Category Archives: Racism and Islamophobia

Playing the sectarian card: Britain’s Ministry of Justice is unfairly targeting Muslim prison chaplains

Yesterday, news came of a soon-to-be-released Ministry of Justice (MOJ) report, which will argue that Muslim chaplains are part of the problem of radicalisation in UK prisons. Given that the government has trailed the report in the Sunday Times (“Most jail imams teach anti-western values”, 07/02/2016, p.7) and the Mail on Sunday (“Majority of prison imams are ‘teaching anti-western’ values that promote gender segregation, study claims”, 07/02/2016) and played the sectarian card, it is a highly premeditated political intervention. Pointing fingers at chaplains of the Deobandi Sunni persuasion, who are said to make up 140 of 200 Muslim prison chaplains, a senior Whitehall official is quoted as saying that, “It is of great concern that the majority of Muslim chaplains in prisons propagate a fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic scripture which is contrary to British values and human rights. Such imams are unlikely to aid the deradicalisation of Islamists in prisons and could potentially even make them more firm in their beliefs.” And in his major speech on prison reform today, the Prime Minister promised that he was prepared to make major changes if necessary on the basis of the recommendations of the MOJ report. The appointment of Peter Clarke as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons this month, Scotland Yard’s former head of counter-terrorism whom the government has previously deployed as a counter-extremism troubleshooter in the education and the charity sectors, signals the MOJ’s intent to construe prisons in the same light: as a hotbed of “extremist entryism”, with the potential to look at Muslim inmates without terrorism offences and Muslim chaplains in the same light as convicted terrorist offenders.

The Quilliam Foundation has stepped in to support the MOJ in identifying Deobandi prison chaplains as a particular problem. Usama Hasan, a senior researcher there, is reported by the Sunday Times as saying that “[t]he Deobandi movement is generally anti-western and anti-integration in its spirit … Imams in the prison system have to be more progressive and open-minded in terms of being supportive of modern, multicultural and cosmopolitan Britain.” The Foundation has prior form in this regard: its 2009 report on prisons, Unlocking Al-Qaeda, made essentially the same claims about Deobandi prison chaplains (pp. 33, 42, 101) and recommended a reduction in their numbers (p.108).

Reading between the lines, it seems as if Ahtsham Ali, the current Muslim Advisor to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), is being set up as the fall guy for appointing many of these Deobandi chaplains. A damage limitation exercise on behalf of Ali is already under way to argue that he is neither an extremist nor of a particular sectarian persuasion by anonymous sources quoted in the Sunday Times. That is all very well, but what about some damage limitation on behalf of these Muslim chaplains who have rendered a great deal of public service in prisons for many years? Who is going to speak up for them?

It is naïve to expect fair play and even-handedness, or a reliance on evidence or the measured conclusions of academic research, especially where the incumbent minister, Michael Gove, is concerned. The news reporting and, one must surmise, the forthcoming MOJ report rely on the fallacious idea that the Deoband school is stuck in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, in the context of its original anti-colonial foundations (ignoring massive transformations since, both in the Subcontinent and the diaspora). It also seems to have discounted the findings of the three-year AHRC/ESRC ‘Religion and Society’ research study on Muslim chaplaincy in Britain (2008–2011) carried out by the University of Cardiff. That study acknowledged the conservative orientation of Deobandi chaplains but also found that pastoral practice in the challenging prison environment and working within a multi-faith chaplaincy team had a transformative effect:

Muslim chaplains working across most sectors learn new attitudes from their experiences. While they often tend to start with normative, didactic approaches that are directed towards their co-religionists, their experiences of working with all kinds of people in a multi-faith environment seem to inculcate within them attitudes of empathy, person-centredness, equality, broad-mindedness, openness, approachability, supportiveness, tolerance, non-judgementalism, non-directedness, compassion, patience and humility. (Gilliat-Ray, Ali and Pattison,Understanding Muslim Chaplaincy, p.175)

The Cardiff team also found that, when called to do so, Muslim chaplains provided genuine pastoral care for non-Muslim inmates. Furthermore, the study established that Muslim chaplains’ pastoral training and experience was having an impact on the mosque imamate in Britain, giving more profile and credence to the pastoral dimension in serving local communities. It also argued that the preponderance of Deobandi seminarians among Muslim prison chaplains was largely due to the huge investment in imam training that this denomination has made in Britain, more so than any other Sunni or Shia group.

Another factor that the Cardiff research team did not mention was that, after 7/7, the government wanted Muslim prison chaplains to have theological training as part of the professionalization of the sector and for them to possess the wherewithal to tackle the arguments of violent extremists. Again, this policy shift favoured Deobandi applicants who already had the necessary qualifications to hand. That said, the main formal role of Muslim chaplains remains pastoral and aimed at the spiritual welfare of the general Muslim prison population, yet they have made informal efforts to tackle extremist ideas within this primary remit, and have facilitated greater cultural awareness and understanding of prison staff about mainstream Muslim beliefs in the context of radicalisation (Gilliat-Ray et al, p.110). Overall, however, they have not been formally involved in theological deradicalisation efforts aimed at inmates with terrorist offences, for which outside specialists have been brought in with the collaboration of the authorities (HM Prison Service, Muslim Prisoners’ Experiences, 2010, p.35, Para 7.12).

