The Free Speech symposium hosted by iEngage in Birmingham was perhaps the most significant and critical set of lectures for the Muslim minority in Britain. Unfortunately to most Muslims on Coventry Road, free speech is as relevant to them as fish and chips being served in Abu Zaid’s Mat’am (an Arab restaurant near the venue of the event).
Nevertheless from the information garnered from the people who attended it was certainly an interesting event which needs to be replicated at the grass-roots level in language, attitude and in our local circles. It is the attainment of political maturity of the Muslim minority which is essential to counter the discriminatory policies driven by think-tanks like the Henry Jackson Society (which will be in for some scrutiny soon) and the UK Government is perpetuating. I will summarise some of the key points from the speakers which stood out for me and relate my experience there.
The first speaker was incredibly fascinating. Much of what has been written in the articles on this blog was summed up and added to it in spades eloquently by Jahangir Mohammed whose informative elucidation of the reality of the PREVENT and the very little known Channel programme and their impact on the freedom of speech through unsavoury tactics and bullying by certain quarters certainly shocked the listeners. As the co-author of the CAGE report The Prevent Strategy: A Cradle to Grave Police State (a must read for every Muslim concerned about their liberty to practice their faith), his detailed analysis was backed by statistical, empirical as well as experiential evidence.
Sister Lauren Booth then picked up the baton to deliver highly motivating words of activism. She touched upon the issue at Park View School and the witch-hunt against the Muslim minority. The limitation of free speech was handled in an inverse manner; a stick to beat the Muslim minority with false/distorted media reports attacking Islam and Muslim, but any Muslim who has the backbone to criticise the government policy explicitly meant to target the Muslims, are gagged either through social stigma, or imprisoned under convoluted charges.
Salma Yaqoub’s contribution was perhaps the oddest one out of all them but in a positive way. Her expositon was not from the traditional politics perspective in which she usually frames her discussion in but a deeply spiritual one. She mentioned the ultimate edge which every believer has: his Lord. And though the tide was against the Muslims from a physical perspective spiritually Allah is with the believers. The following verse came to mind when listening to the ever eloquent Salma:
“How many a small company has overcome a large company by permission of Allah. And Allah is with the patient.” (al-Qur’an, 2:249)
Asim Qureshi’s excellent exposition built on the above and provided for another enlightening speech. The shocking levels of interventionism through PREVENT were exemplified through cases which CAGE has been working on. Asim emphasised the need for the wider community to not be bullied or fearful of government tactics to maintain the level of fear.
At this point I needed to take a break and headed out of the building. As I did a police car passed by and slowed down as it approached the building and literally glared in the direction of the building. A passer-by noticing this jokingly remarked, “wow talk about secretive surveillance!” Indeed. Under what premise would the PREVENT officers intervene? Preventing Muslim Free Speechism?
Having missed Ustadh Abdur Raheem Green, I sat down to listen to sister Roohi Ahmed, a figure which admittedly I had not heard of. Being familiar with the PREVENT and surveillance attitude being pushed through women and mothers into the Muslim home, I was pleasantly surprised to hear sister Roohi touch upon this topic in some detail. The particular highlight of her talk was the dimension she added to the research I had done, that the effect of the utilisation of women in PREVENT is the positing of Muslim men against Muslim women. In other words another fissure for the ex-colonialist masters to rip open, divide and conquer is being pursued. An excellent talk by sister Roohi and an imperative one for our sisters.
Shaykh Zahir Mahmood highlighted the philosophical aspect of free speech; the notion of it not being completely unfettered and the fact that in some countries within Europe, the birth place of contemporary human rights, it is illegal to deny the Holocaust. The Shaykh then brought in the Islamic paradigm of freedom of speech with its primary utility being to support justice and remove oppression. Attention was also brought back to Muslims with the need to be conscious of one’s language in order to prevent situations in which freedom of expression can be used to offend Islamic beliefs. As the Shaykh said regarding the EDL, “the extreme breeds the extreme”, indicating to the fact that it was the uncouth and unrefined nature of some unrepresentative Muslims which led to the EDL being formed.
Shaykh Shams Adduha brought the limelight back on the Muslim minority and its utilisation of freedom of speech. The key message from the Shaykh’s talk was that Muslims need to become a part of the British fabric of life and stop living like foreigners. As a result of this we will begin to start seeing things as our own problems, be they gang warfare and drugs, or fighting draconian government policies. The Shaykh also echoed the point made by Shaykh Zahir in a more emphatic manner – if you cannot speak properly don’t represent Islam in the media. The ramification of this is obvious and the advice most pertinent.
Mufti Muhammad Ibn Adam however, in my view made probably the most important point. In many ways he articulated some of the points which I have dealt with in an earlier blog I have written, the most significant however was this: the holding of normative Islamic values is every Muslim’s right be they for or against the prevailing societal attitudes. To be smeared and attacked as result of holding a religious belief is discriminatory treatment, especially when such beliefs are articulated by priests and rabbis and yet they are not dragged and humiliated in the media.
If there ever was a need to assert the religious and cultural identity of the Muslim minority, which includes all the norms and rights espoused in the arena of international law, it is now. And this event is an important, necessary first step in achieving this.