Archive for June, 2022

A Liberal Muslim’s Journey through Islamic Britain and the Dangers of Muslim Separatism

June 30, 2022

Ed Hussain, Among the Mosques: A Journey Across Muslim Britain (London: Bloomsbury 2021)

Ed Hussain is a journalist and the author of two previous books on Islam, the House of Islam, which came out in 2018, and The Islamist of 2007. He’s also written for a series of newspapers and magazines, including the Spectator, the Telegraph, the Times, the New York Times and the Guardian. He’s also appeared on the Beeb and CNN. He’s an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and has been a member of various think tanks, including the Council on Foreign Relations. The House of Islam is an introduction to Islamic history and culture from Mohammed onwards. According to the blurb, it argues that Islam isn’t necessarily a threat to the West but a peaceful ally. The Islamist was his account of his time in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a militant Islamic organisation dedicated to restoring the caliphate. This was quoted in Private Eye, where a passage in the book revealed that the various leaders Tony Blair appealed to as part of his campaign against militant, extremist Islam weren’t the moderates they claimed to be, but the exact type of people Blair was trying to combat. Among the Mosques continues this examination and critical scrutiny of caliphism, the term he uses to describe the militant to set up the caliphate. This is an absolute Islamic state, governed by a caliph, a theocratic ruler, who is advised by a shura, or council. This, however, would not be like parliament as only the caliph would have the power to promulgate legislation. Hussain is alarmed at how far this anti-democratic ideology has penetrated British Islam. To find out, he travelled to mosques across Britain – Dewsbury, Manchester, Blackburn, Bradford, Birmingham and London in England, Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland, the Welsh capital Cardiff, and Belfast in Northern Ireland. Once there, he goes to the local mosques unannounced, observes the worshippers, and talks to them, the imams and other local people. And he’s alarmed by what he sees.

Caliphism Present in Mosques of Different Sects

The mosques he attends belong to a variety of Islamic organisations and denominations. Dewsbury is the centre of the Deobandi movement, a Muslim denomination set up in Pakistan in opposition to British imperialism. Debandis worship is austere, rejecting music, dance and art. The Barelwi mosque he attends in Manchester, on the hand, is far more joyful. The Barelwis are based on an Indian Sufi preacher, who attempted to spread Islam through music and dance. Still other mosques are Salafi, following the fundamentalist brand of Islam that seeks to revive the Islam of the salaf, the Prophet’s companions, and rejects anything after the first three generations of Muslims as bid’a, innovations. But across these mosques, with a few exceptions, there is a common strand of caliphism. The Deobandi order are concerned with the moral reform and revival of Muslim life and observance, but not political activism, in order to hasten the emergence of the caliphate. Similar desires are found within the Tableegh-e Jama’at, another Muslim revivalist organisation founded in Pakistan. This is comparable to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Christianity, in that its method of dawa, Muslim evangelism, is to knock on lax Muslims’ doors and appealing to them become more religious. It’s a male-only organisation, whose members frequently go off on trips abroad. While the preaching in Manchester Central Mosque is about peace, love and tolerance as exemplified in the Prophet’s life, the Barelwis themselves can also be intolerant. Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, was a member of the Barelwi Dawat-e-Islami. He murdered Taseer, whose bodyguard he was, because Taseer has dared to defend Pakistani Christians accused of blasphemy. Under strict Islamic law, they were gustakh-e Rasool, a pejorative term for ‘insulter of the Prophet’. The penalty for such blasphemy was wajib-e qatl, a mandatory death. Despite being tried and executed, Qadri is regarded by many of the Pakistani faithful as a martyr, and a massive mosque complex has grown up to commemorate him. In his meetings with various imams and ordinary Muslims, Hussain asks if they agree with the killing of blasphemers like Taseer, and the author Salman Rushdie, who had a fatwa and bounty placed on his life by the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran for his book, The Satanic Reverses. Some of them give evasive replies. One imam even defends it, claiming that Rushdie deserved death because he insulted love, as represented by Mohammed and Islam. A Muslim female friend dodges answering by telling him she’s have to ask her husband.

In the mosques’ libraries he finds books promoting the Caliphist ideology, denouncing democracy, immodest dress and behaviour in women, who are commanded to be available for their husband’s sexual pleasure, even when their bodies are running with pus. Some are explicitly Islamist, written by Sayyid Qutb and his brother, the founders of modern militant Islamism. These mosques can be extremely large, serving 500 and more worshippers, and Hussain is alarmed by the extremely conservative, if not reactionary attitudes in many of them. In many, women are strictly segregated and must wear proper Islamic dress – the chador, covering their hair and bodies. The men also follow the model of Mohammed himself in their clothing, wearing long beards and the thawb, the long Arab shirt. But Hussain makes the point that in Mohammed’s day, there was no distinctive Muslim dress: the Prophet wore what everyone in 7th century Arabia wore, including Jews, Christians and pagans. He has a look around various Muslim schools, and is alarmed by their demand for prepubescent girls to wear the hijab, which he views as sexualising them. Some of these, such as the Darul Ulooms, concentrate almost exclusively on religious education. He meets a group of former pupils who are angry at their former school’s indoctrination of them with ancient, but fabricated hadiths about the Prophet which sanction slavery, the inferior status of women, and the forced removal of Jews and Christians from the Arabian peninsula. They’re also bitter at the way these schools did not teach them secular subjects, like science, literature and art, and so prepare them for entering mainstream society. This criticism has also been levelled Muslim organisations who have attacked the Darul Uloom’s narrow focus on religion. The worshippers and students at these mosques and their schools reject the dunya, the secular world, and its fitna, temptations. One Spanish Muslim has immigrated to England to get away from the nudist beaches in his home country. And the Muslim sections of the towns he goes to definitely do not raise the Pride flag for the LGBTQ community.

