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 thatís 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 thatís 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 ëotherí.
Michael Whineís assertion that Islam spread via ëforce of armsí in his article entitled ëIslamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differencesíis evidence of the CSTís skewed understanding of Islam and its history. (ii) One of the earliest refutations to the idea that Islam was spread by ëforce of armsí was given by the noted historian De Lacy OíLeary in his book Islam at the Cross Road, where he wrote, ëHistory 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.í(iii)
The 1997 Runnymede Trust report entitled ëIslamophobia: A Challenge for Us Allí 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 CSTís 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 Whineís analysis of the Islamic principle of daíwah (proselytising) in his article ëIslamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differencesí. Although Whine writes that daíwah is integral to Islam, he emphasises that it is of more importance to ëIslamistsí, implying some sort of link between those who partake in daíwah and the ëradicalí and ëviolentí 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 daíwah as being something more than simply an attempt by Muslims to bring people to what they believe is the truth. The article describes daíwah as a way to impose an authoritarian and a puritan system, and is used as evidence supporting the contention that ëIslamistsí are totalitarian. In short, by misrepresenting and casting the Islamic principle of daíwah 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. ëCalls for jihad,í writes Whine, ëand the recent revelations of a worldwide Islamist networkÖ suggest that Islam has declared a religious war.í 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 ëfifth columnistsí.
Another example of this manipulation of language can be seen in an article entitled ìOldî and ìNewî, Contemporary British Antisemitismí(vii). In this article Mark Gardner equates anti-Zionist sentiment with anti-Semitism, and argues that the crucial distinction between ìoldî and ìnewî anti-Semitism is in vocabulary(viii). The crux of his argument is that in ìnewî anti-Semitism the word Jew has been replaced by the word Zionist. When discussing ëIslamistsí who assert they are anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, Gardner writes that ëtheir current position inadvertently mimics that of the veteran British Nazi John Tyndall.í(ix) Such a conclusion is problematic for a number of reasons. While Gardner writes that ìcriticismî 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 ëIsrael is the root cause of Muslim anger and Islamist terrorism.í(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. Gardnerís 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 ëAn Unholy Alliance-Nazi Links with Arab Totalitarianismí writes ëMuslim IslamistsÖhave also been attracted to far right ideologies.í(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 ëMuslim Islamists.í 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 ëIslamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences,í Whine via a comparison of the two subjects, draws the conclusion that the ëIslamistí 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 ëIslamismí as the ënewí terrorism in his article ëThe New Terrorism,í 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, ëAn Unholy Alliance ñ Nazi Links with Arab Totalitarianism.í He writes ëThe hoped-for resurrection of the Caliphate and rule by a single cleric makes it (Islamism) the ideological cousin of the European right totalitarianism.í(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 ëIslamistí and ëradicalí is similar to branding those who believe in the Popeís position in the Catholic Church as being ëextremeí and ëdangerousí.(xvii)
Whineís article ëThe New Terrorismí focuses on ëIslamistí 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 ëboth seek to mobilise- both aim at the elimination of opposition- and both believe in sacrifice, either for God or for the process.í(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 Gardnerís 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 ëIslamistsí 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 ëdemocraticí elections. In his attempt to fill out stereotypes about Islam and its adherents, Gardner manipulates common concepts and ascribes them to Islamists and Islam.
Whineís labelling of Islamists as Totalitarian has extensive consequences as his definition of what constitutes an Islamist is wide sweeping. ëWe should noteí, he writes in an article entitled ëIslamist Recruitment and Anti-Semitism on British Campusesí, ëthat Islamist ideology is not monochrome: it contains a broad spectrum of ideology, from Tariq RamadanÖto Wahabi influenced Salafists.í(xx) Michael Whineís branding of Tariq Ramadan as an Islamist and thus someone who is potentially dangerous and harbours extreme views renders his comparison of ëIslamismí 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.
