Latest Entries »

The political arrests in Saudi Arabia of dissidents, clerics and TV personalities highlights the need for a radical overhaul of the global countering violent extremism project as it raises a very important question: Is the use of CVE globally curtailing human rights and free speech?

The Global Context: Saudi Arabia

Recently Saudi Arabia made headlines again due to a recent wave of arrests made which included prominent clerics, TV personalities and a poet of whom some of which align themselves with terrorism while others are vocally critical of the Saudi Monarchy.

In their article Saudi Arabia: Prominent Clerics Arrested’ Human Rights Watch have stated that these arrests are politically motivateand that “Saudis’ alleged efforts to tackle extremism are all for show if all the government does is jail people for their political views

A press release by the Saudi Press Agency confirmed the political nature of the arrests when it stated that the Saudis were able to Monitor the intelligence activities of a group of people for the benefit of foreign parties against the security of the kingdom and its interests, methodology, capabilities and social peace in order to stir up sedition and prejudice national unity”.

What is interesting in the statement is that there was no hint of any form of political violence being committed but rather that these people were primarily arrested due to them allegedly working for foreign parties against the security of the kingdom and its interests…which again highlights the political nature of countering violent extremism in Saudi Arabia which is that CVE isn’t primarily about protecting human lives, it’s about protecting the corporate state and its interests which in some instances can curtail human rights.

Although many within the CVE community would disagree with this analysis and would go on to state that CVE includes empowerment and inclusion as partners in the fight against violent extremism, I would argue that the global CVE project is merely a clever rebranding, by the Obama Administration, from what it was known before; the War on Terror and therefore forms a critical part of National Security giving primacy to the protection of state interests. The alignment of human rights with countering violent extremism has been a critical feature for the UN Secretary Generals Plan of Action to Counter Violent Extremism but whatever the rhetoric the fact is that the lack of a definition of what globally constitutes “extremism” has stoked a global crackdown on dissent. This has particularly been the case due to western powers, such as Britain, promoting the concept of tackling non-violent extremism abroad. A concept that has been warmly received by non-democratic states in the Gulf who favour the sort of broad definitions that tar nonviolent dissidents with the same brush as violent onesand therefore tend to see Britain’s approach as validating their view that it is legitimate to criminalise dissident beliefs as a threat to national security”.

This is how countries like Saudi Arabia can get away with making broad arrests of terrorists as well as political dissidents such as Sheikh Salman Al Ouda, most probably due to his involvement in the Sahwa movement and his continuous call for political reform within the kingdom.

More people are beginning to notice the correlation between the rise of extremism and the crackdown of political dissent as noted by Christopher Davidson in page 469 of his book Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East where he writes

The rise of the Islamic State ‘offered unprecedented political cover for heavy handed security crackdowns on all forms of dissent in the name of combatting extremism and terrorism

However, the use of the term non-violent extremism to curtail political dissent isn’t only active in the Gulf monarchies. Activists in the west have also seen the erosion of political dissent due to being labelled non-violent extremists by the advocates of the CVE agenda.

The Local Context: United Kingdom

Within the UK context, the targeting of non-violent extremists has been undertaken by various organisations and institutions. For example, the Henry Jackson Society, previously known as the Centre for Social Cohen,’s report “Extreme Speakers and Events in the 2016-17 Academic Year” lists a group of conservative and non-conservative muslim speakers as “Extreme speakers” for various reasons including the promotion of religious conservatism and pro-Palestinian activism. On 30 July 2015, the Society hosted contributions from Rupert Sutton, Director of Student Rights from the Henry Jackson Society, Lloyd Randle, former Prevent Engagement Officer & Dr Usama Hasan from Quilliam, for an event called “Preventing Prevent: Challenges to Counter-Radicalisation on Campus”. The objective of the event was to give a brief historical overview of radicalisation and the need to counter the anti-prevent lobby on campus.

The Henry Jackson Society, a think tank supported by key US Neoconservatives and two British Prime Ministers, launched a research centre (Centre for Response to Radicalisation & Terrorism(CRT)) to provide research and analysis on the very real threat that ‘Radical Islam poses on our society’. But from the onset, the centres lobbying in the Syria vote to bomb ISIS strongholds shows that it also aims to influence British foreign policy.

The society’s focus on radicalisation within the muslim community context means that it has had some influence on the UK.governments domestic counter-extremism strategy.

In page 56 of their report The Henry Jackson Society and the Degeneration of British Neoconservatism: Liberal Interventionism, Islamophobia and the War on Terrorfrom Spinwatch, the public interest investigations organisation, the authors state

One of its first events at the House of Commons – held in November 2010, prior to the Centre for Social Cohesion’s absorbtion into HJS – celebrated the launch of the CSC report ‘Islamist Terrorism: the British Connections’ which talked up the issue of radicalisation in universities and influenced the governments revised prevent strategy

PREVENT is the UK governments counter-extremism strategy. The strategy has gone through three iterations and although the latest iteration of PREVENT is proving to be the most problematic, it doesnt mean the previous iterations were free from their own exclusive problems.

One academic who studied the effects of PREVENT and counter-extremism measures in the Muslim community early on is Arun Kundnani, professor of media, culture and communications at New York University & teacher of Terrorism studies at John Jay College. According to his findings, central to PREVENT was the view of state actors viewing muslim youth as potential terrorist recruits in a global insurgency against the interests of the state.

A vocal proponent of a government counter insurgency model is Majid Nawaz, co-founder of the anti-extremism think tank Quilliam Foundation.

Describing himself as a counter-extremist, Maajid Nawaz has been responsible for the popularization of the term the “Regressive Left” which takes aim at non-muslim liberals supporting and providing, according to my opinion,entryism to politically active muslim individuals and organisations. The term has been used against established academics such as Noam Chomsky and investigative journalists such as Glenn Greenwald. Along with Maajid, other academics and commentators have attempted to define this section of the left. One notable academic, Dave Rich, described this branch of the left as The radical, street activist, anti-war, pro-Palestinian leftin page 242 of his book The Lefts Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism

Since muslim terrorism is primarily political in its nature, it is interesting to note that seeking a political resolution to the multiple political grievances that the muslim community may harbour is not mentioned by Maajid in his four point plan to tackle extremism.

The importance of finding political resolutions to conflicts reverberating around the Arab & Muslim world is a key driver towards challenging islamic extremism and has routinely been cited by counter terrorism advisors and even home office intervention providers.

Hanif Qadir, founder and CEO of Active Change Foundation states on page 209 in his book Preventing & Countering Extremism & Terrorist Recruitment: A Best Practice Guide;

Reinforcing the state’s willingness and ability to acknowledge and tackle the causes of grievances appropriately and effectively – is probably one of the most important, indeed essential actions that can be undertaken to prevent and counter violent extremism

Instead of mentioning the need to resolve political grievances in his 4 point plan, Maajid believes that the UK is in the midst of an insurgency and insurgency’s are primarily ideological. He goes on to state that there is a need for the government to surveil the muslim community in order for the authorities to separate the 3,000 known jihadists and the other 23,000 who the intelligence services want to surveil, from the rest of the muslim community.

