Thursday, 24 April 2008

Sardar uses 'neocon' label to smear ex-extremists

Ziauddin Sardar dislikes all the fuss being made about repentant Muslim extremists. His main point has some merit: that lionising those who have belatedly renounced violence draws attention away from the 'overwhelming majority' of Muslims 'who never had a moment's doubt that Islam gives no sanction for such murderous and misguided perversion of belief'. And he has some useful things to say about the British government's misguided (if well-meaning) attempts to influence the religious beliefs of British Muslims. 

But I get the impression that, underneath it all, Sardar just finds the likes of Ed Husain (British Muslims who renounce root-cause thinking and refuse to dismiss liberty and equality as western constructs) an awkward embarrassment and is casting around for excuses to undermine them. Hence the tell-tale scattering of the all-purpose 'neocon' label throughout his article: the ex-extremists have the backing of 'neocon luminaries' (so they must be wrong), and moderate Muslims who work with the government are part of (what else?) a 'neocon Sufi order'.

Finally Sardar falls back on the hoary old argument that Islamic extremism in Britain is not a religious but a political issue, the result of social deprivation and the consumer culture. And no prizes for guessing what Sardar thinks is the biggest problem: 'Most of all, British foreign policy has a direct bearing on nurturing British extremism'.

The real reason why Sardar dislikes those he calls 'neocon ex-extremists' so much is that they deny this link and point instead to the pernicious influence of a reactionary religio-political ideology. As with Seamus Milne's memorable put-down of Ed Husain as a 'neocon pinup boy', there's an element of Uncle Tom-ism involved here. Muslim public figures are OK as long as they espouse the party-line of Muslim victimhood and reflexive anti-westernism. The moment they step out of line and dare to forge an independent path, they have to be tarred with the dismissive brush of neoconservatism.

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