For all those who agree that Muslim prison chaplaincy in Britain has been a growing and largely successful sector over the last two decades with a solid track record of public service and professional development, now is the time to make your voices heard. There is genuine fear that the government is now going to smear this sector as “extremist Muslim entryism”. Is the government going to brush aside all this dedicated public service and experience and start getting rid of people on the basis of lazy and pernicious sectarian labels? Where is the due process? Where is the expectation that professionals should be treated in a meritocratic way on the basis of their individual performances?

From my sources, I am hearing that many Muslim prison chaplains are feeling resigned to losing their jobs, and that, as public servants, they have no right to speak out if Mr Gove — who is ultimately their boss — is going to sack them. How terrible it is that even high-achieving Muslim professionals feel so isolated and demoralised that they cannot defend themselves against such baseless smears? And more importantly where will that leave the pastoral and spiritual care of Muslim inmates who sadly now make up 12% of the prison population? It is hard not to see this as anything other than institutional Islamophobia being sanctioned at the highest level, which could have really damaging and deleterious effects. Now is the time to speak up and set the record straight.

Update One: In mid-March, Middle Eastern Eye reported that Sir Michael Spurr, Head of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS)  wrote a letter to prison governors, responding to the newspaper stories, describing allegations of extremism as ‘disgraceful’. While he would await the recommendations of the MOJ report, he defended the existing vetting and recruitment process for Muslim chaplains and commended their service, and praised the ‘characteristic resilience and dignity’ of Ahtsham Ali in response to the pressure he had been put under.

A month later, some of the MOJ’s report’s findings were leaked in the Times (19 April 2016, pp.1, 6, 29 (£, paywall)), although it had not been cleared for release by Number 10. Apparently the report ‘pulled no punches’ and offers 69 recommendations, stating that NOMS suffered from managerial weaknesses when it comes to tackling extremism.  The headline conclusions leaked to the Times were:

(i) Extremist literature was found in more than ten prisons, and there was ‘little or no assessment of the suitability of Islamic literature before it was distributed to “impressionable minds”.’

(ii) Chaplains at several jails were found to have encouraged prisoners to raise monies for Islamic charities that had links to international terrorism.

(iii) Prison chaplains were judged to be under-prepared for counter-radicalisation responsibilities: ‘sometimes they lacked the capability, but often because they didn’t have the will.’

(iv) The report claims to have found evidence that chaplains from other persuasions felt ‘marginalised, bullied and intimidated’ by the dominant Deobandi viewpoint in prison chaplaincies.

Sir Michael Spurr and Ahtsham Ali as well as the Bury Dar al-Ulum came under renewed criticism in these Times articles.

Whatever the merit of these serious allegations, only minimal details have been leaked, so it is too soon to know how substantive they are. That said, it should be noted that the MOJ has again demonstrated its predilection for politically-motivated leaks, and that the political focus has intensified in the last month with the BBC’s two-part investigation ‘The Deobandis‘ on Radio 4.

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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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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.


[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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£100 for an anti-immigrant scare story!

Diana Appleyard, a features writer at the Daily Mail, sent out the following appeal on 16th February (HT: BBRC, Recess Monkey, CiF):

—–Original Message—–
From: rsreply@—–.com [mailto:rsreply@—]
Sent: 13 February 2008 15:57
Subject: Response Source – Diana Appleyard , Daily Mail (Request for personal case study)

PUBLICATION: Daily Mail (Request for personal case study)
JOURNALIST: Diana Appleyard (staff)
DEADLINE: 14-February-2008 16:00
QUERY: I am urgently looking for anonymous horror stories of people who have employed Eastern European staff, only for them to steal from them, disappear, or have lied about their resident status. We can pay you £100 for taking part, and I promise it will be anonymous, just a quick phone call. Could you email me asap? Many thanks, Diana

Email: mailto:dianaappleyard@—.com
Phone: not provided for use
Fax: 01296 —– (preferred)

What an absolute disgrace! What a shameless display of xenophobia and cynical abuse of press power! If the Press Complaints Commission doesn’t do anything about this, it will confirm its status as an ineffectual internal watchdog.


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The Beeb, the Archbishop and the Media Feeding Frenzy

Wardman Wire has done a forensic job in pointing out that the BBC, both online and in news headlines, trailed the interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury on the World at One in sensationalist and misleading terms, i.e. his giving assent to the view that accepting the rule of Shariah law in some parts of Britain was “inevitable”. This was a complete distortion of what the ABC actually said on Thursday, 7th February, either in his interview or his speech later on that evening. There is good evidence that the BBC therefore set the tone for the tabs, the Sundays and the broadsheets. (Of which more, hopefully, later.) It also tells us something about the need for responsible reporting in the light of the 17,000 complaints the Beeb received in the subsequent twenty-four hours that were hostile to its original misrepresentation.

