities were involved in such an unusual endeavour. Why, for instance, would a secular government be interested in Muslim theological reflection as such except for more narrow policy imperatives? How much were the sorts of conclusions sought by government ones of a liberal or progressive bent that were desired and anticipated in advance? How much was the official motivation one that was driven to demonstrate an Islam that was compatible with liberalism, or at the very least could be convincingly shown to be fundamentally harmless and innocuous? How could a small panel of 26 Muslim academics, activists and religious scholars hope to avoid the charge from their own community of promoting their own version of an official British Islam without a proper mandate? And, added to that, what authority or relevance would its deliberations have?  Muslim conservatives might think it too liberal, “Islamists” might think it too politically quiescent, it would be ignored or dismissed by the radicals and wouldn’t most Muslims, holding to an informal and iterative notion of religious authority, baulk at the idea of an official national Islam? Wouldn’t theological reflection in and of itself be overly abstract and divorced from concrete policy issues, e.g. high unemployment, racial discrimination or relatively low educational attainment, that affect Muslim communities in Britain? And wasn’t there a stereotypical element in defining Muslims primarily or even solely in religious terms by assuming that the problems of Muslim communities were best addressed in theological terms?

All those involved were acutely aware of these sorts of dilemmas, which might be summarised as dilemmas of authenticity and belonging. Could such an exercise be theologically serious while not been overly presumptive in the claims to authority that it made? How could such an exercise be more creative and interesting than being a political exercise in reassurance or a plea for acceptance? It is for others to decide how far the “Contextualising Islam in Britain” project succeeded in avoiding these pitfalls; however, a few further reflections are in order.

One obvious irony was that there are few if any comparable platforms, due to internal politics or lack of resources or vision, for sustained reflection on pressing theological issues by such a wide theological diversity of British Muslims, except for official ones. The fact that British Muslim institutions, being perceived as biased in one way or another, would have struggled to collect together Sunnis and Shiites, Sufis and Salafis, liberals and conservatives, and Deobandis and Barelwis (the latter being British Islam’s most important sectarian Muslim division) under one roof. Although an atmosphere of distrust, incompatibility and intransigence was a distinct possibility, and many of 26 participants had not met or worked together before, in practice, a robust but healthy dynamic was established.

In my personal view, the overriding reasons as to why co-operation was easier to sustain than originally feared were threefold. Firstly, the politically parlous public reputation of Muslims sets up an overall context in which intra-faith co-operation becomes more desirable. Secondly, the seminar participants focused upon the theological challenges that faced them all, regardless of their denominational background, which were largely matters of public religion, or the role of Islam in public life, which, as a common circumstance, challenge and opportunity, cuts across other sorts of division. And, finally, there was also sufficient maturity and experience within the group to see such moments of sustained reflection in lives that are otherwise busy and overstretched as rare opportunities that were not to be wasted.

On the question of religious authority, the participants were seasoned enough to realise that as there are many points of religious authority within the Islamic tradition, and that restating Islamic norms is fundamentally an iterative exercise that is ongoing because of changing times and circumstances, the whole exercise was properly framed as opening out the debate and about asking some of the right questions. It was certainly not a series of definitive fatwas that were sought, and no-one claimed either the legal expertise or authority to do so.

On the politics around such an exercise, the participants were clear that a mere reiteration of the idea that Islam is harmless, i.e. that the vast majority of Muslims abjure the violent extremists who misuse the name of Islam, could not be a serious starting point of any sustained theological reflection. Instead, even within a secular Europe, significant parts of which are post-Christian, the idea of religion as a public good, and, within that, the role of Islam as Europe’s second religion, should be further explored and strengthened. There was wide support for Britain’s particular form of secularism, as accommodative of religious pluralism, religious freedoms and of religious institutions, and as providing the overall framework to articulate religion as a public good; however, it was recognised that there were more challenges in framing a positive role for the religious voice within Britain’s traditions of secular public reason and political culture.

