Deformist Subversions: “British Islam” Architects and Shaista Gohir

MWNUK-Quilliam-ISB-NewHorizons

 

There are certain things in life which you simply do not do.  Reducing the benefits of the most vulnerable in society, like the disabled. Taking a country to war based on lies.  Abusing children as the BBC and powerful elites turn a blind eye.  And, of course, working with those linked to the notorious Quilliam Foundation.

ISB’s senior leadership, whilst leaving their former president Ahtsham Ali hanging as yet another victim in Michael Gove’s war on Islam, has had no qualms about liaising with and even defending deformists like Quilliam’s Usama Hasan, for instance.  Connected to this group of individuals are people like Dilwar Hussain, former ISB president and a deformist who is listed among the personnel at the pro-Israel, neoconservative Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), which influences the global Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) imperial agenda.

“British Islam”

The past week saw a chummy deformist get together to discuss the neocon-cherished topic of “British Islam”. Organised by Hussain’s New Horizons in British Islam, speakers in attendance provided for a who’s who list of opportunist spin-doctors and deformists. Thus speaking at the seminar was ISD “senior researcher” Rashad Ali, known for is dubious contortions of Islam, subversion of Muslim communities, his close relationship with anti-Muslim propagandist Andrew Gilligan and promoting Zionist propaganda. The state-approved Fiyaz Mughal, Usama Hasan of the Quilliam/neocon, far-right linked Muslim Reform Movement, and his newly acquired colleague Salah al-Ansari also made an appearance.

Then we have those who, for neoconservatives, represent the fault line of the Islamic deformation project: feminist Muslim women and the associated gender issues they often rail against. Thus in attendance was someone not unfamiliar with the deformist proposition.  Amina Wadud is known for her publicity stunts vis-à-vis leading prayers of mixed sex congregations.  She has, not entirely dissimilar to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, spoken of simply ignoring verses which cannot be contorted through hermeneutical gymnastics to her own conception of justice. Rounding up the “usual suspects” known for forcing Islam into deformity is Tehmina Kazi, who has worked with anti-Muslim bigots like Taj Hargey and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

The current chair of ISB, Sughra Ahmed, also spoke on how the poppy hijab “came to be publicly owned by Muslim communities”.

Notable by their absence are of course mainstream Muslim, scholarly voices, perhaps with the dubious exception of Qari Mohammad Asim who is connected to the ImamsOnline government counter extremism project.  His presence in such circles should be a cause for alarm for his congregants.

The event comes at a time when bogus global and domestic CVE policies promoted by neoconservatives are forcing a deformation of Islam.  In Britain, various Islamic practices are brought within the realm of “extremism”, thus coercing Muslims to abandon them or face the condemnatory heretic label of “extremist” and fall foul of counter-extremism proscriptions.

Segregation Hyperbole

Indeed, I am reliably informed that within the British government, there are officials who see sex separation amongst Muslims as a sign of “extremism”.

It is expected then to see the Daily Mail, which often acts as a medium for promoting and implementing neoconservative policies, making an issue out nothing and targeting an event held by the Islamic Society of the London School of Economics (LSE). The event was private, however this tiny detail was buried at the end of the piece.  Ironically, around the time of the publication of the article, the Daily Mail also published a report trumpeting an ultra-orthodox Jewish marriage in the Zionist entity, alongside images of women located behind a curtain.  And this was all reported in a value-judgement-free manner. The LSE story took a twist as a 5Pillars article dissected and exposed the distortions in the whole affair, whilst highlighting the fact that Quilliam had effectively operated as the conduit for the story’s proliferation.  In other words, Quilliam behaved like the government’s propaganda department RICU.

Such discriminatory reports serve to only foster the racialised hatred of Muslim religious practices and thus Islam and Muslims in general.

Even articulate and nuanced Muslim public figures capitulated, compromised and even belittled the practice of sex separation, which can be traced to jurisprudential deductions from Islamic source texts. Myriam Francois-Cerrah, for instance, in her article proceeded to relegate those who adhere to what she calls “arbitrary delineations” to a “minority within a minority”. She also regarded a hijabi playing among men as “women’s resistance to sexism”, and described the dividing screen as “petty paternalism”. Who needs “pumped up liberals” when we have Muslim commentators effectively endorsing the orientalised perspectives imposed on Islam by those who do have a political agenda. The subtle denigration and trivialisation of a legitimate traditional Islamic practice, coupled with a perception of embarrassment of having to even discuss such a practice meant that the article was bereft of benefit.