Hussain Worried by Exclusively Muslim Areas with No White Residents

Hussain is also alarmed at the way the Muslim districts in many of the towns he visits have become exclusively Muslim quarters. All the businesses are run by Muslims, and are geared to their needs and tastes, selling Muslim food, clothing, perfume and literature. Whites are absent, living in their own districts. When he does see them, quite often they’re simply passing through. In a pub outside Burnley he talks to a couple of White men, who tell him how their children have been bullied and beaten for being goras, the pejorative Asian term for Whites. Other Whites talk about how the local council is keen to build more mosques, but applications by White residents to put up flagpoles have been turned down because the council deems them racist. Hussain objects to these monocultures. Instead, he praises areas like the section of Edinburgh, where the Muslim community coexists with Whites and other ethnicities. There’s similar physical mixture of Muslim and non-Muslim in the Bute area of Cardiff, formerly Tiger Bay, which has historically been a multicultural cultural area. In the mosque, however, he finds yet again the ideology of cultural and religious separatism.

The Treatment of Women

He is also very much concerned about the treatment of women, and especially their vulnerability before the sharia courts that have sprung up. A few years ago there were fears of a parallel system of justice emerging, but the courts deal with domestic issues, including divorce. They have been presented as informal systems of marriage reconciliation. This would all be fine if that was all they were. But the majority of the mosques Hussain visits solely perform nikah, Muslim weddings. Under British law, all weddings, except those in an Anglican church, must also be registered with the civil authorities. These mosques don’t. As a result, wives are left at the mercy of Islamic law. These give the husband, but not the wife, the power of divorce., and custody of the children if they do. Hussain meets a battered Muslim woman, whose controlling husband nearly killed her. The case was brought before the local sharia court. The woman had to give evidence from another room, and her husband was able to defeat her request for a divorce by citing another hadith maintaining that husbands could beat their wives.

London Shias and the Procession Commemorating the Deaths of Ali, Hassan and Hussain

Hussain’s a Sunni, and most of the mosques he attends are also of that orthodox branch of Islam. In London, he attends a Shia mosque, and is shocked and horrified by the self-inflicted violence performed during their commemoration of the Battle of Karbala. Shias believe that Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, was the true successor to Mohammed as the leader of the early Muslim community. He was passed over, and made a bid for the caliphate, along with his two sons, Hasan and Hussain, who were finally defeated by the Sunnis at the above battle. This is commemorated by Shias during the month of Moharram, when there are special services at the mosque and the jaloos, a commemorative procession. During the services and the processions, Shias express their grief over their founders’ martyrdom by beating their chests, matam, faces and whipping themselves. They also slash themselves with swords. All this appears to go on at the London mosque, to Hussain’s horror. He is particularly disturbed by young children beating their chests and faces in the worship the night before, and wonders how this isn’t child abuse.

Separatist Attitudes and Political Activism in Mosques

He is also concerned about the political separatism and activism he sees in some of the mosques. They don’t pray for the Queen, as Christians and Jews do, but there are prayers for the Muslim community throughout the world and funeral prayers for Morsi, the former Islamist president of Egypt. He finds mosques and Islamic charities working for Muslims abroad, and activists campaigning on behalf on Palestine, Kashmir and other embattled Muslim countries and regions, but not for wider British society. Some of the worshippers and Imams share his concern. One Muslim tells him that the problem isn’t the Syrian refugees. They are medical men and women, doctors, nurses and technicians. The problem is those asylum seekers from areas and countries which have experienced nothing but war and carnage. These immigrants have trouble adapting to peace in Britain. This leads to activism against the regimes in the countries they have fled. Afghan and Kurdish refugees are also mentioned as donning masks looking for fights. Some of the worshippers in the mosques Hussain attends had connections to ISIS. In London he recalls meeting a glum man at a mosque in 2016. The man had toured the Middle East and Muslim Britain asking for signatures in a petition against ISIS. The Middle Eastern countries had willingly given theirs. But an academic, a White convert who taught at British university, had refused. Why? He objected to the paragraph in the petition denouncing ISIS’ enslavement of Yazidi and other women. This was in the Quran, he said, and so he wouldn’t contradict it. This attitude from a British convert shocked the man, as usually objections to banning slavery come from Mauretania and Nigeria, where they are resented as western interference. And in another mosque in Bradford, he is told by the imam that he won’t allow the police to come in and talk about the grooming gangs. The gangs used drugs and alcohol, which are forbidden in Islam and so are not connected to the town’s mosques.

Islamophobia against Northern Irish Muslims

But Islam isn’t a monolith and many Muslims are far more liberal and engaged with modern western society. Going into an LGBTQ+ help centre, he’s met by a Muslim woman on the desk. This lady’s straight and married, but does not believes there’s any conflict between her faith and working for a gay organisation. And in reply to his question, she tells him that her family most certainly do know about it. He meets two female Muslim friends, who have given up wearing the hijab. One did so after travelling to Syria to study. This convinced her that it was a pre-Islamic custom, and she couldn’t find any support for it in the Quran. She also rejected it after she was told at university that it was feminist, when it wasn’t. In Belfast he visits a mosque, which, contrary to Islamic custom, is run by two women. The worship appears tolerant, with members of different Muslims sects coming peacefully together, and the values are modern. But this is an embattled community. There is considerable islamophobia in Northern Ireland, with Muslims sufferings abuse and sometimes physical assault. One Protestant preacher stirred up hate with a particularly islamophobic sermon. Many of the mosque’s congregation are converts, and they have been threatened at gun point for converting as they are seen as leaving their communities. Travelling through Protestant and Roman Catholic Belfast, Hussain notices the two communities’ support for different countries. On the Nationalist side of the peace walls are murals supporting India and Palestine. The Loyalists, on the other hand, support Israel. But back in London he encounters more, very modern liberal attitudes during a conversation with the two daughters of a Muslim women friends. They are very definitely feminists, who tell him that the problem with Islam, is, no offence, his sex. They then talk about how toxic masculinity has been a bad influence on British Islam.