Sunny Hundal of Pickled Politics has rightly written to the Corporation to complain. Perhaps we ought to write too.

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A Note to the Bishop: Self Segregation is a Myth

As Atif Imtiaz reminds us, Britain is the land of Hume. So, in response to the Bishop of Rochester, let’s look at some empirical evidence, which shows that self-segregation is a myth.

The most accurate data set around is the decennial national census. There are around 8000 electoral wards in England. In 1991, 57 wards had a minority white population and 15% of all non-white residents lived in them. In 2001, 118 wards had a minority white population and 23% of non-white residents lived in them. In the year before the last census in 2001, more non-white residents moved out of these 118 wards than white ones (14,716 verses 9747 respectively).

So we don’t have self-segregation at all. We have the mundane phenomenon of dispersal.

First, white and non-white residents move out of the inner cities when they can afford better housing and commuting costs. This usually happens in middle age. So if everyone generally moves when they can afford to, it can’t necessarily be put down to cultural tensions.

Second, the number of mixed neighbourhoods (or electoral wards) is increasing. Between 1991 and 2001, they grew from 864 to 1070. Also minority white wards are also still mixed wards: they are not segregated. So we’re getting less not more segregated.

Third, inequalities experienced by non-white residents whether in majority-white, mixed or minority-white wards are broadly similar. This shows that geography and ethnic mix are not salient factors in creating inequality. The employment rate of non-whites is roughly twice as high as whites in all these three sorts of ward. So ethnic differentials in poverty aren’t a function of these mythical ghettos either!

So it seems that if there aren’t really any no-go areas as such, just the ones that people like the Bishop of Rochester like to dream up in their heads.

Source: Ludi Simpson, “The Numerical Liberation of Dark Areas”, Sage Race Relations Abstracts, 31/2: 5-25 (2006).

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Muslims, Anti-Muslims and the theatre of the absurd

Sometimes the best way to deal with a loudmouth (Martin Amis), nothwithstanding Terry Eagleton’s or Ronan Bennett’s valiant efforts, is to send him up. Chris Morris provides a masterclass here, noting striking similarities between Martin Amis and Abu Hamza. It really cheered me up: it will cheer you up too.

It’s sobering to note that the University of Manchester seems to cashing in on the whole thing by hosting Amis and Ed Husain on “Literature and Terrorism” next Monday. (Presumably the novel idea here is to get the protagonists to mostly agree with each other, for Amis’s “horrorism” to find confirmation in a Muslim echo chamber. I hope I am proved wrong.) Holding this event seems to isolate Eagleton (Amis’s departmental colleague) or anyone else at the University who has taken a stand against those who can’t control those little urges to voice thought experiments in “collective punishment”. Even the “good” Muslims, delusional children who contend that their primitive faith might approximate to true, rational, liberal values, can be condescended to as useful-enough idiots against the jihadis, even if one must put up with their “gobbledegook”. If some want to argue that the only really good Muslim is an ex-Muslim (i.e. only Ayaan Hirsi Ali has really got it right), then is it really any surprise that polling keeps showing that large numbers of Muslims think that the “war on terror” is “a war on Islam”?

A sure sign of a hostile and prejudicial climate is the repeated claim that it doesn’t exist or even that being prejudiced is a badge of honour (because it doesn’t really exist).

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Don't believe the hype about Islamofascism Week…

on American campuses this week (22-26th October). According to Think Progress, one of America’s top political blogs, the claim that 200 campuses are taking part is hype. The American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee did a survey of (the allegedly) participating campuses and found that

after we contacted those institutions, most of those institutions indicated that no such events [are] taking place on those campus. And many contacted the sponsors and told them, “do not use my institution’s name in your campaign,” including some very renowned universities such as Yale and Princeton.

Even the name of Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Liberty University was removed from the list, masha’Allah! Check out the article to read more.

Hat Tip: Ali Eteraz

Update: And Wingnuts, a US comedy programme, shows that this campaign is not above mislabeling dramatic film footage as the real thing. Hat Tip: BBRC

Update: Umar Lee gets roughed up at George Washington University for speaking his mind about IFW.

Update: Jinnzaman provides some financial background on David Horowitz’s Freedom Centre. He gets $350,000 a year to act as its Director. The center has received over $15 million in donations, with the Scaife Foundations providing around 40% of the funding. The Foundations have supported far right Christian groups and organisations some of whose positions seem out of step with IFW. Read more here.

Update: There are now only around 100 campuses apparently signed up to IFW (out of an original 200), but the scheduled speakers for IFW are only addressing 26 campuses.  These include Robert Spencer, Phyllis Chesler, Ibn Warraq, Daniel Pipes and Anne Coulter. So that’s a fall to around an eighth of the originally-claimed support! See the schedule here on the IFW site.