The report, in my reading, did recognise that sustained Islamic reflection upon the role of religion in public life within the European context was still in its early stages. The reasons for this were recognised as many and complex but the primary need was to shift the emphasis of Muslim theological languages of public engagement from jurisprudence (fiqh) and legal theory (usul al-fiqh) to become more inclusive of mysticism (tasawwuf), theology (kalam) and philosophy (falsifa). In short, an ethical turn in Islamic public discourses is urgently needed not least because of the widespread misunderstanding of Islamic legalese as a tacit call for parallel legal systems within Europe, but also to reflect more easily an aspiration to serve the common or public good, and not just of the “Muslim good” as it were.

It was recognised that too much emphasis had been put by the Islamic legal tradition on the citizenship contract (ahd, i.e. the duties held by the citizen towards the state), rather than upon the fundamental convenant (mithaq) between humanity and God, that underwrites our inate moral responsibility to each other. It is under this sense of higher ethical purpose that the believer seeks to serve the common good of all through a spirit of service (khidma) and moral excellence (ihsan), rather than a thin legal relationship of citizenship rights. There has been an assumption in Islamic legal tradition that Muslim minority status is a passing and temporary circumstance, which is to be endured through various forms of moral protectionism and community survival. This is wholly at odds with the reality that millions of Muslims have voluntarily and happily chosen Europe as their permanent home to which they belong and wish to make a positive contribution to.  Without this as the basic starting point of any serious deliberation then there is little hope that any amount of reflection will move any of us beyond the politics of fear.

Originally published as “Dilemas de authenticidad y pertenencia“, Akfar/Ideas (No.25, April 2010).

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New Biography of Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam

The first full biography of Abdullah Quilliam, appointed Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles by Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1893, has just come out. It’s a fascinating read and exhaustively researched and written in an accessible way by Ron Geaves, Professor of Comparative Religion at Liverpool Hope University. It can be ordered online from Kube Publishing, and should be appearing in all good bookstores shortly.

As Professor Geaves asutely, and to my mind correctly, points out, Sheikh Abdullah was a man defined by his twin loyalties to Caliph and Crown. He regarded Abdul Hamid II as the true Caliph, and was appointed by the latter to deliver the weekly khutba before the jumu‘a prayers in his name, which were conducted according to the Hanafi School of Law. An example of one of the Sheikh’s khutbas from 1901 is set out below.

Quilliam was a royalist and a patriot too, as the second text, a special du‘a offered on the occasion of Edward VII’s coronation in 1902, shows. In both cases, he prays that God guides the sovereigns of the world to take care of their peoples, and gives them the wisdom to live in peace with each other, for as they are appointed by God (for He grants dominion to whom He wills), they must rule in a fitting manner. Yet, of course, events were to prove otherwise. If the British Empire had once seen the Ottomans as a counterweight against expanding Russian influence, it increasingly focused on building a grand alliance against the Germans which included the Russians as well as the French and left the Ottomans out in the cold. For a man who saw the world in terms of imperial order, and whose loyalty was for both Crown and Caliph, for the two to have come to blows must have proved to have been highly traumatic (Ron Geaves observes that in some ways it left Quilliam a bitterly disappointed man), and so the prayer that these monarchs pursue the cause of peaceful co-existence must have been heartfelt indeed on his part. Indeed as the biography demonstrates Quilliam’s complicated position of loyalty to the Crown under which he reserved the right to be rigorously critical of imperial government policy of the day on the grounds of religious principle was often misunderstood.

