For the last few years, I’ve been peering into British society from across the pond, and even after all this time, I’m thoroughly confused.
In response to attacks in Paris by a handful of gunman, none of them British, the British government reminded British Muslims they need to do more to fight extremism. The notion of Muslim collective guilt must be deeply entrenched for British politicians to consider this peculiar juxtaposition reasonable.
We are being told the British Muslims need to fight extremism within their community by formulating and adopting a “British Islam” that is compatible with “British Values.” What is happening in the UK strikes me as a distilled microcosm of what is happening throughout Western Europe, and to a lesser degree, in North America.
The British establishment accuses Muslims of fostering an “us versus them” mentality while clearly reinforcing that mentality themselves. Muslims are accused of promoting “non-violent extremism,” which allegedly serves as a conveyor belt to violent extremism. As an outsider looking in, I find the willful blindness of the British establishment stunning. In a letter sent to over 1,000 British Muslim leaders and subsequently endorsed by Prime Minister David Cameron, Secretary of State Eric Pickles wrote:
We are proud of the reaction of British communities to this attack. Muslims from across the country have spoken out to say: not in our name.
But there is more work to do. We must show our young people, who may be targeted, that extremists have nothing to offer them. We must show them that there are other ways to express disagreement: that their right to do so is dependent on the very freedoms that extremists seek to destroy. We must show them the multitude of statements of condemnation from British Muslims; show them these men of hate have no place in our mosques or any place of worship, and that they do not speak for Muslims in Britain or anywhere in the world.
I continue to be amazed when pundits and politicians claim with a straight face that extremists want to “destroy our freedom.” I initially attributed this to the idiocy of George Bush, who told the American people the 9/11 hijackers attacked because they “hate our freedom.” Such nonsense plays well with the Fox News crowd, but was widely ridiculed in the left wing and alternative media.
Despite the European tendency to ridicule Americans for their political ignorance, it seems the same theme plays well there too. But if it’s true that we are attacked for “our freedom,” why do the attackers always cite unjust foreign policy as their motive rather than their hatred of “our freedom”?
Of course the Paris attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo were easier to frame this way because one of the reasons cited was revenge for vile depictions of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in a series of cartoons. Therefore, the pundits say, this was clearly an attack on freedom, or more precisely, freedom of expression. Accepting that argument still requires us to ignore the fact the perpetrators also cited specific policy grievances as part of their motive.
It seems to me one of the key objectives is to silence Muslim criticism of UK foreign policy. The right to plunder and slaughter with impunity seems to be an unspoken “British value” that must be preserved. Acquiescence appears to be the wage Muslims will be asked to pay in exchange for social acceptance. Of course no one states this outright, but it seems clear enough to me.
For my purposes here, I will try to avoid going off on another unjust foreign policy tangent. It will suffice to say if Muslims are to combat extremism by showing young people “there are other ways to express disagreement” than through violence, then the British government must ensure there are actually “other ways” available to “express disagreement” and actually resolve some of the underlying issues that are generating anger.
But even if there were no foreign policy dimension, some of the questions surrounding the “Muslim problem” would remain. The established logic seems to be that
- Muslims are guided by Islam.
- Islam is incompatible with Western values.
- Therefore Muslims must abandon Islam, reform Islam, or pack their bags and leave.
I believe this logic is based on a faulty premise. I think Muslims can successfully integrate into Western society, whether or not Islam is compatible with “British Values,” or “Western Values” in the broader context, because Muslims residing in Western countries, for the most part, are not asking to live in an Islamic society. They are asking for their rights within Western society, which is not the same thing at all.
The question this raises for me is what are our rights within Western society? Here in the US, I would say Muslims are required to abide by the laws of the land. Sharia requires the same, and as such, I don’t see a conflict. In the UK, it seems Muslims are not only required to abide by the laws of the land, but also increasingly are expected to subscribe to some nebulous concept of “British values.” From what I can tell, the recent focus on “non-violent extremism” is really code for “Muslim views that do not comport with British values.”
