The Twenty First Century was supposed to herald in a new era of freedom, liberty and human rights throughout the world. World leaders and politicians swore that the mistakes and atrocities of the Twentieth Century would never be repeated and that a new epoch of tolerance and co-existence would exist irrespective of differences in race, gender or creed.
For Muslims living in Twenty-First Century Britain, the reality is a far bitterer pill to swallow. Since the introduction of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the events of September 11 2001, Muslims in Britain have found themselves under severe persecution by the British Government, Police Force and other state institutions. Draconian anti-terrorism measures such as internment without charge, control orders and house arrest are normally associated with Burma and Zimbabwe. Daily stop and search of tens of thousands of Muslims and hundreds of arrests of innocent Muslims have effectively demonised the Muslim community in Britain as “the enemy within”. This, in turn with wholly irresponsible media coverage, has lead to a rapidly increasing level of resentment and intolerance of the community by the wider society, inevitably assisting the huge upsurge in Islamophobic attacks in Britain, particularly in the wake of the London bombings.
Prime Minister Blair’s recent proposals of 5 August 2005 will achieve nothing but further alienation and marginalisation of the British Muslim community.
Blair’s proposals are targeted at those he describes as “extremists” and their various networks: “extremist websites”, “extremist bookshops”, “extremist centres”, “extremist organisations” and “extremist places of worship”. While no precise definition of extremism is given, in Blair’s speech at the Labour Party national conference of 16 July 2005 he outlined what he called the “barbaric ideas” of Muslim extremists:
“They demand the elimination of Israel; the withdrawal of all Westerners from Muslim countries, irrespective of the wishes of people and government; the establishment of effectively Taleban states and Sharia law in the Arab world en route to one caliphate of all Muslim nations.”
Given their widespread currency within the mainstream media, it is important to carefully examine more closely these ideas being labelled as “extremist”.
a) Elimination of Israel
The idea that Israel should be eliminated is portrayed as a violent and hate-filled desire, yet in practical effect this type of accusation has been used by pro-Israeli activists and advisors against anyone, including many Muslims who seek and / or struggle for the liberation of Palestine, many of whom advocate a one-state solution, be it as one secular Palestine, a bi-national Israeli state or indeed a theocratic state or some other form of religious state including khilafah and religious democracy. The solution of the Palestinian problem is warranted by both human conscience and the dictates of international law, and is a passion shared by most Muslims. This in no way means the elimination of Jews or the Jewish people, yet increasingly this charge has been used by Zionist activists against all those who would seek justice in the Middle East from whichever background they hail. The one-state solution idea is shared not just by many Muslims but also by numerous academics, journalists and international lawyers from a variety of faith and non-faith backgrounds.
It is alarming that what was once the extreme rhetoric of the most extreme right-wing Zionist groups and advocates is now being espoused by the British Prime Minister. Labelling Muslims in this way not only demonises them further in the public psyche but condemns a very legitimate and normative aspiration for liberation as unacceptable.
b) The Withdrawal of all Westerners from Muslim countries
No Muslim group, not even al-Qaida itself, demands that all Westerners be removed from Muslim countries. What the majority of Muslims in Britain and across the world do demand is that all foreign occupying troops leave Iraq and Afghanistan and that American military bases in Saudi Arabia be removed. Again, not an extremist idea but a requirement of international law. Mr Blair’s claims that such demands are made “irrespective of the wishes of the people and Government” is particularly absurd as these very people are forced to live under authoritarian dictatorial regimes where freedom of political expression is denied.
Mr Blair’s claims that such demands are made “irrespective of the wishes of the people and Government” is particularly absurd as these very people are forced to live under authoritarian dictatorial regimes where freedom of political expression is denied.
c) The establishment of shariah law in the Arab world en route to one Caliphate of all Muslim nations
The establishment of Islamic law or shariah – which has many different guises – in the Arab world is a wholly legitimate. Although Western governments and many of their citizens may disagree with some elements of Islamic law, respect for democracy dictates that those who yearn for Islamic law in their countries should be entitled to campaign for it. The same applies to the goal of uniting all Muslim nations under one Caliphate. How does this differ from the process that created the United States of America or the European Union? By condemning the desire of Muslims to have one legitimately elected leader, where does that leave the Pope’s position across the Catholic world?
It appears very clear that when Mr Blair condemns extremism, in reality he is condemning opposing oppression, criticism of British and American foreign policy and all forms of political Islam.
With this in mind, it becomes very disturbing to hear Mr Blair speak of deporting foreign nationals who have any active engagement with extremist websites, bookshops, centres, networks and particular organisations of concern. There has been a very longstanding and admirable policy of academic freedom within the Muslim world meaning Islamic bookstores stock publications from a variety of writers who may hold opposing viewpoints on specific matters. Jihad and politics are integral parts of Islam and to attempt to silence bookstores, websites and organisations who speak of such issues is nothing less than an attempt to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of education.
