Thursday, February 28, 2008

Islam in the English vernacular

One of the challanges facing Muslims in Britain is language. How to find a natural language for engagement? Some have turned to identity politics, but a new type of language is emerging. Two examples include the writings of Umar Abdallah of the Nawawi Foundation (which can be found here) and the thoughts of Abdal Hakim Murad for radio 4's 'Thought for the Day' slot (which can be found here).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Anne Cryer, triangulation and the moral argument

What is the effect of the Anne Cryer approach to Muslim community development? Let me refer to something which in political circles is called 'triangulation' which describes a politician adopting the argument of his or her opponents, say for example, Tony Blair on privatisation. Not exactly the same thing, but the effect of Anne Cryer talking about forced marriage is that those people within the community who would wish to take up such issues feel either disempowered or outmaneouvred from doing so (very few people are willing to share a platform with Cryer).

The one situation in which this approach has not worked is counter-terrorism. Projects like the 'Radical Middle Way' have allowed the Muslim community to claim the moral argument for themselves in the name of Islam and for Muslims. However, many Muslim community development issues like forced marriage, youth crime or community cohesion - which require the community to make the moral stand and then work according to it - are not championed by the Muslim community precisely because the Anne Cryer approach dominates. The state in such circumstances achieves little and adopts harsher and harsher regimes - I suppose a form of bilateral radicalisation, but in the policy area of community development. I think the community is faced with a real problem here. We need to work on several issues which affect our community though there are many people who are simultaneously willing either to pathologise us or to politically triangulate us. This should in and of itself not prevent us from stepping forward in the ways that we see fit for our own development as a community.

One could suggest that in such politicised times, it is very difficult to adopt a moral stance that points the finger back at the community. I can only suggest that we should proceed with courage and caution.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Why is there only one Bob Lambert?

Whenever I talk to friends from London about the police, one name has come up again and again. I have to say that I was surprised that so many spoke so fondly and with confidance about a man from the Special Branch. He is, of course, Bob Lambert. Known to many in activist circles as a person who understands what he's dealing with. Unfortunately, there is only one Bob Lambert. The Muslim Contact Unit exists only in London and as far as i understand there is no equivalent in West Yorkshire or Manchester where two new counter terrorist units have been recently formed (six years after September 11?). This could explain why five men were arrested through early morning raids and then released two years later after Appeal. The war based on suspicion and surmise continues.

The judgement is damning of counter-terrorism and i cannot understand why this has happened. It is either a deliberate form of psychological warfare or a very bad mistake. It confirms my view that there are probably very few (practising and activist) Muslims involved in the pursue strand - this is probably because we are not to be trusted, which if true, is unfair as well as being pragmatically a bad idea. How many Muslims work for Special Branch? Or for the counter-terrorist units? You need some insider knowledge to be able to help distinguish between some young lads and serious criminals. Is there a large discrepancy between the type and kinds of Muslims employed in the prevent and pursue strands? Does this explain the mistakes? Does this situation make us safer or more at risk?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Labour and racism

Phil Woolas, who has form on anti-Muslim comments, and is currently the Minister for the Environment (!) has spoken about inbreeding within the Muslim community. I am not going to get in to the details of this issue as there is a kernel of truth to this statement as there is with all prejudice otherwise it would just not work. What i am going to question is why when this issue has been around for so long does the Environment minister decide to speak on it during the middle of a crisis which in the public mind is about the social self-segregation of Muslims (through the incorporation of the shariah). It seems that the racist trope moved from culture to biology (so Steven Jones speaks on this morning's Today programme) and shame on Labour for manning the ship during this time and doing nothing about it. It is totally unbelievable that the media is acting in this way and indicative of a much greater problem that lies amongst them. They do not employ any Muslims as equals. And so they know not of what they write about. Somebody do a survey of the broadcast media and the press and ask how many non-assimilated Muslims they employ. Six and a half years after September 11.

A second related point is that this is about colonialism within the postmodern setting. What peole like Anne Cryer do is take a moral argument, refuse permission for the Muslim community to do something about it (we are not in denial as she knows, we need some kind of offical empowerment which she works to deny), and then castigate the community for its immorality. Many of us have been following this for years and have tried to communicate with Cryer and her team but to no avail, she prefers going to the media and i ask you, in the six years since she has campaigned against forced marriage, how much progress has there been? How much has the community changed? What has has she achieved by constantly attacking the community? Instead, it has lead to further and further reification. To such an extent that the government is now considering changing the law which will allow third parties to inform the authorites on cases against the consent of the individuals involved if they view them to be invloved in a forced marriage. The government is now consulting on this. What is interesting and perhaps worrying for anyone who philosophically follows this issue will be that the state is considering to take the right to act against the consent of the individual whereas the bottom line on libertarian-communitarian debates has always been the consent of the individual. Will teachers make these decisions based upon their lay knowledge of Muslims: shariah, jihad, inbreeding, self-segregation, honour killings? Judges are already incorporating discriminatory notions of culture into their judgements - i wish somebody would do so some work on this - and they are supposed to have brilliant minds, so how will the rest of us deal with the anti-Muslim prejudice that pervades so much of our culture when we make our judgements?