*****

A Jumma [Jumu‘a] Prayer
(as Offered in the Mosque at Liverpool by the Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles)

‘O! One Only and true God, the Creator of the boundless infinity of space who planted in the heavens the respondent orb of the Sun to give us light by day and the fair luminaries of Moon and Stars by night, who in the magnitude of Thy unerring wisdom formed this world from nought and having made man planted him therein, and has sustained and protected the human race from the time of creation until now. We Thy weak and frail servants humbly approach Thy throne to offer adoration, to render thanks for Thy great and tender mercies vouchsafed to us in the past, and to offer our petition for a countenance of Thy Divine protection and blessing. We praise Thee for Thou hast exalted us and our ancestors who have been before us. Thou hast spread the earth as a bed for us, and the heavens as a covering, and hath caused water to descend from heaven, and thereby produced the fruits of the earth for our sustenance. We thank Thee for the revelation which Thou hast sent down to us by Thy holy prophet Muhammad, as a direction to the pious who believe in the mysteries of faith, in order that they may have knowledge of and observe the appointed times of prayer, and distribute alms out of what Thou hast bestowed upon them, and have a firm assurance in the life to come. We also pray Thee to protect and bless His Imperial Majesty Abdul-Hamid II, the Sultan of Turkey, Caliph of the Faithful, Emir-ul-Moomeneen, and Defender of Thy true faith, and all Mussulman Sovereigns everywhere. Guide them with wisdom from on high, so that their official acts may be for the lasting benefit of the people committed to their care. We further pray Thee, O Most Merciful God, to teach us words of prayer, even as Thou taught them to Adam. Illumine our minds so that we perceive at all times what Thou wouldst have us to do, so that whilst on earth we can follow Thy direction, and when our time in this world is past, finally bring us to dwell with Thee in the glorious gardens of perpetual and eternal bliss. And Thine shall be the glory and dominion for ever. Amin.

Source: The Crescent, No.427, 20th March 1901, p.186.

*****

Liverpool Celebrations [on the occasion of the coronation of Edward VII]

The Mussulmans have the honour to be the first members of the inhabitants of the City of Liverpool who celebrated the coronation of the Sovereign of the realms in which they dwelt by a religious service. The True-Believers assembled at the Mosque at nine o’clock in the morning, when, after prayers of four racats [rak‘at] had been performed, His Honour Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam Effendi, Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles, delivered the following special doa [du‘a]:

Bismillah, Arrahman, Arraheem!

O One Only and Eternal God! There is no God but Thee: Thou art the Living, the Self-Subsisting. Neither slumber nor sleep seizeth Thee, and to Thee belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens or upon the earth. None there is who can intercede with Thee but through Thy permission. Thou knowest all that which is past, and art acquainted with all that shall come. None can comprehend ought of Thy knowledge but so far as Thou permittest. Thy sway is extended over the whole firmament, and the earth is but as Thy Footstool. Thou art the High, the Mighty! Thou art the Creator and the Possessor of all things; and when Thou decreeth a thing Thou only saith unto it, Be, and it is.

We, Thy humble servants, believe in Thee, and that which Thou in Thy unerring wisdom hath sent down unto us through Thy holy and inspired prophets Adam, Nuh, [102] Ibrahim, Ismail, Isaak, Yakoub, Moosa, Issa and Muhammed (Thy well-beloved), and to Thee and Thy will are we resigned.

We believe that Thou hast appointed Edward, the son of Victoria, to be King of these realms, even as Thou didst direct and appoint Thy servant Abdul-Hamid to be the Sovereign of the Ottoman Empire and Caliph of the True-Believers. We beseech Thee, O God, to bless he whom Thou has appointed to be the ruler of these realms. Endue him with wisdom and understanding, so that all his official acts may be for the benefit of the peoples committed to his charge. Give to him, O Lord, that wise understanding that he may ever maintain his realm in peace with all Muslim peoples and their sovereign rulers. May he who is to be this day crowned have health, strength and happiness and length of days to declare the goodness of God.

And Thine shall be the glory for ever and for ever; for Thou art the Strong and the Mighty, and there is no other God but Thee!

A prominent feature in the morning’s proceedings was the presence of twenty-five Indian Muslim sailors, who joined their English brethren in their prayers for the King-Emperor. [103]

Source: The Crescent, No. 500, 13th August 1902, pp.102-3.