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The Problem with "Stop and Search"

Stop and SearchAfter the foiled attacks in London and Glasgow, stops and searches under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 have increased in London to five times the monthly average of 2,114 to 10, 948 last month (July 2007). Twenty four per cent were Asian, 14% were black and 54% were white. Under the Act, people can be searched for “articles connected with terrorism” without “reasonable grounds” for suspicion (although the need for “reasonable grounds” applies in the case of search powers with respect to drugs, weapons and stolen goods). In February, the Association of Chief Police Officers had promised to review stop and search policy. Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman of the Metropolitan Police, a senior counter-terrorism officer, remarked at the time that stop and search damaged community relations and resulted in few arrests. The review, published in May, found that, although the power should be retained, the public needed regular and accurate updates on its use and that police officers should get further training. However, after the attacks, senior officers within the Met advised that stop and search should be used more frequently. According to Commander Rod Jarman of the Met, stop and search is a visible form of deterrence for would-be terrorists. [1] As much as anything else, it looks like the traditional show of will, determination and force on the part of the police in the wake of what could have been deadly attacks. However it is not determination that is at question here, but effectiveness.

Some questions immediately spring to mind. If searches are a blunt tool and lead to very few arrests, as the Met has admitted in the past, then is a vague rationale of “visible deterrence” adequate, given the impact on community relations? Is it really possible to know, or indeed to measure, whether “visible deterrence” actually works? I would guess not. Isn’t there a more important long term goal of building a trust-based relationship with Muslim communities, with the intelligence dividends that would accrue, rather than persisting with blunt tools like stop and search, which, when widely and indiscriminately used, damage the long term aim of policing with the full consent of Muslim communities? Unlike “visible deterrence”, the poisoning of community-police relations through stop and search has much more historical evidence to back it. As Lester Holloway, news editor of the Voice, reflected back in 2002 in relation to the Afro-Caribbean community, “Undoubtedly, stop and search has been an enormous problem that has caused decades of strife between the black community and the police.” [2] History seems to be repeating itself.

As the police now argue, profiling seems increasingly pointless. Each cell brought to trial adds to the growing evidence that, while those convicted share an extremist (mis-)interpretation of Islam, there are wide class, ethnic, residential and national differences amongst those caught. Drawing up a typical profile seems more and more difficult. Rod Jarman confirms this when he says:

Terrorists live, work and blend into our communities. They need information; accommodation, transport, communications, material and storage. Terrorists can come from any background and live anywhere. They are as likely to be seen in quiet suburban roads as they are in inner city areas. [3]

So is the answer then to merely widen the net: to apply stop and search in Croydon as much as in Tower Hamlets?

There has also been an internal police debate, and indeed one within Muslim communities too, about how stop and search should be recorded. At the moment, figures are collected on the basis of ethnicity. My understanding is that there is also an Arab category alongside “white”, “black” and “Asian”. But I’ve yet to come across publicly-released figures on the numbers of Arabs being stopped and searched in London. The large figure of 54% for “white” might be explained by the propensity of some Muslim ethnic or national groups (Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Bosnians etc) to prefer categorising themselves as “white”, as opposed to “black” or “Asian”. Anecdotally, Arab friends say that certain communities, like London’s Moroccans, feel that merely walking down the street in some parts of London is an invitation to be stopped and that they have been stopped many times. Additionally there is the question of whether religious affiliation should be monitored as well. Advocates say that it would allow unwarranted and disproportionate stops and searches on the basis of religious affiliation to be monitored and therefore contested where necessary. Opponents say that the very fact of asking what someone’s religion is, is going to alienate Muslims further, who will feel that they are being monitored by the state.

The main reason for resentment at stop and search under s.44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 seems obvious: that someone is suspected of involvement in terrorism on the basis of belonging to the same faith community, and that this suspicion need not be based on evidence. Stop and search therefore has an inherently speculative element to it. This speculative suspicion is based on what inevitably must be a stereotyping surmise linking faith identity with violent extremism. On this basis, there is bound to be some skepticism as to whether monitoring on the basis of faith identity is worthwhile in the first place. Rather, given that stop and search is a blunt and speculative form of policing, as currently framed under s.44, then the powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 ought to be curtailed to include the requirement of “reasonable grounds”. If used wisely and proportionately, on the basis of evidence, then there are grounds for cautious hope that stop and search would be less likely to alienate the very communities that the police would hope to win over, and might prove to be more effective.


[1] Sandra Laville, “More face stop and search to deter terrorists, say police”, Guardian, 7 August 2007.
[2] Anushka Asthana, “A way to curb stop and search”, New Statesman, 5 August 2002.
[3] Sandra Laville, ibid.

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Filed under Civil liberties, Racism and Islamophobia, Terrorism, UK Politics

With Us or Against Us: The Rhetoric of the War on Terror

After 9/11, there has been a shift in the cultural representations of Muslims towards more direct political themes and the use of terrorist violence. In particular, there has been the emergence of a shared political rhetoric, particularly between Washington and London, that is central to the “war on terror”. Rhetoric, which is part and parcel of political speech-making, is still vulnerable to the ancient criticism of Plato that it is too concerned with the means of persuasion rather than the framing of good argument itself. One species of rhetoric identified by Aristotle, the enthymeme, commonly features an unstated premise, the veracity of which is a probable rather than an established truth. A comparison with actual policy would show that rhetoric can have a contested relationship with reality.

