BRIEFING: Concerns regarding demonisation of Islam and Muslims by Community Security Trust publications
19 May 2009
A review of some CST publications.
BRIEFING: Concerns regarding demonisation of Islam and Muslims by Community Security Trust publications
Islamic Human Rights Commission
Islamophobia: Racism that’s Okay
CST Language: A Deceptive Tool
Islam: A Religion not an Ideology
Islam, Muslims and Anti-Zionism
This briefing seeks to explore some of the contentions made in articles posted on the Community Security Trust (CST)(i) website. The IHRC contends that the CST articles, conducted with little academic rigor, are steeped in Islamophobic rhetoric that demonizes Islam and its adherents. Lacking in methodology and utilising haphazard evidence, the CST articles attempt to depict Islam as being an agent of violence, supportive of terrorism and a threat to adherents of the Jewish faith.
As an organisation created to safeguard the interests of a minority community here in UK, the CST should understand the immense pressure and prejudice facing the Muslim community. The CST are of course free to speak as they wish, though it is notable that they themselves seek to restrict free speech in their stated aim of tackling anti-Semitism. Whilst the restriction of hate speech is a contested principle amongst human rights campaigners, it should be stated that should such restrictions be called for they should apply to all forms of prejudice, including anti-Muslim or Islamophobic prejudice.
Rather than encouraging Islamophobic sentiments and using the post 7-7 environment as an opportunity to partake in the open season against Muslims, the CST has a responsibility to encourage tolerant discourse and should look for common ground with the Muslim Community. Its publications thus far take on the form of alarmist tracts rather than sound analyses. In so doing they not only vilify Muslims and their faith, they undermine the much needed work of tackling anti-Semitism that they purport to uphold.
Islamophobia: Racism that’s Okay
Many of the articles published on the CST website explore issues related to Islam and Muslims. These articles express Islamophobic views both against Muslims and against Islam itself. CST writers such as Michael Whine, Mark Gardener and Dave Rich centre their arguments upon an Orientalist reading of Islam and its history to fill out stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. Although the CST articles attempt to deal with contemporary issues, the arguments presented throughout the website are fixed in a skewed historical discourse about Islam. Their writings serve to demonize Islam and depict its adherents as being an intolerant and violent ‘other’.
Michael Whine’s assertion that Islam spread via ‘force of arms’ in his article entitled ‘Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences’is evidence of the CST’s skewed understanding of Islam and its history. (ii) One of the earliest refutations to the idea that Islam was spread by ‘force of arms’ was given by the noted historian De Lacy O’Leary in his book Islam at the Cross Road, where he wrote, ‘History makes it clear however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myth that historians have ever repeated.’(iii)
The 1997 Runnymede Trust report entitled ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All’ stated that fundamental to Islamophobia is the attempt to depict Islam as being violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a clash of civilizations.(iv) The CST’s analysis and understanding of the very issues it attempts to explore are based on a possibly wilful misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam. The articles posted on the website misrepresent Islam and serve to demonize Islam and Muslims.
CST Language: A Deceptive Tool
One major problem with the writings of Michael Whine, Mark Gardener and other CST writers is the language they employ. Careless use of language, often intentionally, serves their objective of distorting the image of both Islam and Muslims. One example of this can be seen in Whine’s analysis of the Islamic principle of da’wah (proselytising) in his article ‘Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences’. Although Whine writes that da’wah is integral to Islam, he emphasises that it is of more importance to ‘Islamists’, implying some sort of link between those who partake in da’wah and the ‘radical’ and ‘violent’ actors he describes.(v) Interestingly his article fails to note that proselytising is also a key feature of Christianity. By omitting this key fact from his article, Whine is able to convey da’wah as being something more than simply an attempt by Muslims to bring people to what they believe is the truth. The article describes da’wah as a way to impose an authoritarian and a puritan system, and is used as evidence supporting the contention that ‘Islamists’ are totalitarian. In short, by misrepresenting and casting the Islamic principle of da’wah as being something evil, Whine is defaming a key article of Islam.
In this same article, Whine defines jihad, a word that translates into struggle and striving as being a religious war against the West(vi). This blatantly incorrect definition and explanation of jihad serves only to portray Islam as an agent for violence. ‘Calls for jihad,’ writes Whine, ‘and the recent revelations of a worldwide Islamist network… suggest that Islam has declared a religious war.’ Such alarming claims and conclusions based on severe generalisations serve to represent Islam as being engaged in a war against the West, and by extension in a war against ordinary innocent people. This representation of Islam plays on post September 11 fears, and positions Muslims as being dangerous ‘fifth columnists’.