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Defining Islamophobia today: the state of the art

The emergence of “Islamophobia” as an English-language neologism could be dated to around 1991, although earlier occurrences can be found in Edward Said’s essay “Orientalism Reconsidered” in 1985 and from the early twentieth century in French.[1]  This emergence coincided with the moment when Muslim minorities become politically active in Western Europe, in the midst of religio-political revival in the Muslim world, and at the ending of the Cold War.  The parallels with the coining of anti-Semitism in Europe in 1879 are striking, occurring as it did after the legal emancipation of European Jewry and during their social assent at the height of European nationalism.  The Runnymede Trust report on Islamophobia in 1997 helped to internationalise the term, denoted by the fact that the United Nations made Islamophobia a theme at the 2001 Conference against Racism in Durban and held a further seminar in December 2004.  Today Google records over 600,000 references on the internet and nearly 4800 scholarly citations.

Yet, despite the term’s rising ubiquity, the editors of two forthcoming scholarly collections – S. Sayyid and Abdoolkarim Vakil’s Thinking Through Islamophobia and Maleiha Malik’s Anti-Muslim Prejudice in the West – recognise that Islamophobia and/or anti-Muslim prejudice remain controversial and curiously ill-defined terms.[2]  Both collections seem to make a virtue of multi-disciplinary and comparative approaches in attempting to remedy this – recognising that greater scholarly rigour may help to eliminate some of the vagaries and hence disputation around the concept.  In ways recognisable in their Jewish counterparts, Muslim intellectuals seem to wrestle over how much weight to give respectively to historical continuities or present-day discontinuities in patterns of prejudice.  For instance, Malik in her introduction argues “the topic of anti-Muslim prejudice in the West…has to be placed in its historical context by considering the extent to which the mediaeval period is a forerunner to contemporary forms of prejudice….”, while Sayyid asks what is to be gained by employing Islamophobia as a concept instead of racism or Orientalism?  What might prove productive, he suggests, is a series of reflections on the emergence of a very contested “Muslim question”.[3] Another forthcoming monograph by Chris Allen is equally concerned to address “whether Islamophobia can be seen as a continuum of historical anti-Muslimism or anti-Islamism, or whether Islamophobia is an entirely modern concept”.[4]

There is also the problem of etymology, or lexical deconstruction.  Some people see “Islam” plus “phobia” and define the term “Islamophobia” as the sum of its parts.  They object to the idea that a religion can’t be criticised without accusations of racism or that their well-founded rational objections should be recast as irrational or phobic.  Some critics therefore argue that “anti-Muslim prejudice” serves as a less contentious and clearer alternative than “Islamophobia” because essentially it’s people not ideas that need defending.  This would seem to ignore the findings of critical race theory which has charted the shift in emphasis from classical biological racism to cultural racism, including in Britain.[5]  This shift is not denied in Malik’s collection which, to the contrary, is concerned to chart the relation of ideas like secularism and liberalism to historical and contemporary manifestations of prejudice against Muslim persons. Malik’s preference for “anti-Muslim prejudice” is rather predicated on the argument that a focus on “prejudice”, which is at least subject to rational analysis, has more utility than a concentration on “phobia”, which is less amenable to such analysis and refers instead to deeper psychological roots and to the irrational.[6]

The other strategy is to recognise that “Islamophobia” itself, as Sayyid argues, can no longer be simply defined as “fear of Islam (and its cognates)”, and so, as it has wide currency, it should be made a sharper and more wide-ranging analytical tool.  In short, “Islamophobia” should become more than the sum of its etymological parts.  This point is well taken, and is one that I have some sympathy for. After all, “Islamophobia” as a neologism takes its inspiration from “homophobia” and “xenophobia” – which no-one defines so narrowly as to exclude prejudicial rationales – rather than from the fear of the outdoors, enclosed spaces or spiders.  And whichever term is preferred – anti-Muslim prejudice verses Islamophobia – advocates of both terms recognise that there is a complex combination of biological and cultural racism at play here.[7]  Perhaps what is at stake here is not so much one’s preferred choice of terminology but one’s politics, with its attendant questions about tactics, strategies, alliances and goals and, therefore, rhetorical preferences.  Above and beyond that it is surely a healthier state of affairs that a more careful consideration of definitions serves the broader goal of enhancing critical theory in this neglected area.

