This is one of the strangest open letters I have read in a long time: a miasma of absurd leftism which amplifies a strain of Muslim self-vicitmisation that prohibits Muslims from having prejudices and desires, all cloaked in a bizarre ‘Third Worldism’ which — whilst correctly recognising power as an important component — misdiagnoses the power-holders who need to be tackled in different contexts.
Archive for July, 2007
The BNP polled 8.9% of the vote in Sedgefield, Tony Blair’s former seat.
Yursil Kidwai and Ali Eteraz discuss the “self-hatred” of South Asian (Indo-Pak) Americans with respect to the culture and heritage of their parents (I will put aside just how you can lump the Pathans of the Frontier with the Malayalam-speaking Muslims of Kerala).
I would like to add that the causes for this marginalisation of South Asian Muslim culture are not only due to the dreaded Wahhabis or Westernisation, but are internal also. I would prefer to ask why anyone would run from the culture in the first place before asking where they stop and find some inner peace; to remember those stuck in Dasht-e-Tanhaii.
Today’s Times carries an article by the historian Michael Burleigh, in which he states a case for greater police powers to combat terrorism. Putting aside the actual debate, the opening paragraph is full of ill-informed claims, half-truths and “facts” that seem to have been made up by Burleigh:
Many jihadis seek to create a global caliphate, ruled by Sharia. At best, Christians, Hindus, and Jews would live in a state of submission tantamount to second-class citizenship. If they got above themselves, they would suffer the persecutions Islamists visited on the Coptic Christians of Egypt. The rule of Islamists has resulted in murderous chaos – 150,000 died in Algeria during the 1990s when madmen decided that most of the Muslim population were apostates. The Taleban anti-state so ruined Afghanistan that Americans joked that they had to bomb it forwards to the Stone Age. There are significant numbers of people living in Britain who wish to visit such chaos on us.
“Many” jihadis seek a “global caliphate”? “Many” is semi-quantitative. There is no such data that allows Burleigh to make such a statement on what “many” people who become “jihadis” want. I am sure there are a number who do fantasise about a “global caliphate” and do indeed blow themsleves up or recruit others for their “jihad” on this basis. But “jihadis” join these groups for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from (yes) foreign policy to mental illness to social alienation (in the proper sense of the word). We must also distinguish those coming from politically stable and economically sound backgrounds and those living under occupation or in countries where there is violent civil strife (i.e. can we really put British-born “jihadis” graduating from university and living middle class suburbia in the same category as a poor boy growing up in a refugee camp on the Afghan-Pakistan border?). That is why combatting “jihadism” is a multi-pronged effort, an analysis of which requires sagacity, corroboration of facts, and a clear head.
Next he states that “Islamists” force Coptic Christians of Egypt to live as “second-class” citizens. I don’t claim to know a great deal about Egypt; no more than Burleigh’s CV suggests he does. No doubt Copts as a minority suffer from cultural/religious bigotry and even violent abuse. However, Egypt is not a theocracy and “Islamists” are not in power, so I don’t see how Copts are second-class citizens (if they are) at the hands of “Islamists”. If anything, Islamists find themselves locked up and tortured by the Egyptian “security” services. This is a prime example of reducing all the problems involving Muslims to simplistic analysis which involves Muslims in a vaccum where “religion” is about the only factor. What about other considerations such as class or internal and external political struggles?
Next he delves into Algeria’s bloody and gruesome civil war in the 1990s: “The rule of Islamists has resulted in murderous chaos – 150,000 died in Algeria during the 1990s…” Who on earth gave Burleigh his PhD and did they bother to check the facts? Or perhaps the editor took the attitude that bothering with facts was a waste of time when it comes to Muslims? The whole reason for civil war in Algeria was that the Islamists (FIS) were denied rule after winning a national election. They did not “rule” in Algeria. Was the violence perpetrated by the supporters of the Islamist party particularly disgusting and cruel? Yes, it I am sure it was (I base this on discussion with Algerians who live in my area as well as the array of data on the internet). Was it as simplistic as Burleigh makes out (i.e. mass killings by “Islamists”)? No.
Further, closer examination of his statement “[t]he rule of Islamists has resulted in murderous chaos” does not withstand scrutiny. Which “Islamists” is he referring to? Most, if not all, Muslim contries are not ruled by Islamists (by which I mean who tightly couple religion and the state such that they seek a modern nation-state but one ruled by Islamic law); Iran is the only exception I can think of where Islamists have held power for any significant period. Despite the oppressive nature of their theocracy, it is difficult to characterise their rule as “murderous chaos” (the only people demanding murderous chaos in Iran are people like Daniel Tubes who believe Muslim life is less than cheap). One might include Palestine, but they have no functioning state and find themselves under occupation and divided politically. And unless AKP in Turkey lose a few marbles, it can be safely concluded that “the rule of Islamists” has not resulted in “murdeorus chaos”, even if might result in many other things which can be questioned and criticised.