Liberal Islam and the Support of the British Constitution

In his travels oop north, Hussain takes rides with Muslim taxi drivers, who are also upset at these all-Muslim communities. One driver laments how the riots of 2011 trashed White businesses, so the Whites left. In Scotland, another Muslim cabbie, a technician at the local uni, complains about Anas Sarwar, the first Muslim MP for Scotland. After he left parliament, Sarwar left to become governor of the Punjab in Pakistan. The cabbie objects to this. In his view, the man was serving just Muslims, not Scotland and all of its people. During ablutions at a mosque in Edinburgh, he meets a British army officer. The man is proud to serve with Her Majesty’s forces and the army has tried to recruit in the area. But despite their best efforts and wishes, Muslims don’t wish to join.

In London, on the other hand, he talks to a modern, liberal mullah, Imam Jalal. Jalal has studied all over the world, but came back to Britain because he was impressed with the British constitution’s enshrinement of personal liberty and free speech. He believes that the British constitution expresses the maqasid, the higher objectives Muslim scholars identified as the root of the sharia as far back al-Juwaini in the 11th century. Jalal also tells him about al-shart, a doctrine in one of the Muslim law schools that permits women to divorce their husbands. The marriage law should be reformed so that the nikah becomes legal, thus protecting Muslim wives with the force of British law. And yes, there would be an uproar if prayers for the Queen were introduced in the mosques, but it could be done. Both he and Hussain talk about how their father came to Britain in the late 50s and early 60s. They wore three-piece suits, despite the decline of the empire, were proud to be British. There was time in this country when Muslims were respected. In one factory, when a dispute broke out, the foreman would look for a Muslim because they had a reputation for honesty. The Muslim community in these years would have found the race riots and the terrorist bombings of 7/7 and the Ariana Grande concert simply unbelievable. Had someone told them that this would happen, they would have said he’d been watching too much science fiction.

Muslim Separatism and the Threat of White British Fascism

Hanging over this book is the spectre of demographic change. The Muslim population is expected to shoot up to 18 million later in the century and there is the real prospect of Britain becoming a Muslim majority country. In fact, as one of the great commenters here has pointed out, this won’t happen looking at the available data. If Scotland goes its own way, however, the proportion of Muslims in England will rise to 12 per cent, the same as France and Belgium. For Hussain, it’s not a question of how influential Islam will be in the future, but the type of Islam we will have. He is afraid of Muslim majority towns passing laws against everything the Muslim community considers forbidden. And as politicians, particularly Jeremy Corbyn and the Muslim politicos in the Labour party treat Muslims as a solid block, rather than individuals, he’s afraid that Muslim communalism and its sense of a separate identity will increase. This may also produce a corresponding response in the White, Christian-origin English and Brits. We could see the rise of nationalist, anti-Islam parties. At one point he foresees three possible futures. One is that the mosques will close the doors and Muslims will become a separate community. Another is mass deportations, including self-deportations. But there are also reasons to be optimistic. A new, British Islam is arising through all the ordinary Muslims finding ways to accommodate themselves within liberal, western society. They’re doing it quietly, unobtrusively in ordinary everyday matters, underneath all the loud shouting of the Islamists.

The Long Historical Connections between Britain and Islam

In his conclusion, Hussain points out that Islam and Britain have a long history together. Queen Elizabeth I, after her excommunication by the Pope, attempted to forge alliance with the Ottoman Sultan. She succeeded in getting a trading agreement with the Turkish empire. In the 17th century, the coffee shop was introduced to Britain by a Greek-Turk. And in the 8th century Offa, the Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia, used Muslim dirhams as the basis for his coinage. This had the Muslim creed in Arabic, with his head stamped in the middle of the coin. Warren Hastings, who began the British conquest of India, opened a madrassa, sitting on its governing board and setting up its syllabus. This is the same syllabus used in the narrowly religious Muslim schools, so he’s partly to blame for them. During the First World War 2.5 million Muslims from India willingly fought for Britain. Muslim countries also sheltered Jews from the horrors of Nazi persecution. He’s also impressed with the immense contribution Muslims gave to the rise of science, lamenting the superstition he sees in some Muslim communities. He really isn’t impressed by one book on sale in a Muslim bookshop by a modern author claiming to have refuted the theory that the Earth goes round the sun.

To Combat Separatism and Caliphism, Celebrate British Values of Freedom and the Rule of Law

But combatting the Muslims separatism is only one half of the solution. Muslims must have something positive in wider mainstream society that will attract them to join. For Hussain, this is patriotism. He quotes the late, right-wing philosopher Roger Scruton and the 14th century Muslim historian ibn Khaldun on patriotism and group solidarity as an inclusive force. He cites polls showing that 89 per cent of Brits are happy with their children marrying someone of a different ethnicity. And 94 per cent of Brits don’t believe British nationality is linked to whiteness. He maintains that Brits should stop apologising for the empire, as Britain hasn’t done anything worse than Russia or Turkey. He and Imam Jalal also point out that the Turkish empire also committed atrocities, but Muslims do not decry them. Rather, the case of a Turkish TV show celebrating the founder of the Turkish empire, have toured Britain and received a warm welcome at packed mosques. He points out that he and other Muslims are accepted as fellow Brits here. This is not so in other countries, like Nigeria and Turkey, where he could live for decades but wouldn’t not be accepted as a Nigerian or Turk. And we should maintain our country’s Christian, Protestant heritage because this is ultimately the source of the values that underlie British secular, liberal society.