The idea of separating the extremists from the moderates is a counter-insurgency method that some government advisors think should be integrated in to PREVENT since PREVENT is the programme that works in the pre-crime space and therefore legitimising the securitization of a UK domestic counter terrorism strategy that views muslim youth as a potential fifth column within British society.

Prior to PREVENT actually being a legal duty, there are examples of counter-insurgency methods, such as intelligence gathering, being used in the early iterations of PREVENT.

In 2009, professor Arun Kundnani released the findings of his 6 month investigation in to PREVENT in a report called Spooked: How Not To Prevent Violent Extremism. In the report Professor Kundnani highlights how some youth workers have been questioned by police about their beliefs, how certain youth centres were used for intelligence gathering and monitoring websites and one example of MI5 harassment.

In his book The Muslims are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism & the Domestic War on TerrorProfessor Kundnani further elaborates how the fear of radicalisation was used to stop muslim youths from attending a public counter-demonstration against the far right English Defence League in Bolton. On page 166 the author states

Representatives from the Council of Mosques agreed to the police’s recommendation that Muslims be prevented from entering the town center, and they sat with police officers in the operational control center for the day, helping to identify young people on closed-circuit television screens. From the point of view from the police, the EDL was not an extremist threat. The real danger was that the EDL’s presence would foment radicalization amongst young muslims. The best way to prevent this, reasoned the police, was to keep young muslims off the streets

Further efforts were made to see how counter-terrorism measures could be used against lawful protestors, especially students.

2009 saw an energised student movement protest against Operation Cast Lead, Israels Offensive in Gaza. 2010 saw an even more vigurous student movement take part in a series of demonstrations against the rise in tuition fees, the first major demonstration jointly organised by University & College Union & the National Union of Students, the co-organisers of the various anti-prevent Students Not Suspects tours. The 2010 demonstrations showed the rise of a new, young generation inspired by a radical politics popularised by a new breed of conscious political hip hop artists such as the pro-palestinian, anti-war activist Lowkey who would attend and speak at some of the student demonstrations that took place.

By 2011, the various mechanisms established through PREVENT were starting to respond to a range of different political activities. This time taking a firm look at the student demonstrations that ocurred prior. In page 169 of The Muslims are coming, Arun Kundnani wrote how an email from Scotland Yards Counter Terrorism Command to University College London (UCL) staff illustrated the new atmosphere:

As the student population is returning to ‘work’, we anticipate a renewed vigour in protests and demonstrations. The picture is currently building and we are monitoring the situation…..i would be grateful if in your capacity at your various colleges that should you pick up any relevant information that would be helpful to all of us to anticipate possible demonstrations or occupations, please forward it on to me”

The email above shows how the police were monitoring the rise of the student movement and how intelligence was needed to monitor this form of political activity. As a response to the student demonstrations, the Conservative government aligned think tank Policy Exchange organised an event called The Rise of Street Extremism where Peter Clarke, former head of the Counter Terrorism Command at Scotland Yard said

We need to, mentally atleast, compare the ambitions of some of the current crop of protestors and the terrorists. The distinction to my mind is not so much about their intention as in our response to it

The about their intentionpart of his statement aligns the protestors with terrorists therefore referring to the potential use of the various counter- measures provided by PREVENT as it is a counter-terrorism strategy that permits the surveillance of non-violent extremists leaving many academics, like Kundnani, to believe that the state defines extremism as any form of radical, political opposition to its interests.

Due to organisations like the National Union of Students, Cage and others taking part in the various anti-Prevent Student Not Suspects tours, a pro-prevent lobby has been initiated where interventions speak to the media and participate in events. The pro-prevent lobby accuse the anti-prevent lobby of promoting scare stories about the nature and the methodology of prevent stating that many of the examples promoted by the anti-prevent lobby are factually innacurate. The alignment of organisations like the NUS with organisations like Cage via the many Students Not Suspects tours situates the anti-prevent lobby, in the eyes of the pro-prevent lobby, as the core of the “Regressive left” in the UK.

However recently a study of the PREVENT strategy was conducted by the researcher from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Mohammed Elshimi who’s findings confirmed that the UK governments counter-extremism strategy contained elements of counter subversion.

In pages 73-74 of his book Deradicalisation in the UK Prevent Strategy: Security, identity and Religion’, the author states

Ultimately, the data shows that de-radicalisation as a policy exhibits a tangled logic in which it performs the functions of counter-terrorism, counter-subversion, community cohesion and crime prevention altogether

The counter subversive element of the UK Governments counter-extremism strategy essentially views elements of the british society as problematic and since the main focus are those involved in non-violent extremism, this means that mainly British muslim citizens who are politically active against western foreign policy are seen as subversives within the counter-extremism arena.

There is no doubt in the fact that we all have a duty to challenge violent extremism wherever it rears its ugly head and this would include working with the police when necessary. However our duty to protect our fellow citizens and our country doesnt mean that we keep quiet when the state violates the rights of our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity whether domestically or abroad and the focus on non-violent extremism within counter-terrorism discourse certainly violates the rights of others whether in our country or not. Theresa Mays visit to the US highlights the dangers of non-violent extremism in counter terrorism discourse. Early on in the year,she spoke at the Republican Convention where she said

And nor is it enough merely to focus on violent extremism. We need to address the whole spectrum of extremism, starting with the bigotry and hatred that can so often turn to violence

Her reference to challenging non-violent extremism was a cause for concern for the Christian Institute as they rightly pointed out that, historically speaking, even Dr Martin Luther King was seen as a non-violent extremist.

Advertisements

On the 14th July, 2017, I was invited to perform at an event called “Remembering Shafilea: A partnership approach to tackling forced marriage and honour based violence”. The event was organised by West Midlands Police, as part of their OurGirl UK event and it consisted of speeches from human rights activists, campaigners, charities as well as individuals from government bodies. As an activist and a critic of political policing, I went to support this event because I felt as though this was an area where the police were getting it right, they were listening to community organisations and were working with the community to tackle honour based violence and bring the perpetrators to justice – even when the perpetrators would publicly go on mainstream media and accuse those well intentioned police officers as being “racist”. But the event highlighted one thing which was made apparent to me ever since I, creatively, got involved in this field of work: The lack of Asian & Muslim men speaking out against gender inequality and honour based violence.

When people think of honour killings, they usually think of communities that originate from the Indian subcontinent and therefore think that honour killing is something that “they” do, that it is part of “they’re” culture. This is essentially a racist viewpoint and in regards to this, I invoke something, human rights activist & film maker, Deeyah Khan said in her ted talk “I assure you being murdered is not my culture”.

Honour, in this case, is used to police behaviour & control the body in order to preserve the family name, which in most cases is the surname of the father figure. Therefore honour codes operate in a patriarchal system designed to protect the honour of the male family members, by policing the behaviour of those who can bring dishonour to the family, namely westernised female members of the family but in contemporary times this can also include members from the LGBTQ community as well. But statistically speaking, Honour killing is seen as a women’s rights issue as those who are victims of honour killings are mainly women and the perpetrators are mainly men.

