You can't tackle Islamism with another committee
According to a Mail on Sunday exclusive, 'David Cameron is planning new powers to muzzle Islamic hate preachers accused of provoking terrorist outrages such as the killing of soldier Lee Rigby'. We are told:
The Prime Minister wants to stop extremist clerics using schools, colleges, prisons and mosques to spread their ‘poison’ and is to head a new Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation Task Force (TERFOR) made up of senior Ministers, MI5, police and moderate religious leaders.This apparently constitutes 'a major overhaul of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy'.
The high-powered group will study a number of measures, including banning extremist clerics from being given public platforms to incite students, prisoners and other followers – and forcing mosque leaders to answer for ‘hate preachers’.
Aren't we already doing this? Isn't there already an active engagement with the diverse Muslim communities to encourage 'whistleblowers’ to report extremist clerics or suspicious behaviour?
Presumably there were objections to Islamist preacher Omar Bakri who called the Woolwich murderer Michael Adebolajo 'a hero' for remaining at the murder scene and explaining his motives. How do you 'muzzle' this, Prime Minister? One hopes, in this Internet age, that he is not suggesting a return to the absurd 1980s-style censorship of Sinn Fein/IRA, when TV companies were prohibited from broadcasting the voices of the terrorists, so they simply dubbed the likes of Gerry Adams with an actor's voice. You cannot 'muzzle' the likes of Omar Bakri unless you censor Blogger, Twitter and YouTube.
The Mail 'exclusive' continues:
'We are looking at the range of powers and current methods of dealing with extremism at its root, as opposed to just tackling criminal violent extremism.And then we get this gem: ‘This new group will study the issue in great depth before acting.'
‘And we will look at ways of disrupting individuals who may be influential in fostering extremism.
‘We cannot allow a situation to continue where extremist clerics go around this country inciting young people to commit terrorist acts.
‘We will do everything we can to stop it.’
If this new committee needs to study theology or learn the ways of Islamism before it can act, it is manifestly made up of the wrong individuals.
But the Government has a problem. They assure us: 'There is no question of restricting freedom of speech', and yet they intend to restrict what may be taught or preached in schools and mosques. And this is where the words of Anjem Choudary must be heeded, for he is a learned Islamist theologian, and - unlike this new committee - knows what he's talking about. A theological problem requires theological solution; not political committees to satisfy the readership of the Daily Mail.
For example, when most Muslims talk about 'Jihad', they are talking about their spiritual struggle against the world, the flesh and Iblīs for the glory of Allah in their lives. Jihad, for them, is about holiness and purity; submission to the divine will. Yet, in the Western vernacular, the word has come to mean suicide bombing, torture, terror and 'martyrdom'. So, does TERFOR ban clerics from teaching Jihad in their mosques? Who determines this new Islamic theological orthodoxy? Who enforces it? Hasn't 'multiculturalism' already effectively restricted our freedom of speech with the constant assertion that those who oppose mass immigration are 'racist'? Aren't we already 'muzzled' with allegations of 'Islamophobia' when we dare to suggest that the religio-cultural values of Islam are antithetical to social cohesion and pursuit of the common good?
And what is this TERFOR objective of 'preventing people spreading the message of extremism and radicalisation in a totally irresponsible and reckless way'? Is there a responsible and cautious way of spreading such a message? How, precisely, do they intend to tackle radicalisation in unregulated Muslim schools and madrasahs? Is Michael Gove beefing up Ofsted? Excuse His Grace, but wouldn't a particular focus on what goes on in Muslim academies and free schools be, well.. 'racist' or 'Islamophobic'?
Following the Prime Minister’s 'Munich speech' two years, we were led to believe that he had declared war on Islamism and ‘radicalisation’ (ie the cause of Islamism). We were told that he was cutting state funding ‘to any Islamic group that espoused extremist views’. His Grace wrote back then:
These ‘extremist views’ have yet to be codified, but they must of necessity include those precepts of sharia which are inimical to the values of a liberal democracy. David Cameron has already called for an end to the sharia agenda : he made it clear that any expansion of the Islamic code in the UK would indeed undermine society and alienate other communities. He was right to observe that two codes of law cannot work side-by-side: one must give way to the other. We cannot have different laws for different communities: all citizens must be equal before the law, under the ultimate jurisdiction of English or Scottish law.But they answered none of His Grace's questions and addressed none of the relevant theological or philosophical issues:
And so it appears henceforth that Islamic groups will need to subscribe to ‘key British values’. Home Secretary Theresa May criticises in particular the Federation of Student Islamic Societies for being soft on extremism. “They need to be prepared to stand up and say that organisations that are extreme or support extremism or have extremist speakers should not be part of their grouping,” Mrs May said.
