Beyond MurdochWritten by Karima Hamdan
There is a fundamental problem with liberal democracy and liberalism. It isn't the sincerity of its proponents, which is often profound. It isn't the standards of intellectual rigour, which are mostly impressive. And it isn't the commitment to the well-being of its citizens, which is usually genuinely desired. It is none of these.
Rather, it is that whenever an issue is "processed" by it not to be completely liberal in its conception and application, its twin wheels of liberty and equal rights tend to fall off rather quickly.
Usually there is no problem with this and an informal system of "workarounds" is set in place with the net result being that the aberrant behaviour pattern is excused. This is why in the UK, USA and Western Europe we can have a flourishing gangsta rap culture whose beat-boxing high priests are feted superstars, despite promoting a culture which is profoundly homophobic, debases women, glorifies murder, rape and promiscuity, promotes drug and alcohol abuse and elevates the worst excesses of inner city ghetto life into some sort of macabre Elysium. At its nadir, rap music is the ideological strut that props up violent gang-related crime and drug-dealing in order to elevate it from brainless thuggery into a hip and edgy cool counterculture. Even its proponents cannot deny that rap is the background music of so many objectionable and criminal behaviours present in the UK today and it helps define the personalities of those who would embrace that lifestyle.
One wonders when the "Prevent" strategy targeting the culture of rap music will be launched. Will The Notorious B.I.G. be renamed the Considerate N.I.C.E? Will 50 Cent become Flake 99? Will the Wu-Tang Clan be given funny hats, handkerchiefs and bells and forced to Morris Dance whilst simultaneously rapping about the dangers of jaywalking and the immorality of whistling on a Sunday?
The answer is obviously no. Indeed, anyone seriously discussing a ban on certain types of rap music or increasing surveillance on anyone listening to rap music (justified by concerns that they are "vulnerable to gang-related extremism") would be castigated as, at best, an out-of-date fascist ill at odds with the modern world and, at worst, an ignorant xenophobe unable to accept any lifestyle different from his own. Therefore one sees that before anyone has a chance to say "Stop - (Hammer Time!)", the informal workarounds of liberal democracy have kicked in and ring-fenced the aberrant behaviour.
And yet here we are in a post-Prevent world in which doctors and nurses are encouraged to inform on their Muslim patients, teachers are advised to monitor Muslim children and university lecturers are advised to spy on their students. Many Muslims now find themselves labelled as "non-violent extremists" despite being entirely law-abiding citizens. There is now state sponsored ghettoisation of the Muslim community as the government refuses to engage with many of our representatives on any level, preferring instead to broaden New Labour's doomed policy of creating, funding and patronising a series of misfits, quislings and non-entities whom they deem appropriate to be our leaders.
The legitimate space that Muslims inhabit in civil society is shrinking and what room we have left is becoming increasingly constrained by our own discomfiture. It is as though there is an intellectual pincer movement that seeks to socially engineer Islam by defining us in terms of what causes unease and humiliation and so the British Muslim, cheeks aflame with embarrassment and shame, beats a hasty path down the road of compromise and reformation.
Just take the recent media furore regarding cousin marriages within the Muslim community. Whilst it is allowed in Islam, the prevalence of cousin marriages is a feature of a subsection of the Pakistani community in the UK and, when one looks at other Muslim groups like the Arabs or Africans, or indeed the most populated Muslim country on Earth, Indonesia, one sees that this practice is quite rare. Instead of pointing this out, we are treated to a series of insulting stereotypes of an inbred religious community stubbornly producing disabled children due to its mulish ignorance coupled with a desire to sponge off the NHS. Cue then the "made-for-television" community leaders stuttering out platitudes and promising to reform Islam in order to stamp out this aberration.