He also identifies six key values which Britain should defend and celebrate. These are:

  1. The Rule of Law. This is based on Henry II’s synthesis of Norman law and Anglo-Saxon common law, to produce the English common law tradition, including Magna Carta. This law covers everyone, as against the sharia courts, which are the thin end of an Islamist wedge.
  2. Individual liberty. The law is the protector of individual liberty. Edward Coke, the 17th century jurist, coined the phrase ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’. He also said that ‘Magna Carta is such a fellow he will have no sovereign’ It was this tradition of liberty that the Protestant emigrants took with them when they founded America.
  3. Gender equality – here he talks about a series of strong British women, including Boadicea, the suffragettes, Queen Elizabeth and, in Johnson’s opinion, Maggie Thatcher. He contrasts this with the Turkish and other Muslim empires, which have never had a female ruler.
  4. Openness and tolerance – here he talks about how Britain has sheltered refugees and important political thinkers, who’ve defended political freedoms like the Austrians Wittgenstein and Karl Popper.
  5. Uniqueness. Britain is unique. He describes how, when he was at the Council for Foreign Relations, he and his fellows saw the Arab Spring as like Britain and America. The revolutionaries were fighting for liberty and secularism. There was talk amongst the Americans of 1776. But the revolutionaries didn’t hold western liberal values.
  6. Racial Parity. Britain is not the same nation that support racists like Enoch Powell. He points to the German roots of the royal family, and that Johnson is part Turkish while members of his cabinet also come from ethnic minorities. Britain is not like France and Germany, where Muslims are seen very much as outsiders.

Whatever your party political opinions, I believe that these really are fundamental British values worth preserving. Indeed, they’re vital to our free society. On the other hand, he also celebrates Adam Smith and his theories of free trade as a great British contribution, because it allowed ordinary people and not just the mercantilist elite to get wealthy. Er, no, it doesn’t. But in a book like this you can’t expect everything.

Criticisms of Hussain’s Book

Hussain’s book caused something of a storm on the internet when it was released. The peeps on Twitter were particularly upset by the claims of Muslims bullying and violence towards Whites. There was a series of posts saying that he’d got the location wrong, and that the area in question was posh White area. In fact the book makes it clear he’s talking about a Muslim enclave. What evidently upset people was the idea that Muslims could also be racist. But some Muslims are. Way back c. 1997 Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote a report for the Committee for Racial Equality as it was then on anti-White Asian and Black hatred and violence. Racism can be found amongst people of all colours and religions, including Muslims.

People were also offended by his statement that in the future there could be mass deportations of Muslims. From the discussion about this on Twitter, you could be misled into thinking he was advocating it. But he doesn’t. He’s not Tommy Robinson or any other member of the far right. He’s horrified by this as a possibility, a terrible one he wishes to avoid. But these criticism also show he’s right about another issue: people don’t have a common language to talk about the issues and problems facing Britain and its Muslim communities. These need to be faced up to, despite the danger of accusations of racism and islamophobia. Tanjir Rashid, reviewing it for the Financial Times in July 2021, objected to the book on the grounds that Hussain’s methodology meant that he ignored other Muslim networks and had only spoken to out-of-touch mullahs. He pointed instead to an Ipsos-Mori poll showing that 88 per cent of Muslims strong identified with Britain, seven out of ten believed Islam and modern British society were compatible and only one per cent wanted separate, autonomous Muslim communities. It’s possible that if Hussain had also travelled to other towns where the Muslim population was smaller and more integrated with the non-Muslim population, he would have seen a very different Islam.

Intolerant Preaching Revealed by Channel 4 Documentary

On the other hand, the 2007 Channel 4 documentary, Undercover Mosque, found a venomous intolerance against Christians, Jews and gays being preached in a hundred mosques. A teacher was effectively chased out of his position at a school in Batley because he dared to show his pupils the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in a class on tolerance. He is still in hiding, fearing for his life. Hussain cites government statistics that 43,000 people are under police surveillance because political extremism, 90 per cent of whom are Muslims.

These are vital questions and issues, and do need to be tackled. When I studied Islam in the 90s, I came across demands in the Muslim literature I was reading for separate Muslim communities governed by Islamic law. This was accompanied by the complaint that if this wasn’t granted, then Britain wasn’t truly multicultural. More recently I saw the same plea in a book in one of Bristol’s secondhand and remaindered bookshops, which based its argument on the British colonisation of America, in which peoples from different nationalities were encouraged to settle in English territories, keeping their languages and law. It might be that the mullahs are preaching separatism, but that hardly anybody in the Muslim community is really listening or actually want the caliphate or a hard line separate Muslim religious identity.

Conclusion

I do believe, however, that it is an important discussion of these issues and that the sections of the book, in which liberal Muslims, including Hussain himself, refute the vicious intolerance preached by the militants, are potentially very helpful. Not only could they help modern Muslims worried by such intolerant preaching and attitudes, and help them to reject and refute them, but they also show that a modern, liberal, western Islam is very possible and emerging, in contradiction to Fascists and Islamophobes like Tommy Robinson.

Niall Ferguson and the Right-wing Historians Are Wrong: Property Rights in Islam Existed Before British Empire

June 29, 2022

Okay, this is another post in which I’m going to break my own feeble attempts not to write anything about Ed Hussein’s book, Among the Mosques, until I finish it, when I will write a proper review. But there’s a piece in the book where Hussein makes a point that is very much relevant to the debate about the compatibility between Islam and modern British society and its constitutional underpinnings. And it contradicts part of the propaganda for the British empire spouted by Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts. Both these historians have argued that the British empire was a Good Thing because it gave the world democracy, capitalism and property rights. But one of the imams Hussein talks to, Mufti Jalal, the deputy imam of an Islamic seminary in Luton. Jalal praises the British constitutions and its freedoms because, in his view, these preserve the fundamental higher objective – maqasid – of the Islamic law, as identified by the 11th century imam, al-Juwaini. Hussain writes

“Our sharia is the British constitution.’ he says. ‘The Maqasid of the sharia are best preserved in Britain. I came back here after Egypt, Turkey and Yemen with a deeper recognition of the historical freedoms of England, but too many Muslims don’t understand that turning against this country is turning against our own selves.

‘At one point I studied under Haitham al-Haddad, who thinks we need to implement Islamic law against the “liberalism” of the West. I didn’t agree with this, so I left, but his influence is on the rise.’