Another example of this manipulation of language can be seen in an article entitled “Old” and “New”, Contemporary British Antisemitism’(vii). In this article Mark Gardner equates anti-Zionist sentiment with anti-Semitism, and argues that the crucial distinction between “old” and “new” anti-Semitism is in vocabulary(viii). The crux of his argument is that in “new” anti-Semitism the word Jew has been replaced by the word Zionist. When discussing ‘Islamists’ who assert they are anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, Gardner writes that ‘their current position inadvertently mimics that of the veteran British Nazi John Tyndall.’(ix) Such a conclusion is problematic for a number of reasons. While Gardner writes that “criticism” of Israel is legitimate, his labelling of anti-Zionism as being anti-Semitic serves to curtail the legitimate criticism of Israel that he himself says is acceptable. By writing that most anti-Zionists are inadvertently anti-Semitic, Gardner portrays Muslims who in large object to the state of Israel as being racist and anti-Semitic. According to Gardner ‘Israel is the root cause of Muslim anger and Islamist terrorism.’(x) His conclusion then that anti-Zionism is in fact anti-Semitism implies that Muslims are angry at Israel not because of the political and humanitarian crisis that the creation of Israel instigated, but because Israel is a Jewish state. Gardner’s attempt at semantic games proves problematic also in that his equating of anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism fails to explain the significant percentage of Jews who are anti-Zionist.
The casual interchange of the words Islam, fundamentalist, Muslims and Islamist in these articles serves to merge these labels and confuse the reader. Consequently, the writings are able to send out an image of Islam as being barbaric, violent, backward and intolerant. Mark Gardner in an article entitled ‘An Unholy Alliance-Nazi Links with Arab Totalitarianism’ writes ‘Muslim Islamists…have also been attracted to far right ideologies.’(xi) What is of concern to us in this chapter is not his allegation that Islamists have been attracted to far right ideologies, which he fails to provide evidence for, it is his use of the term ‘Muslim Islamists.’ His insertion of the word Muslim before Islamist is unnecessary and makes little sense linguistically. Of course the term Islamists stems from the source of their identity, Islam, thus there is no need to highlight or emphasise the fact they are Muslim, as this is evident from the term Islamist. By writing Muslim Islamists, Gardner places emphasise on the Muslim identity of these individuals, implying that there is something in the Muslim identity that makes them attentive to far right ideologies.(xii)
Islam: A Religion not an Ideology
In almost all of the CST publications, there is a wilful misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam that plays heavily on the post September 11 political climate. The writers utilise the violent actions of a minority of Muslims to present a monolithic and demonic Islam that stands opposed to the West. Via constructed misrepresentations and knowledgeable ignorance, their writings distort the Islamic faith and present it as being a right wing political ideology akin to Nazism, Fascism and totalitarianism.
The Runnymede report on Islamophobia asserted that integral to Islamophobia was a deliberate attempt to depict Islam as being a political ideology, used for political or military advantage. Throughout the CST articles there is a conscious attempt to compare Islam, a 1430 year old faith of over 1.4 billion adherents to racist and intolerant modern political ideologies. In his article ‘Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences,’ Whine via a comparison of the two subjects, draws the conclusion that the ‘Islamist’ ideology is akin to Communism and Fascism.(xiii) He bases this conclusion on the works of Martin Kramer, a right-wing Zionist who directed the Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African studies at Tel-Aviv University.(xiv)
By categorizing far right (Nazism) and ‘Islamism’ as the ‘new’ terrorism in his article ‘The New Terrorism,’ Michael Whine is implicitly trying to establish that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two.(xv) This supposed relation is elaborated in his article titled, ‘An Unholy Alliance – Nazi Links with Arab Totalitarianism.’ He writes ‘The hoped-for resurrection of the Caliphate and rule by a single cleric makes it (Islamism) the ideological cousin of the European right totalitarianism.’(xvi) The statement above has the effect of demonising Islam itself, as this ideal of a Caliphate is not an ambition of Islamists but of Islam. The CST condemns those who desire a Caliphate despite the fact that many support this idea on the basis that it may bring better cohesion and harmony to diverse societies. The desire to unite the Muslim nations under one Caliphate is a legitimate aspiration of Muslims, and many have argued that Muslim nations have the right to form political unity in a similar fashion to how American states united to form the USA or how European nations united to create the EU. It may seem an idealistic concept but to brand those Muslims who desire to have one legitimately elected leader as being ‘Islamist’ and ‘radical’ is similar to branding those who believe in the Pope’s position in the Catholic Church as being ‘extreme’ and ‘dangerous’.(xvii)
