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.