Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Islamophobia Multiculturalism and Extremism

Islamophobia Multiculturalism and Extremism

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Within a short space of six weeks, there were three important speeches by three leading persons on three important issues: Islamophobia, Multiculturalism and extremism. First, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, chairperson of the Conservative Party and the first Muslim woman to sit in the Cabinet delivered her Sir Sigmund Sternberg Lecture at Leicester University on 21st of January, 2011, where she spoke on Islamophobia. Second, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, M.P. delivered a speech at the Security Conference in Munich last February where he said “state multiculturalism” had failed. Third, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, M.P. gave a speech entitled “An Open Confident Society: The Application of Muscular Liberalism in a Multicultural Society” in Luton where he spoke on “open, confident, liberal society,” on “Smart engagement” etc.

Thus, we have three issues mainly, Islamophobia, failure of multiculturalism and extremism. Before I start the discussion on these issues, I would like to set the stage with some relevant parts of the speeches of the Conservative Party chair, the British Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister.

Islamophobia crossed the dinner table test

Conservative chairperson

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the Conservative Party Chair said in her much-publicised Lecture at Leicester University. Islamophobia had “crossed the threshold of middle-class responsibility” in Britain and was seen as normal and uncontroversial.

“You could even say that Islamophobia has now passed the dinner-table-test,” said Baroness Warsi and added, “But of course, Islamophobia should be seen as totally abhorrent – just like homophobia or Judeophobia – because any phobia is by definition the opposite of a philosophy. A phobia is an irrational fear.”

Baroness Warsi said that terrorist offences committed by a small number of Muslims should not be used to condemn all who follow Islam. But she also urged Muslim communities to be clearer about their rejection of those who resort to violent extremism. “Those who commit criminal acts of terrorism in our country need to be dealt with not just by the full force of the law,” she said. “They also should face social rejection and alienation across society and their acts must not be used as an opportunity to tar all Muslims.”

On the matter of portraying Muslims as either “moderate” or “extreme”, she said, “Its not a big leap of imagination to predict where the talk of 'moderate' Muslims leads; in the factory, where they've just hired a Muslim worker, the boss says to his employees: 'Not to worry, he's only fairly Muslim'.

“In the school, the kids say: 'The family next door are Muslim but they're not too bad'. And in the road, as a woman walks past wearing a burqa, the passers-by think: 'That woman's either oppressed or is making a political statement'. So we need to stop talking about moderate Muslims, and instead talk about British Muslims.” ”

“I have Muslim friends who complain they go out after work and it is ok for their non-Muslim colleagues to make jokes about people with long beards or wearing burqas,” she said. “If you were to replace the word Muslim with black or Jew, you would be jumped on straight away as racist or anti-semitic.”

Speaking about British Identity and equality before the law, Baroness Warsi said, “I strongly believe that my problem is really our problem….because of the danger it poses to the whole of our society. Ultimately, Islamophobia challenges our basic British identity. One of the most important aspects of our identity is our belief in equality before the law. But deep, entrenched anti-Muslim bigotry challenges that tradition…because it implies that one section of society is less deserving of our protection than the rest. I commend those who understand and condemn the cancer of Islamophobia…whether that be John Denham, Seumus Milne, Peter Oborne, or the Metropolitan Police…”

Multiculturalism has failed – the Prime Minister

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, M.P. in his Munich speech last February said “state multiculturalism” had failed. “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values,” he said.

“So first, instead of ignoring this extremist ideology, we – as governments and societies – have got to confront it, in all its forms. And second, instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity, open to everyone,” Prime Minister said.

. British Prime Minister said, “We need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values.”

“A genuinely liberal country does much more. It believes in certain values and actively promotes them. Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality. It says to its citizens: this is what defines us as a society. To belong here is to believe in these things,” said the Prime Minister.

An Open Confident Society – Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, in his speech in Luton said, “Today I want to talk about the UK as an open, confident society. It is by being confident – confident in ourselves, in our communities, and in our values – that we can remain an open, liberal nation.”

Clegg also said, “I think the PM was absolutely right to make his argument for 'muscular liberalism'. There are nationalistic or racist extremists, like the members of the English Defence League, or the BNP. There are black extremists like the Nation of Islam. There are Muslim extremists like the members of Islam 4 UK. Very often these groups have a symbiotic relationship with each other, maintained by the media: extremist Muslim groups giving birth to extremist white hate groups, and vice versa.”

“My point is this. We need a perfect symmetry in our response to crime and violent extremism. Bigots are bigots, whatever the colour of their skin. Criminals are criminals, whatever their political beliefs. Terrorists are terrorists, whatever their religion,” he said.

Clegg also mentioned, “Let me say something here about the specific issue of Islam and violent extremism. There is a corrosive tendency, not least in some parts of the media, to confuse the tenets of Islam with the actions of terrorists. The core liberal values - freedom of speech and worship, democracy, the rule of law, and equal rights regardless of sex, race and sexuality - are as compatible with Islam as with any other religion.”