Whine’s article ‘The New Terrorism’ focuses on ‘Islamist’ terrorism while ignoring other forms of international terrorism. The article has no mention of international terrorism carried out by non-Muslims in the name of a vast array of causes, implying that terrorism carried out by Muslims is the only threat. His claim, which he provides no evidence for that terrorist training occurs in Madrasas (schools), creates the impression that this is typical of all madrasas in the Muslim world. Such unfounded statements serve to create a distorted image of Islam and serve to demonise a historical institution of Islam.(xviii)
By continuously interchanging terms and playing on Islamophobic stereotypes, Whine presents Islam as the antithesis to democracy. He compares Islamism to totalitarianism and argues that they are similar as ‘both seek to mobilise- both aim at the elimination of opposition- and both believe in sacrifice, either for God or for the process.’(xix) There are a number of problems with the above statement. Not only does Whine fail to elaborate on what he means by the terms mobilise and sacrifice, he assigns them negative connotations. As with most religions and organisations, indeed Islam does attempt to mobilise people for a number of reasons and does require its adherents to undertake sacrifice. To assign the desire to mobilise and a belief in sacrifice to totalitarian ideologies is nonsensical. Moreover Gardner’s conclusion that Islamists aim at the elimination of opposition runs contrary to historical evidence. One only needs to look at the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or the Islamic Salvation Front of Algeria to see that these ‘Islamists’ contrary to what Gardner claims, played by the rules of their respective countries and ran for positions in what were advertised by the regimes as being ‘democratic’ elections. In his attempt to fill out stereotypes about Islam and its adherents, Gardner manipulates common concepts and ascribes them to Islamists and Islam.
Whine’s labelling of Islamists as Totalitarian has extensive consequences as his definition of what constitutes an Islamist is wide sweeping. ‘We should note’, he writes in an article entitled ‘Islamist Recruitment and Anti-Semitism on British Campuses’, ‘that Islamist ideology is not monochrome: it contains a broad spectrum of ideology, from Tariq Ramadan…to Wahabi influenced Salafists.’(xx) Michael Whine’s branding of Tariq Ramadan as an Islamist and thus someone who is potentially dangerous and harbours extreme views renders his comparison of ‘Islamism’ with Totalitarianism a comparison of Islam with Totalitarianism. Tariq Ramadan is considered both by Muslims and non-Muslims as being representative of mainstream Muslims in the West.
Whine’s description of Tariq Ramadan as an Islamist and thus someone who holds totalitarian views and is susceptible to right wing ideologies is thus not only potentially libelous but demonizing of mainstream Muslims. Tariq Ramadan is a respected figure in both the Muslim and academic worlds. He is the author of numerous books and articles, most recently ‘Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation’ published by Oxford University Press. He also serves as expert on various committees linked to the European Parliament. John Esposito, a leading US specialist in the field of Islamic studies, has described Ramadan as “an established academic … with a strong record”(xxi) while Madeline Bunting referred to him as “one of the foremost thinkers on Islam in Europe.”(xxii) He was also named as one of the 100 most influential thinkers in the world by Time magazine.
Islam, Muslims and Anti-Zionism
False allegations based on either weak or no evidence can be seen throughout the CST’s publications. In both Michael Whine’s article ‘New terrorism’ and in Mark Gardner’s article ‘‘Old” and “New”, Contemporary British Anti-Semitism,’ it is suggested that “new” terrorism is of a particular threat to Jews. Such a conclusion implies that terrorism is a manifestation of anti-Semitism and is aimed at targeting Jews.(xxiii) While there is little evidence to support such a claim, most evidence suggests that contemporary international terrorism is a manifestation of sentiment against injustice.(xxiv) In ‘The Aftermath of 7 July’, Michael Whine claims that religion is a clock for revolutionaries who believe in violent theologies such as Islamism(xxv). Such a claim is problematic for a number of reasons. While Whine supposedly attempts to differentiate between Islam and the ‘violent theology’ of the Islamists, his labelling of Tariq Ramadan as an Islamist suggests that Ramadan and subsequently mainstream Muslims believe in a ‘violent theology’ that can only stem from their common source of inspiration, Islam.