Honour killing is usually connected to the issue of forced marriages and therefore this places honour killing within the broader framework of gender inequality, because it takes away the fundamental right to choose how you want to live your life and who you want to marry, as well as gender based violence.

Early on in the year, I came out with a spoken word video called “Death Before Dishonour #EndHonourKillings” to create more awareness about the issue. This track has enabled me to get more involved with those who are at the front line of challenging gender inequality and gender based violence. It is through this experience that I came to see, not only just a lack of Asian men speaking out against gender based violence, that there are subtle cues of gender inequality within our own community.

The biggest example of this is the issue of womens spaces in mosques whether it’s the actual lack of spaces or the quality of those spaces but more subtle forms include “advice” given by those in religious authority for women to be more obedient wives to disobedient husbands but when it comes to disobedient housewives, the husband is encouraged to separate or the idea that women participating in public life is seen as a temptation. These attitudes are usually fostered in places that cannot be accessed by members of the opposite gender and this is why I believe that men need to do a lot more to challenge gender inequality and gender based violence, especially in those social gatherings incubating these ideas.

We are living in a world of profound change and in the West Muslim women have overcome enormous obstacles in order to be more involved in public life. However in other instances, Muslim women have also lost their lives as well and it is due to this and the changes that are occurring, I, and many others like me, believe that we, as a community, really need to have deep discussions about gender inequality so that it can be challenged whenever it rears its ugly head.

As a Muslim who is involved in the community politically and culturally, I can say from my own experience that atheism and liberalism have taken a firm hold within certain pockets of the Muslim community and have rendered many to question
their faith and practice due to being ignorant of the religion as well as external influences such as extremism. The rise of atheism is something that many imams haven’t really critically addressed in their Friday khutba’s but where they have failed, Hamza
Tzortzis’ book ‘The Divine Reality: God, Islam and the Mirage of Atheism’ renders a much needed service to the Muslim community, and I would go on to say, to other faith based communities in assisting them to understand the flawed ideological underpinnings
upholding atheism while articulating a positive, cogent argument for the existence of God and the need for religion as whole, but Islam in particular.

 

I found this book, simply easy to read and understand. One of its main advantages is that that the author already had an audience in mind, this book aims to introduce the religion of islam and its values to those who call themselves atheists
but by writing a book like this, Hamza is also, albeit perhaps indirectly, also addressing Muslims who are questioning their faith and verging on disbelief. The author stars off by discussing the ideological basis for atheism and the philosophy that many athiests
follow, namely philosophical naturalism which is the idea or belief that only natural laws and forces operate in this world. In order to rebuke this idea, Hamza interestingly weaves in to his argument the reality of rationalism and how non-rational, physical
matter cannot give rise to a rational thinking mind because non-rational, physical matter do not contain within themselves the elements to give rise to a rational mind. Another interesting point was Hamza’s argument that the belief in God is natural. He promotes
this argument by highlighting the results of experiments done on children which resulted in children being deems as “Intuitive theists”  which goes in accordance to the Hadith of the prophet Muhammad(saw) where he said that children are born in accordance
to the original fitrah and it is the parents of the environment that change them.

 

The book covers other important angles and issues that related to atheism and religion, such as the reality of the universe, matter, religion and morality, the attributes of God and morewhich makes this book a recommended read. Due to having
over a decade of experience in debating some of the most well-known atheists, Hamza’s input in to this debate provides a well needed reference point for the faithful to use in order to provide a productive counter narrative against the challenges posed by
atheism.

 

Simply put, this book is the first of its kind to challenge atheism from a faith based islamic perspective. If you have any questions or doubts, please get in touch with the author here http://www.hamzatzortzis.com/thedivinereality/     

*Talk delivered at UCL’s Blackademia event

​The Counter Terrorism and Security Act legislated in 2015 has made it mandatory for all public sector workers to spot and report signs of radicalisation if they come across it in their workplace. This includes universities, which have become subject to the prevent duty and of which many universities have their own designated prevent official where all referrals should be made if a teacher comes across any sign of radicalisation. In order to combat extremism on campus, many prevent officials have stated that universities and schools are crucial since it is in these institutions where ideas are developed and therefore should be challenged. These institutions can provide open spaces for people to discuss ideas and develop their own. However the vague definition of extremism and an inefficient training program has served to ensure that teachers used their own intuition to spot signs of radicalisation, two major factors are signs of increased religiosity, especially islam, and talking about political, foreign policy issues such as that of Palestine.
However since the Prevent duty became mandatory, many students themselves have become wary of taking part in open discussions around political issues knowing that safe spaces provided within their learning institution aren’t exactly safe spaces due to the prevent duty, leading some parents heavily emphasising their children not to talk about any political issues fearing that their child will be taken and questioned by prevent officers and therefore may be monitored. So instead of tackling radicalisation, what the prevent duty, in the education sector, has done is stifle legitimate political dissent. It is of my opinion that the method of delivery currently employed by the duty actually helps prevent to achieve its main objective, to stifle legitimate political concerns. 
In universities, the extremism debate hasn’t just lead to the creation of university designated prevent officials, but it has also had other side effects as well. Many organisations who were once connected to prevent and who are profiting from this extremism debate have set up their own university societies such as the Quilliam societies and the Henry Jackson affiliate student rights whose aim is to mainly scrutinise events held by the Islamic Society and the many pro-palestine societies as well. The convergence of the two highlights that in their eyes, religious conservatism and political activism will lead to, in their definition, extremism while also believing that conservative muslim speakers and conservative events at university provide the so-called “mood music” for students to go on to become terrorists. Along with this, there is also another troubling aspect of dealing with extremism on campuses. Omar Ali, former head of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, has stated that he has had to deal with a number of muslim students who have reported that they have been approached by members of the intelligence services to acts as agents and report on the activities of their fellow muslim colleagues in university. You can find out more information about this aspect on a documentary available on youtube called “Muslim students discriminated against in the UK”.  The effect of prevent on universities, the actions of these other university societies connected to the likes of Quilliam or Henry Jackson society and the pressure from members of the intelligence services will serve to create a melting pot where free speech and legitimate dissent is stifled and radicalisation isn’t tackled but fostered due to the many consequences that some of these measures can have.