The Maqasid, or Higher Objectives, are aspects of the sharia that were enshrined in Islamic law by jurists as early as the eleventh century, particularly by Imam al-Juwaini (d. 1085) in his Ghiyath al-Umaan (The Salvage of the Nations) and his students over the centuries. There are five aspects to the Maqasid as laid out by al-Juwaini: the preservation of family, life, faith, intellect and property; these are intended to form the basis on which the sharia has followed. The British legal system, with its fundamental values of individual liberty and freedom of expression, is a perfect working model of the main aspects of the sharia, applied to the context of modern life.’ (p. 236).

John Locke,, one of the founders of the British liberal tradition, believed that people had the inalienable right to life, liberty and property. This influenced the American Founding Fathers, but they changed it to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, although they also strongly supported property rights. But as Hussein’s conversation with Mufti Jalal shows, property rights were most definitely recognised in Islam, and not an import from the West. As for the compatibility of Islam and western democracy, I found a review of Hussein’s book from the Financial Times in 2021, written by Tanjil Rashid. It criticises Hussein’s book for focusing on the highly reactionary mullahs and their rejection of democracy and western values. Rashid argues that the clergy are unrepresentative and out of touch. He points instead to an Ipsos Mori poll that found that 88 per cent of British Muslims strongly feel British, 7 in 10 believe Islam is compatible with western liberal society, and only 1 per cent want separate, autonomous Muslim communities. The early Persian activists campaigning against the despotism of the Qajar shahs also admired Britain and its traditional liberties. An early revolutionary book, written in Turkish, called for the introduction of civil rights and praised British law, which the writer believed were based on the sharia. They weren’t, obviously, but clearly at that time social opinions in western society were sufficiently similar to those of progressive Muslims that they were considered to be identical.

Bradford Sufi Leader’s Refusal to Allow Police to Speak in Mosques about Grooming Gangs

June 27, 2022

I’m trying not to blog too much about Ed Hussain’s book, Among the Mosques, as I wish to write a review of the book as a whole when I finish reading it. But this is too important. The report on the Rotherham Pakistani grooming gangs was released last week and has been widely criticised. Although the report acknowledge the massive failure of the police and local authorities to deal with the massive abuse of White girls – there were 1,400 odd victims – no-one responsible has been punished or even named. The report’s and the authorities’ failure to do this has been widely reported and attacked on various right-wing media, such as GB News.

One of the errors the report identifies in the handling of the abuse was that neither the police nor the local authorities attempted to engage with the local community. I’m sure this is correct, but I’m not sure how cooperative the local Asian and Muslim community would have been even if they had. In his book Hussain describes a conversation he had with Imam Hasnain, the pir, or leader of a Sufi biraderi (brotherhood) that acts as a patronage network controlling a large number, if not the majority, of the mosques in Bradford. Hasnain and the other leaders of the brotherhood are so influential that they are courted by local politicians. On page 132, the pir tells Hussain that he won’t let the police come into the mosques to talk about the grooming gangs and their abuse.

”The police want to come into our mosques and speak to the congregations about not grooming white girls. It has been an issue in the past.’

‘And?’ I ask, probing his reticence.

‘I can’t let that happen.’

‘Why not?’ I ask, aghast. ‘Surely you’ve heard the facts about what happened in Rotherham, how Muslim men targeted non-Muslim White girls over decades?’

‘What have these men to do with Islam?’ he asks, with a defensive shrug and the characteristic twist of the hand of Asian elders.

‘There are two factors involved in those cases again and again: drugs and alcohol. Does Islam permit these two things? Of course not. Yes, they have Muslim names and Pakistani backgrounds, but our mosques are not responsible for their criminality. These issues will be with us for a long time in Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Keighley and other cities. But unless the police can prove it is now down to drugs and alcohol, we will not open the mosque doors to them.”

The same pir blames the British and our government for a variety of ills affecting Muslims, from the partition of India to the disappearance of the White community in Bradford. He denies that Whites are absent from the city and recites a list of postcodes to show where they allegedly still reside, despite Hussain telling him he hasn’t seen an White people. And he goes on to blame the massive Islamic presence on the town on the fact that the government sent a great number of Syrian refugees there. It’s all British double standards against Muslims, double standards that are creating Islamophobia. And he defends the demands for Salman Rushdie’s death because of the Satanic Verses.

Now Hasnain is right that the groomers used drugs and alcohol to seduce their victims, and they weren’t connected with the mosques. But the refusal to allow the police in to speak to the mosques’ congregations seems too facile and more than a little suspicious in itself. No-one has claimed that the mosques as organisations were responsible for the abuse. But one the natural places to reach out to particular communities is through their places of worship, regardless of the particular religion. Back in the 90s, for example, the police came to the local church in my part of south Bristol to talk about drugs and the immense harm they cause. This obviously doesn’t mean that the cops thought the local congregation was seething with drug freaks and dealers. It was just a good venue to address the local community. And the same would also be true of the cops talking about the grooming gangs in the mosques in Bradford.

And what comes across to me from Hasnain’s defensive attitude and blank refusal is that he’s motivated by the Asian honour and shame culture. My guess is that he feels that the grooming gangs are deeply shameful and that talking about them will also shame and dishonour the Muslim community in Bradford, and so there’s not just a refusal to accept that the mosques were responsible, which is perfectly right, but a refusal to allow the police to even talk about it in them. And in such a deeply religious community as Muslim Bradford appears to be, it seems to me that this effectively stops the police addressing the community on this issue.

And I wonder whether the cops and local authorities in Rotherham would have met with a similar blank refusal, had they tried to approach them about addressing them in their mosques and community centres about the gangs.

Young Labour’s Jess Bernard on the Online Conversation with Richard Burgon about Resisting the Tories

June 26, 2022

I got this message from Jess Bernard yesterday about her conversation with Richard Burgon about resisting the Tories and defying Starmer’s command not to back the striking workers of the RMT. The message runs

A message from Jess Barnard.