In recycling the Orientalist theories about Islam, CST articles refer to Muslims, fundamentalists and Islamists in the same set of frameworks and use almost the same language to describe them. Their articles, steeped in ungrounded allegations and weak evidence serve to create an image of Islam as being intolerant and anti-Semitic. In ‘An Unholy Alliance- Nazi Links with Arab Totalitarianism’, Whine defines anti Zionism as anti-Semitism, and thus suggests that the anti-Israeli sentiment within the Muslim world is evidence of Muslim anti-Semitism. Dave Rich in ‘The Barriers Come Down: Anti-Semitism and Coalitions of Extremes’ uses ‘Islamist’ opposition to Israel as evidence of a supposed coalition between ‘Islamists’ and the far right (xxvi). Mark Gardner’s article entitled ‘‘Old” and “New”, Contemporary British Anti-Semitism,’ presents the racial views of the Nation of Islam as being representative of the majority Muslim view (xxvii). Not only is this an unfair generalisation, it is based on the false assumption that Islam is the same thing as the as the Nation of Islam, a sect born out of the unjust socio-economic policies of America.
Gardner and Rich argue that Anti-Semitism is manifested in the far right support for the anti-Iraq war movement and the anti-Israel demonstrations. Not only is there little evidence to support this claim, such assertions that many anti-Semites and far right sympathisers attend rallies campaigning for Palestinian rights creates the impression that anti-Israeli demonstrators and pro-Palestinian activists are anti-Semitic and as such their grievances are superficial and should be disregarded (xxviii).
Throughout the CST website, allegations have been thrown at Muslims and issues surrounding Muslims without providing substantial evidence. A number of unfounded allegations have been made by CST, from accusing Muslims of anti-Semitism and carrying out anti-Semitic attacks, to representing international terrorism as the ‘new anti-Semitism.(xxix)’ Gardner utilises a number of means to indict Muslims of Anti-Semitism. The article ‘‘Old’ and ‘New’, contemporary British Anti-Semitism,’ provides various accounts whereby the Jewish community were targeted. One such example concerned a synagogue in North East London which was desecrated. A swastika was daubed on the Rabbi’s lectern and a Union Jack flag was placed on top of it. Gardner writes that although the media assumed that far-right were behind this, Jewish groups suspect that it was in fact Muslims who had carried out the attack. Such statements are problematic for a number of reasons. Not only does Gardner fail to state which Jewish groups suspected Muslims of carrying out the attack and why they suspected this to be the case, he fails to point out that suspicion itself does not indicate culpability. Such unsubstantiated claims serve only to portray Muslims as being intolerant and a threat to the Jewish community.
Other examples of synagogues being attacked in France and Belgium are also provided in the article. Gardner states that police investigations ‘strongly suggested’ that the Jewish community’s suspicion that Muslims had carried out the attacks were most likely to have been correct.(xxx) ’ Once again, as with the previous example, guilt has not been proven by Gardner. Moreover, the term ‘strongly suggested’ is vague and fails to provide the reader with any evidence of why Muslims were suspected. What the above examples serve to do is depict Muslims as being anti-Semitic without providing any evidence.
In this same article, Gardner suggests that younger Muslims are more likely to commit anti-Semitic attacks than those in their peer group who come from other backgrounds. Before going on to write that ‘younger age cohorts are more likely to perpetuate anti-Semitic incidents as they are more likely to be on the streets,’ he states that ‘Muslim population are younger than most other ethnic groups’ implying that younger Muslims are most likely to be the perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks. While it is true that the Muslim population tend to be younger than other minority groups, this in no way suggests that there are more Muslim youths on the street causing crime and in particularly, crimes of anti-Semitism. On the contrary, research commissioned by the UK Home Office found that Muslims youth tend to be amongst the most tolerant in their peer group (xxxi). Whilst such studies focus on specific geographical areas, they are grounded in sound academic research methods. The CST’s work bears the hallmark of essentially inflammatory polemic.
In this same article, Gardner suggests that Holocaust denial writers find support in the Muslim world. Once again he fails to provide substantial evidence when arguing that holocaust deniers find much support in the Middle East. Such a general comment implicitly links anti-Semitism with the Middle East, the Arab world and thus as a natural corollary, with the Muslim world. Dave Rich writes that unlike the Middle East, Britain has limited Holocaust denial writings due to its resistance to fascism, implicitly suggesting that the Middle East and thus Muslims are attracted to fascism (xxxii).