Mr Blair later in his speech refers to the proposed new power to order the closure of places of worship that are used as centres for fomenting extremism. Once again, it is to be assumed from Mr Blair’s definition of extremism that any criticism of foreign policy or discussion of political Islam in a mosque could result in it being shut down. This removal of politics from the mosque will only result in such topics being forced underground.
Condoning or Glorifying Terrorism
Justice is an extremely important aspect of Islam and striving against injustice and oppression is a duty upon all Muslims, irrespective of the faith of the parties involved. Consequently, Muslims constantly and consistently campaign for the rights of oppressed people around the world, from Palestine to Kashmir, from Iraq to Afghanistan, from Chechnya to Burma and from Sudan to Afghanistan and make daily prayers to aid the resistance movements in those places. Muslims recognise the legitimate rights of oppressed people to use force where necessary to fight oppression. For this to be an offence is of great.
By specifically stating that this law will be applied to terrorism anywhere and not just in the UK, Mr Blair is making an offence to support action regarded as legitimate under international law. It is assumed that the definition of terrorism used in the Terrorism Act 2000 would also be adopted here. This definition is extremely broad and vague and potentially outlaws any form of political activism. This proposed offence is a further attempt to stifle support for legitimate resistance movements around the world.
Extension of detention without charge of terror suspects
The proposal to extend the maximum period of pre-charge detention from 14 days to 3 months is to be condemned outright. Already since 9-11, almost 800 people have been arrested under anti-terror legislation, the vast majority of them being Muslims. Of these, just over 100 have actually been charged with any offence with only 3 Muslims convicted. In addition, tens of thousands of innocent Muslims have been regularly stopped and searched in the streets. Figures released by the Home Office in July 2004 revealed a 302 per cent rise in the number of Asian people being stopped and searched by police. The Home Office report, Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System, showed that Asians suffered the highest increases in stop and searches under the Terrorism Act 2000 powers, rising from 744 in 2001-02 to 2,989 in 2002-03. Although the religion of those stopped is not recorded, the majority of these Asians come from the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities who are predominantly Muslim in faith. A recent report from the Metropolitan Police Authority stated that the current stop and search practice has create deeper racial tensions and has severed valuable sources of community information and criminal intelligence.
The most frightening statement by Mr Blair was that the government would proscribe Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the successor organisation of Al Muhajiroun and that it would also attempt to widen the grounds of proscription. Although Hizb-ut-Tahrir has frequently clashed with other members of the Muslim community on various issues, it is a non-violent organisation which has routinely condemned violence and terrorism.
What is of particular concern is the grounds for such proscription and whether these will constitute the criteria for future proscription in any new anti-terror bill. If Hizb-ut-Tahrir is being proscribed for speaking out against British foreign policy, then what of the 2 million British people who marched against the Iraq invasion? If Hizb-ut-Tahrir is to be proscribed for criticising despotic rulers throughout the Muslim world, then how will the Government deal with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs who routinely condemn these regimes? If it is for calling for the uniting of Muslim lands under one Caliphate that Hizb-ut-Tahrir is being proscribed, then how will the Government deal with all the other Muslims in Britain who share this belief? If the Government is prepared to ban an organisation that preaches non-violence, how will it respond to groups that recognise the legitimate right of oppressed people to use force in self-defence against aggression? There is not one instance in British history of a non-violent group ever being proscribed. Even Sinn Féin, at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, was never proscribed. To proscribe Hizb-ut-Tahrir is to follow the tradition of dictatorial regimes throughout the world which do not tolerate political dissent and proscribe non-violent organisations with alternative viewpoints.
List of Foreign Imams to be Banned from Britain
Such a move is unhelpful and likely to cause even more alienation and resentment as it will be perceived as censorship; the Muslim community will be prohibited from listening to Imams who may criticise British foreign policy or call for political unity among Muslims. In drawing up such a list, Mr Blair is unclear on whether he intends to consult with British Muslim leaders or with leaders of Muslim countries Neither is satisfactory. Blair consultations with so-called British Muslim leaders have so far been nothing more than a rubber-stamping process involving hand-selected ‘yes-men’ who do not represent the Muslim community. The leaders of Muslim countries, on the other hand, are by and large despotic rulers and dictators who have stifled all political dissent in their own countries.
It is with great alarm that the Muslim community in Britain is viewing these latest proposals of the Government to assimilate it into the wider society. Basic Islamic principles and values of both a personal and political nature are being demonised and stigmatised to such an extent that the very definition of the word ‘Islam’ is at stake. Such an ostensible loathing for ‘the Other’ must not be seen as assimilation but extermination in the same way it was seen in Nazi Europe, Rwanda and the Balkans.
By: Fahad Ansari, Researcher for the Islamic Human Rights Commission
This article was first published in The Link magazine