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the Labour Party has bought about some of the most important political developments in recent history. From being labelled a terrorist sympathier to an impotent leader, no other leader has been attacked more than Jeremy Corbyn in British politics recently. But one theme that has kept on recurring is one of the most crucial issues of our times, that of antisemitism and its more modern manifestation which many call ‘new’ antisemitism. The allegations of a widespread antisemitism within the labour party led the author to write the book “The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-semitism”. 
The Islamist- Leftist Alliance

After having just finished reading the book, I admit it was an engaging read. It gave me a different perspective on the issue that I wouldn’t have normally considered but nonetheless, I can see, are very important to consider. For instance the authors analysis of anti-semitism not only in the far right, but also what he calls, the far left was educational. Even though he acknowledges that not all sections of the far left are anti-semitic, the fact that certain members within it engage in stereotyping of all jews as capitalists, bankers war mongers is a form of anti-semitism slightly different to that of the far right which engages in racial depictions of jews. I would agree with the author that all forms of racism and stereotyping of the jewish community needs to be tackled whenever we come across it. I also enjoyed reading the authors analysis of the history of the anti-war movement and its relationship with ‘islamist’ movements such as the Muslim Association of Britain. This section of the book was a fascinating read as it highlighted how these various movements within the left engaged with newly formed muslim political organisations and created a more inclusive political bloc where muslims can legitimately protest while keeping their identity. Individuals mentioned as leaders of the movement were people like John Rees, Anas Al Tikriti, Lindsay German and Jeremy Corbyn. Reading about Jeremy Corbyns historical activism in ensuring that various members of the Muslim community were involved politically made me respect him even more. What especially struck me in this section of the book was the authors commentary on the Cairo Anti-War Conference which was a global meeting of leftist anti war organisations and islamist groups discussing ideas and building solidarity. It is of my opinion that these meetings should continue so that all who participate can participate in the free exchange of ideas and engage in constructive criticism
Misunderstanding Zionism?

However there were some points that the author made which I highly disagreed with and found to be highly problematic. The main element of my disagreement was the authors view regarding Zionism and the claims made by leftists against Zionists. The author implies that the anti-war, pro-palestinian left, or what Maajid Nawaaz would call the “Regressive” left, have misunderstood the idea of Zionism, which is purely an idea of national liberation against European antisemitism that is not racist as well as not imperialist. In other words, to equate Zionism with racism and imperialism is anti-Semitic because it implies that jew’s are inherently racist and pro-capitalist. Although it is important to ensure that antisemitism is challenged, Zionism is a political ideology and therefore criticising Zionism and the various Zionist movements isn’t, in and of itself, an anti-Semitic act. This idea that Zionism isn’t a racist ideology would find some resonance for those who understand it as an ideology of national liberation but the truth is that the ideology of Zionism comes with a set of historical claims which validate its belief that the homeland for the jew’s is in Palestine. This lead to the belief that Palestine was “A land without a people for a people without a land”. The fact that there were a people already on that land, which was verified by various jewish delegations during the ottoman times, shows the level of dehumanization that came with Zionism because the idea that you can just erase the existence of a large group of people based on their ethnicity is one of the most vilest forms of racism. 

Along with its racist connotations, the author states that the Zionist movement is purely a movement of national liberation and isn’t a project born out of and used for imperialism. According to the author, this view is anti-Semitic because this automatically implies that Jews were pro-capitalist etc as the claim was made before. Although I agree that there shouldn’t be any prejudice or stereotypes, stating that the Zionist project was aligned to the aims of the British Empire to further its control and then aligning itself with other imperialist states is not an anti-Semitic claim since the historical record shows that these claims were based on fact. In The UK, it is no secret that Chaim Weizman sought and eventually got the support of the British Empire as a protectorate of the Zionist movement in Palestine which led to the infamous Balfour Declaration. After British support, the French briefly also supported the Zionist movement before the United States. Each saw the Zionist movement and the state of Israel as a method to introduce western markets to the middle east and therefore expand their markets and influence. This was also the aim of Hitler in his support of the Huaavara agreement, which was the transfer of German Jews to Palestine as stated by Francis R Nicosia in his book “The Third Reich and the Palestine Question”, which in my view vindicates Ken Livingstone in regards to his remarks that Hitler was an early supporter of Zionism due to its belief that Jew’s should leave Europe for Palestine, something that hitler ideologically could agree with according to Mr Nicosia.
Although throughout the book, the author states that Israel is discriminating the Palestinians in Gaza and the west bank and seems to be the proponent of the two state solution, the author tries to tackle the left’s comparison of Israel to South Africa to show that discrimination of arab Palestinians isn’t as bad as compared to other arab states and that since Israel is different from South Africa, there is no apartheid in Israel, saying that in Israel Arabs have the right to vote, no interracial sexual laws, the right to work equally with their Israeli counterparts etc. All this makes it look like Israel is not an apartheid state compared to South Africa and this is the important distinction, when compared to South Africa, Israel practices a different form of aparthied which is that Arabs and Israelis may live side by side but within the law of the Israeli state, they are treated as different groups. Hence legally, Israelis and Arabs are treated separately with the law designed and practiced in a way that privileges its Jewish citizens which is Israel’s form of apartheid distinct from South African apartheid. It’s a form that is more complex and more entrenched then South African apartheid for example, this issue of the Arabs being allowed to vote in the Knesset which the author describes as a proportional democracy, this gives it the veneer of freedom but if one were to understand how israels democracy was constructed, you would reach a different conclusion. Israel was established in 1948 after the expulsion of 700,000-800,000 arabs from their villages which the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba (The Catastrophe). Within Israeli law, any Jew can apply for Israeli citizenship due to what Israelis call the “Grandfather Clause”, however those that were ethnically cleansed in the Nakba have no right to return, so you already have a population that was socially constructed. Along with this, the Knesset is designed in a way to ensure that only pro-zionist parties get the majority of the seats and this is they call, proportional democracy so in theory Israel is a democracy but in practice, activists call Israel an ethnocracy, the co-option of democracy to privilege a single group of people over others. In other words, the reality is that no matter who the Arabs vote for, only pro-zionist parties can only be part of a coalition government. Similar diligence is required to understand the rest of Israel’s laws to understand how it discriminates against its non-jewish citizens. Something that the author brushes under the carpet.
Reconciliation

He ends the book with the spirit of reconciliation, which for me was a god development. He states that it is possible to understand Zionism is an idea of national liberation while also critiquing israels establishment and its policies. At this point, I was very cautious of the authors spirit of reconciliation because although this book critiques the antisemitism in the left, it wouldn’t have been out of place to admit that antisemitism also exists in the centre, the far right and within many Zionist organisations too who believe that jew’s only belong in the middle east and nowhere else, but alas, this book only focuses on attacking the left. Since he ends his book by advising the left on how to reintegrate Zionists within the pro-palestinian left and therefore demanding the left fundamentally change its understanding of Zionism, it would have been good to write a paragraph or 2 about the changes that Zionists need to make since the pro-palestinian left has some genuine concerns about the Zionist movement but he didn’t do that, so I’m going to make some demands of the ideological changes that I believe Zionists need to make;
1) Israel – Zionists need to reconfigure their understanding of Israel being an exclusive jewish homeland. Since Israel was establishment on a piece of land that was already inhabited by the Palestinians, This idea of a “Jewish and democratic state” should be changed to just a “Democratic state” therefore representing all of its citizens and not just a specific group. This will make it possible to still believe Israel to be a homeland for the jew’s, but not an exclusive one since they have to share the land with other races and religions.

2) Right of return – Palestinian refugees should have the right to return. It is simply unjust for those who have been ethnically cleaned to be denied the right to return while jews who have lived in the west for hundreds of years automatically have a right for Israeli citizenship. This is simply wrong so the issue of Palestinian refugees must be addressed and if that right continues to be denied, then I think it only to be fair that Zionists and Jews to have their rights revoked to move to Israel until justice is granted to the Palestinian refugees. This is only fair.

