Last Saturday, the British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech about how the government viewed the future of multiculturalism and Muslim community relations in the UK.
On the face of it, his argument was reasonable enough: that his government will be more careful in future only to fund Muslim groups who not only don't advocate violence in the UK, but also don't advocate violence anywhere else, either.
The risks to this strategy comes less in what he said, and more in how he said it. You can't make a speech on this without taking into account how sensitive an issue it is. [But Cameron most certainly did realise ‘how sensitive an issue’ Islam is. That's probably why it has taken him, or any Tory MP, so long to dare even hint at the problem of Islamism, Islamoterrorism, Muslim isolationism, etc. No one dare speak of such things in case they engage the wrath of Muslims and their far-leftist enablers. Muslims keep on reminding us ‘how sensitive an issue’ everything to do with Islam is. They are offended or insulted by the week. And that’s part of the actual problem. Why are so many Muslims so damned sensitive?]
It will not have escaped Cameron's attention that the English Defence League, a group devoted to anti-Islamic prejudice [is being against Islam definitionally a ‘prejudice’? Can you be against Islam and not be prejudiced? It seems not!), organized a 3,000-strong rally on the same day, and that papers like the Daily Express spew out anti-Muslim propaganda day after day. [No they don’t! They 'spew out' anti-terrorist and anti-Islamist propaganda – if it’s propaganda at all. Is all criticism of Islam or Muslims propaganda, just as it is all ‘prejudice’? The Daily Mail never criticises ordinary Muslims or sanitised Islam.] In this context, there is a significant minority of the population who have a deep-seated prejudice against all Muslims, and who aren't going to take the time to make the kind of distinctions on which Cameron's speech is based.
But the ability to make these distinctions is essential to understanding why certain Muslims see fit to advocate violence in the first place. Islam contains many different theological groups, branches, and strands.[As fascism does.] The vast majority are pietistic and apolitical. [‘Apolitical’ in that they are not politically active? That does not mean that they are necessarily apolitical. People can be bona-fide Conservatives or socialists without being politically active. They are not thereby apolitical.] Historically, it is only one minority strand - Salafism - which is deeply socially conservative, and only one rogue offshoot of Salafism, Jihadism, which encourages violent terrorism. [That is a lie! The idea that Salafism is the only encourager of jihad or violence is a piece of pure taqiyya! He knows this. Virtually every Islamic sect endorses violence in some form – even the Sufis. For example, Hamas is Sunni. Hezbollah is Shia. Sunnis and Shia are slaughtering each other of others by the hundreds almost every week.] Salafism has its roots in Saudi Arabia [Saudi Salafis despise the Shia of Iran, but that doesn’t stop the Shias from having their own terrorists and ideologues of jihad], and entails a broad spectrum of opinions, from the non-violent to the political and violent, and Salafi Muslims tend to hold many conservative social opinions which most Muslims don't agree with. For example, mainstream Salafism is culturally isolationist and allows interaction with non-Muslims only in cases of necessity. Mainstream Salafism, however, does not advocate violence and terrorism, whereas Jihadism does. [Violent jihad is an essential part of the Koran, the hadiths, etc. Thus violent jihad is an essential part of Islam. Full stop. It follows that every Muslim on the planet has to square this circle, which they either do with taqiyya (such as this article), or sometimes with a good dose of self-deceit.]
The problem is that for a long time Salafism has been actively promoted by Saudi Arabia, and it is exactly Salafism which makes it harder to prevent jihadist radicalization. The Salafi brand of conservative and insular Islam which Saudi Arabia promotes spreads a strand of Islam which has certain doctrinal similarities to jihadism, and which can act as a gateway to ideas which encourage violence. [Pointing the finger exclusively at Saudi Arabia and Salafism is disingenuous – it is taqiyya!] This naturally makes it harder to educate young Muslims in traditional, mainstream, pietistic Islam, which is as compatible with David Cameron's brand of liberalism as the Church of England. In other words, Saudi Salafism impedes the efforts made by educational organizations to prevent Islamic radicalization. [It would have been a good thing if Ibrahim had explained what he means by ‘pietistic Islam’. Pietism and non-violence do not necessarily go together.]
I have recently written a new policy memo for the US Congress outlining the role of the Saudi government in promoting Salafism. It is estimated that somewhere between $2 and $3 billion dollars is spent yearly by the Saudi government on the effort to globalize Salafism. Books that promote Salafism at the expense of traditional Islamic teachings [the Islamic jihad has been going on for 1,300 years – since Mohammed indeed!] are published in abundance and often given free of charge, and, in many instance, non-Salafi publishing houses have been bought out. As in many countries around the world, some British Muslim institutions readily accept Saudi funding, thereby ensuring the propagation of Salafism, and more recently, a number of established western academic publishing houses have published historical accounts of Salafism presenting it as a tolerant tradition.
While the Saudi government has not explicitly promoted terrorism or violence, its practice of bankrolling the global publishing of Salafi doctrine for decades has promoted a harmful doctrine, which is the parent of one that is actively dangerous. At best, it advocates isolationism and minimal engagement with non-Salafis and non-Muslims, and at worst, it has been used as a basis to justify animosity and hatred to wider society. [All this may be true. But none of it shows us that there is no jihadism or jihadist ideology outside Salafism and other Saudi exports.]
My memo argues that the government would do well to counter this by engaging with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, and encourage them in private of the urgent need for further reforms, encouraging Saudi Arabia to manage and create platforms for dissent, (as history shows that when Salafism interacts with more moderate forms of Islam, it itself becomes more moderate), and encouraging more cultural exchanges between Saudi leading clerics and their European counterparts to expose them to new ideas and ways of challenging common threats. [There are plenty of Salafi Saudi students in the UK. This doesn’t seem to water down their Salafism. Often the opposite is the case.]
All Muslims who see their faith twisted into unrecognizable and violent forms wish to see policymakers act against this challenge, and help us to reclaim the Islam we know - one that advocates for ethical standards of behavior, coexistence, and peace. [Who says Islam is ‘twisted’ by misunderstanders of Islam? This author - for one. Perhaps many other Muslims think the same. However, millions of Muslims would also disagree with Azeem Ibrahim. And just because Salafism is causing problems for the American Government, that doesn’t make this writer an important or truthful theologian of Islam. Far from it.]
The Prophet Muhammad foresaw the twisting of Islam to violent un-Islamic ends. He even foresaw how this would take place: "Truly," he said, "God does not remove knowledge by extracting it from [His] servants. Rather He removes knowledge by removing the scholars, until when no scholar remains the people take ignoramuses as their leaders. Then they are consulted and give fatwas without knowledge. So they are astray and lead others astray." [How can such a vague and empty passage say what Ibrahim wants it to say? That’s a pathetic use of a passage to legitimise what the writer already believes. And that’s partly the problem with Koranic exegesis and interpretation. Azeem’s is the American Government's interpretation of that Koranic passage. I’m sure there are many, many others. More precisely, Islamic scholars all disagree with each other anyway - even within a sect like Sunni or Shia.]
Let us hope that the present government gets the message and engages the Saudi government, and in the meantime, stops making noises which help people to confuse the extremists with the mainstream. [Let’s blame all Islamic violence and extremism on Salafism and the Saudi Government. That way million of Islamists and Islamoterrorists are let off the hook. Indeed, the vast majority of Muslims and Islam itself are let off the hook; which I think is Azeem Ibrahim’s prime intention or motivation for writing this article.]
*) Azeem Ibrahim is a Fellow and Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and a former Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and World Fellow at Yale.
Follow me on Twitter (@AzeemIbrahim)