A final point of more than passing interest is that all the three editors and several of the contributors are British Muslim intellectuals, academics or commentators.  It is tempting to speculate as to why this might be the case.  The first reason is that the pioneering intellectual and policy framing for Islamophobia was laid down in Britain – in the form of the Runnymede Trust reports of 1997 and 2004.[8]  This is reflected in the fact that nine out of the ten most cited scholarly references are by British academics.  A second point is that British Muslims like Khalida Khan, Maleiha Malik, Nasar Meer, Tariq Modood, Ziauddin Sardar, Bobby Sayyid and others did much to lead the debate on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice throughout the 1990s and 2000s; and this was an expression, perhaps, of the political confidence and dynamism of British Muslims more generally.  That Britain has led debate on the merits and demerits of the term “Islamophobia” is also reflected in the fact that its most prominent critics – like Fred Halliday and Kenan Malik – have also been British.[9]  It therefore seems appropriate that these two serious attempts to give the term analytical credibility should have a British impetus as well.

Notes

[1] Abdoolkarim Vakil, “Is the Islam in Islamophobia the same as the Islam in Anti-Islam; Or, When is it Islamophobia Time?”, Thinking Thru’ Islamophobia seminar, University of Leeds, May 2008.

[2] S. Sayyid and Abdoolkarim Vakil (eds.), Thinking Through Islamophobia (London: Hurst, 2010) and Maleiha Malik (ed.) “Anti-Muslim Prejudice in the West: Past and Present”, Patterns of Prejudice (special issue), 43/3-4, July-September 2009, also to be published as a stand-alone volume by Routledge in 2010.

CONTENTS: Thinking Through Islamophobia (eds.) S. Sayyid and Abdoolkarim Vakil

1. Introductory Note/S. SAYYID; 2. Are Unicorns Muslim?/S. SAYYID; 3. Islamophobia and the Crusades/J. RILEY-SMITH; 4. Is the Islam in Islamophobia the same as the Islam in Anti-Islam; Or, When is it Islamophobia Time?/A.K. VAKIL; 5. The Problem With Parables/K.B BROWN; 6. Islamophobia: from K.I.S.S. to R.I.P./C. ALLEN; 7. The Voyage In: Second Life Islamophobia/Y. ISLAM; 8. Islamophobia and the Racialization of Muslims/N. MEER AND T. MODOOD/ 9. ‘No Innocents’/M.G. KHAN; 10. ‘Flooding the embankments’: Race, biopolitics and sovereignty/D. TYRER; 11. Sexualising the ‘War on Terror’: Queerness, Islamophobia and globalised Orientalism/A. KUNTSMAN, J. HARITAWORN AND J. PETZEN; 12. Governing Muslims after 9/11/Y. BIRT; 13. Neoconservative narrative as globalizing Islamophobia/C. HAŞIMI; 14. Asking the Law Questions: Islamophobia, Agency and Muslim Women/S. BANO; 15. Fear of small numbers? Debating face-veiling in the Netherlands/A. MOORES; 16. A Short Geneology of Russian Islamophobia/M. TLOSTNOVA; 17. Culturalism, Education and Islamophobia in China/L. YI; 18. Islamophobia and Auto-coloniality: The Case of Turkey/Y. AKTAY; 19. Reclaiming the Turk’s Head/M.S. SEDDON; 20. Islamophobia and Hellenophilia: Greek Myths of Post-Colonial Europe/R. TZANELI; 21. Troubled by Muslims: Thailand’s Declining Tolerance?/D. MCCARGO; 22. “Breaking the taboo of Multiculturalism”: The Belgian Left and Islam/N. FADIL; 23. ‘Sikh Islamophobia’/K. SIAN; 24. Islamophobia: A new racism in football?/P. MILLWARD; 25. Fundamental Fictions: Gender, Power and Islam in BrAsian Diasporic formations/R. RANASINHA; 27. Generating Islamophobia in India/D. ANAND