The Government defines as extremist anyone who ‘does not subscribe to human rights, equality before the law, democracy and full participation in society’, including those who ‘promote or implicitly tolerate the killing of British soldiers’.Nothing happened. It is not possible to 'tackle' Islamist philosophy without having a debate about Islam, or, more particularly, the Sunni-Salafist-Wahhabi strain of Islam. Certainly, there are those Muslims who insist that its adherents are not Muslims, and that they pervert the true Islam. But that is not the view of the 'extremists', who are not extremists in their own eyes, and are as free in our liberal democracy to excommunicate the wishy-washy 'moderate' Muslim as no true solider of Allah.
Those who actively and explicitly promote the killing of British soldiers are traitors to the state and (in His Grace’s opinion) ought to be dealt with in the traditional manner. But the ‘implicit toleration’ of such killing is treason of quite a different hue: it appears that the Muslim Council of Britain will no longer be able to maintain a dignified silence when the UK goes to war with some section of the Ummah, for silence will surely amount to implicit toleration. Does praise of bin Laden (his heirs and successors) amount to implicit toleration of the killing of British soldiers? Does the refusal of a British Muslim soldier (or reservists) to fight in Iraq or Afganistan constitute implicit toleration of the killing of their comrades?
And what of ‘human rights, equality before the law, democracy and full participation in society’? Is the European Convention on Human Rights now sacred writ? Is the creed of liberalism now so absolute that none may question it? Is government funding to be withdrawn from all who question the inviolability of ‘equality’? What is this ‘full participation in society’? What of (say) the Christadelphians, a community patterned after first century Christianity, who do not vote and will not join HM Armed Forces? Do they subscribe to an ‘extremist philosophy’? What of the Plymouth Brethren, who may be perceived to be more than a little antithetical to gender equality and a little narrow and imbalanced with their homeschooling curriculum?
By codifying a set of values to which Muslim groups will need to subscribe, the Government is effectively reintroducing a Test Act: only those who profess adherence to the orthodoxy (of the Established Church) will be eligible for public funding and government engagement. In addition to combating violent extremism, the Government will tackle ‘extremist philosophies’ by looking closely at ‘the values’ of the organisations themselves. Mrs May said: “There’s an ideology out there that we need to challenge and when we first came in as a government one of the things we were very clear about here at the Home Office was we needed to look at extremism, not just violent extremism.” The assertion is that violent extremism is incubated within the ideology of non-violent extremism.
This is quite possibly the most significant shift in the Conservative Party’s religio-political history since Catholic emancipation. As a Tory-Whig church party it gradually (and rightly) eschewed petty denominational concerns in order to become the Conservative ‘broad church’ (quite literally) consonant with two centuries of more ecumenical political philosophy.
While everyone knows that the target is Islam, the Home Secretary has moved swiftly to quell any whiff of inquisition: “We should not just look at one particular type of terrorism but look at violent extremism and terrorism more widely as well,” Mrs May said. This must mean the Government is not looking only at one particular philosophy but at ‘extremist philosophy’ more widely.
There are serious implications here for religious liberty which the Prime Minister (surrounded by ‘religiously illiterate, secularist advisers’) has not even begun to consider.
A Briton (or anyone legally entitled to live here) presently has the right to oppose or support British policy in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya and may campaign to that effect, write, agitate and stand for election towards the chosen end. A corollary of such democratic engagement is that (s)he does not have the right to stone adulterers to death, bomb the underground or attempt to blow up aeroplanes. But there are many and diverse religious practices which conflict with traditional British liberties (ie ‘values’); they are a logical consequence of a pluralism and the development of a multi-faith society. While few would defend such abhorrent practices as forced marriages, ‘honour killings’, female genital mutilation or child abuse, there is a manifest tension between the assertion of individuality over the common good, and ‘human rights’ over community cohesion. Since there are no agreed criteria by which conflicting religious claims can be settled, religion is increasingly relegated to the private sphere: morality thereby becomes largely a matter of taste or opinion, and moral error ceases to exist.
The modern era is obsessed with three themes – autonomy, equality and rights. These are the values that allow each to be whatever he or she chooses. Left unfettered, the assertion of these leads to anarchy, so a British ‘values system’ has to be imposed for society to function at all. As society expands to encompass ever larger numbers of religious, ethnic and linguistic groups, rigid social structures are stretched to breaking point. The Church requires either cultural homogeneity or an élite sufficiently powerful to enforce conformity. But this negates the limited degree of Christian religious pluralism which the passing of the 1689 Act of Toleration specifically permitted. Dissenting traditions have gained in number and influence and have weakened the grip of state religion. The costs of coercing religious conformity are no longer politically acceptable: the state is not willing to accept the price in social conflict and so adopts a position of ‘neutrality’ on the competing claims of various religious bodies and moral values.
And that 'neutrality' has brought us to where we are. We are so obsessed with not offending minorities that we not only tolerate but advocate their alien cultural beliefs and practices. And if we do not, we are 'racist' and 'bigoted'. Mindful of minority ethnic voting communities, politicians have trodden very carefully along the via media between religious liberty and cultural prohibition. There has been no demand for assimilation. That is what must now change.
But it needs no shiny new committee to tell us that.