This essay offers an analysis of this rhetoric to see what it seeks to persuade Muslims to do, what its unspoken premises are and which categories it uses to mobilise Muslim sentiment. Five years on after 9/11, and with the descent of Iraq into bloody civil war, it is essential that Muslims develop a critical distance from this rhetoric, not only because it can be internalised and have negative consequences for Muslims and how they evaluate themselves and their faith, but also because the rhetoric does much to justify an aggressive militarism that feeds the very terrorism it purports to be ending.

The Crude Form of the “War on Terror” Rhetoric

There is a crude form of rhetoric in the “war on terror”, which is summarized as “Islam verses the West” or “the clash of civilisations”, which, because it generally serves to antagonise Muslims, is not commonly used. In fact the evidence is that, if used, this terminology is quickly modified or retracted. In its crude form, the “war on terror” rhetoric is explicitly tied to the dictates of nationalism and anti-terrorism. The most famous example is George W. Bush’s assertion that “You are either with us or you are with the terrorists”, of which we find a rare British echo in a comment from Dennis MacShane in 2003, then the British Minister for Europe: “It is time for the elected and community leaders of British Muslims to make a choice: it is the British way – based on political dialogue and non-violent protests – or it is the way of the terrorists, against which the whole democratic world is now uniting.” The reason why this crude form is not normally employed is that it does nothing to mobilise Muslim sentiment in favour of the “war on terror”. Another good example is Bush’s use of the word “crusade” to describe the war on terror a few days after 9/11, which was quickly retracted. It could also be argued that this crude form does not necessarily represent the most prevalent view among American and British political elites either.

The crude form has some historic pedigree. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new Muslim enemy comes to be constructed by right-wing academics, policy-makers and politicians associated with the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party. The story is too well-known to be rehashed here at any great length. But, briefly, the two key figures who give the idea proper substance are Bernard Lewis, the British-American Middle East studies specialist, who in a 1990 article introduces the term “the clash of civilisations” which is subsequently popularised by the political scientist Samuel Huntingdon, in which ideological clashes in global politics are replaced by civilisational ones. The chief antagonists for the West are now Islam — with its “bloody borders” — and Confucian China.

It is not Christianity as such that is opposed to Islam, for the “clash of civilisation” argument has its roots in a secularised form of American Protestantism. At the end of the Cold War, conflict would no longer be an ideological clash between communism and liberal capitalist democracy but based on civilisational conflict. It compares an idealised West – based on democracy, human rights, free enterprise and globalisation, with its opposite portrayed as “unsympathetic, adversarial and incapable of betterment”. [1] It is a correction of the post-war modernisation thesis that said that religion would simply fade away. Instead, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, there was a revision so that religion could still play a part in political conflict, and this was seen in a negative and combative way. These are different civilisations and they are destined to clash on the basis of value-difference. The crude version relies on persistently asking the question: can Islam meet the test of civilisation for although it is a civilisation, it is an inferior one. It allows for purveyors on the “clash” thesis to be blind to the many occasions when they fall short of their own civilisational standards. Muslims are judged by the most extreme adherents of their faith, whereas Christian extremists are exceptional.

Huntingdon’s thesis is largely discredited, and is not taken seriously by many neo-conservatives, including, for example, Daniel Pipes, who criticised it in a recent debate in London with Mayor Ken Livingstone. The Muslim world and Europe have had a deeply enmeshed interaction, which certainly cannot be defined as characterised largely or solely by conflict. Fourteen of today’s 34 European countries were at one time wholly or partly ruled by Muslims for a century or more, and similarly, all Muslim societies except for three have experienced direct European rule in the last 200 years. Yet this deep interaction is written out of European history and self-definition. Instead, it is written only as a relationship of rivalry and conflict, but with no proper assessment of long periods of peaceable co-existence or of profound cultural interchange. In particular, there is the huge legacy of late medieval and philosophical Muslim thought later drawn on by European Jews and Christians to create the modern West. Richard Bulliet has even coined a new term, “Islamo-Christian civilisation”, to denote

a prolonged and faithful intertwining of sibling societies enjoying sovereignty in neighbouring geographical regions and following parallel historical trajectories. Neither the Muslim nor the Christian historical path can be fully understood without relation to the other. [2]

If we take these Muslim and Christian societies to denote one civilisation then conflicts between them take on an internecine character. After periods of conflict, the realisation of a common heritage would make eventual reconciliation easier, and would prevent the conception of conflict as the result of a “clash”. The terrible treatment of Jews in Europe did not prevent, after the Holocaust, the development of an idea of Judeo-Christian civilisation, emphasising what was held in common. There is no reason why commonalities between the Muslim world and the West should not be similarly achieved, despite the current round of conflict.