 

CONTENTS: Anti-Muslim Prejudice in the West, Past and Present (ed.) Maleiha Malik

Introduction/MALEIHA MALIK; Britons and Muslims in the early modern period: from prejudice to (a theory) of toleration/NABIL MATAR; Anti-Turkish obsession and the exodus of Balkan Muslims/SLOBODON DRAKULIC; Can the walls hear?/GIL ANIDJAR; The crusade over the bodies of women/SONYA FERNANDEZ; Muslim headscarves in France and army uniforms in Israel: a comparative study of citizenship as mask/LEORA BILSKY; Revisiting Lepanto: the political mobilisation against Islam in contemporary Western Europe/HANS-GEORG BETZ AND SUSI MERET; Refutations of Racism in the ‘Muslim question’/NASAR MEER AND TARIQ MODOOD; ‘Get shot of the lot of them’: election reporting of Muslims in British newspapers/JOHN E. RICHARDSON; Where do Muslims stand on ethno-racial hierarchies in Britain and France? Evidence from public opinion surveys, 1988-2008/ERIK BLEICH; Confronting Islamophobia in the United States: framing civil rights activism among Middle Eastern Americans/ERIK LOVE

[3] I am indebted to the editors of both volumes for forwarding to me their – as yet unpublished – introductions.

[4] Christopher Allen, Islamophobia (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010).

 CONTENTS: 1. Introduction; 2. Tracing history: the seedbed of “Islam” and “the West”; 3. The Re-emergence of the “Other”: the Iranian revolution and the spectre of fundamentalism; 4. 1989 and beyond: the birth of a phenomenon; 5. 11 September 2001: culminating the past, defining the future; 6. Global Perspectives: modern medias and Islamophobia; 7. Western Muslims: new identities and shifting proximities; 8. Suspicious minds: between the enemy within and model Americans; 9. Endemic or epidemic: a historical continuum or a contemporary phenomenon; 10. Re-evaluating Islamophobia

[5] For example, Tariq Modood, Multicultural Politics: Racism, Ethnicity and Muslims in Britain (Edinburgh: University Press, 2005).

[6] This last point was made by Maleiha Malik, private email communication, 2nd September 2009.

[7] Elsewhere Ash Amin argues that a new racism has emerged on top of biological and cultural antecedents – phenotypical racism – “which thrives on quick-fire judgements of surface bodily features, read as proxies of race [and being]… flexible and mobile, allowing more and more telltale signs to be added, without much need for explanation and accuracy. The beard, the skull-cap, the ruck-sack, the hennaed hair, the baggy trousers: each is enough to signal the racial even if none of the markings has anything to do with race. On most occasions, these evaluations generate watchfulness towards the new racialised stranger. But in times of charge public anxiety towards the stranger such as the present – with world affairs interpreted as a war of civilisations and cultures – the evaluations come charged with devastating mischief. On these occasions, the racialisation of everything threatens to encamp and destroy minorities, strangers, asylum seekers, races invented by the day; bearing the full force of phenotypical, biological, and cultural racism.”, see Ash Amin, “The Racialisation of Everything” in Asha Amin and Michael O’Niell (eds.) Thinking About Almost Everything (London: Profile, 2009), pp. 43, 46. What seems promising about this distinction – phenotypical racism – is that it constitutes a hybridised bio-cultural racism, which racialises cultural markers of difference and it further highlights an embedded symbolic code for racism beyond “race”. This seems to me, however, to occur not only with respect to visual markers but also in the deployment of euphemisms in public discourse as well, see Chris Allen’s “‘Down with multiculturalism, book-burning and fatwas’: the death of multiculturalism and its implications for Muslims”, Culture and Religion, 2007, 8/2: 125-138. I’ll have to think more about the utility of this term.

[8] Islamophobia: a challenge for us all (London: Runnymede Trust, 1997) and Islamophobia: Issues, Challenges and Action (Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books, 2004), in which the inspiration and drive of the anti-racism campaigner Dr Richard Stone played a large part in bringing them into being.