“If we are truly confident about the strength of our liberal values we should be confident about their ability to defeat the inferior arguments of our opponents,” Clegg said and argued, “Smart engagement means engaging in argument at public events, where appropriate and at the right level. Of course these are always difficult decisions to make.”

Clegg also argued, “Liberal societies do not expect everyone to live in the same way, or believe in the same things; conformity can crush liberty. But in liberal societies, all of us must defend the freedoms of others, in exchange for freedom for ourselves. In an open society, values compete but do not conflict.”

Professor Tariq Modood

On segregation and extremism, Professor Tariq Modood of the Bristol University, said in his write-up, “After all, many worry about residential segregation and inward-looking communities. But population distribution could only be achieved by, to coin a phrase, muscular illiberalism. Residential concentrations result more from fear of racism and "white flight" than self-ghettoisation. Research shows that all minorities – including Muslims – want to live in mixed neighbourhoods, and ghettos are created by those who move out.”

On the failure of multiculturalism, Professor Modood observed, “Society cannot be reduced to individuals, and so integration must be about bringing new communities, and not just new individuals, into relations of equal respect. This means challenging racism and Islamophobia and so on, not by denying that there are groups in society but by developing positive group identities and adapting customs and institutions that enable that. Equally importantly, we must not take for granted what we have in common, but work hard to ensure that all citizens recognise themselves in our shared concept of citizenship – imaginatively shaped by our sense of who we are, where we are coming from and where we are going. An out-of-date national story, for example, alienates new communities, who want to be written into the narrative backwards as well as forward. Multiculturalism is incomplete and one-sided without a continual remaking of national identity.”

Professor Tariq Ramadan

Professor Tariq Ramadan observed, “Over the last few years we have this discussion, the rhetoric; multicultural failed, saying that it does not work. Once again, here, we have to be consistent and clear what we are talking about? Because we have all this discussion in Europe, between the French model and now we can have the German model and the British model and then say the British model is multicultural model and other models are all about integration.”

“Now what we are facing is the reality of the pluralistic society of Europe. We have common citizenship and different religious cultural backgrounds and this is what I call, and to discuss what do you mean by this multicultural. The only thing that we have to deal with it is pluralistic society. People are coming with different cultural backgrounds, different religious backgrounds and they have the same status,” said Professor Ramadan and added, “Now how we are going to deal with this? Are we serious about equality? Are we serious about diversity? All our Constitutions and when there is not clear constitutions, are all saying that we have to respect freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and the diversity of culture.”

Professor Ramadan argued, “Now we are changing the substance of what citizenship means because we don’t trust the cultural background, the religious background of some people and this is the all rhetoric. And what should we do to be accepted as complete citizen when we have a Muslim background and a religious background. So there is a discourse, a rhetoric beyond culturalise, to religionise, to Islamise all the questions that is we have, that I have nothing in fact to do with religion at the beginning.”

Interview with Peter Oborne

Last Friday, the 18th of March, 2011, there was MCB’s second annual Muslim Leadership Dinner at the Millennium Hotel, London, where Peter Oborne, Chief Political Commentator for the Daily Telegraph, Mehdi Hasan, Senior Politics Editor of New Statesman and Simon Hughes, deputy leader of Liberal Democrats, came as guests. Before the start of the event, I had the opportunity to talk to Peter Oborne and I enquired on the issue of multiculturalism.

Mr. Oborne said, “I am going through aberration on the David Cameron’s speech. He is capable of being outstanding Prime Minister but I thought this is the worst speech he made since becoming, I mean, as a Prime Minister. I think he shows a lack of understanding of Islam and he did not understand what he is talking about. I felt very uncomfortable with that speech. I think he needs to get out of this.”

Baroness Warsi made an interesting speech on Islamophobia, Peter Oborne, said, “courageous speech, in fact; there is hostility towards Muslims in part of British society; not everywhere at all but in the media which is not acceptable.”

Oborne mentioned, she talked about “categorise Muslims as extremists, about their religion, about their ideology might be,” “let me say that Sayeeda Warsi is very great courageous,” said Oborne, and added, “let me say the British Prime Minister made a great damage categorising good people as being subversive, I think it’s really bad.”

Replying to my query what would ultimately going to be the government policy on multiculturalism, Oborne said, “Lib Dem appears to have much more intelligent understanding of multiculturalism; whereas much less readiness to categorise these Muslims who have strong feeling about Afghanistan war, the war in Iraq, Palestine, does not categorise and does not therefore make them unpatriotic or wrong or evil anything; and on the other hand, you have Cameron who seems to be defining moderate Muslims, were describing very prescriptive, in my view, half-baked way.”

“It’s a very interesting question. If Cameron’s speech turns into government policy, that is very very worrying, something which we have to fight against strongly,” said Oborne.

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