My first attempt at satire has been published on Media Monitors Network and Dissident Voice . It was written a few days after I wrote the below entry "British Muslim Plot". I believe it captures the growing sceptical mood of many British-Muslims.
After a recent article in the Sunday Times in the UK (one of Britain’s most mainstream newspapers), it has become topical to speak of Britain's "enemies within". After the widely reported recent terrorist alerts at the airports, that’s hardly surprising, particularly when a particular faith community seemed to contribute the suspects.
Such enemies within do exist; in fact, there are several.
One such enemy - the most widely acknowledged within Britain in general, and within the Muslim community in particular - is a deviant doctrine that allows wanton violence. Normative Islamic teachings do not justify this, and Muslims know it.
That does not translate into most of them being able to do a heck of a lot about the really extreme end of it in the short-term. Heretics hide their views most completely from the orthodox within their own flock; after all, they have no compunction in killing them and considering their deaths collateral damage.
Some British commentators complain that Muslim organisations are not angelic and are not wholly representative of the communities they claim to represent. Well, Muslim organisations might not be perfect (what organisations are?), but no one should be in any doubt that radical extremists would wipe most of them out without the slightest bit of hesitation. We should criticise them, certainly, but not unreasonably so. After all, in the long term, many Muslim organisations and voluntary sector organisations with sufficient resources could probably make a huge positive difference. But that is in the long term, and the British better get cracking now on helping them. With a critical eye, certainly, but not castigating them wholesale.
In the short term, many within the Muslim community already actively assist in the counter-terrorist effort; just because they’re not on the 6 o’clock news 9 (and probably don’t care to be on) doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Representational appropriateness and professional ability is seldom the same thing. Those unsung heroes exist, and could use much more support. We should not expect they are in representational roles: that’s a different arena altogether, and if it weren’t, we’d all elect every member of our civil services. If the Home Secretary’s assessment that so many terrorist plots have been broken is correct, its safe to assume it was with Muslim involvement. Ask the London Metropolitan Police. Of course, if the British start racial profiling and allow standards of policing drop, that might begin to change. Ask the London Metropolitan Police that too.
But another enemy within Britain - and a moral depravity on no less a scale - is the perception that our "national interest" permits us to perpetrate incredible injustices upon innocent civilians abroad. British foreign policies give violent extremists a motive to commit criminal acts and attack our society; there’s no excuse for it, but that’s the way it is. Does that mean the British government should change its policies because of terrorists? In a word, no. Bad policies should not be changed because of threats. Bad policies should be changed because they're bad.
But criminal acts give other types of extremists - other enemies within - the excuse to mar British society, in the short-term and the long-term, by pushing Britons further away from the principles of respect, decency and justice. What makes this particularly distasteful is that it is on the disingenuous pretext of protecting our values as Britons.
The future of Britain is being built on a marriage between esteem for diversity and respect for a common citizenship: a multiculturalist patriotism, or a patriotic multiculturalism, if you will. [In truth, Britain has always been based on that relationship to some extent. Modernity makes everything go a bit too fast for people to catch their breath, but that’s another story entirely.] Taking advantage of a threat on our country to push for some sort of narrow vision that excludes huge numbers of Britons, instead of bringing them together in a real cohesive social contract, is not the action of a patriot. On the contrary.
Britain as a whole has to renew her sense of self, without failing to uphold the sense of integrity that makes all Britons – Muslims and non-Muslims alike - grateful to be British. It's not going to be easy, but it's got to be done. Britain is still a country worth fighting for. Lets make sure we’re fighting the right enemies in the right way. Otherwise, the Britain that prevails will be a poor shadow of what we are fighting for today; and then, indeed, the "enemies within" will have won.
[Based at the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick (UK) as an Associate Fellow, H.A Hellyer is also a Visiting Professor in the Department of Law, American University in Cairo (Egypt) and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of International Integration Studies, Trinity College Dublin (Ireland). After 7/7, he was nominated as Deputy Convenor of the UK Government's Home Office working group on 'Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation'. Recently asked to speak on European identity and Islam on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and a conference sponsored by the World Economic Forum in Copenhagen on Muslim in the West, he argues in his book ''Islam in Europe: Multiculturalism and the European 'Other’” (IB Tauris: March 2007) that Europe must come to terms with all of her history, past and present, and that Muslim communities should work to be integral to, rather than simply 'integrated' parts of, Europe.]