Friday, February 08, 2008

On the Archbishop of Canterbury's comments

The following are my thoughts on the Archbishop's comments on the incorporation of certain aspects of shariah into English law.

1. First if all, let it be acknowledged that as public figures go, Rowan Williams is one of the most admirable people around. The immediate attempt to denigrate him personally is not only demeaning to the British nation as a whole, it is vulgar and pathetic. For example, the Daily Mail is currently running a poll on who poses a greater threat to British society: Abu Hamza or the Archbishop? And according to the Daily Mail readers, the Archbishop is twice the threat of Abu Hamza. Other comments about his personality betray the massive dumbing down that the tabloids and their helpers are responsible for. Rowan Williams has got to be one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and decent human beings to walk this island. Shame on the tabloids for the depths to which they are willing to take this country. This matter is complicated and they have refused to engage with complexity, either because they don't want to or they cannot. Let people remember George Carey's comments when the bombing of Afghanistan began a few years ago: 'Sometimes, there are moral difficulties...' Rowan Williams is liked by every Muslim that i have spoken to, and i have been following his speeches for a while and i may not agree with everything he says but i admire his humanism and intellectual reach.

2. Secondly, this moral panic is obviously about a psychological fear that Muslims may somehow, nay inevitably, take over. This is blatant nonsense and is merely pandering to prejudice. As anyone remotely familiar with the Muslim community will tell you, organisation and leadership are not our strong points. The fear is for atheists that religion is on the up, and for others, that Muslims are on the march. For those who are familiar with the debate, they should rest assured that there is incredible legal and academic scrutiny of this issue and it is unlikely that anything will be permitted which could be regarded as outrageous. It is interesting to note that the lawyers who were interviewed after the speech yesterday all spoke in agreement with the Archbishop. This is becuase they recognise through their work that there is a genuine conundrum here which requires careful consideration.

3. The issue is about cultural diversity and the state and the interface between the two. At a philosophical and practical level, it is virtually impossible (ask Goodhart, he tried) to argue against the recognition of at least some form of cultural diversity (e.g. in health, education and now law) and for those who wish to hold an absolutist line, may i suggest that they begin with forcing their model onto counter-terrorism? (Has the penny dropped yet?) The issue is about where to draw the line, and this should be negotiated through inclusion and reasonableness on both sides, because we are all citizens of the same state.

4. So it is about British society and the faith question, but this is also about Anglicanism and its future especially its relation to the Muslim community in Britian. Here I want to characterise two approaches of inter-faith towards Muslims: Christian humanism and Rowan Williams is an example of such and Christian identity politics and Michael Nazir-Ali is an example of such. (On a side note, some people are at present comparing Nazir-Ali favourably to Williams, this can more accurately be done through comparing their interventions: Nazir-Ali made a public statement or perhaps allegation - about Islamists creating no-go areas in Britian - which he has been unable to back up evidentially and Williams has written a thoughtful piece). Rowan Williams is considerate of the Muslim faith, realises that there wouldn't be so many people taking it seriously unless there was something in it for them and has hence approached the topic with humanity and empathy. Nazir-Ali has been rushing to the media on several occasions making various allegations about what may happen in the future if nobody takes the Islamic threat seriously enough, claims that Muslims exaggerate their victimhood while constantly reminding us of Christians victims of Muslim violence and states that Britian is not proud enough of its Christian identity. This is classic identity politics material. Which way for the Church? The humanism of Rowan Williams or the identity politics of Michael Nazir-Ali. I know which one I prefer, the clue is that his voice sounds much better on the radio.

A penultimate note on Christian hospitality. Nazir-Ali asks us to ditch multiculturalism. i.e. disregard cultural diversity (see note above on counter-terrorism) and replace it with Christian hospitality. Well, if you want to read Christian identity politics as Christian hospitality then try the comments posted on some of the newspaper websites. There is enough in these posts for the Church to consider the extent of prejudice held against Muslims by Christians. What is the source of this prejudice?

A final word on the personal attack on the Archbishop. It is disgraceful and demeaning to the British character. Please stop this, understand the complexity of the matter, refrain from vulgarity in mind and characterisation, and applaud the best that our nation has to offer the world.

British law for British footballers

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for the consideration of the inclusion of certain aspects of shariah into English law. This has given the tabloid editors a day off. If anyone asks you about this, tell them to read the speech by the Archbishop which can be found here. The matter is more complicated. I'll post more later.