3) The west bank & Gaza – The occupation of the west bank and the blockade of the Gaza strip, in all of its forms, simply must come to an end.
In his lecture, Imperial Continuity – Palestine, Iraq and U.S Policy, Professor Edward Said as was asked if Zionists have a historical claim to the lands of Israel, he replied by saying

“Of course but I would not say that the jewish claim or the Zionist claim is the only claim or the main claim. I say that it is a claim among many others. Certainly the arabs have a much greater claim because they’ve had a longer history of inhabitancy and actual residence in Palestine then the jews did. If you look at the history of Palestine…..you’ll see that the period of actual Israelite…..dominance in Palestine and that amounts to about 200-250 years. But there were molobites, there were jebuzites, there were canaanites, there were philistines, there were many other people in Palestine at the time and before and after. And to isolate one of them and say that’s the real owner of the land, I mean that is fundamentalism…so I think a people who have a history of residence in Palestine for a certain amount of time, including the jews,yes, and of course the arabs have a claim….but nobody has a claim that overrides all the others and entitles that person with that so-called claim to drive people out, that’s the point”


On behalf of Campaign Against the Arms Trade
​Dear friends and colleagues,
As part of Campaign Against the Arms Trade, i would like to say that its an honour being here and standing in solidarity with the Palestinians people. But as we stand here, we’re not just standing here in Solidarity with the Palestinians residing in occupied Gaza but also we’re standing here in solidarity with those Palestinians in the occupied in the west bank under the “PA”, the Palestinian Israelis that live in Israel as 2nd class citizens who, while also being systematically targetted, also cant vote for a real left leaning political party that articulates the aspirations of the palestinian people within the supposed only democracy in the middle east and for the millions of displaced palestinian refugees, not only those who were displaced in Israels recent acts of terrorism but also those who were ethnically cleansed in the Nakba who have no right of return, these are the 3 demands of the BDS movement and we stand in solidarity with the Palestinians as a whole and everyone resisting oppression throughout the world
The formation of the state of Israel mirrors The Israeli assault on Gaza in July-August 2014, in which 2,205 Palestinians (including 521 children) were killed, an example of Israel’s indiscriminate acts of violence against the Palestinian people.
Yet UK-made weapons and military technologies continue to be sold to and used by the occupying Israeli forces. UK licensed £4 million of arms sale to Israel in four months following the bombing of Gaza in 2014. 
And the trade is two-way: Israel has a thriving arms industry, and sells the technologies of killing and oppression which is honed in Palestine, but finds buyers around the world who use israeli arms and policies to halt democracy within their own borders. UK arms fairs regularly invite Israeli arms companies to host national pavilions, to promote their weaponry, and the UK spends millions on buying Israeli weaponry.
Next week, the farnborough International arms fair will come to the UK. Farnborough last happened in July 2014, at the height of the the attacks on Gaza. As the bombs rained down on Gaza and lives were devastated, Israeli arms companies were in the UK touting for business.
CAATs campaign officer Sarah visited the arms fair. She said:

“It was the most surreal and chilling day I have ever experienced. But for the arms dealers and military buyers attending, it was just business as usual.

I stood by the glossy stands of Israeli arms companies, promoting ‘battle-tested’ weaponry with slick videos of missile strikes and drone attacks, while outside, in the real world, the death toll in Gaza mounted.”

This year, Israeli arms companies such as Elbit Systems, Israeli Aerospace Industries, and Rafael will be back at Farnborough 2016 promoting their weaponry to military buyers from around the world. 

Arms fairs are where the deals that fuel conflict and repression the world over begin. War starts here. But that means we can also act to stop it here.
Join us for a day of action next Monday, 11 July, and take action as part of the Stop Arming Israel campaign. Our main target is the Science Museum, which is hosting a black-tie Gala dinner for the arms dealers attending Farnborough. 

A day which you are all invited to attend and give arms dealers a big London welcome by letting them know that they are basically, unwelcome.

In 2014, large protests at the Science Museum meant that arms dealers arriving for the Farnbrough arms fair reception were turned away at the door. When the Bahraini military delegation saw our protest, it turned tail and left, and our action eventually forced the Museum to turn arms dealers away from the event. 

On Monday, a coalition of groups including CAAT and London Palestine Action will be protesting outside the Science Museum. Join us at 6pm outside the Science Museum to welcome arms dealers as they arrive for the official Farnborough reception.

More information on this can be found on caat’s facebook page and website where you can find more information about the Israeli arms trade, an industry that is assisting and faciliating  aaaIsrael’s occupation of Palestine and how we can work together to bring it to an end for the sake freedom and justice.

Thank you 

IMG_20160423_193821.jpg

 

 

On Saturday 30th April, I attended Cumberland Road Mosque’s conference 2016 which was entitled “Reclaiming Islam From Extremists” which consisted mainly of lectures given by renowned imams and students of knowledge on the issue of extremism within the traditions of Islam. On the bill were Taalib Alexander,a known student of knowledge who has delivered various lectures in South London, Abu Taymiyyah, student of knowledge from Leicester and Abu Usaama Adh-Dhahabi, Imam from Green Lane Masjid who filled in at the last minute for Abdur-Rahmaan Hassan. Taalib Alexander gave us an insightful lecture on the contemporary manifestations of extremist movements within the arab and muslim world. Focussing on Isis and Boko Haram, mainly, Taalib explained how these were organisations whose main aim was money and power and he gave examples of how these groups have killed muslims in order to attain power and influence.

 

His talk was beneficial because it gave the conference a more of a contemporary feel, since many of these lectures focus on the khwaarij mainly but Taalib exposed how these groups target muslims and other people of all faiths and none in the name of their own ideology, especially the targeting of young children which goes beyond all bounds and ethical norms. Abu Usama Ath Thahabi explained the Islamic definition of extremism and the position of islam and the traditional scholars on the issue of extremism, which they call ‘Ghuloo’. He explained that Islam doesn’t only recognise the far right extremists, which is those people who go overboard within religion which they impose on others, but there is also a recognition of far left extremism, which is the secular types who make up reasons for not practicing islam and the example he gave of this type of extremism was Quilliam Foundation. He explained that Islam was in the middle of these two extremes which is not to overburden yourself to the far right or not to be too relaxed in religion which is the far left but rather to stay on the middle path as explained in the Qur’an and the Sunnah & to finish off Abu Taymiyyah spoke about the contextualisation of violence within the sharia and gave examples of how, even though in some circumstances violence could have been used, the Prophet Muhammad(saw) chose peaceful methods when it came to dealing with people. From my experience in counter extremism work, those three topics were enough in terms of providing an over-arching framework of the extremism debate within Islam which provided enough scope for further issues to be discussed so with this in mind, I asked two questions at the Q&A session.