Five years after 9/11, Muslims continue to find themselves in
a defensive position, with violence by and against Muslims continuing to
escalate around the world. The bombings
of a year ago, the Danish cartoon controversy, the recent bombings in London, Mumbai, India,
and the current fighting in the Middle East
have prompted Muslims to search for answers to the problems plaguing Islam in
its relationship with the Western world and other faiths. Muslims are also
trying reconcile the varying ideologies within their own faith.
To explore these vital issues, Daisy Khan ,
founder of the American Society for
the Advancement of Muslims, held the first Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow
conference in July, which brought together more than 100 participants from
around the world. Over three intense days in Copenhagen, Denmark, he young Muslims hashed out questions about their identity, their varying
ideologies, and how they can reconnect with other young Muslims and create
positive dialogue with the West. Dilshad D. Ali, Beliefnet’s Islam editor,
spoke with Khan about the conference.
did you hope to achieve with such a gathering?
I wanted to gain a nuanced understanding of what the Muslim community is--that
it is not monolith, that it has very divergent views. That was one of the
biggest lessons for most conference participants. Some people felt deeply
stretched because their thinking was being altered as they were listening to
And any time there’s
knowledge transference then you inevitably adjusting your thoughts to
understanding the best practices of the Muslims and their struggles within the
West. That was probably the best thing we achieved: We brought people from
extreme points on the spectrum--all the way from absolute progressives to
literalists. We were able to bring them to the center where they could listen
to each other.
What were the challenges and concerns identified by
the conference participants?
concern for everybody was that they don’t feel they are respected in the West.
And we discovered a very big difference between American Muslims and European
Muslims: The integration issue for American Muslims was almost a non-issue,
whereas it was the most important thing for European Muslims. How does a
religious community that is so God-centered reconcile with a society that is so
And this is a challenge that American Muslims don’t face at all. We don’t feel
under attack as a religious community; we feel under attack because--due to world
affairs--people have a negative perception about how Muslims are.
What advice did conference participants
have for each other’s unique problems?
There was some sharing of best practices. All the conference participants are
beginning to create partnerships with other Muslims around the world so they
can invite each other to come and speak in their countries.
For instance, we had a session called “The imam circle” with six imams from
different countries. These were Western imams who were young, who are extremely
modern, but who are very thoughtful and deeply religious leaders. These imams
gave the group an air of hope. We all wanted to bring these religious leaders
to their communities and get advice from them on how to energize Muslims.
Since this first conference was for Western societies, the imams all hailed
from the Americas and Europe (though some were of Middle Eastern, Turkish, and
South Asian descent. We had an imam from California who, even though he had an appearance of a conservative person, turned out to
be a speed demon with his car. That was a very humanizing thing that people
talked about that endeared him to people--to see that side of religious leaders
that they hadn’t seen before.
People commented that their faith has been renewed, or that they have hope in
the Muslim community now, or that they feel spiritually uplifted just by the
presence of the open-minded people there
What things did the European Muslims learned from the
American Muslims, and vice versa?
There was this sort of deep
regret from the European Muslims that the American Muslims are so
well-adjusted. The difference was not intellect, because most European Muslims
are educated. But their socioeconomic spectrum and the policies of their local
governments have prevented them from becoming fully integrated citizens in
their country. So, maybe some of the European Muslims will push for some reform
within their own societies, because now they see how American Muslims are
different than them.
The lessons for American
Muslims were that they’re not alone in the challenge of being Muslim in the
West--it’s also being shared by European Muslims. And the recognition of that
commonality will help Muslims to create a rapid change. We have some shared
concerns, such as that we want to be viewed differently as a community. We want
to be viewed as a community that is contributing to Western societies. Muslims
are not outsiders anymore.
were the major themes that emerged in the conference? Middle East
The biggest theme is that in order to reshape the perception of Muslims in the
West, this generation actually has to be effectively engaged in it. They
understand the culture of their own countries and the concerns of their
religious communities. They are almost a perfect bridge between the two. The
recognition that this generation has to step up to the plate and lead the
reshaping of Western perceptions of Muslims became very clear and very serious
How will the participants spread the
message of what they’ve learned at this conference?
We are asking them to set up local Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow chapters, where
they will invite people from diverse viewpoints so we can have conversations
about the shared concerns that we have so that we can advance our community’s
concerns. Because only then are you representing the Muslim community.
Otherwise, you are representing a singular voice within the Muslim community.
And this is what has created the biggest problem we have--why does one person
speak for me?
And in the absence of having a major religious authority, this is about the
best thing that we can have right now: Small groups of people who represent the
mosaic of the Muslim community. But it’s important that these small groups know
that they represent a collective body of the Muslim community.
Are there any plans to expand this
conference to other parts of the world, to move the focus away from Western
Muslim leaders of tomorrow?
