Salma Yaqoob: Our Leaders Must Speak Up!Salma Yaqoob is the vice chair of Respect: The Unity Coalition - a British anti-war, pro-social justice political party.
In the recent British elections, Yaqoob made large votes gains in Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath, and was just 3,000 votes short of taking the seat. The Labor Party (Tony Blair's party) opponent saw his majority cut from 16,000 to around 3,000.
In this London Guardian article, Salma Yaqoob points out the importance of Muslim leaders speaking out against "the official line" of Blair government.
...if Muslim leaders succumb to the pressure of censorship and fail to visibly oppose the government on certain foreign policy issues, the gap between the leaders and those they seek to represent and influence will widen, increasing the possibility of more dangerous routes being adopted by the disillusioned.
This is a very important point, if the self-proclaimed "Muslim leaders" want to have any influence, they must address the very real concerns, including - the war on the Iraqi people, Afghanistan, Palestine, and extreme poverty.
Our leaders must speak up
Failure to oppose the official line creates extremists
originally published in the London Guardian
Friday July 15, 2005
When Tony Blair describes the London bombings as a perversion of Islam, I agree. The shoddy theology that endorses the killing of innocent people must be challenged. The chilling calculation peddled by some fanatics legitimises innocent deaths as collateral damage for the higher cause of shattering the complacency of western governments and getting western troops out of Muslim lands. To sacrifice your life, on the battlefield or in a suicide bombing, is to achieve the high status of martyr. And the innocent people killed will go to heaven anyway, so their suffering and that of their loved ones is worth the political aim.
Clearly this is a convoluted equation, but one we must pay attention to if we are to get to grips with the threat that faces all of us in Britain today. What is regrettable is that the more simplistic version offered by Tony Blair is setting the parameters of debate. According to him the "perversion of Islam" driving a minority of Muslims boils down to this: hatred of the western way of life and freedom means that Muslims (wherever they live) should kill and bomb people to force them to be Islamic.
This formulation ensures that any contextualisation will remain absent. The suffocating consensus already achieved may well protect Blair (how can he permit any linkage to the Middle East without implying his own guilt) - but it does not protect ordinary British people.
Moreover, as British Muslims we must brace ourselves for a backlash - coming not from ordinary people, but from the need of politicians to deflect attention from their own role in this tragedy.
Because what is undeniable is that the shoddy theology - no matter how "unIslamic" and easily condemned by most Muslims - is driven by political injustices. It is the boiling anger and hurt that is shaping the interpretation of religious texts into such grotesque distortions. Such extreme interpretations exist only in specific political circumstances - they certainly do not predate them, and the religious/political equation breaks down if there is no injustice to drive it.
This leaves British Muslims in a very difficult place. To bring in these wider questions requires them to dissent from the government line. This is difficult for them, keen as they are to avoid further marginalisation. However, if Muslim leaders succumb to the pres sure of censorship and fail to visibly oppose the government on certain foreign policy issues, the gap between the leaders and those they seek to represent and influence will widen, increasing the possibility of more dangerous routes being adopted by the disillusioned.
This cycle of violence has to be broken. By confining analysis to simple religious terms, however, politicians are asking the impossible of our security services as well as Muslim leaders. No number of sniffer dogs or sermons denouncing the use of violence against innocents can detect and remove the pain and anger that drives extremists to their terrible acts. The truth is that shoddy theology does not exist without a dodgy foreign policy.
· Salma Yaqoob is national vice-chair of Respect and chair of Birmingham Stop the War Coalition