 

My first question was directed at Abu Usama my question was pertaining to the concept of Al Hakimiyyah (Sovereignty to God) and how extremist groups differ in their understanding to that of the understanding of the orthodox muslim scholars. Abu Usama explained that traditionally the Sunni Scholars have three categories in relation to the Oneness of God. Tauheed al Ruboobiyyah (Oneness of God in His  Lordship), Tauheed al Uloohiyyah (Oneness of God in his Worship) Tauheed al Asma Was As Sifaat (Oneness of God in His Names and Attributes) and he said that within these attributes, one can come to the understanding that God is al-Hakim (The Sovereign). So with this understanding, one is still within the orthodox sunni understanding of Islam however he went on to explain that extremists have come up with a fourth category which is Tauheed Al Hakimiyyah (Oneness of God in His Sovereignty) and what they have done is focus on the category of Al Hakimiyyah & politicised it to the detriment of all the other obligations within islam. So with this politicised category of Al Hakimiyyah there are no agreements with different states, there are no boundaries or nation states, mankind has no place in the interpretation of divine laws and regulations, there is no room for different opinions etc because everything and everyone comes under the rulership of God, well according to the way these extremists understand the Sovereignty of God. This question was needed to be asked because I wanted to focus on ideology which Abu Usama explained well Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God) but the debate on extremism is changing. It is not just solely on political violence anymore but it has evolved in to one of the friction between liberalism and conservatism. So with this in mind, I asked Abu Taymiyyah the question about the killings of the secular bloggers in Bangladesh and how muslims should deal with secular atheist bloggers in muslim majority societies. Both he & taalib denounced the killings of these bloggers stating that extra-judicial killings is against the rulings of Islam and it is only the prerogative of the ruler to deal with those subjects who may have broken the law of the land. Abu Taymiyyah went on to explain that muslims should deal with Secular bloggers with dialogue and debate, not violence.

 

Although there was a lot of benefits in going to this conference, I do have some lines of constructive criticism for the mosque committee and speakers. Although I understand that the speakers came from far and there were time limitations, for lectures that are essentially annual conferences for masjids and religious institutions I would have liked to see the use of audio visual equipment like, pictures, video etc by the speakers to compliment what they are talking about as it was billed as a conference so there could have been room to spice up the talks especially now that there is a lot of online verified testimony from people who have escaped the clutches of ISIS and Boko Haraam, seeing some of these videos as part of their talks would have been a nice compliment. So that’s my first point of constructive criticism. The second point comes with a caveat, although I understand the masjid was a small masjid and the lectures had to take place in the mens prayer space but to me you cant advertise something as an event for all of the community, only to find that at the event, there is a total lack of the presence or the participation of women. That, as well as of the issue of writing questions on paper for women, some would say, is almost discriminatory and I don’t think this has any place now as women, as should rightly be in my opinion, are involved in all aspects of public life. So for future events, I would suggest the renting of a hall where women are present and are participating in the event (by this I mean, you can have women speakers as well) or to extend the mosque where you have shared spaces where you can host your annual conferences and other events.

I would suggest the further development of halls in mosques as then when you do events, you can incorporate things like entertainment such as poetry or acapella rap or acoustic nasheed singing so the event is fun but also more importantly educational as well.

 

But with these points of criticism, I still commend the brothers for hosting an event on such a topic, it was very beneficial and I wish them all the best for the future by the Will of God.

logo

 

On 7th April 2016 the University of Exeter passed the Right2Debate motion which was designed to challenge extremist views while promoting free speech. Right2Debate is a student led Quilliam Foundation initiative which doesn’t necessarily promote the banning of speakers but claims to promote more free speech by instilling a mechanism where extremist (but still legal) views can be challenged by the presence of an opposing speaker.

 

The proposed framework works in the following way. If a controversial speaker is invited to an event, university students are allowed to form a petition and can send the petition to the Students Union if they have 25 signatories or over, while providing evidence to substantiate their points. The SU will then deliberate the motion and then release their judgment publicly. If they agree with the petition, they are then required to find an opposing speaker where by the event will then take the format of a debate with a neutral moderator.

 

This sounds fine until you understand the context within which university societies, especially Islamic and pro-palestinian societies operate and I suspect that if this motion is put in place, the aforementioned societies will be the ones most affected. The whole issue of an opposing speaker seems fine on the surface, but this raises more questions than answers. Must we have an opposing speaker to explain why they left Islam, for an Islamic society event with a speaker explaining why they joined the faith? Will the Palestinian societies have to accommodate a pro-zionist speaker at an event about Palestinian rights? Or we can flip the script; will pro-zionist societies host a pro-palestinian speaker like Ilan Pappe? Or will the quilliam societies host an opposing speaker who has an alternative view than that of contemporary human rights or secularism itself?

 

In this atmosphere of suspicion and monitoring of certain student societies, I feel as though the pro-zionist and Quilliam societies will fare better than those siding with the Palestinians and ISOC’s. I say this because there is already an atmosphere of bias opposing these kind of societies, an atmosphere that the right2debate policy does not challenge (In some cases, the Quilliam foundation, and its representative in the Right2Debate Initiative, Haydar Zaki have been involved in the targeting of ISOC’s) and so the more I read in to Quilliams Right2Debate initiative, the more I am left with the feeling that the main objective of it is to police thought (especially those belonging to the left) than to actually provide a platform where enlightenment can be enhanced. Many students have already told me that it is already getting difficult for them to host events as many universities are employing stricter vetting procedures, which in some circles is welcome, but it’s coming at a cost where many people within these societies feel like they have lost their voice, or are beginning to lose their voice, to oppose such decisions. This is more so implemented within the Right2Debate policy itself.

 

The policy states that if the petition is “rejected, the host society of the petition has a right to reply that must also be uploaded alongside this material.” The policy goes on “If a petition is successful, the university’s SU must make all reasonable efforts to provide a speaker agreed with the society that launched the petition. This speaker will provide a differing opinion that will challenge the petition’s subject.” Notice how if the petition is rejected than the society that launched the petition has the right of reply but if the petition is accepted, than the SU “must make all reasonable efforts to provide a speaker agreed with the society that launched the petition” BUT there is no mention of the society that organized the event, having the right to appeal the decision and the evidence provided with the petition. An appeal, along with their evidence, which should be made available for the public.

 

The policy goes on, “If agreement cannot be achieved or it is not possible to obtain a speaker, then the society who launched the petition will be given a minimum 30-minute platform during the mandatory hour-long Q&A session. Confirmation of additional speakers or the failure to obtain additional speakers must be published by the SU.”

I am all for debate and the voicing of opposing views to be aired and clarified, but why must members of the society who launched the petition be given a 30-minute platform during the Q&A session? Rather than preserving speech, this sounds like the Quilliamites imposing their illiberal will on how students should run their own events. This, along with other demands of the policy such as mandatory filming of the event which should be made public, make it seem like the right2debate policy is anything but for the promotion of free speech. The tone of the policy gives it a liberal totalitarian feel.

The conservatism practiced by *some* societies did raise some questions for me when I used to visit their events but this is to be addressed by the students alongside their respective universities who should work together to find a way where a certain level of conservatism and a certain level of liberalism can, and should be accommodated. Deep down, having read the policy and researching the Quilliam Foundation, I don’t believe that that is the objective of the Right2Debate policy.