This conference represented the Ummah (Muslim collective body) in the West. We
wanted to launch it in the West first because we wanted to address the concerns
of Western Muslims before we went far and wide. Now we have decided expand the
MLT conference around the world and take this idea of a collective
consciousness to create a global Ummah.
The conference was not a reaction to anything. It was not a memorial for
anybody. It was not an apology for the [Danish] cartoons. It was none of that.
We used these incidences as a backdrop for why we Muslims feel that we need to
be very proactive in our actions. Because our community is being held
responsible for certain negative actions. The reason why we chose this place
and this time was to show people that an incredibly constructive movement is
happening within Islam and within the Muslim community. Of course, there is
deep regret for what has happened and deep regret for what continues to happen
in the world. But we cannot apologize for everything that’s going on in the
world, because many of us have nothing to do with any of that.
But as civil-society leaders, we can create a deeper understanding amongst our
faith communities about what is right action and what we consider to be wrong
How do you reconcile the exhilaration
your feel after such a gathering with news of more violence, like the Mumbai
blasts and the fighting in the Middle East?
Well, I just heard from somebody saying that thank God they had been to this
MLT conference because, had they not, they would have been shaken up by what
happened in the world right after we all returned home. But there was a certain
kind of empowerment and a feeling of hope in the community. So when a
catastrophic world event unfolds in front of you, you don’t get shaken up,
because you know so many other people who think like you, who are doing their
best to reverse this trend. And that hope overrides your distress over what
This is probably the one unexpected thing that you can’t account for when you
are planning these conferences.
How can Muslims retain hope and pride when their religion is
frequently being maligned?
I think it’s a matter of
holding on to your principles and continuing to do constructive work. We don’t
have control over these world events that are unfolding. We know there are
political agendas behind most of these actions. And the misuse of Islam as a
framework to further that agenda has become clear to Muslims the world over.
And the fact that people can openly speak about how extremists use new media
and use violence to further their agenda was a very lively debate at our
conference. We had this panel discussion called “Extremism Within New Media,”
that focused primarily on how people are recruited through the Internet, and
how extremist rhetoric is kept very simple. Young minds are basically being brainwashed
with mediocre rhetoric--a scholarship that is not even recognized as
Many people were speaking
from their own country’s viewpoint about how they are trying to push back
extremism by creating blogs and websites, by engaging youth by bringing them
into the fold, and by recognizing that there is an attack on identities.
And as long as you are responsible for building a healthy
community, then that’s what gives you motivation and hope, and prevents you
from losing hope.
Who do Muslims look to for guidance in
defending their religion and reaching out to the youth, and helping fight
against radical groups that?
Most Muslims feel very strongly that ultimate guidance comes
from their relationship with God. And that is how people feel a sense of
empowerment, that there is a direct relationship between God and the creature.
There is no intermediary. But the main role model for Muslims is the Prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon him), who actually was a man, who was a husband, who
was a political leader. He had all the different components of what we call a
People can actually model themselves after the Prophet. And I think this is why
when so many people were so upset about an attack on the Prophet [in the
political cartoons published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten], because
an icon that they relate so strongly to was insulted.
Muslims also get their guidance good scholars, who are like the messengers of
the messengers of the messengers of the messengers of God. But another thing
that I noticed at this conference was that people were being guided by each
other. This was the power of companionship, and this is something we know very
well in Islam. The Prophet was always surrounded by his companions, and they
all were empowered by each other.
What inspires you to important work
that you are doing?
I only aspire to one thing, and that is to bring peace and
harmony to the world by trying to instill a peaceful atmosphere amongst people,
because I believe that peace--at the end of the day--is Islam. Islam is peace
through submission to the will of God. I genuinely believe that God has created
all of humanity, all six billion of us, in different forms, in different
religions. And we are all different rivers leading into the same ocean, and the
ocean represents God Almighty.
Bringing together people of divergent views who are all headed to the same
ocean is something that guides me every day. It’s what I think about. It’s what
I sleep with. It’s what I get up with. It’s a great motivating factor for me.
Is there a favorite prayer that you
There is a
Hadith in which the Prophet says believers are like the bricks of a building.
They hold each other. And I believe that a good society is created by all
believers, not only of one religion, who represent the different bricks of a
building. I would like to impart to people this beautiful thought of the
Prophet, who invited people to think like a collective body, like one house
where a foundation is being built by different believers coming together.
This is my aspiration for people. And this is my prayer for people: that we
should think of ourselves as different bricks of a building that are there to
build this beautiful House of God.