Again this is seen with Tariq Ramadan's "moratorium" on the hudood punishments. Instead of asking why we should be wasting time debating laws that are highly unlikely to be implemented in our day to day lives (owing to the simple absence of the context required for their implementation), we are instead informed that we will not progress as a community until this issue is dealt with, becoming in the process one man's credibility passport to join the intellectual chatterati of Europe. Now, when questioned about the "medieval barbarity" of Islam, Ramadan no longer has to tie himself into knots of cognitive dissonance defending the shari'ah, but rather can affect a classic Gallic shrug and speak patronisingly about how Islam has to move slowly but surely into the modern world.
Is this just paranoia on my part? A determination to find fault with a political system and mass media culture that has never claimed to be perfect? How could I possibly be cynical in the same week that Rupert and James Murdoch were brought before a parliamentary committee to answer questions relating to News International's complicity in phone hacking and bribery of the police?
Sadly, just as the election of Barack Obama was met with wild jubilation that real change was imminent when the reality was that he was more of the same; just as we were thrilled at the hopes of the Arab spring when, as the Egyptians found out this week, the front man changed but the edifice he stood on didn't; British Muslims will find that it is business as usual in the media and government whether or not there is a Murdoch in News International or a Coulson in Downing Street. John Pilger writing this week in the New Statesman makes this succinct comment:"Certainly, there is no 'revolution', as reported in the Guardian, which compared the fall of Murdoch with that of the tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania in 1989. The over excitement is understandable; Nick Davies's scoop is a great one. Yet the truth is, Britain's system of elite monopoly control of the media rests not on News International alone, but on the Mail and the Guardian and the BBC, perhaps the most influential of all. All share a corporate monoculture that sets the agenda of the 'news', defines acceptable politics by maintaining the fiction of distinctive parties, normalises unpopular wars and guards the limits of 'free speech'. This will be strengthened by the illusion that a 'bad apple' has been 'rooted out'."
This became apparent in the initial reportage of the terrible events in Oslo. Despite it being a completely unclear and fluid situation, there was almost universal agreement that the attacks were carried out by a Muslim. It became almost an echo chamber. The Quilliam Foundation tweeted its wild speculations about cartoon reprinting, the number of F16s Norway has deployed over Libya and even one bizarre tweet that seemed to suggest that Islamists couldn’t tell the difference between various Scandinavian countries; whilst newspapers wrote blogs and articles on the basis of these baseless stabs in the dark. The Sun had it all figured out as soon as the shooting started, judging from its front page; whilst there was a wealth of talking heads populating BBC News 24, such as Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens (Christopher Hitchens' son) and Houriya Ahmed (of Douglas Murray’s Centre for Social Cohesion) offering up their ill-informed opinions of snippets of information and grainy video footage. There was even a US State Department "terrorism expert" who managed to magic up a fictitious jihadist group "Helpers for the Global Jihad" that had claimed responsibility for the bombing. This was apparently sourced from an "elite jihadist internet forum" to which he had access, where, one imagines, hardcore jihadists like to boast about their acts of terrorism to US State Department officials, who then pass on all the details to the media. And thus wild conjecture, having passed through the digestive tract of prejudiced think-tanks and self promoting "experts" went from a vague "gut feeling" to newsworthy material.
One could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from the British Muslim populace when it became clear that the man accused of the appalling atrocity in Norway was not only not a Muslim but rather a blond-haired, blue-eyed Christian, far right Islamophobe and admirer of the EDL. Despite this, and despite the progressive escalation of violent attacks by people who hold far right views about mosques and Muslims, both in the UK and in Europe, I doubt very much if we will see the same Prevent-style treatment doled out to right-wingers. So there will be no conveyor belt to terrorism for the right wing: at one end being the "non-violent extremists" (presumably Douglas Murray and Michael Gove) starting their inevitable journey to rabid violence and radicalised along the way by "hate-preachers" like Melanie Phillips and Pamela Geller.
