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Nov 26 2011

To make the world a better place

The New Humanist has a fascinating piece by Paul Sims about Robert Lambert, the retired Special Branch officer who was head of the Muslim Contact Unit.

I’ve had some critical things to say about Lambert and his colleague Jonathan Githens-Mazer in the past – in June 2010 and April 2009. They talked evasive deceptive nonsense about the wonderfulness of Islamism and the badness of “Islamophobia.” They completely ignored the issues of women’s rights and homophobia. The stuff they wrote was extremely misleading – like this, for instance:

While British Islamists are as diverse as British socialists, the interviews do reveal important unifying characteristics, most notably a devotion to social justice and a concern for community needs over individual or corporate ambitions. British Islamists are typified by a sense of moral obligation to confront injustice, and they strive, in their own ways, to try to make the world a better place. These are messages which have more power than ever in modern Britain.

“Social justice” according to whom? “Community needs” and “individual ambitions” according to whom? Ditto injustice, ditto a better place. (Notice that careful “in their own ways” – yes, patriarchal misogynist punitive theocratic ways.) It’s sneaky, illiberal, irresponsible stuff, and it makes me angry (me and a good many other people).

Sims is doing journalism, so he does a better job than I would have of seeing the point of what Lambert was trying to do.

…where the MCU diverged from the mainstream was in the view that the most suitable groups for standing up to Hamza and his ilk were those which themselves adhered to strict Islamic principles or held strong political views on the “War on Terror”. In Finsbury Park, the MCU entered into a partnership with the Muslim Association of Britain and the Muslim Welfare House, local groups with links to the international Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, while in Brixton they worked with adherents to a literalist Salafi interpretation of Islam. Both partnerships, in Lambert’s view, succeeded in reducing the influence of extremists, and he takes particular pride in the way the MCU and the Finsbury Park Islamists were able to engineer the removal of Hamza’s supporters from Finsbury Park Mosque in 2005 through the installation of a new board of trustees.

Point taken, but even if Lambert’s right that his work “succeeded in reducing the influence of [some] extremists,” Hamza and his ilk aren’t the only extremists there are, and Lambert’s work may also have increased the influence of the MAB and other Islamist groups. Lambert, to be blunt, doesn’t seem to pay any attention at all to the people who are subordinated (if not punished or killed) by Islamist men.

Hanging over the whole debate is the lack of clarity over the term “Islamism”. When I ask Lambert to tell me what he means when he uses it, he explains that Islamists tend to have “a stronger sense that Islam encourages them to be politically active”. But for others, “Islamism” clearly means much more than this, and has become a demon term that describes those Muslims who reject secular democracy and aspire to live in an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law, with all the detrimental effects to women’s and minority rights that would entail. Lambert tells me that the MCU “would not have partnered with anyone if they exhibited any hostility or hatred toward any other community, whether it be the Jewish community, gay community or women”, but it is still legitimate to ask whether groups which take inspiration from the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a controversial history on all of those counts, make suitable partners for the British state.

What Lambert says is either absurdly naïve or disingenuous. Apparently the criterion was people going purple in the face and shouting about women (a Kyle Sandilands type of thing) or gays; he didn’t see that so that was good enough. Pu-leeze.

Props to Paul Sims for drawing him out.

 

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Ian MacDougall

    There are striking parallels between the histories of religions. By the Biblical accounts, both Judaism and Christianity began as the creeds of subject peoples and can be seen as means whereby those peoples came to terms with their situations. Islam and Nazism are two religions which had similar beginnings, appealing to peoples divided by a history of tribalism (Arabs) or balkanisation (Germans) but united by a common language and widespread sense of grievance against outsiders and perceived wrongs done to them. Both evolved rapidly into imperial military enterprises of world-changing importance.

    The bulk of Muslims appear to me to be ‘moderate’ in the sense that they like to genuflect where appropriate to the religion, and then just get on with their lives. When they become numerous enough, they become the political base for the foundation of secular states within the Islamic world, which happened in Turkey after WW1 and is arguably the likely outcome of the future success (in the medium term perhaps) of the ‘Arab Spring’. There were ‘moderate Nazis’ in Germany: people who later claimed that they joined the Nazi Party merely to gain promotion in the civil service or favour from the government in business. (It is also well known that there were surprisingly few in Germany after the war who would claim adherence to Nazi doctrines.)

    More later.

  2. 2
    Grace

    I love the ads that come up on this site. Right now it’s SingleMuslims.com (“Browse Profiles!”) with women in lovely headscarves (most are showing their faces, one has her mouth and nose covered) smiling at the camera. Also I can’t count how many offers for Biblical online colleges I’ve come across here.

    I want to pull my hair out whenever I hear the term Islamophobia. Just ridiculous. What next, Catholicophobia?

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    Heh. I know. I use the word so it triggers that kind of ad, I guess.

  4. 4
    Chris Lawson

    Grace,

    To the best of my knowledge nobody has used the word Catholicophobia before, but plenty of apologists for the Catholic Church have been using the spirit of that defence. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a news opinion piece say that the only prejudice that is still socially acceptable is anti-Catholicism. (Because, you know, being appalled by the church’s facilitation of child abuse makes one a rabid unthinking anti-Catholic.) And yes, they do say “only”…as if there is no longer any misogynist, anti-Semitic, anti-Asian, or anti-black sentiment in public discourse.

  5. 5
    Grace

    @Chris Lawson

    I just googled Catholic + phobia and the first article that popped up was:

    “Baby-phobia Has Reached Epidemic Proportions.”

    From a website called Catholic Lane.

  6. 6
    Ian MacDougall

    So (continuing from 1) if Adolf Hitler’s claim had been realised, ie that the Third Reich would last for 1,000 years, then 1,000 years hence people may have found a Nazism metamorphosed into something comparable to Islam today. Islamic societies are still bloodthirsty, as testified to by the ‘honour killings’ and ‘fatwas’ Islam provides cover and justification for, but Islam is not nearly as bloodthirsty as it was 1,200 years ago, when its believers were conquering the Arabian Peninsula, as a first step to global domination.

    Mohammad and Hitler both saw themselves as leaders of righteousness. In Mohammad’s case the claim was to divine guidance and inspiration; in Hitler’s it was about leading the Germans to their historic destiny as master race, and defeating those who would stand in the way of this. Both men were textbook cases of megalomania and authoritarianism, and built religious movements based on strict obedience, discipline and submission to the will of the leader.

    There is no shortage of people today happy to lead campaigns based on what Ophelia describes above as “evasive deceptive nonsense about the wonderfulness of Islamism and the badness of ‘Islamophobia.’”

    It is conceivable that WW2 could have played out differently, with Europe succumbing to Nazism, Asia to Japanese imperialism, South America continuing in a state of neo-feudalism, and America remaining isolated, perhaps becoming steadily less democratic in the process. Modern Islam and Islamism would have dovetailed into such a scheme of things much better than they manage to do with the world as it is at present.

  7. 7
    Eh

    I find it wonderful: people coined the term “Islamism” to pretend that there was this deep distinction between Islamism and Islam, and now we’re getting lectured on how there’s this wonderful broad range amongst theocratic nutters.

    Give. me. a. break.

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