The Sophisticated Form of the “War on Terror” Rhetoric

The sophisticated form of the “war on terror” rhetoric has defeated many a critic, Muslim or otherwise; many end up inadvertently confirming some of its features. Sayres Rudy provides one of the best current analyss of this form, and his work has heavily informed much of this section. [3]

The sophisticated form argues that while suffering is found everywhere and is constant, only Muslims are highly likely to be involved in terrorism. The reason for this is that there are some aspects of Islam that turn normal grievances into exceptional, anti-human ideologies and actions like suicidal terrorism on the part of a delusional and inexcusable minority of Muslims. This minority is termed “Islamic fascists”. This sophisticated argument is evidence-based, rejects simple racism and crude essentialism, and replaces the crude form of “Islam verses the West” with the more sophisticated form “Islamism verses Americanism”.

In more detail, the argument goes something like this:

(1)Political, economic and cultural grievances are ubiquitous;
(2)Muslims are over-represented among terrorists [although terrorists are not necessarily over-represented among Muslims];
(3)Thus, some Islamic quality uniquely inspires terrorist overreaction to grievances;

1.Islamist terrorists do not share political or economic grievances;
2.Islamist terrorists do share cultural grievances;
3.Thus, Islamist terrorists overreact to cultural grievances.

(4)Islamist terrorists attack the US.

1.America boasts a liberal-democratic-secular culture;
2.Islamists oppose liberal-secular-democratic culture;

(5)Thus Islamist terrorism against the U.S. is an overreaction sparked by a unique Islamic quality to the minority Muslim grievance against America’s cultural valuation of liberal-secular-democratic culture;
(6)Culture valuation and value-conflict are immutable;
(7)Therefore, anti-American Islamist terrorism reflects an immutable conflict of cultural valuations between the U.S. and Islam(ism) [4]

The key concept at play here is “grievance”, usually popularly expressed as “Muslim anger”, which precludes any analysis of the normal causes of political conflict. Economic, political and social causes, or injustices, are reduced to a critique of Islamism, which is comes out of and is reinforced by Islam’s supposed anti-modernism. This is a subset of the general argument that the discontent caused by the disparities produced by globalisation (used interchangeably with modernisation here) creates religious fundamentalism. Thus not only does global modernisation cause local fundamentalism, but local modernisation creates global fundamentalism, and all of a sudden we have a single global fundamentalist movement, otherwise known as al-Qa’ida. But there is no reason to think that the various Islamist movements around the world are in fact “cohesive, connected, or even compatible”. [5]

The normal anti-racist arguments made by critics of the “war on terror” rhetoric — that Islam is complex and diverse, that Muslims should not be denied political agency, and that all cultures, including Islamic ones, are changeable — are accepted by proponents of the sophisticated form of the “war on terror” rhetoric. So not only is anti-essentialism shared by critics and proponents alike, but this argument is politically irrelevant too, for the proponents will say “We are talking about Islamism, not Islam, and a level of internal distinction, political agency and cultural dynamism within Islam is central to our argument”.

In the sophisticated form of the “war on terror” rhetoric, there is a distinction made between “good” and “bad” Muslims [6], a differentiation that is part of a post-colonial project of assimilation, replacing older, colonial discourses of blanket and distancing rejection, to which Huntingdon’s “clash” thesis is nearer in spirit. In other words, the attempt to provide a binary distinction is properly termed “Islamophobia”, and is understood to describe part of a condition internal to the post-colonial state, which has replaced Orientalism, a metaphor of spatial segregation in an earlier age of imperialism. This sort of bifurcation of complicated Muslim individuals into either moderates or extremists appears at present to have little end in sight. The open-endedness of the war on terrorism, with its policing, legal strictures, and military ventures abroad, offers up the prospect of social re-engineering on a grand scale. This sort of binary opposition between the Muslim pacifist and Islamic terrorist predates the “war on terror” and actually emerged over the last quarter century since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, chiefly through the mass media. Edward Said noted in the early 1980s that Islam had become a scapegoat, a catch-all explanation for various disliked social and political ills, even if in the overall schema, the Muslim world’s status as a potential bulwark of anti-communism was still useful back then. [7]

Of course the political goal now is to form a bulwark of moderate Muslims against extremist Muslims: in the sophisticated form of the “war on terror” rhetoric, there is not a clash between civilisations, but within Islamic civilisation, to which others are innocent bystanders and victims, or between the civilised West and moderate Muslims against the barbarian Islamists or bad Muslims. However, it is certainly arguable that even if Islamism is separated from Islam and is set up in opposition to a U.S.-Islam alliance, Islamism is still re-identified with Islam and is still seen as an enemy of the U.S. coming from within the House of Islam. Even if it is seen as the exception to the norm of Islam, violent Islamism is still seen as pervasive within the House of Islam. Islamism, in sophisticated “war on terror” rhetoric, is thus both inside and outside Islam.

To counter this, one needs to take apart — and not confirm — the assumption of a continuum that places all the various currents of Islam on a sliding scale to terrorism and violence, which contends that the causal explanations for why the various trends within Islam act the way that they do are merely reducible to a “grievance theology” alone, i.e., the idea that an increase in the grievance felt pushes all Muslims down that sliding scale towards violence. Of course, the occupation of Iraq has made that argument more difficult to sustain because it could in many ways be characterised as an insurgency with features in common with anti-imperialism anywhere. But the larger point is that this form of the “war on terror” rhetoric seeks to refute the position that the vast majority of Islamist militants or terrorists are fighting military or police repression within the Muslim world with an anti-Islam purpose that is either implicit or explicit.

