Tuesday 10 July 2007

The chimera of 'moderate' Islamism

Since posting this about Alastair Crooke's LRB article on Hamas, I've come across other critiques of the piece, including this by Norm (who shares my scepticism towards Crooke's view that Hamas and Hezbollah represent 'moderate' versions of Islamism) and this by Oliver Kamm.

Norm points out that Crooke is a leading member of an organisation called Conflicts Forum, whose slogan is 'listening to political Islam, recognizing resistance'. Its Board of Advisors includes former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg (who may not have been directly involved in terrorism but had links with extremist groups and worked in a bookshop accused of selling race-hate material) and well-known Hamas spokesman and apologist for suicide terrorism, Azzam Tamimi. That would explain why Crooke gives Tamimi's book such an uncritical review in his LRB article.

Meanwhile Madeleine Bunting has been enthusing about the newfound desire to challenge extremism among some British Muslim organisations. She too advocates engaging with 'moderate' Islamists in order to draw young hotheads away from their more extreme brethren. David T at Harry's Place is scornful of Maddy's naivety and sceptical of this apparent change of heart by Islamist-aligned organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain.

Islamism is, of its very nature, a reactionary and totalitarian political project with a dubious record, to say the least, on issues such as gender equality and freedom of belief. Genuine liberals should think twice before lending encouragement to any variety of this anti-liberal movement, however moderate-seeming. Instead, as Paul Berman argues, they should be offering solidarity to 'authentic liberals' in the Arab and Muslim world, and to non-sectarian, non-communalist organisations at home.

On that note: I came across the website of the 'No to Political Islam' campaign, which appears to be a coalition of secular and progressive groups in majority-Muslim countries. Here's an extract from their manifesto, which should be required reading for western 'liberals' who cosy up to 'soft' versions of Islamism:

Political Islam is a movement that arose in the 1940s as a reaction to foreign domination and political corruption. Supported in the 1980s by western governments, it has grown in leaps and bounds since the Iranian revolution and the events following September 11th. But Political Islam is not the answer to either western arrogance or political corruption. It seeks to return Muslims to the dark ages, limiting educational opportunity, denying the right of women to participate fully as adults in the life of the community, denying equality to non-Muslims, and imposing its own brutal and outmoded interpretation of Sharia law on every aspect of public life.

Among the hungry and destitute, Political Islam gained support with the promise of salvation for the dispossessed. But while drawing its strength from those who would fight oppression, it seeks to enslave all Muslims. It opposes progressive movements for liberty, freedom, justice and equality, and is opposed to cultural and intellectual progress. Throughout history Muslim reformers have opened up new vistas of intellectual and cultural achievement, tolerance and diversity. Political Islam on the contrary, seeks a narrow, petty, joyless, intolerant and closed society. It rejects all modernity, science and technology - except the technology of death.

Political Islam is a reactionary movement that has no place in the modern world. Over the last two decades, millions have been, and continue to be, murdered - shot, decapitated, stoned to death, and publicly hanged – by Islamic regimes and movements in Iran, the Sudan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, and Central Asia, while millions more have been forced into exile. The Islamists equate even well-founded dissent with blasphemy. Thousands of Muslim opponents have been killed and millions silenced through fear. Our silence is taken as support for the Islamist agenda. But the vast majority of the world's Muslims reject Political Islam. The time has come for our voices to be heard.

The way to restore our pride is to move forward not backwards. We oppose Political Islam and its agenda of hatred and oppression, and its illegitimate pursuit of the most barbaric interpretation of Sharia law. We seek a future in which all people, men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, can enjoy the benefits of equality, democracy, human rights, freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression.

Join our campaign: NO to Political Islam. Say YES to Freedom, Equality and Human Rights.


I see David T's post (mentioned above) has earned him the label of 'rabid anti-Islamist bigot' from Martin Sullivan at the ludicrous Islamophobia Watch website. As Sunny at Pickled Politics says: 'The problem for Sullivan is that David T neither hates Muslims and nor does he have a particular vendetta against Islam. But he finds the politics and ideology of certain organisations such as the MCB, Muslim Brotherhood etc detestable'. He goes on:

What IW and such pseudo-intellectuals increasingly do is conflate religious entities with people from that faith or theology of the faith itself, all of which are three different things, just so they can slander people. Muslims, Islam and the Muslim Council of Britain are not the same; as neither are Jews, Judaism or the Jewish Board of Deputies. But in a desperate attempt to shut down any criticism these far-lefties keep bandying about the words ‘bigot’ or ‘racist’ without justification and making them meaningless.

It's not bigoted to be 'anti' a political ideology. And to be 'anti-Islamist' is, as I've tried to argue above, to be pro-liberty and pro-equality. An accolade, therefore, and not an insult.

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