As Muslims are amongst the most vocal and ardent critics of Israel, the CST articles present intentionally misconstrued, oversimplified and dogmatic analyses of Islam, Muslims and Islamic movements. It seems in so doing they evidence a desire to de-legitimise Muslim opposition to Israel. The CST articles show little genuine desire to understand Islam, the Muslim community and the issues that affect it. Hysterical and alarmist analysis based on weak and haphazard evidence serves only to encourage and spread Islamophobia at a time of increased hatred and Islamophobic attacks against Muslims. The CST must face and challenge its own fears and prejudices regarding the Muslim Community and must not use the post 7-7 environment as an opportunity to jump on the anti-Muslim bandwagon.
(i) Their website states that “… CST statistics, opinion and analysis are also sought by the media, academic bodies, law enforcement and government on all matters relating to anti-Semitism, terrorism, communal security and policing.”
(ii) M. Whine, ‘Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences’ in ‘Totalitarian movements and political Religions’ Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn 2001), pp. 54-72 (Frank Cass, London)
(iii) D. O'Leary, ‘Islam At Crossroads’ (London, 1923), p. 8
(iv) ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All’ (Runnymede Trust, 1997)
(v) M. Whine, ‘Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences’ in ‘Totalitarian movements and political Religions’ Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn 2001), pp. 54-72 (Frank Cass, London)
(vi) M. Whine, ‘Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences’ in ‘Totalitarian movements and political Religions’ Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn 2001), pp. 54-72 (Frank Cass, London)
(vii) M. Gardner, “Old” and “New”: Contemporary British Antisemitism’ (http://www.engageonline.org.uk/home/)
(viii) ibid, p. 1
(ix) ibid, p. 2
(x) ibid, p. 1
(xi) M. Whine, ‘An Unholy Alliance – Nazi Links With Arab Totalitarianism’ (http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7), p. 1
(xii) The article also wrongly cites Islamic Human Rights Commission to a publication it has no involvement in, and uses an incorrect URL.
(xiii) M. Whine, ‘Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences’ in ‘Totalitarian movements and political Religions’ Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn 2001), pp. 54-72 (Frank Cass, London)
(xiv) Kramer is a key supporter of Campus Watch, an organisation established by Daniel Pipes. The Campus Watch website although purports to expose heretical or subversive teachers in America, is in reality part of a McCarthy style witch-hunt of both Muslim academics and those academics critical of the USA’s foreign policy. Kramer has been criticized by a number of prominent academics in America for his “transparent attempt to blacklist and intimidate scholars.”
(xv) M. Whine, ‘The New Terrorism’ (http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2000-1/whine.htm)
(xvi) M. Whine, ‘An Unholy Alliance – Nazi Links With Arab Totalitarianism’ (http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7), p. 4
(xvii) ‘You only have the Right to Silence: A Briefing on the Concerns regarding Muslims on Campus in Britain’ (IHRC 2006)
(xviii) New terror and M. Gardner, “Old” and “New”: Contemporary British Antisemitism’ (http://www.engageonline.org.uk/home/)
(xix) M. Whine, ‘Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences’ in ‘Totalitarian movements and political Religions’ Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn 2001), pp. 54-72 (Frank Cass, London)
(xx) ‘Islamist Recruitment and Antisemitism on British Campuses’ (http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7), p. 2
(xxi) ‘Muslim scholar has visa required’ (Chicago Tribune, 24 August 2004)
(xxii) ‘Muslims urged to embrace their role in the west’ (Guardian, 16 October 2004)
(xxiii) New terror and M. Gardner, “Old” and “New”: Contemporary British Antisemitism’ (http://www.engageonline.org.uk/home/)
(xxiv) Read: R. Pape, ‘Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism’ (Random House Trade, 2006)
(xxv) M. Whine, ‘The Aftermath of 7 July: New Trends in Terror’ (http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7)
(xxvi) D. Rich, ‘The Barriers Come Down: Antisemitism and Coalitions of Extremes’ (http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7)
(xxvii) M. Gardner, “Old” and “New”: Contemporary British Antisemitism’ (http://www.engageonline.org.uk/home/)
(xxix) M. Whine, ‘The New Terrorism’ (http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2000-1/whine.htm)
(xxx) M. Gardner, “Old” and “New”: Contemporary British Antisemitism’ (http://www.engageonline.org.uk/home/)
(xxxi) The Burnley Project: Evaluating the Contribution of Interfaith Dialogue to Community Cohesion – Lancaster University (http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/religstudies/research/projects/burnley.htm)
(xxxii) D. Rich, ‘The Barriers Come Down: Antisemitism and Coalitions of Extremes’ (http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7)
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