GET INVOLVED: Retweet me here // Register here

As resistance to the Tories and their handling of the crisis grows – with massive support again for the RMT strike today – now is the time for the Left to come together, raise our game and meet the challenges ahead.

The stark choice we face is that we massively resist the Tory offensive, or everyone suffers – and that means the movement as a whole needs to go fully behind, and amplify the voices of, all those taking industrial action to protect their jobs and livelihoods.

And that means Labour MPs should stand with working people facing the massive Tory cost-of-living crisis, and not follow Keir Starmer’s anti-trade union edict.

On Wednesday June 29 I am pleased to be joining one of those MPs who is on the side of working people, and joined a RMT picket line this week, to discuss these issues our next steps as socialists and open the online Arise Festival (full details below.) Please join Richard Burgon, Secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, & myself in conversation on the Crisis, Resistance & the Struggle for Socialism.
 

Yours in solidarity,

Jess Barnard, Young Labour Chair, on behalf of Arise Festival.

PS: Please tetweet me here to spread the word, and register here

I’m immensely impressed with Jess Bernard and Young Labour, and the way they’ve defied Starmer and his authoritarianism. And they’re absolutely right to support the RMT and defy Starmer again. The Labour party was founded by the trade unions and socialist societies and organisations partly in order to protect trade unions and their workers from legislation intended to limit them or render them powerless. Starmer should, as head of the Labour party, also be backing the RMT. The fact that he isn’t shows just how much of Tory infiltrator he is.

Not that this should surprise anyone. His hero Blair also threatened to cut the party’s ties with the unions if he didn’t get his way, and he also passed legislation designed to curb union power even further. It’s long past time Blairism was dumped and Starmer replaced by a proper, socialist, Labour leader.

Gay Pride and Socialist Solidarity Event at the Arise Festival of Left-Wing Ideas

June 26, 2022

I go this email below from the organisers of the forthcoming Arise Festival about an online event next Sunday celebrating and promoting gay and socialist solidarity.

LGBTQ+ Liberation – Pride, solidarity and socialism – Tune in at Arise Festival 

Premieres, Sunday July 3, 19.00. Register here // Retweet here // Get ticket for the whole festival here.

As the government turns to reactionary divide and rule politics in the face of a cost of living crisis, and as violent attacks on LGBTQ+ increase at an alarming rate, Amy Smith of Arise Festival meets in conversation with Mike Jackson (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) and Katherine Harlow (LGBTQ+ candidate on Young Labour’s Socialist Future slate) to discuss the way forward for LGBTQ+ liberation.

LGSM were at the forefront of providing solidarity to striking miners throughout the 84/85 strike. The NUM then led the 1985 Pride March and moved the motion supporting LGBT rights at Labour’s conference in the same year. We’ll be discussing what we can learn from that experience, the importance of Pride, and why solidarity and socialism must be at the heart of fighting for LGBTQ+ liberation.

An online event as part of Arise 2022 – A Festival of Left Ideas.

They’re absolutely right about the gay movement’s support for the miners. It’s the subject of a British film, Pride, which is set during the miners’ strike and is about gays and the striking miners coming together. I’m not aware that homophobic violence has increased, but it wouldn’t surprise me. There have been polls showing that for the first time, the present younger generation is less tolerant in this direction than its elders.

Some of this hatred might come from recent controversies from over the other side of the Pond. There has been considerable discussion and opposition to the nudity and kink at Pride marches over in America, as well as drag clubs hosting shows for children and the inclusion of LGBTQ* teaching to young children of nine and below in schools. There’s also increasing opposition to the drag queen story time events for children in public libraries. I gather that British Pride marches are somewhat different, but concerns about nudity and kink in public at an event which is promoted as child-friendly and suitable for children do seem to me to be entirely justified given some of the behaviour displayed by the marchers. This doesn’t mean banning the marches, though, or using it to promote homophobia. It should just mean getting the organisers and participants to clean up their act if they really want to be seen as suitable for children. Otherwise, regardless of the marches’ best intentions to promote tolerance across all ages, they should really be seen as for adults only.

I’ve also read criticism of Pride marches by gays, who say they’ve been put off them by the atmosphere that’s appeared there in recent years. They’ve written in various comments about Pride on right-leaning video channels discussing them that the marches have changed and aren’t what they once were. Some of these gay commenters find them now rather intimidating and corporate, as companies boast how they’re sponsoring them as a public relations exercise to show how tolerant and inclusive they are. They contrast this with the genuinely celebratory and subversive feeling there were about such marches back in the 80s and so on, when gays didn’t have the right to marry, were widely hated despite decriminalisation, and Thatcher wanted to ban the promotion of homosexuality in schools. As Thatcher was friends with Fascist monsters like Pinochet, it seemed all too credible that this would result in real, vicious persecution against gays that could see a return to them being imprisoned and worse.

Under Cameron, the Tories reversed their public stance against homosexuality and promoted openly gay candidates. But it does seem from the above message that they are trying to find ways to break the connection between the gay movement and the organised working class through stirring up anti-gay hatred.

Muslim Feminist Saima Afzal on Islamic Grooming Gangs, Political Corruption and Anti-White Racism

June 26, 2022

One of the people Ed Hussain speaks to in his book Among the Mosques A Journey Across Muslim Britain is Saima Afzal, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Blackburn with Darwen council. Previously, all the Muslim councillors had been men and there had been considerable opposition to women standing. Afzal is described as having experience as an activist and police adviser, focusing on women’s rights and religion among Lancashire’s ethnic minority communities, for which she was a awarded an MBE 2010.