*On behalf of CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade)*

Dear brothers, sisters and friends

On behalf of campaign against the arms trade (CAAT for short) i would like to thank you for inviting us to speak at this important event where we can exercise the principles that we all believe in by standing in solidarity with the egyptian people in their fight for greater self determination against that tyrant that is Abdul Fettah El-Sisi who has locked up journalists, tortured opponents and clamped down on dissent therefore establishing himself and his regime on an appaling human rights record.

Unfortunately the Sisi dictatorship is a good example of a multi-faceted system that uses some of the worlds most deadliest weapons to impose itself against the needs and the wishes of the people.

The global trade in arms helps sustain the status quo as in the case of egypt, when peaceful protestors take to the streets demanding positive change they are faced with armed helicopters, bullets, guns, tear gas, and other weapons to silence dissent, weapons which were sold to them by our government and arms companies such as BAE Systems which makes them complicit in the erosion of human rights not just within Egypt, but throughout the arab and muslim world.

Although i do believe that things will eventually get better, our government seems to be working hard to make sure that that isnt the case in egypt.

According to human rights watch

“President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi…leads a country that remains in a human rights crisis. Authorities have effectively banned protests, imprisoned tens of thousands—often after unfair trials—and outlawed the country’s largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. A sweeping counterterrorism law has expanded the authorities’ powers. National Security officers commit torture and enforced disappearances, and many detainees have died in custody from mistreatment. The government continues to investigate independent NGOs and puts journalists on trial”

In an independent article dated 5th november 2015 called ‘UK is ramping up arms sales to military dictatorship, figures show’ journalist jon stone wrote

“More than 1,000 people have been killed since Mr Sisi came to power and 40,000 dissenters are believed to have been jailed, according to human rights groups”

But dealing with these issues doesnt seem to be on our governments agenda as he goes on to write

“But business department figures on arms export licences from the UK to Egypt show a sharp increase in weapons and controlled military hardware sales

The British government must give consent for all arms exports and has allowed millions of pounds in sales to the Egyptian dictatorship.

A £40m licence for armoured vehicles to the regime was granted by the Government in March 2015, compared to a total of £156m in licences to Egypt throughout the whole of the Coalition government”

For a government that states that they champion freedom and human rights, it looks like they themselves will trample over those values in the name of corporate profit and the preservation of british interests.

The arms trade isnt only a profit making industry that serves to preserve the status quo, but in the eyes of CAAT, it is also an industry that is soaked in blood which aims to make profit at the cost of human life.

In order to try to deal to with the concerns of the effects of the arms trade, the majority of the worlds governments, supported by many human rights organisations, signed in what they call the arms trade treaty which according to the arms control association website

“is a multilateral, legally-binding agreement that establishes common standards for the international trade of conventional weapons and seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade. The treaty aims to reduce human suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfers, improve regional security and stability, as well as to promote accountability and transparency by state parties concerning transfers of conventional arms.”

This definition does not seek to address the many concerns CAAT has regarding the arms trade as in order to “improve regional security and stability”, our governments will continue to sell arms to dictators like sisi, who use deadly weapons, to clamp down on protestors to preserve their position and corporate interests.

This is why CAAT aims to work not to regulate or normalise the trade in arms like the arms trade treaty, but the work of CAAT has one goal in mind, to end the arms trade.

This is a trade that leads to the loss of life while wasting billions of pounds which could be used for investment in things like renewable energy or dealing with the many crises’ caused by austerity while also maintaining a global power imbalance serving to further strengthen the elite at the cost of the majority who do not fall into this bracket.

And this is why, as individuals and as an organisation, caat stands in solidarity with the egyptian people in their quest for human rights and self determination

Thank you

Islam and the future of toleranceI first heard about the book “Islam and the future of tolerance” on maajid nawaaz’s  facebook page during the controversy of Quilliam receiving funding from the co-author of the same book, Sam Harris. This book was supposed to be the first of its kind, a dialogue between an atheist and an ex-radical liberal muslim where controversial issues surrounding Islam were to be discussed and debated. Prior to the release of the book there were many reviews recommending the book, the most notable one’s coming from the Conservative Muslim Forums’ Mohammed Amin who said that he found the book very “absorbing” which made me think that this book might be of certain value as well as challenge me in my personally held views. The fact that this book was marketed in a way that made it unique, that critical issues were going to be discussed and debated with one of the world’s leading atheist leader’s added value to its overall image.

Discussing and debating about the role of Islam in this contemporary world is something that I welcome as I believe that we share this world with people who hold different beliefs and habits, especially now that we are living in a world system that is largely secular and is notoriously exporting neoliberal democracy throughout the globe, and not just the Muslim world. Debates on meeting both the religious and secular challenges must be had but they must be had by qualified individuals who have in-depth expert knowledge in all of the social, scientific, ethical, philosophical, and religious sciences with the aim of providing solutions and this book is promoted as if it will add value in this area. The format of the book is that of questions by Sam Harris, author, neuroscientist and philosopher, and answers by Maajid Nawaaz, ex-member of Hizb-Ut Tahrir, author of Radical and chairman of the counter extremism think tank Quilliam Foundation.

The first thing that stood out for me are the individuals in this conversation themselves because both Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaaz are NOT Theologians or experts in the Islamic sciences and this lack of in depth religious knowledge is definitely evident in their dialogue as no matter what subject they discuss, it goes no further than the base elementary level which, for me, greatly devalued the book in regards to the contribution that people like Mohammed Amin said it would make. A quick example of this is in Sam Harris’ question that many Muslims view, in a problematic way, the Qur’an as the literal word of God. Maajid’s answer, in short, was that historically there were Muslims called the Mutazilite who didn’t believe the Qu’ran was the literal word of God but were crushed by Muslim empires and therefore interpretation of Islam was influenced by whoever was ruling at that time. Now, I’m not disagreeing about his commentary regarding the Mutazilite, I just didn’t see how his commentary regarding that group added value as there is a lot more that could have been said in regards to this aspect of the debate. Maajid could have educated him about the process of revelation, how and why they occurred and how they are implemented. The lack of depth in his answers reflects the fact that he lacks in depth knowledge of the religious sciences itself.

The question of implementation is also very important as Maajid states that even an extremist can be a scholar and interpret the text and therefore the best way to deal with this is to actually promote the belief that there is no credible interpretation of the holy texts. This new method promoted by Maajid seems to have found fertile ground among the liberals but this methodology still doesn’t solve the problem to which the Quilliam were formed to allegedly solve as this methodology still doesn’t solve the problem of human agency, that extremist speakers will always bend the text to suit their world view and seek to use their religious dogmatism to radicalize vulnerable people. This along with the fact that the Qur’an and the hadith give guidelines and how the text should be interpreted.

Instead of dealing with the problem, maajid’s solution is to expand the remit of interpretation even more when he said “In the absence of a right answer, pluralism is the only option and pluralism will lead to secularism, and democracy, and human rights.” The problem I have with this is that this methodology created the problem of extremism in the first place. Extremist organisations like Al Qaeda, ISIS and others deem their interpretation of the Islamic text to be correct, no matter how much it deviates from the correct teachings or mainstream understanding. The solution is not pluralism or promoting the lack of the belief in the right interpretation but to actually contextualise how the Muslim community should live with their faith in light of the reality that they are living in no matter where they reside. It is the lack of education in regards to the text and how to apply the ethics from the texts in light of the context that we have found ourselves in, that has gone someway in creating the ideological problem of extremism.