This would never happen. In the same way that Roshana Choudary's attempted murder of MP Stephen Timms is never compared to Jared Lee Loughner's shooting of US representative Gabrielle Giffords, Anders Behring Breivik will be cast as a madman rather than a terrorist. His widely mentioned twitter quotation from John Stuart Mill is from the same book "On Liberty" which is ceremonially presented to the leader of the Liberal Democrats as a symbol of office. We will not be told about "On Liberty" being a radicalising influence nor about the "British connection to terror" despite Breivik obviously getting the wrong end of the stick if he felt that the murder of nearly 100 people could be related to this book. Similarly, I don't expect to hear prominent Christians being commanded ritually to denounce Breivik as Muslims are expected to do. Nor will national newspapers castigate them for not disowning and denouncing Breivik fast or fulsomely enough.
Some will say that this is perfectly legitimate. After all, aren't Muslims at the forefront of any terrorism related activity? Well, not according to the EU, whose Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2010 states that in 2009 there were "294 failed, foiled, or successfully executed attacks in six European countries", which is an almost one-third decrease from the total in 2008 and down by almost one-half from the total in 2007. And as for who was responsible for these attacks, it may surprise readers to find out that of 294 attacks in 2009, only one was carried out by Muslims. The vast majority of attacks were perpetrated by sectarian groups like Basque separatists or the IRA. The latter has increased its number of attacks, totalling 124 in 2009, including the murder of two soldiers and a police officer. Interestingly, the IRA has historically received funding, support and general succour from US citizens as well as members of the US government. One of the IRA's most staunch defenders was none other than Peter King, the Republican senator who is chair of the Homeland Security Committee and responsible for the recent McCarthyite hearings in the US.
I seem to have missed the widespread reportage of the downward trend of terrorism in Europe and an expose of the link between US senators and the murder of soldiers and police officers. But, as Pilger puts it, "There is an acrid smell of business as usual."
Similarly in Downing Street, the departure of Andy Coulson and his current headlong fall from grace since his arrest will not change the micro-climate of suspicion and alienation that surrounds British Muslims. The fingerprints all over the Prevent strategy (as well as other anti-Muslim initiatives) are not those of Andy Coulson but rather the work of Education Minister Michael Gove. Husain Al-Qadi of UmmahPulse, in the run up to the 2009 election, wrote insightfully about Gove and the level of influence he enjoyed over the then opposition leader David Cameron. It seems that this influence has if anything increased since the election and now Gove appears to hold sway over the cabinet on issues concerning Islam and Muslims. That is not to say that Michael Gove and News International are not significantly enmeshed. Indeed, Michael Gove is second only to George Osbourne with respect to the number of meetings held with News Corp officials, including six meals with Rupert Murdoch in 2010. This is without mention of his close ties with the Murdoch family’s "fixer", top US lawyer Joel Klein (seen here at the recent Parliamentary hearings sitting directly behind James Murdoch and next to Wendi Deng), who describes Gove as his "hero". Incidentally, Klein appears to be Gove's inspiration for many of his ideas about education, which he seems to have imported wholesale from the US where Klein was a chancellor of the New York City school system. During his tenure, 100 government schools were closed and replaced with a free market system of charter schools which operated outside of public control and with a selective admissions process.
Michael Gove's book "Celsius 7/7", which is openly hostile to Islam (rebranded Islamism so it can be easily denigrated without risk of backlash), was published in 2006 and given as a gift to MPs heading for their summer break as essential holiday reading. Less than five years later, we see its ideas, principles and goals adopted wholesale by the government. This is despite the presence of Sayeeda Warsi in the Cabinet as Chair of the Conservative Party. Even the new Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred, proposed by the government in the last week, will need to demonstrate that it has the will to move beyond jargon and spin and actually deal with the rising tide of Muslim hate crimes in the UK. This will not occur if membership of the group is limited to fusty, out of touch academics, crusading priests and progressive Muslim limousine liberals who all begin their discussion with a common mantra: that unreformed Islam is the problem to be solved. If they want sincerely to tackle anti-Muslim hate crime, instead of just formulating another useless committee and talking us to death about integration, the government needs to rid its own house of "Muslim haters" (such as Messrs Gove et al) and rewrite the language and policy of stigmatising rhetoric that has become the norm for official pronouncements. Only a root and branch clear out will do. Not just some cosmetic pruning, a few impressive sounding committees and another Number 10 Eid Party.
