I will ask a simple question: Is every person who either fears the rise of Islamism, or who warns of its rise, a member of the ‘extreme right’? Can’t I just as easily argue that all non-Muslim apologists and Islamophiles are all Guardian liberals or members of the SWP?
I simply can’t believe that only three years after the ‘dire predictions’ about the rise of Islamism have turned out to be false (if indeed that is the case), that Jason Burke can now argue that they were all somewhat misplaced. Burke’s historical perspective is clearly and evidently that of a journalist rather than that of a historian. Just because more terrible things haven’t happened within this very short three-year period, that is hardly a good reason to completely discount the warnings.
I thought only politicians cited polls. Polls can say what you want them to say. If you want to find polls which back-up your prior views, then you are bound to find them. For example, all the polls I have seen have tended to say the exact opposite of what Burke claims in his article. However, I am talking about England, not France. The situation on ‘violence in a noble cause’, again in England, is markedly different from the statistics Burke offers us about France – if that is indeed the situation in France.
This repeatedly-used distinction between ‘ordinary Muslims’ and ‘fringe groups’ etc. also doesn’t hold water. What Burke is essentially saying is something very simple: Most Muslims are not active Muslims (or Islamists) in the political sense of ‘active’. But that is true of the Conservative Party, New Labour and just about every other political and religious group. Of course it is the case that most people are not politically active. This does not stop the non-active from supporting the active members or stop them from believing in the same things as the activists. No one says that X is ‘not a proper Conservative’ because ‘he doesn’t attend the annual conference or attend local party meetings’. He or she is still a Conservative. Similarly, what’s to stop a Muslim, or very many Muslims, supporting Islamists, or even terrorists, even though they spend most of their time running their shops or watching TV? There are only a few politically active members of all religious and political faiths or organisations. That’s just the way it is. One only needs a few activists to bring about many radical changes to society. Thus the IRA, for example, was a very small group. It had, nonetheless, very many non-active supporters. Similarly, Islamists do not need thousands of people on the streets every day or even thousands of members of the Islamist parties. As long as the average Muslim condones the bombings of Hamas, Hezbollah and the like, as well as the increased Islamisation of the UK, then he or she does not need to be active. It is enough that they support, however tacitly, the Islamists and the terrorists. This is all that is required. Again, the IRA had a large support among nearly all Nationalists. That support was largely made up of completely non-active Nationalists. Incidentally, what kind of ‘extremist behaviour’, exactly, is Burke looking for from these ‘mainstream Muslims’? Even Islamists and terrorists are hardly likely to display ‘extremist behaviour’ to all and sundry. No, most Muslims in the UK get on with their lives in a pretty normal way. So too did the mass of supporters of the IRA. Even the most supporters of Hamas today are not politically active (as can be said about New Labour’s supporters, etc.).
So, yes, I do agree with the ‘cliche’ which Burke quotes that ‘it only takes half a dozen for a bomb attack’. I would argue that this half a dozen will also require a silent majority, as it were, of Muslims who, all though they most of them would never bomb or riot, still support those who most certainly would. (There will be many Muslims who don’t bomb and riot quite simply because they are cowards, in the completely understandable sense of cowardice.)
Burke also quotes the ‘counterterror strategists’ who have argued that the ‘radicalisation of young Muslim men may be ebbing’. Well, who would trust these people, at least here in the UK? These ‘experts’ needed a few bombs in their own backyards before they even had an inkling of the Islamist and terrorist threat. For years the experts and counter-terrorists thought that British Islamists were either a bunch of clowns or that they were too interested in foreign battles to cause much damage here at home. It is strange, then, that Burke has so much faith in people who nearly always got it wrong in the past about radical Islam. It seems that Burke’s three years or so of stability has given the experts yet another reason for thinking that all is well at home. Perhaps the experts pay too much attention to Guardian journalists like Burke rather than wondering the streets of Bradford or the Islamic Societies of so many British universities.
In addition, perhaps radical Islamists, as well as ‘mainstream Muslims’, have cottoned on to the increased knowledge of all things Islamic that non-Muslim now have and have therefore changed their behaviour accordingly. Perhaps Islamists, and others, are waiting for this temporary blip to end. This may partly explain why the the immigration official Burke interviewed had not dealt with an ‘Islamic fundamentalist since 2006’.
As for the ‘backlash against violent extremism among Muslims in the UK’ – I simply haven’t seen it. No doubt, as a journalist, Burke can search for isolated pockets of backlash. He will find them. But this reminds me of the time that the British Government, again circa 2006 (when Burke says things were pretty bad) starting looking into Islamic extremism in the UK. What did it do? Well, for a start they brought in the services of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), other Muslim ‘leaders’ and various ‘experts’. In turned out that many of these people also turned out to be extremists of various kinds. Burke’s Muslim ‘backlash’ against extremism still hasn’t produced a single Muslim march against Islamist violence. There hasn’t been a single march, of any kind, by an Muslim group against the indiscriminate bombing of Israelis, or British, American and European soldiers. And I think that there never will be. Not the least because ‘moderate’ intellectuals like Tariq Ramadam say that such extremist actions are mere ‘interventions’. If a rich and educated Muslim can say such a thing, then one must surely wonder what Muslims on the streets of Bradford think about these things.
Burke also hints at the fact that if ‘six million Muslims of France’ were really radicalised – then France would certainly know about it. Is it really that simple? The population of France is still, I think, around sixty million. It also has an army, a strong police force, a security service and all the rest. Taking into account all these things, even a sizable minority of six million Muslims would still think twice about an overwhelming show of force against the French Government or against the millions of non-Muslim French citizens. Radical Islamists know that because there are no mountains to hide in, as there are in Pakistan and Afghanistan, an overwhelming or systematic attack on the French Government, or the French people, would be pretty unwise, to say the least. It would quite simply be crushed. Thus small acts of terrorism and the rest is all the Islamists have to go on in France and indeed in the UK. Anything more than that would simply backfire. So what is Burke expecting these radicalised Muslims to do (even if we take them to be radicalised)? Even one million radicalised Muslims would not be foolish enough to take on a centralised government, with its army, police, etc. and a country of sixty million people. And, as I argued before, it could be the case that there is a million radicalised Muslims in France (or England), but even then only a few thousand or so would be actively radical.
As for placing one’s faith in the ‘second generation’ of ‘Muslim immigrants’ not to be so extreme as their parents, etc. - the case, at least in Britain, is the exact opposite. The children of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Arabic, North African, etc. families are often far more Islamic than their mothers and fathers. In Birmingham, the only people who seem to wear the jilbab, for example, are young females. And the number of hijab wearers, at least here in Birmingham, seems to be growing every day. It is like that joke about the jilbab: Many Muslims have told me that the jilbab is a very old item of Islamic dress – it goes back all the way to the early 1970s. One only has to read the books of Ziauddin Sardur to realise that young Muslims are in many ways far more pious and extreme than their mothers, fathers, uncles, aunties, etc.