 [9] F. Halliday, “Islamophobia reconsidered”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 22/5, September 1999, 892-902; K. Malik, “The Islamophobia Myth”, Prospect, February 2005.

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Don't repeat this mistake

It may be tempting fate to say so, but the conviction of the ringleaders of the airliner plot last week represents the end of an era. MI5 believes that al-Qaida has no “semi-autonomous structured hierarchy” in the United Kingdom, and there have been fewer “late-stage attack plans over the last 18 months”.

Back in the 90s and even after the 9/11 attacks, Britain allowed radical preachers such as Omar Bakri Muhammad, Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada to promote global jihad. The warnings that community leaders gave at the time largely fell on deaf ears; and we British Muslims failed to stop the growth of this radical fringe, which was galvanised by the tragedy of Bosnia.

Around 2000, the alienation of one young muslim I knew was so powerful that he felt he could only opt for the cause of global jihad – a utopian struggle divorced from the urban realities he was failing to deal with.

Since the government crackdown on the original radical preachers, we have been dealing with their disciples, who don’t have a political ideology as such but a simple metaphysical struggle, of good verses evil. We have also come to understand that these plots were loosely linked in the UK, with three-quarters of them directed by al-Qaida and its affiliates in Pakistan.

The intelligence penetration of violent extremist networks and the clampdown on their propaganda are reducing effective recruitment into terrorism, in spite of the wave of major terrorist plots directed at Britain after the invasion of Iraq. Yet, despite our relative success, al-Qaida still intends to strike this country and we should be prepared for a change in tactics.

Social division over the Muslim question in Europe is becoming more important, and our approach to preventative policies needs rethinking. After the airliner plot was foiled in 2006, the government called for a change in direction, aiming to partner Muslims who actively confronted violent extremism. But this approach has proved too wide in focus, wasteful of resources and has damaged social solidarity.

Under the Home Office’s Prevent policy, aimed at countering violent extremism, local authorities have had to prioritise counter-terrorism. Youth services, community safety and neighbourhood teams, social inclusion and regeneration teams are all being inveigled into this cause. Community workers are concerned about how to preserve relationships of trust with those they are helping, particularly with Muslim young people. One youth worker I spoke to complained of police intrusion into his work, of being pressurised to reveal details about his clients and to breach his professional code of confidentiality. Youth services, he said, were being driven towards counter-terrorism and away from drugs and criminality.

In addition, the policy has treated Muslims as an “at risk” set of communities, rather than simply citizens. The polarising dynamic between the far right and groups such as al-Muhajiroun has led to a string of anti-Muslim demos and anti-fascist counter-demos with clashes in Luton, Birmingham and north-west London. The newly formed English Defence League is planning further demos next month in Manchester and Leeds. In July, a far-right terrorist plot with a huge cache of arms and a plan to bomb British mosques was uncovered.

This weekend John Denham compared today’s far right to Oswald Mosley’s 1930s fascists, and announced a drive to counter the extremists within white working-class communities. Yet it won’t do for the government to extend its current counter-terrorist policies to treat the white working classes as another “at risk” category. It should first reflect on just how effective the policy has been.

The vast majority of Muslim institutions that have signed up to Prevent are too distant from the violent fringe – their response has always been to kick the al-Muhajirouns of this world out of the mosques. They have felt more comfortable using Prevent funds for pet projects that have little direct impact: a government-commissioned audit found that only 3% of projects targeted those “glorifying or justifying violent extremism”. Why would this blanket approach work any better in preventing far-right terrorism? We need universal reasons – not counter-terrorist ones – to tackle inequality on a basis that all British citizens can accept as equitable and fair.

Prevent must be refocused, to employ only those with the know-how and credibility to persuade alienated Britons to turn away from violence and extremism. Last week, the imam giving the Friday address at the Harrow mosque invited those outside, who were calling for no more mosques in Europe, inside for talks. That would be a good start: polemics cannot be a substitute for understanding and reconciliation.