As an aside, Baroness Warsi must realise that she has become completely irrelevant to policy formulation for British Muslims and her personage is only required when wheeled out to deflect criticism that the government is anti-Muslim. The old excuse that it is better to be part of a flawed process to try and improve it rather than have no influence at all, simply doesn't wash because she has been completely unable or unwilling to prevent (or even modify) Prevent. Personal integrity must dictate that at some point a loud, angry, very public resignation is of more worth than continuing meek, private submission.
Does this mean that British Muslims should crack under an immense sense of the inevitable injustice of it all and, like an archetypal recalcitrant teenager, yell about how unfair it all is before stomping off to our bedroom and slamming the door? Obviously not, but we need to know who is agitating against us and what course of action they seem intent on taking. This is especially since the appearance of the EDL's Tommy Robinson on Newsnight following the Oslo attacks when, without the merest hint of contrition that someone with ideologically identical views to him just massacred nearly 100 people, he predicted similar attacks occurring on UK soil within 5 years. The unabashed gall of the man is something to behold, as is his rapidly increasing "slickness" as a media player. Whoever is training him needs to be congratulated for their efficiency. With such startling results, Crufts beckons!
As a minority group, Muslims are not so uniquely unusual or dangerous that our mere presence in society causes a liberal democracy to fracture, thus requiring special laws to be enacted to "deal" with us. Neither, as the events of the last week have demonstrated, are we the only group which has individuals bent on spreading death and destruction. The purpose of comparing the media response to the Oslo massacre with that of a similar act carried out by a Muslim is not for cheap points scoring, or founded in some cynical sense of schadenfreude, but rather to highlight the glaring double standards present in society. Should it not provide food for thought that when some psychopath starts murdering people hundreds or even thousands of miles away, the majority of Muslims in the West, from every walk of life, ethnic group and background remain distracted and perturbed until it is demonstrated that "we" didn't do it, whereupon the sense of relief is profound? Just when did we become such a globally culpable community living under the constant threat of having our way of life mocked and condemned in the national press?
For Muslims in Britain the road ahead has not altered its course, nor has the terrain become any more hospitable. If anything, our trajectory along it has increased apace just as the storm clouds gather overhead. The media’s response to the shootings in Oslo, despite the muzzling of the Murdoch press, has cast into sharp relief what sort of community we are: stigmatised by government strategies, stereotyped by the media, sentenced to have our leadership foisted upon us rather than chosen from among us.
And yet, despite the many and various attempts to embarrass and castigate us into changing our religion, we should have certainty in Islam, the Messenger (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) and the Book and know that to be given Guidance is to be in receipt of the greatest treasure the world has to offer. Ramadan, the greatest month of the year, full of the blessings and mercy of Allah is almost upon us and, as we fast during the long summer days, current events coupled with our thirst and hunger should reinforce the fact that, whilst the path of Allah may not be easy, it is always straight and our duty is to remain resolutely on it despite those that would waylay us.
The bedouins say, "We have believed." Say, "You have not yet believed; but say instead, 'We have submitted,' for faith has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful."
The believers are only the ones who have believed in Allah and His Messenger and then doubt not but strive with their properties and their lives in the cause of Allah. It is those who are the truthful.
Say, "Would you acquaint Allah with your religion while Allah knows whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth, and Allah is Knowing of all things?"
They consider it a favour to you that they have accepted Islam. Say, "Do not consider your Islam a favour to me. Rather, Allah has conferred favour upon you that He has guided you to the faith, if you should be truthful.
Indeed, Allah knows the unseen aspects of the heavens and the earth. And Allah is All Seeing of what you do.