Deforming Faith and History to Serve a Neocon Agenda Part II: Sarah Khan

 

InspireNeocons

The piece continues from the first part:

Deforming Faith and History to Serve a Neocon Agenda Part I: Rashad Ali


 

Whilst Ali is known amongst Islamic scholarly circles for twisting texts and now history to suit the views his paymasters demand of him, there are other characters who are willing accomplices in this project.

Sara Khan seems to have been on a bit of a mission to shake off the negativity surrounding her involvement as a human rights-touting feminist who confusingly promotes the human rights-violating PREVENT Strategy through the incredibly feminist “weaponisation” of Muslim women.  The Guardian’s Alex Preston penned a piece late last month looking at Khan and her work. Of pertinence is the exploitation, like her human rights and feminism discourse, of Islam.

Ignoring the fact that Islam guides on all facets of life, Khan homes in on the “fascination” of “Muslim clerics and preachers” with women’s clothing. For her, removing the veil “was about removing the authority of religious clerics”.  Of course, with statements like that, considering that the Prophet of Islam was a man who designated the status of the Ulama as “heirs of the Prophets”she might as well absolve herself of the authority Allah, and His Messenger, peace be upon him.

Religion is still important for Khan, apparently, however, she feels that “Wahhabism and Salafism”, which she then calls “bastardisations of Islam”, have apparently “stolen” the faith from her, and she is “reclaiming her faith from the fascists”.  The broad sweeping and ultra-generalised statement would perhaps fit the claims of neoconservatives like Michael Gove or the connected far-right “counter-jihad” movements in the US, but it is hardly representative of the reality; Salafis come in varying approaches, from those who adhere to the principles of the classical Shafi’ and Hanbali legal tradition thoroughly constrained by scholastic learning to the those who, like Sara Khan, pick up a text and contort it to conform to “personal interpretation” to justify whatever warped agenda – be it an ISIS or neoconservative one – requires promotion.

Khan’s poisoned chalice that is her Islam has some interesting set of roots. However, before analysing these roots its worth drawing attention to her escapades in the education sphere.

The Islam Promoted by Khan for Schools

Sara Khan is currently leeching off the education sector by providing “counter-extremism” advice. The London Grid for Learning, which is a community of schools and local authorities “committed to using technology to enhance learning”, has created a counter-extremism resource for schools in partnership with Sara Khan. On the website, Khan highlights “the fact that mainstream Islam and ISIS are worlds apart”. Whilst the statement in isolation is somewhat innocuous, the question remains, which “mainstream Islam” is being promoted here? Before answering this question it is worth finding out what Khan’s definition of “extremism” is, as it will further contribute to our understanding of the type of Islam being promoted.

In one video which asks, what is your interpretation of British values?, she responds by literally regurgitating the criticised PREVENT definition of “extremism”. Reflecting a strange sense of one-ness with the neocon state, her interpretation of “British values” is the state’s interpretation of British values, and according to her, it is what “most adhere to”. Most opportunists like her, perhaps, but not most academics. Of significance is the understanding of “mainstream Islam” which is being promoted here: one which conforms to the state imposed interpretation of secular liberalism.

Sara Khan’s “mainstream Islam”

Evidence of this is further furnished in another video entitled, Can you recommend trustworthy and well-respected sources of information about Islam which represent the moderate viewpoint? Khan jubilantly encourages Khaled Abou El Fadl’s book, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. The content of this book should cause alarm for Muslim parents.

Khan, like her Quilliamite friends, evidently derives her thinking from the post-modernist deconstructionist, Khaled Abou El Fadl, whose combination of neo-Mutazili rationalism and sectarian approach (Fadl also obsessively attacks the façade of Salfism/Wahabism) provides for the DIY Islam, which dangerously allows for Khan and ISIS to exploit the faith to fit their agendas. In the book that Khan suggests, after thoroughly adhering to the defunct conveyor-belt theory of radicalisation, placing emphasis on religious ideology as a primary factor in radicalisation and ignoring the reality that those joining the likes of ISIS are in fact at best rudimentary in their Islamic learning, Abou El Fadl argues that,

“Islam is at the current time passing through a transformative moment no less dramatic than the Reformation movements that swept through Europe at one time… Although this transformative moment is no less dramatic than European reformations, in the Islamic context at the present time it is not as developed or as acute.” [1]

The falsity here is in comparing the position of Islam with that of the European Reformations; the historic situation which forced the Reformation did not occur in the Islamic world. Breaking up Muslims into reductionist “reformed moderates” and “conservative and strict puritans”, we are told that latter camps are represented by the “Taliban and Bin Laden”, whilst the moderates, by which Abou El Fadl means “reformed moderates”, constitute the “silent majority of Muslims in the world”.[2]

With organisations like Quilliam and Inspire advising the Cameron government, we can begin to see the etymology of Cameron’s speeches. The PM has made calls to animate the “silent majority” in the Muslim minority of Britain to “tackle Islamist extremism”. This imposed assertion that most of the Muslim community adheres to a “reformed moderate” Islam remains misleadingly unsubstantiated, and promulgates a vision which is in perfect harmony with a neoconservative agenda to deconstruct or euphemistically “democratise” Islam.

This I believe is not coincidental.

Fitting the Neocon Agenda

Soon after September the 11th attack in 2001, Abou El Fadl wrote a piece peddling his view that what happened “reflected a crisis at the core of the faith, the logical conclusion of “a puritanical and ethically oblivious form of Islam [that] has predominated since the 1970s,” despite the fact the alleged plotters were in nightclubs leading up to the attack, Osama bin Laden had drawn influence from modernism and Western military history, and targeted killing of civilians is prohibited across the classical legal schools of thought, without the need deform Islam.