She was forced into a marriage at a young age in Pakistan, a marriage which she rejects as invalid and views her husband as her abuser. She has therefore campaigned against forced marriages, as well as honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, Child sexual exploitation and been involved in issues such as sexuality within Islam and children’s rights in Islam, as well as a number of other issues issues prevalent with communities in which human rights and religious beliefs are irreconcilable. She has set up and runs two organisations which do this, Saima Afzal Solutions and SAS Rights. She is concerned with women’s issues and wellbeing not just in Islam, but in all religions including Christianity, Skihism and Hinduism. She’s been criticised for not wearing the hijab, and there was intra-Asian racism against her election to the council, as the local Asian elders wanted a Gujarati woman. Hussain questioned her about the Muslim grooming gangs, to which she answered

‘What’s worrying us professionals in the field, and what the academic studies don’t explain, is why Asian or Muslim groomers operate are operating in gangs. White groomers often work alone. Don’t underestimate for a moment that White girls are seen as ‘easier’ and ‘available’. But Asian and Muslim girls are also victims of these criminals and perverts. Only the Asian girls don’t talk. There’s more fear, shame and dishonour of the family involved.’ (p. 83.)

She complains that ministers and officials do come up from London for what she calls ‘photo ops’ and ‘tourist fashion cohesion’ ‘because as outsiders they take photos with people of all colours and pretend that all is well. All is not well’. She then talks about how she’s been rejected for these photo shoots because she didn’t wear a hijab, an attitude that is no different from that of the Muslim elders. She also describes how one candidate endorsed by Muslim Council of Britain didn’t shake her hand or make eye contact when he met her, because he’d been advised not to by the council. This was because she was not considered sufficiently Muslim for her refusal to wear the hijab. She also talked to Hussain about other incidents of abuse within the Muslim community, which had to remain confidential. And she also described how the local government was empowering Muslim clerics and community leaders, who claimed to speak for the entire community, as well as corruption and an attitude of ‘Asian votes for Asians’ which means that certain candidates were re-elected.

On the subject of children, she talks about how one local headmaster withdrew girls from swimming lessons because he considered the swimming costumes inappropriate. She also told Hussain she was working on issues relating to the nikah, or Muslim marriage contract, and rulings about couples cohabiting rather than being married.

‘Finally she explains that racism is not a one-way street in the communities she works with. Muslim leaders often decry ‘Islamophobia’, yet frequently refer to White British people as ‘goras’, a racist term’. (p. 84).

This is all very important, especially her comments about the grooming gangs. Elsewhere in the anthropological literature about European Islam researchers have noted that there is an attitude among some Muslims that western women are viewed with contempt by some Muslims because of their sexual freedoms, an attitude that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown also commented on the Independent when she was worth reading. And much of the criticism about the grooming gang inquiry is that its range has been very restricted so that it doesn’t go far enough. As for the local and national authorities, I got the distinct impression long ago that they really don’t want to investigate and reveal some of the negative issues in minority ethnic communities and especially Islam because it threatens the image that everything is otherwise well in these communities and with multiculturalism.

I strongly believe that the left should be open about these issues and should tackle them. It’s partly a matter of simple honesty and doing the right thing, but also because, if the left doesn’t, then they’re going to be exploited by the real bigots and Islamophobes like Tommy Robinson and the EDL.

Tolerant Muslim Preaching and Complaints of Misrepresentation in ‘Among the Mosques’

June 25, 2022

I’ve started reading Ed Hussein’s Among the Mosques, his account of his journey through Muslim Britain looking at its culture, differences, and values. He did so by going to the mosques and other Muslim cultural and religious centres in Dewsbury, Manchester, Blackburn, Bradford, Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London. While there, he met and talked to ordinary local people as well as the worshippers at the mosques, hearing their views and concerns. It was met with a storm of controversy when it came out because he talked about the conversations he’d had with Whites,, who’d suffered from racism, bullying and assault from Muslims in their areas. This was angrily denied, and a people went on Twitter to claim that the area he was talking about wasn’t Muslim but a posh White district. But the critics were talking about a different area from that visited by Hussein, and the book states this. The controversy seems to show the inability of some on the left to deal with the reality of anti-White racism by ethnic minorities.

But I don’t think the book does present a biased image of British Islam. Yes, in some areas, such as Dewsbury, the Islam practised – Deobandi – is austere and based on a theology of cultural separatism, in which Muslims are called to create and maintain a separate cultural and religious identity in preparation for the emergence of the caliphate. In other areas and mosques, the preaching and observance is more relaxed. Manchester’s Central Mosque is Barelwi, a sect based on the teachings of a 13th century Indian Sufi preacher. Their worship includes music, song and dance and the imam’s address was about interfaith tolerance as shown by Mohammed’s example.

Hussein writes

‘The imam continues to develop his theme of the need to change and improve ourselves based on our love for the Prophet. He encourages us to study the life of the Prophet Mohammed and how he acted towards people, even his enemies. Each time his name is mentioned the congregation again kiss their thumbs. The imam talks about the Prophet’s compassion, his kindness to his enemies, his message of co-existence with the Jews, Christians and pagans in seventh century Medina.

‘Are we such model citizens? Do we make our Prophet proud? he asks rhetorically, raising his hands with an exaggerated shrug like an Italian.

He quotes:

Qad ja’akun nur. Certainly a light has come to you.

That light is the prophet and the Qur’an, asserts the imam. ‘Are we radiating this light? Do our neighbours and friends in this country see us as carriers of love? The Prophet is shifa, he is healing. Has he healed our lives?’ (p. 46.) This isn’t that far from the various Anglican and other Christian clergymen in this country also preaching about the need for tolerance and love to heal ‘broken Britain’.

Earlier in the chapter he meets with a Muslim woman, Faiza, and her husband, who has come to the meeting as a chaperone as Muslim women may not meet strange men unaccompanied. She wears the niqub, and tells Hussein that she has reported three of her work colleagues to the HR department because they think she’s an extremist for doing so. She also talks about how the Muslim community in Manchester has been misrepresented thanks to the wretched suicide bomber at the Ariane Grande concert.