On the overt end of the demonization of Muslim practices came the ITV follow up of the non-story. Two people were used to present the “Muslim voice” lending support to the effective reduction of Muslim religious rights. The first was a Quilliamite, Haydar Zaki, an “outreach” worker targeting universities and student societies. Per Quilliam form, Zaki opportunistically propagates failed government radicalisation theories disguised as opinion pieces.

The other was Shaista Gohir, who regarded the segregation as “ridiculous”.

Islamic Feminism

Before analysing Gohir’s actions and rhetoric of late, it is worth digressing slightly to analyse the ideology through which Gohir and other deformists like Wadud frame their “perspectives” on Islam and Muslims and in turn, neocons use to force a deformation.

Feminism, like liberalism, is based upon a Eurocentric, Protestant Christian epistemology and from its inception, was defined in opposition to Islam or the “orient”.  Thus the “mother of feminism”, Mary Wollstonecraft would repeat European Christian myths like Muslim women not possessing a soul, in order for her to base her argument for women’s rights in the West. She compared English discrimination against women with “Eastern despotism”.[1] This was of course at a time when Muslim women were enjoying freedoms nascent Western feminists were dreaming of.

This first wave feminism focussed on suffrage. Second wave feminism targeted an “entire system of ideas”, with focus now on women’s role in society including family. Burning intimate female apparel and consigning make up to the dustbins became the symbols of this struggle.[2] It should be noted here however, that though first and second wave feminisms attempted to distance themselves from their Protestant Christian roots, “their secularism would depend on a narrative of social evolution and progress that are not unconnected to the values ascribed to nineteenth-century Protestantism that would become central to their projects”.[3] The third wave conducted an about-turn through the notion of “Grrl power”, and seemingly adopted a struggle to be and behave like a “bitch” and “slut” in pursuit of an aimless goal. Indeed, this schizophrenic phase has also triggered an intra-feminist war.

Whilst it is true that Muslim feminists disagree with certain strands of this ideology, the underlying ideology which underpins the production of these arguments makes such derelict endpoints a possibility. Thus slogans of empowerment, freedom and liberation from male-dominance underpin the suffrage, as it does when feminists posit the “reclamation” of behaviour which panders more to male idiocy and desires than any deeper liberation within the narrowness of a “gendered” vision.  Increasingly, girls are now raised on a diet of Bratz dolls, scantily-clad plasticised, breast-enhanced, peroxide blonde reality-tv stars and an entire infrastructure of a consumerist industry premised on enhancing this vision of the loutish “liberated” woman in an increasingly hypersexualised, sexually care-free society. As an interviewee in Natasha Walter’s book, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexismstates,

“I believed what everyone said, that all this promiscuous sex was so empowering.”

But herein lies the issue. As feminism undergoes its own reformation (or revival of second wave feminism?) and enters upon the fourth wave, why would any Muslim, fully conversant with the epistemology of Islam and its implementation providing a firm foundation for a spiritually balanced community, introduce an ideology born from Eurocentric suppression of women which transmutes every other decade producing results which require the ideology’s foremost proponents to rethink its construction?

Yet this is the desolate wilderness which Muslims are being encouraged to adopt and champion on the pretext of practices in the Muslim world which have resulted from European colonial legacy as opposed to the lived Islam in the pre-modern era (see Concluding Remarks, below).  The Muslim woman in the modern world is expected to question the assumptions of her own faith whilst accepting the liberal feminist perspectives on morality and equality without assessing its impact.

With the drive for feminist equality has come arbitrary expectations and dissatisfaction in both genders. Research by Michael Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University, found that in the US, Europe and Australia, women initiated 69 percent of the divorces. According to one divorce lawyer in the UK most of the recent divorce initiations were by high-earning women who found that the novelty of stay-at-home dads had “worn off”. Liberal conceptions of equality can manifest injustice towards women.  Fifty-to-sixty year old women are “paying the price for equality” in the context of pensions, with recent changes hitting this category of women hard, much to their shock and disdain.

Gohir’s Islam

It is understandable then, that Gohir’s comments reflect contradictions both within her own feminist epistemology and the Islamic paradigm.  Whilst lambasting the sex separation at a private event, another, non-Muslim feminist who actually attended the event felt it was perfectly comfortable with her views.  In fact, as one American feminist professor explains, part of the second feminist phase was “the development of women-only spaces and the notion that women working together create a special dynamic that is not possible in mixed-groups, which would ultimately work for the betterment of the entire planet.”  Gohir’s determination to kick a person while he’s down, and attack the Muslim minority at time of dominant anti-Muslim xenophobia even in opposition to her own ideological leanings, is instructive.

