by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 12, Rabi' al-Thani, 1436)
Instead of acknowledging its own role in supporting takfiri terrorists that were unleashed in Syria, the British government is blaming Muslims for their emergence. As Baronnes Warsi said, Muslims will speak out when they know they will be heard.
The attack against the pro-Zionist Islamophobic magazine Charlie Hebdo has caused grave ramifications for Muslims, especially in Europe where Islamophobia is rampant. Since the January 7 attack on the magazine’s offices in Paris, hate attacks against Muslims in many parts of Europe have risen sharply. These have caused a deep sense of anxiety and insecurity among Muslims.
Realizing the gravity of the situation and despite their shortcomings in dealing with Muslims at home and abroad, leaders of Germany and France have come out in defense of Muslims and made statements to defuse tensions. French President Francois Hollande, expected to be most unsympathetic to Muslims, said in a speech at the Arab World Institute in Paris,
“It is Muslims who are the first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance. French Muslims have the same rights as all other French people. We have an obligation to protect them. The law must be firmly enforced in places of worship such as churches, mosques, and synagogues. Anti-Muslim acts, like anti-Semitism, should not only be denounced, but severely punished.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck both attended a rally in Berlin against Islamphobia. Merkel said, “Excluding population groups due to their faith or their origin is beneath the dignity of our liberal state… Hatred of foreigners, racism and extremism have no place in this country.”
These were fairly positive remarks coming from leaders of two European countries that were directly affected by recent events. Yet the British government’s response to events has been quite appalling. In a letter sent to more than 1,000 religious and other Muslim leaders, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles urged Muslims to do more to show their loyalty. In a two-page letter he half-heartedly praised British Muslims’ reaction to the attacks but stated
“…there is more work to do. We must show our young people, who may be targeted, that extremists have nothing to offer them. We must show them that there are other ways to express disagreement: that their right to do so is dependent on the very freedoms that extremists seek to destroy. We must show them the multitude of statements of condemnation from British Muslims; show them these men of hate have no place in our mosques or any place of worship, and that they do not speak for Muslims in Britain or anywhere in the world.”
Not surprisingly, the letter has deeply offended its recipients as the patronizing tone gives the impression that Muslims are not doing enough to be part of British society. Further, that somehow, they are responsible for some Muslims’ involvement in terrorism.
We must show them that there are other ways to express disagreement: that their right to do so is dependent on the very freedoms that extremists seek to destroy.
The Muslim Council of Britain, one of the leading British Muslim organizations that was oddly exempted from the letter, demanded a clarification from Mr. Pickles. The Council’s deputy secretary, Harun Khan, said, “We will be writing to Mr. Eric Pickles to ask that he clarifies his request to Muslims to explain and demonstrate how faith in Islam can be part of British identity… Is Mr. Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society?”
In a press release to address the issue, The Islamic Human Rights Commission pointed out that “In asking the leaders to help their charges define what it means to be both British and Muslim the letter panders to the Islamophobic stereotype that Muslims are inherently disloyal or less British than an assumed norm. IHRC also believes that expecting the Muslim community alone to conform to some vague and undefined concept of Britishness is setting a standard for it that is different from everybody else.”
Further, Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of Ramadhan Foundation said, Mr. Pickles’ remarks were typical of a government which only looks at Muslims “through the prism of terrorism and security… For the record, Muslim leaders, imams and organisations have been engaged in work to expose the terrorist ideology and promote the Islamic teachings against terrorism since 9/11… We do not need to be patronised by a Government that claims it wants to give young Muslims an alternative to the extremist narrative and then refuses to discuss foreign policy.”
Interestingly, the letter drew criticism from one of the government-funded “Muslim groups” such as Tell MAMA. Fiyaz Mughal, director of the group, praised Mr. Pickles for “recognising that extremism requires a multitude of voices to challenge” it but said that the internet, not masjids, is where recruitment often happens. It is ironic that in the same letter Mr. Pickles cited Tell MAMA to be approached if there is a case of Islamophobia, yet he himself failed to consult with them in the preparation of the letter.
Even Baroness Warsi, a former chairwoman of the Tory party who resigned last August from her post as Foreign Office minister over the government’s “morally indefensible” policy on Gaza, acknowledged the government’s failure to engage with Muslims. Lady Warsi criticized the government’s approach toward Britain’s Muslims, blaming the government’s selective approach when it tries to deal with the Muslim community through a “dangerously narrow engagement… a dozen people for a community of over 3 million.” What she was referring to was that the government only sought Muslim opinion through a few government funded “Muslim groups” especially when they needed to get approval for justifying their agendas.
She further stated that “The reality is if you haven’t cultivated a friendship, if you haven’t fostered trust, then a letter out of the blue to a mosque… with whom government has refused to engage creates a climate where even the most benign of correspondence can become toxic.”
However, Prime Minister David Cameron’s response to criticism of the letter attests to the fact that it has fallen on deaf ears. In defence of the letter, Cameron said at an event in Ipswich that Mr. Pickles had been “absolutely right” to write the letter and to make the point that everyone had a duty to fight extremism, “It’s being perverted by a minority who have been radicalised. Anyone frankly reading this letter who has problem with it, I think really has a problem. It is the most reasonable, sensible, moderate letter that Eric could possibly have written.”
Cameron’s statement clearly shows that there are serious problems in the government’s understanding of the issue and it certainly does not reflect any intention on its part to play a positive role in defusing tensions. Instead of engaging the Muslim community to try and expunge the terrorist influence through dialog, the government wants to continue to perceive the situation through its colonial lenses. As a result, it blames Muslims for terrorism that the government and its agencies have fostered and groomed, and then patronize Muslims to deal with it. This creates even more alienation among the Muslim youth, which in turn is used as a recruitment tool by the takfiri terrorists.
If the government is truly serious about dealing with terrorism then it must acknowledge how it feeds the terrorist ideology through its own abhorrent discourse on foreign policy.