This article first appeared in the Guardian on 14th September 2009.

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The personal isn't always political

Conversion – like my own to Islam – is a deeply personal experience, even if it can have political ramifications.

I’ve been reluctant to write about my own conversion to Islam in 1989: I’ve always regarded it as a personal matter, as something hard to write about without coming across as deluded or pretentious, given the widespread cynicism and lack of interest about religious matters. I’ve also forlornly harboured a hope that after 20 years I would be seen as just another British Muslim, rather than primarily as a convert. On top of that, I’ve always been rather averse to “hard sell” proselytising. Religion is not something one routinely brings up in conversation; on the other hand, if someone is interested, they can always ask.

Conversion is a fascinating phenomenon about which much could be said; however, in my view, it isn’t of interest as an argument in favour of religion itself. I’ve always been unconvinced by the idea that religion can be effectively judged through formal logical argument either for or against the existence of God. I feel my scepticism is reflected in traditional teaching to be found within Islam and indeed other religious traditions. Formal theology only proves the possibility of God’s existence; it doesn’t demonstrate the fact of God as such. So the sages of Islam taught, such as Ghazali, the Persian philosopher and mystic, who lived at the time when William I conquered England. These scholars taught that God’s limitless nature is beyond human language or reasoning to encompass: our arguments or descriptions aren’t even approximations.

The idea that God could be sought through reason alone comes out of a post-Enlightenment view of religion as belief expressed through logical propositions that may either be proved or disproved. Yet, as Ghazali taught, religion’s greatest argument is simply one’s own direct experience of God through prayer and service. Encountering a saint who embodies the religious life at its best is proof enough; in other words, saintliness is its own argument. So the point of logical arguments is simply to open our minds to the possibility that the religious life is neither absurd, irrational nor useless, something that the saint makes apparent.

My own saint – the first person I met who seemed to embody the best in religion – was a wisecracking metallurgist from Lahore. He was an extraordinarily selfless man who was allergic to proselytising on behalf of the faith he felt so profoundly, yet a faith that, despite his reticence, nonetheless radiated through his every act. It took me over three years to get past my own lack of interest in all things religious to ask him about his faith. I was presented with no argument but simply with holiness, with the possibilities of contentment, integrity and wholeness that the religious life offers. More generic reasons for converting came later after stumbling attempts to lead that religious life myself. While the case for the centrality of religious experience is ancient, it is post-modern too. It relativises every story of conversion, rendering it deeply personal and even solipsistic.

Obviously, conversion to Islam has become particularly controversial in the west of late. Converts challenge the received order of things by upsetting boundaries, and are often labelled traitors or, more kindly, as eccentrics. The Elizabethans confronted with Ottoman naval power dubbed such converts “renegades” who had betrayed their country by “turning Turk”; undoubtedly, in the age of al-Qaida, the 21st-century variant is “turning terrorist”. Think of Richard Reid, the shoebomber from London who tried to blow up a transatlantic flight, or John Walker Lindh, the Californian who volunteered to fight for the Taliban, for instance. Yet while a few are drawn to Islam as a vehicle of radical anti-western protest, the timeless truths it addresses still attract those seeking meaning to life.

A few months after I had converted, I remember being rather nonplussed when confronted by an angry young man who demanded that I support the so-called fatwa of blasphemy and summary execution against Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses. “Why should I make this my business?”, I thought, “What has this got to do with my learning to be a Muslim?” Later on, understanding the context in which Islam served as a means of protest for some young British Muslims became unavoidable, but it was never an integral part of the impulses that drove my own conversion, nor do I believe has it motivated others who have found shelter, or for those born into the faith, reaffirmation, within the many-windowed house of Islam. The current level of tension and conflict between two self-styled monoliths, “Islam” and the “west”, makes the mundane truth that Islam is still one of the world’s great faiths rather than some murderous anti-western cult more preposterous than it really ought to seem.

This article first appeared on the Guardian’s Comment is Free on the 20th August 2009.

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