”One of the suicide bombers, Salman Abedi, was from a mosque in Didsbury here in Manchester,’ Faiza explains, adding in exasperation: ‘We have almost seventy mosques in this city. Yes, twenty-nine innocent kids died. And over a hundred were injured. For what crime?’ she shrugs. ‘One suicide bomber – one salafi – caused the incident, but what about the hundreds of Muslim taxi drivers who immediately took the injured to hospital? The drivers didn’t charge for this, but just offered their compassion and help. And why do we forget all the Muslim doctors and nurses at the hospital>’ Faiza is speaking passionately but intelligently.’ (p. 38). Elsewhere in the chapter he describes how all the mosques in the area condemned the bombing, but this wasn’t reported in the press coverage. And other Muslims tell him that they tried to warn the authorities six times about Abedi but were ignored. It’s a familiar story I’ve heard about other Muslim extremists – the congregation at the local mosque were worried, and attempted to alert the authorities only to be ignored.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but it seems to me that Hussein is trying to present a fair picture of British Islam. Islam, like most other religious, isn’t a monolith but composed of a number of sects, which may differ considerably in their theology and practise. Indeed, the title of one book we had in the library at College on Islam was The Sectarian Milieu. There are serious issues and challenges from some of the more austere sects, which reject mainstream cultural values and integration. And Muslims are like everyone else – human beings -, and so may have their own prejudices and biases. And some are no doubt racist thugs and bullies, just like some Whites.

These issues have to be squarely addressed, not denied, or distorted so that all British Muslims become tainted due to the actions of violent extremists. If we don’t do this, then it’ll be left to the real bigots and Islamophobes like Tommy Robinson and the EDL.

Megaphone Petition Against Government Plans to Allow the Hiring of Agency Strike Breakers

June 24, 2022

I’ve also received this email from Megaphone urging people to sign their petition about the government’s proposal to undermine the unions by allowing companies to hire agency staff to break the strike. I’ve signed it, as strikes, or the threat of strike action, is the major weapon for unions to protect the rights of their members and workers as a whole.

‘David —

This week has been huge for the trade union movement. The TUC Join a Union website is seeing record traffic, with visits this week up 800%. 

As RMT members stand up for their jobs, pay and our services, they are giving hope and confidence to millions of workers. The last few weeks has clearly shown that if you want a pay rise, a secure job and a decent life, you need to be in a union.

So what has the governments response to this been? To propose laws that would undermine the most powerful tactic working people have: strike action.

The Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, is proposing to change the law to allow companies to replace striking workers, with inexperienced agency workers. 

The government will try to sneak these changes through so people don’t notice, so we must get the word out far and wide. We will not let them undermine our right to strike.

Will you add your name to the petition to stop plans to undermine unions by allowing companies to hire temporary staff during strike action?

Sign the petition

We cannot let this happen.

Allowing agency staff to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and create genuine safety risks for the public and workers.

Please sign and share the petition now.

In Unity,

Anthony,

Megaphone UK

Message from the Stop the War Coalition about their National Day of Action Tomorrow

June 24, 2022

Stop the War Coalition sent me this email this afternoon giving the details about the protests they’ve organised up and down the country as part of a day of action tomorrow, Saturday 25th June 2022.

International Day of Action – Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the International Day of Action for Peace in Ukraine. It also coincides with Armed Forces Day and the NATO Summit in Madrid where global leaders will discuss upping the alliance’s ante in response to Ukraine.

That means we must step up our campaign too. Tomorrow is the anti-war’s opportunity to get out onto the streets and say loud and clear No To War & No To NATO. 

The British government has taken one of the most aggressive and belligerent positions on the conflict. Britain is pouring arms into Ukraine and is training Ukrainian troops. Boris Johnson has twice flown to Kyiv to pour cold water on any prospect of peace negotiations. Our focus has to stay on shifting British government policy and opening up prospects for a negotiated end to the war. 

In London we are holding a protest tomorrow outside the Ministry of Defence. We will be there from 2:00-4:00 pm. Do join us.

We have a great line-up of speakers including: Mohammad Asif, Director of Afghan Human Rights Foundation; Alex Gordon, President of RMT; Lindsey German, Convenor StWC; Andrew Murray, Vice President StWC; Roger McKenzie, Liberation general secretary; Kate Hudson, CND general secretary; and musician Sean Taylor.

Join the Protest Tomorrow

And, it’s not just London… The anti- war movement is growing all over the UK. We have a record number of groups up and down the country organising on a local level, from Dorset to ManchesterSheffield to Shrewsbury!

Get along down to your local event. Find the FULL list and details by clicking below. 

Protests Around the Country

We are asking all groups to report back on how it went. So please do send us pictures and a few sentences about your Day of Action by emailing us back so we can include yours in our roundup.

.Email us Back!

Their email also discusses a new pamphlet available from the Coalition against NATO’s aggressive eastward expansion. This helped to provoke Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, although that certainly doesn’t it excuse his invasion.

NATO; A WAR ALLIANCE – NEW PAMPHLET!

Get your pamphlet – newly updated for 2022 today.

The events of 2022 have put the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and its policies under the spotlight more than at any time in the post-Cold War period. The brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces in February forced many to reflect on the effect of NATO’s aggressive eastward expansion. Though it does not excuse Russia, there is no doubting that it has contributed to the current dangerous situation the world finds itself in.

Featuring contributions from Andrew Murray, Lindsey German, Kate Hudson, Chris Nineham, Carol Turner, Matt Willgress and Jenny Clegg.

Get your pamphlet Today!

Labour Online Rally for Palestine Next Month

June 24, 2022

I also had this email from Labour and Palestine giving the details of an online rally next month. Here it is:

ONLINE RALLY: Time to Speak Up for Palestine

Monday 18 July, 19:00. Register here // Invite here // Retweet here // Get ticket for whole festival here.
 

Rally with special guests from Palestine, plus: Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP // Kim Johnson MP // Yasmin Dar, Labour NEC // Louise Regan. National Education Union // Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine // Ryvka Barnard, PSC // & more tba.
 

An online event as part of Arise 2022 – A Festival of Left Ideas in association with Labour & Palestine.