Nonetheless his dubious conclusions were picked up by the ardent neoconservative/pro-Israel New Republic magazine’s former editor Franklin Foer.  Foer has written a review of Irving Kristol’s The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays, which reads more like an uncritical eulogy for the “godfather of neoconservatism”. Commenting on how Foer’s magazine operated as a mouthpiece for American and Israel expansionist foreign policy, Scott McConnell wrote in 2012,

“…nothing was so certain as the fact that on Mideast issues, the “liberal” TNR would march in lockstep with Commentary and The Weekly Standard. This unfortunate fact was important in Washington, for it gave a false impression of intellectual bipartisan unanimity in foreign policy — the sense that anyone who questioned the need for serial wars against Israel’s adversaries or spoke in favor of the Palestinian human rights was some sort of marginal outlier.”

It is understandable then, that Foer revelled in Abou El Fadl’s opposition to “Wahhabi” views, which ironically, are held by scholars across the four Islamic juristic schools: sex separation, the veil, prohibitions against keeping pet dogs etc. Gutting Islam of rulings which Abou El Fadl did not like, the hollow Islam peddled was one which was pleasing to the ear of neocons.

Abou El Fadl’s deconstructionism becomes further evident:

“Islam is about the subjective engagement,” Abou El Fadl told me, neatly encapsulating how his theological vision differs from the strident absolutism of Wahhabism.

This “theological vision” differs from the traditional Islamic viewpoint, not just “Wahhabism” because the scholar does not engage in his or her subjective understanding as far as possible but strives with the intention of ultimately conforming to the Will of Allah.  It is from this foundational premise upon which all the deductive principles rest.

This deformist understanding of Islam was clearly conducive enough for the likes of neoconservative Iraq war architect and former US Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who stated on the eve of the Iraq war, “we need an Islamic reformation and I think there is a real hope for one”. A year before, Wolfowitz at the US embassy in Israel was citing Abou El Fadl, stating that,

“…in Islam’s first century and a half, 135 schools of law existed to give Islam so much of its cultural dynamism. Today, with so much learning from those and later schools dismissed as sinful, he fears that perhaps “we are in the dark ages of Islam.””

It should be noted that Abou El Fadl was in later years dismissed by aggressive neocons as they designated him a clandestine “Islamist” posing as a moderate,[3] presumably because of his eventual negative attitude towards neocon foreign policy. However, the fact that leading neocons saw him as a friendly in the deconstruction of Islam project, speaks volumes about the type of Islam being pushed. This tradition seems to be continuing as figures – like Khan – of the neocon-driven counter-extremism industry today utilise the same tainted works to push the deformation of Islam agenda.

Khan’s Islam then, traces back to a distortion which is amenable to neoconservative domestic and foreign policy. Muslim parents, take note.

Sara Khan the Extremist?

In another video, Khan gives guidance on extremism, stating,

“this is very much an us versus them narrative, and we find all extremist groups push this very supremacist, ideological worldview of “us versus them”…

Apparently, “falling into these binaries” is what “all extremist groups do”.  Yet she advocates a book which consigns “conservative” Muslims, or rather those Muslims who adhere to an understanding which adheres to a scholastic legal theory refined over 1400 years, to “Bin Laden”, a person who operated within the Western modern construct as opposed to traditional Islam. The “us (moderates) versus them (conservatives/puritans)”, monochromatic world view which Khan wants teachers to absorb ironically falls foul of her own claims of “extremism” binaries. She is a secular liberal “extremist” for advocating an “us and them” narrative, and encouraging the picking and choosing of minorities to the detriment of others within a minority, ironically in contravention of minority rights norms.

The Best Bit about Cameron’s Proposals?

Returning to the Guardian article, Khan, being the confused individual she is, enunciates some comedic views. She finds it “insulting” to be called a “house Muslim”, yet she “repeatedly makes the point” that her organisation, Inspire, is an NGO and that she “receives no direct funding from the UK government”.  However, she has no qualms about milking PREVENT indirectly:

“…councils and schools pay her for workshops and conferences with funds they obtain from Prevent”. 

It’s like claiming to be a non-smoker but enjoying passive smoking; you are not actively inhaling the noxious fumes through a cigarette, but you don’t mind passive inhalation. Either way, the result is detrimental, and in Khan’s case contributory to the securitisation of society.  Calling Cameron’s measures “excessive”, as she does in the article, is pointless; there was a process which led to the Orwellian measures called for by the neocon government, and she has and continues to contribute ideologically and through her work, to this process.

Hilariously, she blames Muslims for “illiberal” measures like EDOs:

“I’ve always stated illiberal measures… have come about because of the failure of civil society, and Muslim organisations in particular, to organise themselves effectively to challenge Islamist extremism.”

For Khan, neocons are creating their closed society because Muslims failed to challenge a neocon architected ideology.  Civil liberties are being eroded because of Muslims.  This silly assertion sounds like UKIP Councillor Trevor Shonk’s statements last year in which he said that immigrants make UK racist.  The problem is never the oligarchic white power structure inebriated with structural discrimination within which Khan operates and legitimises – it’s those pesky Muslims.

So, she finds the measures proposed by her payers a tad “excessive”, but what is the best bit about Cameron’s proposals? I’ll let her speak for herself:

“She said that she welcomes some of the measures announced, such as greater funding to groups like Inspire…

Indeed. The ultimate benefit for contorting Islam to the neocon agenda: Ka-ching.


References:

[1] Abou El Fadl, K., The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, HarperCollins: New York, 2009, p.6

[2] Ibid.

[3] Daniel Pipes and others have attacked Abou El Fadl as a “stealth Islamist”.

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