He also mentioned that pluralism will lead to human rights and secularism which I think is very telling as this means that he believes that more autonomy should be given to those who are critical of Islam in muslim majority countries. I do not contend the fact that ex-muslims, members of sexual minorities and others in muslim majority and minority countries have some valid points regarding contemporary muslim societies that should be heard and addressed. However if one were to scrutinise the opinions of many of these contemporary liberal muslims or ex-muslims, you will find that many of them, like Maajid, lack knowledge of Islam and its sciences which in and of itself has led to many bigoted opinions of the religion and the muslim world and therefore can serve to reinforce stereotypical views to an unknown public. The fact that Maajid stated that pluralism can tackle extremism aligns himself with certain policies of the Bush administration which aimed to amplify the voices of certain individuals within Muslim majority and minority countries due to their dissent of islam and Muslim practices, in other words amplify Islamophobia. This political alignment, between the current dominant power and the individual, has given rise to what Hamid Dabhashi calls ‘native informants’ in the Muslim world which is a status the Maajid believes will further Human Rights in the Muslim world, another issue that he likes to talk about.

Maajid, in several of his talks, has promoted the idea that Shariah needs to be deconstructed and rebuilt under the rubric of contemporary human rights. This view states that Maajid himself believes that Islam itself isn’t compatible with human rights even though Human rights in theory tries to protect the dignity of human beings which is compatible with Islamic teachings as there are several verses in the Qur’an which highlight the reality of human dignity and the need for its protection. In theory, I don’t think there is any conflict with human rights theory and Islamic principles, the conflict comes in in relation to its implementation in non-western countries. Human Rights in its essence, though noble, is a political project. It was conceived in the west, under western ideas of liberalism and it needs the backing of a major political power to ensure its implementation throughout the world, in this case the United States. This has ensured that the Human Rights project is viewed through a particular lens by many human rights critics. In his book Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique, Makau Mutua, then director of the Human Rights Centre at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School, states

“The second difficulty, which is an extension of the first, is the implied duty on Westerners to impose the concept of Human Rights on non-European cultures and societies because it is a universal concept that all societies must accept for their own good. Seen from other cultural perspectives, such a view barely masks the historical pattern by the West – first realized through colonialism – to dominate the world by remaking it for the benefit, and in the image, of Europe”[1]

My argument here is not to argue the need for an ethical multicultural human rights approach (one that gives parity to all cultures, religions and societies and not just the dominating western standard) to protect the dignity of human beings because human beings are being abused and so there is a need, my point here is to argue that by stating that they are a secular human rights organisation, under the current mainstream understanding of the term, the Quilliam Foundation have ideologically and politically positioned themselves with the status quo and those that seek to maintain it. Maajid Nawaaz himself states his belief in this position when he said

“On the contrary, what can unite us is a set of religion-neutral values. By focussing on the universality of human, democratic, and secular (in the British and American sense of the word) values, we can arrive at some common ground”[2]

Along with this political positioning comes another favourite pastime of Maajid, his constant attack on the “regressive” left, by which he means leftist organisations that work with ‘Islamists.’ I consider myself to be part of the left and I can confidently say that the majority of the muslim leftist organisations have no intention to instil sharia law but rather to call for a real democratic governance in this war on terror era. But there is something else that is more troubling about maajid’s views on the left. He states in the book

“This is why I don’t like the “fellow-travellers” who hold hands with extreme islamists and walk along the path with them to entirely illiberal ends, believing that they’re doing muslims a favour when in fact they’re surrendering all those muslims who seek reform – to their deaths, in many instances – by quietly acquiescing to regimes and principles that would aspire to have them killed”[3]

In other words, he believes that by working with muslim activist groups, the left is contributing towards the islamization process and therefore playing a critical role in destabilizing secular and democratic values. What is astonishing is that Anders Behring Breivik had similar views which inspired him to go on a mass shooting spree, killing 77 leftist/multiculturalist teenagers in July 2011. At first, the media saw this as a muslim trait and instead of calming the islamophobic atmosphere, the Quilliam foundation freely indulged in it. Blaming leftist organisations for quietly acquiescing to different regimes, which in some cases may be correct, serves to obscure the greater fact that many of the individuals involved in these leftist organisations are expats of those very countries and have politically aligned themselves in the way they have due to the fact that many of these dictatorships that exist in the Muslim world are supported by the dominant world superpowers – and they believe that in order to topple the dictatorships, one must also oppose and challenge those that support them.

This regressive view of the left is also shared by Sam Harris who was questioning maajid. He states that by taking the position the left has, they have abandoned those that are ex-muslims, homosexuals, women and other individuals while forgetting the fact that the left itself consists of ex-muslims, non-muslims, women, homosexuals and other members and see their opposition to western imperialism as  stepping stone to free the middle east from these dictatorships like Saudi Arabia.

For me, what was interesting about Sam Harris was how engaged and amazed he was with Maajid’s simplistic answers. One could wonder how a rational neuroscientist and philosopher like Sam Harris would come to believe that islam promotes the notion of ‘Holy war’. Just out of interest, if you are wondering that, CJ Werleman’s the New Athiest Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists provides an in depth analysis of the new atheist movement and how scientists and atheist leaders like Sam Harris came to believe some of the most racist, xenophobic views about Muslims and the Middle East.

But as stated above, the books unique selling point is that this is a debate between a leading atheist leader/thinker and a muslim on issues relating to Islam in the contemporary world. The fact that critical issues are discussed is the very reason why it is receiving rave reviews in the academic liberal circuit which is sad to say because within the western muslim communities, this isn’t so unique. We have muslim preachers such as Hamza Andreas Tzortzis who have been travelling around the world debating leading atheist thinkers such as professor Lawrence Krauss. The organisation that he belongs to, the Islamic Education and Research Academy, regularly hosts debates and panel discussions with muslim theologians and members of others faiths and none on important contemporary issues under their ‘Don’t Hate, Debate’ campaign. The idea of muslims and athiests debating about islam isn’t a new phenomenon in the Muslim tradition as this is something that has been going on for decades.

Due to the times that we are living in and the issues that we, as mankind, are facing, debates around the role of religion are crucial to have. Due to this pressing need, I can understand why some people will look at religion critically or fail to see how religion fits in the contemporary modern world.

For people looking for answers to these types of questions, I would urge you to read Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberationby Tariq Ramadan as it contributes significantly to the discussion of Islam, Human rights and other contemporary issues by someone who has studied in the Islamic Sciences. This book however, Islam and the Future of Tolerance, adds absolutely nothing worthy of value to the debate and after reading about 90% of the book, I can honestly say that watching paint dry would have been a more intellectually stimulating experience.

Mizan the Poet

Twitter: @Mizanthepoet

Facebook: Facebook.com/Mizanthepoet

[1] Mutua; Makau, Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique, pg 80

[2] Harris; Sam, Nawaz; Maajid, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue, pg 4

[3] Ibig pg 52