The distinction made between good and bad Muslims often gets replicated and mapped onto ancient and modern sectarian divisions in the Muslim world. An overarching division, as mentioned, has been “Islamism verses Islam”. But there are other forms too. A strong element since 9/11 has been to exacerbate the differences between Wahhabis (or Salafis) and Sufis. Another is to support establishment ulema against anti-establishment Islamist movements in places like Egypt. The third element, noticeable in the build-up of an anti-Iran rhetoric, has been to pit a Sunni “arc of moderation” against a Shiite “extremist crescent”. None of these add up to a consistent view of the internal debates within Islam, and betray an inherent flexibility suited to changing political purpose, e.g. Wahhabism is decried as part of Bin Laden’s patrimony at one moment, and as a bulwark against Iran and the Shia the next.

These divisions are rhetorically invoked on the grounds that good Muslims are the ones that comply and the bad ones are the ones that don’t. Furthermore, the goodness of a Muslim relates to how closely that Muslim is like “us”. That “us”, as Rudy argues, is an idealised (not an actual) America imagined as always unified, stable, infused with integrity, and contrasted negatively with a disunited, unstable and volatile Islam. It is worth saying more about the “us”. Unlike Europe, which has historically defined itself in many periods against its Muslim neighbour, the United States has represented itself as a form of universalism, as a civilisation that is the right template for everyone. President Bush in a State of the Union address in 2004 reflects this sentiment:

The cause we serve is right, because it is the cause of all mankind. The momentum of freedom in our world is unmistakable – and it is not carried forward by our power alone. We can trust in that greater power who guides the unfolding of the years. And in all that is to come, we can know that his purposes are just and true. [9]

This outlook collapses the future into the present-day, and thus those who resist the aspiration of American hegemony do so because they are anti-Americans and not primarily because they have yet to experience freedom and security. And in their anti-Americanism, they are not true to the real teachings of Islam. So while essentially, Islam and America are not opposed to each other, Islam still produces enemies who oppose America’s universal morality. As American values are always held to be coherent, beneficent, exportable and humane, there is no legitimate resistance to them. [10] This shift, then, to a conflict over values has meant that Washington has twice redubbed the “war on terror”, which at the end of the day refers fundamentally to technique and not motivation or values. In July 2005, it became the “war on extremism” and in the summer of 2006, it was semi-officially renamed “the freedom agenda against Islamic fascism”, although the phrase “war on terror” seems to have stuck in the popular consciousness.

It is worth pointing out, as an aside, that the rhetoric about the exceptionalism of Islamism comes out of the rhetorical justification of American exceptionalism, and a view of its global role in the post-Cold War world. The locus classicus is the National Security Strategy of the United States 2002, which sets out something like a Bush foreign policy doctrine for the world. This extraordinary document, which may easily be accessed online, enunciates a “doctrine of pre-emption” that precludes any predisposition to international diplomacy alongside a commitment to a “millennial military state”, and promises a perpetual global role as the world’s policeman which should remain militarily pre-eminent. It recapitulates the idea of universalism as Americanism, centred around “a post-communist world of evangelical capitalism”, in which America’s economic power is assured through an advantageous penetration of global markets. It operates under the assumption that to oppose America is to oppose “the good”. Of course, such rhetoric is hardly self-sustaining in any self-critical analysis. [11]

The key issue with the good/bad Muslim distinction is that it conflates criminal and moral registers. The consequence of this is that the definition of who is a moderate and who is an extremist becomes ambiguous and unstable. It means that legal definitions of an extremist who takes innocent human life are inevitably mixed up with more general moral judgements made about Muslims, who, while they oppose terrorism, are seen to be illiberal. Thus counter-terrorism arguments get caught up with discussions about national identity and belonging, multiculturalism and integration. Thus the list of extremist attributes grow longer and longer, and therefore more Muslims become labelled as “extremist” in political rhetoric. Muslims who are moral conservatives come under as much scrutiny as those who actually endorse terrorist violence. For instance, the official Conservative Party report that came out in January 2007, “Uniting the Country”, lists several groups who have opposed al-Qa’ida as in fact being an integral part of the “Muslim problem” with regard to national security imperatives. [12] It is unsurprising therefore that as the “box” labelled “extremist” grows ever larger, polling finds that a majority of ordinary Muslims conceive the “war on terror” to be a war against Islam.

As Saba Mahmood comments, the rationale of defining moderates and extremists is not seeking to extirpate religion entirely from public life but to produce the kind of Muslim believer who is “compatible with the rationality and exercise of liberal political rule”. [13] America has undertaken an ambitious plan to reform and reshape Islam not only in the diaspora but in the Muslim world as well, largely under the aegis of programmes like Muslim World Outreach established in 2003 (with an inaugural annual budget of $1.3bn). This outreach finds important allies among Muslim reformers who agree that received authority (taqlid) is overemphasised and that more should be done to create the believer who apprehends religion as a series of personalised symbols that may be interpreted flexibly in consonance with the rationales of liberal secular rule. The relationship between text and context should be set by the individual, and not by scholarly consensus. It is of relatively little moment that these reformers may or may not endorse the anti-imperialist critique of the global Left when there is a far bigger debate about the constitution of religious authority within Islam at stake.

