Glamorizing theocracy

The New Statesman has an unpleasant piece by Chris Allen that treats all anti-IS Muslims as co-opted if not worse.

First the background, via the BBC:

A fashion designer has created a ‘poppy hijab’ to commemorate the centenary of the first Muslim soldier being awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery.

Tabinda-Kauser Ishaq, a final year student at the University of Arts in London, also hopes the piece of clothing will give Muslim women a new way to mark Remembrance Day.

That would be a very dubious thing if the poppies were meant to commemorate, say, an imperialist massacre or a genocide. But you can remember and mourn the mass slaughter of World War I without endorsing that war itself.

“Most people don’t know how many Muslims fought for Britain a hundred years ago and it’s important that we join together and look back at the shared history we’ve got,” said Steve Ballinger from the integration think tank British Future, which helped Ms Ishaq design the hijab.

The group carried out a survey tracking people’s attitudes to the centenary of World War One and found only one in five Britons realised Muslims had fought for Britain – a lower level of awareness than that for the contribution of soldiers from other [religions].

British Muslims have a share in remembering and mourning the mass slaughter of WWI.

“Poppies are obviously the most prominent thing we associate with Remembrance Day and the hijab is something which is commonly associated with Muslims, so we married the two together to try and produce something which hopefully people see as positive,” said Ms Ishaq.

The 24-year-old, who herself wears a hijab, felt it was important to create a headscarf which Muslim women would want to wear in public.

The designer worked alongside Islamic groups to create an item which would appeal to British Muslims and combat negative perceptions about the religion in light of issues such as fundamentalism.

“It’s a way for ordinary Muslim citizens to take some attention away from extremists who seem to grab the headlines,” said Sughra Ahmed, president of the Islamic Society of Britain.

“This symbol of quiet remembrance is the face of everyday British Islam – not the angry minority who spout hatred and offend everyone.”

Not the angry minority who want to impose sharia and stone “adulterous” women and keep girls out of school. Not violent theocratic fascists, in short. Now Chris Allen’s take:

The hijab is being backed by the Islamic Society of Britain and think tank British Future to mark 100 years since the first Muslim soldier was awarded the Victoria Cross. Sughra Ahmed, president of the Islamic Society of Britain, seemed to suggest in a comment to the Mail that this hijab would help divert attention away from the “angry minority” who offend people with their views.

But there is more to the poppy hijab than either the Daily Mail or Ahmed would have us believe. As Nesrine Malik wrote in the Guardian in response to the Sun’s choice of front-page image, these re-appropriations of the hijab can be little more than proxies for anti-Muslim bigotry. They become a politically correct way of airing a suspicion that all Muslims are “basically terrorist sympathisers”. The wearing – or not wearing – of a patriotic hijab becomes a shrouded loyalty test.

Really? Why don’t they do the exact opposite of that? Why don’t they do what it says on the tin? Why would Tabinda-Kauser Ishaq and Sughra Ahmed want to air a suspicion that all Muslims are “basically terrorist sympathisers”? Why isn’t it much more likely that they’re doing what they purport to be doing: trying to point out and demonstrate that not all Muslims are violent theocratic fascists? Why treat them as identity-traitors or inauthentic for wanting to flag up Muslims who aren’t like that? Why talk over liberal Muslim women and claim that they don’t know what they’re doing?

This is not a new issue, even as it takes a new floral form. New Labour, for example, launched the now defunct National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group back in 2007. And ever since then, politicians – whose plans were often backed by various Muslim representatives and spokespeople – have endorsed the view that Muslim women are uniquely placed to influence and challenge the perverted ideology spread by extremists.

Employing the language of counter-insurgency throughout, the mantra that has emerged is one which depicts Muslim women as able to play – on behalf of the state – a crucial role in the winning of hearts and minds in the fight against extremism and radicalisation.

Talking about it in fuzz-language like “extremism and radicalisation” just obfuscates. It obscures the nature of the “extremism and radicalisation” that’s at issue, and makes it sound like youthful idealism. There is nothing good about Islamism. It’s a horrible, murderous ideology that wants to see women totally enslaved and LGBTQ people dead. Poppy hijabs and liberal groups led by women are infinitely better than that. It’s outrageous to imply otherwise.


  1. johnthedrunkard says

    How many Britons know that the last Sultan/Caliph of the Ottoman Empire declared a JIHAD against England, France, and Russia in 1914?

    The Islamist chummyness with military dictatorships has a long history. The Handzar Division of the SS, the Grand Mufti in Berlin etc. etc.

    Why not a swastika hijab to ‘honor’ THAT bit of history?

  2. Alex Bakunin says

    So the leader of the Ottomans declared war against the British Empire? I’m not British, but yeah, we covered that in high school. The U.S.’s history with military dictators goes back at least as far as your earliest example.

    What’s the point of the Godwin, anyways? That some Muslims in history had awful allies? That all British Muslims should start wearing a swastika because of a few? Some British leaders in WW2 were Nazi sympathizers, should all current MPs wear an iron cross in remembrance?

  3. Ed says

    The major powers of the day were bunched up into two alliances. Britain and the Ottoman Empire were on opposite sides. Violence in the Balkans pulled everyone into war. In an empire ruled by a Caliph, a declaration of war would be a fatwa. But many Caliphs, especially toward the end were simply emperors. Some weren’t any more religious than the average person or perhaps less.

    Muslims worldwide were not loyal to the Ottoman Empire. They generally fought for whatever state they were a part of and of course many Arab subjects of the Caliph rebelled. To implicate Islam as a significant factor in either world war doesn’t make sense.

    I’m very critical of Islam, but there’s no need to rewrite history to make it the main issue in conflicts where it’s presence was incidental. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was a disgusting fanatic who fit in well with Hitler. So was Franco.

  4. Tehmina Kazi says

    I was really shocked and disappointed to read Chris Allen’s piece.

    Sometimes it feels that as a female Muslim activist in Britain, you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. There is too much in the way of NON-CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.

    No-one was being “urged” to wear a poppy headscarf; the option was just there for those who a). Happen to cover their hair; b). Happen to like the design; and c). Want to mark Remembrance Day in this way.

  5. RJW says

    Why can’t Muslims remind us of their role in WW1, like anyone else, Allen’s article seems rather patronising towards Muslims.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Is it daft to ask why a British Muslim wishing to show their respect for the British traditional remembrance of Armistice Day would not do so in exactly the same way as any other British person, by simply wearing a poppy pinned to their clothing?

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