A muddled debate - Irfan Husain - Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

ACCORDING to a demographic study conducted by the Pew Research Centre (“The Future of the Global Muslim Population”), the number of Muslims in the world will rise from the present 1.6 billion to 2.2 billion 20 years from now. And Pakistanis can take heart from the projection that makes us the most populous Muslim nation, ahead of Indonesia, with 80 more million being added to our already substantial numbers. This just goes to show what can be achieved if we try hard enough.

These demographic projections will no doubt alarm many in the West who are already nervous by the swift rise in the numbers of Muslims in their countries, as well as an increasingly assertive Islamic crescent. This growing unease has found steadily more strident expression in a polarised post-9/11 world. We were reminded of this ugly reality by Baroness Sayeeda Wasti, chairwoman of Britain’s Conservative Party, when she said recently that Islamophobia has “passed the dinner-table test” in Britain, and “is seen by many as normal and uncontroversial”.

In a caustic rejoinder, Rod Liddle writes in the Spectator: “How do you know, love? Surely nobody would be crass enough to talk about how ghastly the Muslims were when she, a Muslim, was present at table, picking at her guinea fowl and looking embarrassed? … The ideology of Islam frightens us with its implacability, with its severity, with its vindictiveness — but most Muslims are not like that. They do not sign up to it. They are, like us, ‘not too bad’…”

A few days ago, David Cameron weighed in with his views on this touchy subject with a speech in Munich in which he criticised multiculturalism as it has been practised thus far, and called for a more robust defence of liberalism. “Frankly”, the British PM said, “We need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years, and much more active, muscular liberalism.” He went on to say that a genuinely liberal country “believes in certain values and actively promotes them”. These values, according to Cameron, are: “Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights, regardless of race, sex or sexuality…”

In an editorial, the Observer noted: “It was sad and predictable that Mr Cameron’s words were quickly hailed by the far right, anti-Muslim English Defence League… Any speech that heartens the fascist fringe must be deemed a failure. But at one level, Mr Cameron is right. The state should never turn a blind eye to cruelty and crime out of some misguided sense of cultural sensitivity. This is as true in cases of female genital mutilation, forced marriage and ‘honour killing’ as it is in the case of jihadi preaching.”

One of the voices welcoming Cameron’s speech belongs to Maajid Nawaz, co-director of the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank that focuses on radical Islam. Nawaz writes on the New Statesman blog: “Here we have a speech which recognises that there are more than Islamist forms of extremism. Here we have a speech that acknowledges the symbiotic relationship between two extremes of Islamism and anti-Muslim fascism…”

The foundation Nawaz represents was set up with much fanfare a couple or so years ago. Its opening, a champagne and smoked salmon affair, was attended by the likes of Jemima Khan and other high-profile socialites. Funded by the British government, the foundation has little credibility among Muslim communities. However, according to Peter Osborne, it has considerable influence in government circles.

Writing in the Spectator, Osborne says that Baroness Warsi cancelled her scheduled appearance at a Global Peace and Unity conference at which some 50,000 Muslims were present. Warsi’s last-minute withdrawal was, according to Osborne, caused by instructions from 10 Downing Street, and was based on a Quilliam memorandum that “makes a sweeping division between good and bad Muslims. There are ‘moderate’ Muslims, probably politically inactive, who hold no strong views about foreign policy. And there are Muslims who, in the view of Quilliam, advocate extreme ideologies…” Presumably, the organisers of the conference fell into the latter category.

As this muddled debate continues to gather momentum, most Muslims in Britain and elsewhere want nothing more than to get on with their lives as best as they can. The small groups that plot Armageddon in their council flats and on the Internet are a tiny percentage of a relatively small Muslim community. They are beyond the reach of their parents and their local preachers; they are most certainly not influenced by position papers produced by the Quilliam Foundation. Luckily, their incompetence has limited the damage they have been able to inflict in the UK to the terrorist action on 7/7. For the most part, they have been scooped up before they could put their hate-filled fantasies into action.

The grim reality in our globalised world is that ideas, prejudices and ideologies now jostle for attention on our computer screens. Gullible youngsters are easily influenced by stirring messages and promises of martyrdom and glory. Cynical preachers use the Internet to groom people thousands of miles away to commit vicious acts of terrorism, ruining the lives of victims and perpetrators, while they remain a safe distant away from the scenes of the crimes.

None of these actors pay the least attention to the voices of reason, whether they come from politicians or from ‘moderate’ Muslims. They inhabit a shadow world where logic and compassion are unknown. Strictly speaking, we are dealing more with a pathological condition than a reasoned political stance. While in countries like Pakistan, there is an environment of religiosity that is conducive to extremism, British Muslims subscribing to this ideology have fallen into the black hole of jihad more out of alienation from the mainstream, rather than any deep study of Islamic texts.

While millions of Muslims are critical of American and British foreign policy and wars, they are unlikely to tie a suicide belt to themselves and blow up a Western target. The few nihilists who are bent on causing mayhem use the perceived wrongs they accuse the West of perpetrating in the Muslim world as an excuse. Even if by some miracle, Western forces pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and Israel was to return occupied land to the Palestinians, these psychopaths would still seek to kill and maim people. For them, the war they wage is not the means to an end; it is the end in itself.

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