Lastly, he cites the Taleban: “The Taleban anti-state so ruined Afghanistan that Americans joked that they had to bomb it forwards to the Stone Age.” It is difficult to say how much further the Taleban had actually ruined a country that had been devestated by the war to expel the Soviets, and then the years of infighting between the supposed liberators of Afghanistan. The rise of the Taleban, if Burleigh has bothered to check, was a result of the total lack of law and order. And such is the contempt Burleigh apparently holds Afghans in that he can share with us a “joke” (which he attributes to the Americans), on the numbers of people — civilians — killed by American activities in the country (that link is from back in 2002 and described as a “conservative” estimate).
What this shows is that people like Burleigh, who are demanding tougher anti-terror laws, have little evidence on which to to support their case. That is why Burleigh needs to rake up events and circumstances which have little, if anything, to do with a debate on anti-terrorism legislation in the UK, contrary to is claim that “[t]his is the backdrop to the debate about anti-terrorism legislation”. There is no Islamist party in Britain on the verge of winning an election, and Britian has not emerged from the horrors of French colonialism. Similarly, law and order have not totally evaporated in Britain thanks to years of war, which has resulted in the emergence of an armed religious student movement. But it seems to Burleigh, and indeed The Times, any stone is good enough.
Rather than wave his finger at lawyers, Burleigh is better of doing some basic fact-checking which I thought was a cornerstone of any good historian’s scholarship. I ought to accuse Burleigh of being a liar. However, I will be kinder and say he is just ill-informed.
From the BBC:
Raja and his co-accused had watched videos of men blowing themselves up in Iraq and elsewhere – films where the suicide bomber often appears ecstatic in his final moments, edited to rousing music before being posted online.
They had dipped into the classic jihadi texts passed around on the internet, including an infamous call to arms urging men to “Join the Caravan” and become mujihadeen warriors for Afghanistan.
And Raja’s intention, according to the prosecution, was clear in the letter he left his parents.
“PPS if you want to keep my letter then cut from the dotted line, as these people (of UK) use everything against you.”
These people included his parents. Decent hardworking people, they called the police, fearing their son had been brainwashed by terrorists.
And if his parents are typical of any Indo-Pak first generation parents, they would have done more than merely call the police. I am sure he got slapped down to size by them.
Update: A few words on last night’s spectacle. It was a slightly tired rendition of “traditionalists” versus “modernists”, although to be fair to Newsnight they are not in a position to discuss finer academic points — they have to reduce the “issues” to a simple format for a larger, uninformed, audience. The panel was an odd collection of a communist now supposedly concerned with Human Rights, a keloptocrat from Pakistani’s corrupt political classes (and partly responsible for failure of civil society in Pakistan), and a classic weak-willed jihadist, who had the cheek to suggest he was “the first” in criticising terrorism. You can watch the programme at the Newsnight website and draw your own conclusions.
Those of you who can should tune into Newsnight tonight:
Tonight on Newsnight we’re devoting the whole programme to exploring the struggle within Islam. Has the lack of any over-arching religious figure led to a schism between Sunni and Shia; to the rise of political Islam; and, ultimately, to an increase in the number of extremists willing to kill in the name of their religion?
Is there a crisis intrinsic to the Muslim faith? And, if so, does Islam need its own Reformation?
Or is the crisis a response to Western governments’ attempts to influence, or even control, Muslim-majority nations? Should the USA be promoting, or trying to impose, democracy? And when democracy produces results that Western nations may consider “unsavoury” – what should their response be?
Looking at the guests I am not really convinced the BBC put much thought into it:
Gavin [Esler] will be joined by guests including the former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the leading Islamic scholar Reza Aslan, and from Lebanon by the radical cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed who is banned from returning to the UK.
I was trawling through the internet and came across this piece from back in 2004, published in the New Statesman:
It is a wonderful, typically British scene. I am sitting in a Manchester curry house, wondering whether to choose the Madras or the korma. The place is humming with Arabic, and a number of extended families have gathered to eat at adjacent tables. A few children skip past. My lunchtime companion is, at 24, three years younger than me. His name is Hassan Butt, and he’d like to martyr himself in Britain for the sake of Islam. I order the korma.
In the past year, Hassan and I have become steadfast dining partners, if not exactly firm friends. Over curries, pizzas and saccharine soft drinks, in London and Manchester, I have discovered what makes him tick. “Pray to Allah that he accepts me as a martyr,” he muses. “If that’s tomorrow, then tomorrow. If not, then whenever Allah wills.” Why don’t you get on with it, I ask. “Everything needs to be done in an organised manner, with the current organisations that are working around the world.”
This is the same Hassan Butt, now a Celebrity Ex-Extremist preaching to Muslims on how they should avoid extremism. Draw your own conclusions on Butt’s suitability as a fount of knowledge on Islam and extremism, and on the British attitude of ‘keeping our enemies closer’.