Harry’s Place is ahead of the game, having formulated litmus tests to vet “non-violent extremists” years ago. All of these litmus tests appear in one way or another to relate to a “British value,” which Harry’s Place has taken it upon themselves to enforce through relentless harassment of any Muslim who gains even modest prominence. Not satisfied with grilling Muslims regarding their views in the real world, Harry’s Place also demands to know their views regarding the same issues in a hypothetical “Ideal Islamic State,” which in my view strikes at the heart of this competing values debate.
It’s difficult to see the benefit in this “Ideal Islamic State” line of questioning, which seems to serve no purpose other than to alienate Muslims. I was born and raised in the US and am happy to abide by the laws in our secular state. I have no interest in imposing Islam on America. But I confess I would nevertheless fail the “Ideal Islamic State” litmus test. If I were to leave this country and move to an Islamic State, I’d most likely do so because I wanted to live under a different social order, which is exactly what many Westerners tell me to do if I’m not completely delighted with the way things are here. Why is it important that I impose Western secular values on a hypothetical “Ideal Islamic State”?
It seems more rational to me to distinguish between Muslim civil rights within the existing social order, and efforts to overturn the social order in favor of an Islamic state. Here in the US, Muslims lack both the desire and the power to impose Islam on Americans, and I suspect that is also true in the UK. But to the extent Muslims are attempting to replace the social order through “creeping sharia,” I think people are within their rights to oppose such initiatives.
Instead it seems the UK government is flirting with the idea of playing thought police, insisting Muslims not only abide by the law, but also embrace “British values.” This leads me to wonder precisely what are “British Values”?
Freedom of Expression
The UK, like other Western countries, champions the right of free expression, with the barest interference from the state. In practice, all Western countries curtail free speech that offends their sensibilities, though arguably less so in the US. The recent round up and arrest of over 50 people on the heels of a well-publicized march in support of “Freedom of Expression” was a spectacular example of French hypocrisy with regard to much-vaunted free speech ideals.
In the Ideal Islamic State, it seems unlikely unbridled free speech would be set as ideal in the first place. There would almost certainly be limitations placed on anything that denigrates Islam, for example. Muslims would curtail free speech in accordance with their sensibilities, but skip the inevitable hypocrisy by saying so up front.
Whatever the practical difference, Harry’s Place has decided Muslims need to be vetted with regard to freedom of expression, with litmus tests that usually revolve around blasphemy and apostasy. Muslims who are questioned must immediately and unequivocally state they are opposed to all punishments for blasphemy and apostasy, not only in the real world, but also in an “Ideal Islamic State.” Any hesitation or attempt to introduce nuance will get the targeted Muslim placed on the unofficial blacklist, and he or she will subsequently be hounded and demonized relentlessly. We must not only refrain from actually punishing apostates, we must have the correct THOUGHTS on the matter, or we can expect to be denounced as a “non-violent extremist.”
Some months ago, Maajid Nawaz sparked a controversy by tweeting a Jesus & Mo cartoon and in response, some Muslims peacefully protested through the democratic processes afforded to them in the UK. Harry’s Place was outraged, and claimed petitions and campaigns to de-list political candidates were unacceptable attempts to impose blasphemy restrictions on the citizens of the UK. In other words, Muslims are required to venerate democracy and eschew violence, while also refraining from peacefully participating in democratic processes when those activities offend the sensibilities of hypocritical “muscular liberals.” That is the Harry’s Place vision of a “free society” where “non-violent extremists” are kept in their place.
I don’t know about the UK, but here in the US, sexual anarchy prevails. Traditional sexual morals rooted in Christianity were first savaged by the Sexual Revolution, then by Second Wave feminism, and most recently by Gay Pride and Gender Theory. If you dare to suggest heterosexuality is normal, you have committed a microaggression by reinforcing the “heteronormative” patriarchy, or some such nonsense.
