An open letter to the British mediaI am writing in response to a number of issues raised by Martin Bright's recent articles in The Observer (14 August 2005), and the BBC Panorama programme on British Muslims. At this juncture, I would like to clarify my own views on some of these issues, for the record.
1. Suicide bombers.
“He who has killed an innocent soul, it is as if he had killed all humanity” Al-Qur’an, Surah 5:32.
I am aware that otherwise moderate Islamic scholars such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi are sympathetic to what have been described euphemistically as ‘martyrdom operations’. I suspect that a significant number of British Muslims are broadly supportive of or sympathetic with such views. However, it would be a mistake to think holding such views implies that Muslims are 'extremists' or support political violence outside of Palestine.
I am committed to contesting the belief that suicide bombings are a morally legitimate and effective response to Palestinian oppression. But blanket condemnation and vilification of support for Palestinian violence will only further demonize those Muslims who hold such views, and risks entrenching their opinions as reactionary to a perceived anti-Muslim bias. For similar reasons, I oppose legislation that would effectively drive such views underground.
As the late Edward Said stated, Palestinian violence is frequently represented “stripped of its context and the terrible suffering from which it arises” (Cockburn and St. Clair, 2003, p. 152). The most effective means of challenging political violence in Palestine, and those who condone it, is to make the political and historical context of the conflict the starting point for analysis. To ensure balanced coverage, journalists must pose questions which are not just difficult for the supporters of such violence, but for those who either tacitly or directly lend support to the State terrorism perpetrated by the Israeli government.
2. Holocaust Memorial Day.
I support those Muslim organisations who currently boycott this event, without intending any offence whatsoever to those who survived the Shoah. I am cognisant of the suffering which took place, as much as is possible, having studied the history of Judaism at undergraduate level. I am also aware that this genocide targetted not just Jews, but other groups, including the learning disabled.
Although the genocide perpetuated by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler is arguably the greatest planned and systematic atrocity ever committed by humanity against itself, it is not unique in history or recent times.
Historically, the genocide of the Native Americans, and the wholesale conquest of their lands, stands as comparable to Hitler’s crimes. Since Word War II, crimes against humanity have been committed by the Indonesian government against the people of East Timor and by the Russians against the people of Chechnya. Others, such as the Bosnian Muslims, deserved to be remembered as victims of ethnic hatred on this day.
As with Palestine, these crimes should similarly not be contemplated without considering the facilitative role played by imperialism, nationalism and bogus sciences such as eugenics – ideologies which continue today, often unabated.
I am concerned that the narrow focus on this event is politically expedient, and the presence of Putin at one of the key Holocaust Memorial services this years was deeply offensive to those who believe Putin's own human rights record is irredeemable. To stage this event with such a butcher in attendance, under the proclamative, “Never Again!” is sickening in the extreme. It raises suspicions that the Holocaust has become an ‘industry’ which exists primarily to aid justification of a terrorist state, where racially motivated murder is an almost daily occurance.
3. Mawdudi and Other Folk Devils.
Like most educated Muslims, I have read and reflected on some of the works authored by the revivalist scholar Mawdudi. He was clearly an inspired thinker, although many of his views – including his alleged admiration for European fascist dictators - are certainly not mine.
Like other educated Muslims, I see Mawdudi, along with the other greater revivalist, Qutb, as a product of his time, part of a Muslim reactionary movement against European colonialism and racism. Equally, I am aware that views held by both Mawdudi and Qutb which are out of kilter with contemporary British mores are too often trawled up with the purpose of deriding Muslims and the Islamic faith.
It would seem the British media is intent on creating Muslim folk devilss, whether it be using historical figures, such as Mawdudi and Qutb, or contemporary figures such as Omar Bakri and Yusuf al-Qaradawi. The substantial differences between these figures is often never highlighted, only the views which are said to clash with the values of 'British people'. The Pope can be anti-gay, but if a Muslim scholar expresses similar views, he is a monster. Few in the Muslim community doubt the Islamophobic nature of such representations.
Things look different when the boot is on the other foot. No one suggests that the anti-Semitism which pervaded Catholic biblical commentaries prior to World War II is evidence of British Catholic doctrine today. Few have considered how the offending sections of these commentaries were quietly erased in post-war editions, to disguise the Catholic Church’s crucial role in manufacturing the anti-Semitism which ultimately informed Hitler’s final solution.
In the history of this continent, Muslims have too long been a projection of Europeans' fears and insecurities, a way of deflecting focus away from their own ills. This Orientalism, which scholars have clearly identified and which still pervades the public spaces of Europe, has to be acknowledged and put to sleep. Now non-Muslims in Europe live side by side with Muslims, there is no longer room for such dark prejudices.
I welcome legitimate criticism of British Muslim organisations, and informed criticism of my faith. But intelligent and balanced coverage of Muslims in the British media is the exception rather than the rule. I regret the largely decontextualised and derisory attacks against Muslims with have recently found their way into the public domain. They appear to co-opt Tony Blair's attempt to exploit fears surrounding Muslims as a strategy for deflectling attention away from his own nefarious foreign policies and the neoconservative political agenda of his New Labour administration. This is regretable.
If you are looking for a community to attack and vilify, then might I suggest you focus on the one surrounding 10 Downing Street, and not one which has for too long been impoverished, exploited and marginalised.