Whineís 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 ëRadical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberationí 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 ìan established academic Ö with a strong recordî(xxi) while Madeline Bunting referred to him as ìone of the foremost thinkers on Islam in Europe.î(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 CSTís publications. In both Michael Whineís article ëNew terrorismí and in Mark Gardnerís article ëëOldî and ìNewî, Contemporary British Anti-Semitism,í it is suggested that ìnewî 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 ëThe Aftermath of 7 Julyí, 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 ëviolent theologyí of the Islamists, his labelling of Tariq Ramadan as an Islamist suggests that Ramadan and subsequently mainstream Muslims believe in a ëviolent theologyí 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 ëAn Unholy Alliance- Nazi Links with Arab Totalitarianismí, 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 ëThe Barriers Come Down: Anti-Semitism and Coalitions of Extremesí uses ëIslamistí opposition to Israel as evidence of a supposed coalition between ëIslamistsí and the far right (xxvi). Mark Gardnerís article entitled ëëOldî and ìNewî, Contemporary British Anti-Semitism,í 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 ënew anti-Semitism.(xxix)í Gardner utilises a number of means to indict Muslims of Anti-Semitism. The article ëëOldí and ëNewí, contemporary British Anti-Semitism,í 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 Rabbiís 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 ëstrongly suggestedí that the Jewish communityís suspicion that Muslims had carried out the attacks were most likely to have been correct.(xxx) í Once again, as with the previous example, guilt has not been proven by Gardner. Moreover, the term ëstrongly suggestedí 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 ëyounger age cohorts are more likely to perpetuate anti-Semitic incidents as they are more likely to be on the streets,í he states that ëMuslim population are younger than most other ethnic groupsí 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 CSTís 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 ìÖ 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.î
(ii) M. Whine, ëIslamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differencesí in ëTotalitarian movements and political Religionsí Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn 2001), pp. 54-72 (Frank Cass, London)
(iii) D. O'Leary, ëIslam At Crossroadsí (London, 1923), p. 8
(iv) ëIslamophobia: A Challenge for Us Allí (Runnymede Trust, 1997)
(v) M. Whine, ëIslamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differencesí in ëTotalitarian movements and political Religionsí Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn 2001), pp. 54-72 (Frank Cass, London)
(vi) M. Whine, ëIslamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differencesí in ëTotalitarian movements and political Religionsí Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn 2001), pp. 54-72 (Frank Cass, London)
(vii) M. Gardner, ìOldî and ìNewî: Contemporary British Antisemitismí (http://www.engageonline.org.uk/home/)
(viii) ibid, p. 1
(ix) ibid, p. 2
(x) ibid, p. 1
(xi) M. Whine, ëAn Unholy Alliance ñ Nazi Links With Arab Totalitarianismí (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, ëIslamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differencesí in ëTotalitarian movements and political Religionsí 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 USAís foreign policy. Kramer has been criticized by a number of prominent academics in America for his ìtransparent attempt to blacklist and intimidate scholars.î
(xv) M. Whine, ëThe New Terrorismí (http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2000-1/whine.htm)
(xvi) M. Whine, ëAn Unholy Alliance ñ Nazi Links With Arab Totalitarianismí (http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7), p. 4
(xvii) ëYou only have the Right to Silence: A Briefing on the Concerns regarding Muslims on Campus in Britainí (IHRC 2006)
(xviii) New terror and M. Gardner, ìOldî and ìNewî: Contemporary British Antisemitismí (http://www.engageonline.org.uk/home/)
(xix) M. Whine, ëIslamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differencesí in ëTotalitarian movements and political Religionsí Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn 2001), pp. 54-72 (Frank Cass, London)
(xx) ëIslamist Recruitment and Antisemitism on British Campusesí (http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7), p. 2
(xxi) ëMuslim scholar has visa requiredí (Chicago Tribune, 24 August 2004)
(xxii) ëMuslims urged to embrace their role in the westí (Guardian, 16 October 2004)
(xxiii) New terror and M. Gardner, ìOldî and ìNewî: Contemporary British Antisemitismí (http://www.engageonline.org.uk/home/)
(xxiv) Read: R. Pape, ëDying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorismí (Random House Trade, 2006)
(xxv) M. Whine, ëThe Aftermath of 7 July: New Trends in Terrorí (http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7)
(xxvi) D. Rich, ëThe Barriers Come Down: Antisemitism and Coalitions of Extremesí (http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7)
(xxvii) M. Gardner, ìOldî and ìNewî: Contemporary British Antisemitismí (http://www.engageonline.org.uk/home/)
(xxix) M. Whine, ëThe New Terrorismí (http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2000-1/whine.htm)
(xxx) M. Gardner, ìOldî and ìNewî: Contemporary British Antisemitismí (http://www.engageonline.org.uk/home/)
(xxxi) The Burnley Project: Evaluating the Contribution of Interfaith Dialogue to Community Cohesion ñ Lancaster University (http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/religstudies/research/projects/burnley.htm)
(xxxii) D. Rich, ëThe Barriers Come Down: Antisemitism and Coalitions of Extremesí (http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7)
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