Against this backdrop, observant Muslims are viewed as regressive. In accordance with Islamic doctrine, there are two genders, male and female, marriage is between people of the opposite gender, and sexual activity is acceptable only within the confines of marriage. While not all Muslims follow these rules, the rules themselves remain intact, and for many “muscular liberals,” that is not acceptable.
Harry’s Place grills Muslims on their views regarding homosexuals, and anyone who tries to meet them halfway will soon learn compromise is pointless. You must first concede homosexual civil rights, then you must concede to gay marriage, and finally, you must renounce the notion that homosexuality is a sin, a position clearly at odds with Islamic doctrine.
Much adieu is made in the West of Islamic restrictions on homosexuality, even though historically, many Muslim societies have actually been surprisingly tolerant in this regard. One of the reasons for this apparent contradiction is the Islamic emphasis on preserving the prescribed social order. What goes on in private is one thing, but if you insist on launching an advertising campaign aimed at “normalizing” sinful behavior, you are likely to suffer consequences. Some sexual activities, such as sodomy and adultery, are defined not only as a sin but a crime, punishable by law. There is no notion that “anything goes” because “consenting adults” aren’t “hurting anyone.” Sexual crimes, especially when flaunted in public, ultimately hurt everyone because they cause societal breakdown, just as we see happening right now in the US.
Even if someone believes homosexuality should be punished in an Ideal Islamic State, a hypothetical situation, I don’t view that as cause for alarm. Suggesting no one can hold the “wrong” views without being subjected to harassment doesn’t sound very “liberal” to me. Why can’t UK Muslims continue to believe homosexuality is a sin, as long as they don’t call for harassment or violence against gays?
Gender Apartheid and More Hypocrisy
Some months ago, neocon-backed groups in the UK manufactured a “controversy” over so-called “gender apartheid” at a public university. Some women from Hizb ut-Tahrir organized an event offering separate seating for men and women. No one who planned to attend the lecture complained, but some muscular liberal busy-bodies decided this seating arrangement was unacceptable and arranged a protest.
This was not the first time something like this happened. Previously some Muslims had agreed to debate atheists on campus and had set up separate seating for women and men as well as a mixed seating option. Some atheist men who showed up at the event were not satisfied with these options, and insisted on sitting in the women’s section. Once the women made space and allowed them to share their section, the men insisted they be permitted to sit between the women. In other words, they wanted to impose themselves on women in order to make the point that women should not be oppressed by being allowed to choose separate seating for themselves. Such are the contradictions spawned by authoritarian liberalism.
In any case, what I found most interesting about these events was the reaction from the Harry’s Place crowd and the other leftist blogs in their circle. Some of them even asserted that while it was unacceptable for Muslims to offer separate seating, they would find it acceptable for lesbians to request women-only seating because they might find it more comfortable to have their own space!
In the final analysis, it was not the behavior agitators necessarily opposed, but the underpinning moral principle. In practice, they would privilege homosexuals over Muslims, presumably because this preferential treatment fits with their relentless assault on traditional moral values.
I find in interesting that some of the far-right anti-Muslim groups in the UK and elsewhere accuse Muslims of undermining their “Judeo-Christian” values. It seems to me it is secular “progressives” and liberals who have deliberately overturned the social order, not Muslims. If pressed, I wonder if these people could make a coherent argument for what “Judeo-Christian” values have been savaged by the Muslims in their midst.
I suspect the UK will not fare well in its latest campaign to force Muslims to abandon their legitimate political grievances and moral values in favor of secular “British values.” If anything, I think this approach will further drive a wedge between communities, possibly alienating even Muslims who are already well integrated. I think a better option would be to define non-negotiable legal boundaries for all citizens, who have the same rights and responsibilities within that framework. Otherwise, the UK risks devolving into a police state where freedom is curtailed in the name of freedom and people are rounded up on ill-defined charges of “non-violent extremism.”
As to whether or not Islam is at odds with Western values, I say yes, in certain respects, it is. But so what? That doesn’t stop Muslims from living happy, productive lives as citizens of secular democracies, exercising their rights within the boundaries of that social order, and abiding by the laws of the land.