The problem with the good/bad Muslim distinction is that it robs Muslims of the power of self-definition, and it politicises the ordinary process of upholding ethical standards among Muslims. It is no longer a question of whether something is good or bad, but an additional consideration emerges: why and for what purpose is someone condemning or supporting something? It is vital here for Muslims to be alive to this pressure but not, at the same time, to let go of their own moral and legal definition of “moderation” and “extremism” (ghuluw), and to insist on it in the current context. After all, prophetic tradition warns Muslims to “beware of excessiveness in religion” (al-ghuluw fi’l-din). Moderation includes combining the interests of continuity and change, acknowledging both fundamental principles and that which is subject to change in religion, avoiding rigidity and elasticity at the same time, and having a holistic understanding of Islam. Fanaticism (ta`assub) includes bigotry and intolerance of other people who are different, excessiveness and exaggeration in religious observance, sternness of manner and outlook, a lack of patience, harshness towards others and an attitude of suspicion and distrust. [14] A similar sentiment — realising the need to maintain the power of self-definition — ought to inform debate, too, around the formation of religious authority among traditionalists and reformers within the House of Islam. This requires retaining the claims of tradition, reason and consensus in creative balance, even in this overly-politicised context, where intellectual debates retain their autonomy and integrity, and accusations of impolitic motivation should be set aside to this end.

In fairness, it should be added that the rhetorical response to 9/11 is partly due to the deregulation of large-scale capacity for violence and destruction — away from the hands of the nation-state — that the new al-Qa’ida global terror franchise represents. There is still serious puzzlement, and not just manipulative political rhetoric, about where to place the motives of this new terrorism within a traditional framework of nationalist self-determination. In fact, the new terrorism is part of generalised emergence of globalised political protest movements, like the anti-globalisation movement, two decades or so after the emergence of a global neo-liberal economic order. Al-Qa’ida is in many ways unthinkable without globalisation, without the internet. It is not jihad as we know it, but, appropriately, as Slavoj Zizek dubbed it, McJihad. As Bin Laden commented on the 9/11 attacks in one of his videotapes: “Those youths who conducted the operations did not accept any fiqh”. [15] Not only is al-Qa’ida unorthodox, but in many ways it refuses even to react against orthodoxy, and so sets out its own modus operandi. So for the Muslim world, a theological response is probably insufficient.

However, while it might be difficult to set a context for political resolution to this new and endless war on terror, the burden of my criticism is that seeking to leave the mode of war for politics is not even being imagined at present. And this failure of imagination therefore devolves into a generalised anxiety that opposes simultaneous loyalty to the nation and to the ummah (the Muslim supernation), which is a particularly pressing issue for Muslim minorities of the West, whose loyalties, presently, must first be ascertained before they may be trusted. The other feature that this failure of imagination provokes is a fear of unrestrained and apparently motiveless violence that is stripped of historical context and is reduced to ideology, which casts a pall of fanaticism over all Muslims. It is this presumption that prevents a conversation of humankind, a dialogue within and between civilisations, from eclipsing the partisans and the warmongers on all sides.


[1] Richard Bulliet, The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilisation (New York: Columbia University, 2004), 2.
[2] Ibid., 10.
[3] Sayres S. Rudy, “Pros and Cons: Americanism against Islamism in the ‘War on Terror’”, Muslim World, January 2007, 97(1), 33-78.
[4] Ibid., 43, the whole outline of the argument is taken verbatim from Rudy.
[5] Ibid., 42.
[6] Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim (New York: Pantheon, 2004).
[7] Edward Said, Covering Islam (New York: Vintage, 1997 [1981]).
[8] Rudy, 54.
[9] Cited in Rudy, 54.
[10] Ibid., 55.
[11] Stephen John Hartnett and Laura Ann Stengrim, “War Rhetorics: The National Security Strategy of the United States and President Bush’s Globalization-through-Benevolent-Empire”, The South Atlantic Quarterly, Winter 2006, 105(1), 175-205.
[12] National and International Security Policy Group, “Uniting the Country” [interim report on security issues, chaired by Dame Pauline Neville-Jones], 31 January 2007, available at
[13] Saba Mahmood, “Secularism, Hermeneutics, and Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation”, Public Culture, 2006, 18(2), 323-347, quote at 344.
[14] M. Hashim Kamali, “Fanaticism and its Manifestations in Muslim Societies” in Aftab Ahmad Malik (ed.) The Empire and the Crescent: Global Implications for a New American Century (Bristol: Amal Press, 2003), 175-207.
[15] Faisal Devji, Landscapes of the Jihad (London: Hurst, 2005), 13.

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Filed under Ghuluw, Islamism, Racism and Islamophobia, Terrorism, war-on-terror