Escape the monolith
The day after the terror attack near Finsbury Park Mosque, the BBC interviewed Massoud Shadjareh, chair of the ironically named Islamic Human Rights Commission.
The IHRC is in fact not so much a human rights organization as a public relations firm with one client: a reactionary theocratic version of Islam. In 2015 it distinguished itself by giving Charlie Hebdo an award for “Islamophobia” two months after 12 members of its staff were murdered by the Kouachi brothers, who shouted the obligatory “Allahu akbar” afterwards. The Independent wrote at the time:
The awards, which were devised by The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), took place at a ceremony on Saturday and saw the gong go to the French satirical magazine for ‘the world’s most Islamophobic person or publication’ in 2015.
It beat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US president Barack Obama and American television host Bill Maher to the title …
A spokesman said: “The annual Islamophobia awards have come to be known as a tongue in cheek swipe at those in public life who have perpetrated or perpetuated acts of hatred against Muslims and their faith.”
Hilarious, especially when you remember the twelve butchered editors and cartoonists in that Paris office.
This clip gives us Shadjareh calling Maajid Nawaz, above, (whom they have also named “Islamophobe of the Year” in their tongue in cheek way) a hate preacher:
Fortunately we’ve been warning the Metropolitan Police, the Mayor of London, that the level of hatred that is being increased on a daily basis is very dangerous and it could lead to something like this and it’s very unfortunate to see it’s happened but I think we need to address above everything this level of hatred, and the fact that we have got hate preachers now on our radio stations, be it Maajid Nawaz or Katie Hopkins or Douglas Murray …
It’s outrageous to call Maajid Nawaz a “hate preacher” and to compare him to Katie Hopkins. What does Shadjareh do it for, then?
I suppose for the same reason that Donald Trump calls people to the left of him rude and dishonest names: in order to discredit people with better ideas. Authoritarians despise liberals, and being authoritarians, they don’t hesitate to fight dirty. Shadjareh promotes an authoritarian version of Islam, so he is motivated to exercise his authoritarian skills on Muslims who promote a liberal reformist non-authoritarian version.
The BBC apologized to Nawaz the next day.
That’s nice, but of course many people who saw Shadjareh call Nawaz a hate preacher won’t have seen the correction – but more to the point, why did the BBC interview Shadjareh in the first place? Why are they so often so keen to interview the most reactionary “community leaders” they can find? Why don’t they talk to liberal Muslims instead? Why don’t they talk to women instead? Why do they always treat “the Muslim community” as if it were a monolith and as if that monolith were male and conservative and authoritarian?
Lucy Bannerman discussed that question in The Times on Saturday.
There’s a myth that Aliyah Saleem would like to debunk immediately. It is the myth of the “Muslim community leader”. If we really want to fight extremism, she argues, we should start by puncturing the idea that self-appointed male “leaders” represent a homogenous bloc of British Muslims. “Stop and ask 1,000 Muslims in the street, ‘Who’s your community leader?’ They’ll say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’,” said Ms Saleem, 27, one of a growing number of female activists standing up against Islamism.
After four terrorist attacks in the UK in as many months, she is fed up of hearing politicians’ platitudes about “working with Muslim leaders”. There has been little talk about working with Welsh “community leaders” after the Finsbury Park attack, over which Darren Osborne, from Cardiff, has been charged.
Why is that? Why are Muslims seen as a “community” with “leaders” while Welsh people are allowed to be heterogeneous and autonomous? It’s such a patronizing way of going about things, as if there are normal, various, independent-minded Us and then there are sheep-like, herdable, docile Them.
Instead of relentlessly chivvying Muslims back into Their Community, what about welcoming them into the wider world? That’s Aliayah Saleem’s advice.
Ms Saleem, who is now vice-chairwoman of Faith to Faithless, a community support network for “apostates”, and describes herself as a former Muslim, recalls how a mother recently approached her for advice about a teenage daughter she feared was being radicalised.
“She said, ‘What shall I do?’ I said, don’t talk about religion at all. Find out what she enjoys to do — whether it’s sport, music, drama — and distract her with that. Because when your brain is filled with music, art, literature, ideas and culture, why would you be tempted? When I was radicalised, it was feminism that opened my eyes. I had always felt suffocated, forced to wear the hijab. But when I discovered feminist perspectives, it blew my mind. I started to challenge things. If you can challenge the notion that women must do this, women can’t do that, or else they’ll end up in a fiery pit, it forces you to challenge all the rest.
“Once you start to have a wider, scientific understanding of sexuality, you start to connect to the real world, and the fundamentalist argument starts to pale in comparison.”
This means loosening ties with The Community, and that comes with some risks – but isn’t it worth it? Isn’t it worth exchanging The One True Community for ten, twenty, a hundred overlapping communities and interests and occupations? Isn’t it worth the risk to get acquainted with the world outside?
I say it’s worth every bit of it.