In a video explaining what her interpretation of Islamic feminism is (without actually defining it), linguistic specificities etymologically rooted in the secular paradigm (relegation to the “private sphere”, “patriarchal” interpretations) are used to claim that “Islamic feminism” existed for time immemorial, effectively subjugating Islamic history to fit the feminist lens of modernity.  In her world, those who adhere to “patriarchal” interpretation, i.e. those views which do not conform to her ideal, are labelled “Islamist women”.

In the above-linked video she rebuts the notion that Islamic feminism is “anti-men”, yet her rants and tirades speak otherwise.

In another video, Gohir exhorts Muslim women to “reclaim” Islam by reading, interpreting and understanding the Qur’an for themselves. As such, centuries of Islamic learning which has coalesced through erudite scholarship of both men and women, is jettisoned because of the reductionist, erroneous view that interpretation has been done by men. The very notion of gendering Islamic textual authority is alien to its tradition where the Prophetic knowledge was bequeathed to the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) agnostic of gender.

The pseudo scholarship continues as she attempts to undermine the Islamic basis of the veil. Centuries of refined legal theory and established Islamic viewpoints are placed to one side by pointing out a citation available on the BBC website used by a non-Muslim source.  This source in turns cites – wait for it – a man.  The dubious narration she relies on describes how Aisha bin Talha who was asked by the Prophet, peace be upon him, to cover her face, refused “because the public should view my beauty”.  The chain of narrators contains those who would tell stories for “amusement”, relate absurdities and obscenities (see here for a sound analysis). Yet the feminist fiqh of Gohir has no qualms in eschewing established legal precedent in favour of, well other, more dubious men.

Condescendingly, the enlightened Gohir goes as far as to question the ability of hijab-wearing women to make a choice, arguing that they only “take one view” based on material where the “authors tend to be men”.  Thus, stripping the agency of Muslim women, she states, “men are deceiving women that it’s an important choice for them”.  She creates a caricature of such women as poor, hoodwinked species incapable of arriving at an informed choice, presumably which is the one she implements.  Once again, demonstrating her production of feminism through the mould of liberalism, Gohir imposes the western orientalist constructions of the veil:

“burka tends to have a negative connation such as not being empowered, being oppressed”.

In one particularly propagandistic article which lends credence to far-right rhetorical devices, she creates an asinine straw man by conflating unequivocally forbidden acts like child abuse with Islam and proceeds to claim on this basis that “Muslims do not have a monopoly on morality” and, disconcertingly, “no faith can claim moral superiority”.  As one individual commenting on the article pertinently notes,

“If Islam doesn’t have a monopoly on morality, what is the point of being a Muslim?”

An intellectually decrepit framework producing confused outpourings mixed with legitimate concerns lazily ascribed to the Islamic faith albeit through the backdoor of “patriarchal interpretations”. To describe this is as a mess is an understatement.

It should be noted that the above views are unsurprising given her circle of friends. One such friend, Gina Khan, has in the past urged the government to listen to women like Gohir, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maryam Namazie on issues involving Islam and Muslims. Khan, alongside anti-Muslim, discriminatory and bigoted Maryam Namazie in 2008 launched One Law for All, a front organisation for the anti-Islam Worker-Communist Party of Iran.

Gohir’s Interventions

Of pertinence to Muslims, in particular the Birmingham Muslim community, has been her as yet uncontested interventions on matters affecting Muslims.  Her recent contribution to the segregated Islamic event is but one example.

It should be noted, that Gohir’s past statements on PREVENT, for instance, have been constructive. However, her antics post-Trojan Hoax have served to reinforce the dominant anti-Muslim narratives.

In 2014, whilst the non-Muslim vice Principal Lee Donaghy of Park View School – the school at the centre of the Trojan Hoax conspiracy theory – highlighted that the school was accommodating the faith of majority of students, Gohir, at time of a mass media campaign against the school, raised the question as to whether due process had been followed. Of course, such queries and concerns have yet to be raised regarding teachers subjected to Trojan Hoax allegations that have been taken out of the normal “process” and sat in front of kangaroo hearings in a sub-organ of the Department for Education, shattering the notion of the rule of law and separation of powers.

A point to note is that, in this report, the neocon-linked Khalid Mahmood is also cited to add fuel to the Trojan Hoax conspiracy.

In an interview with Jon Snow at that time, Gohir posited herself as being “in the middle” between two, self-created, polarised camps; one which believed that the Trojan Hoax letter was fabricated and no blame should be ascribed, and the other is that if you are concerned you are an Islamophobe.  Gohir then highlights that there are governance issues. The only issue here is that “governance issues” existed before and were indeed acknowledged. The issue which the rights-touting Gohir is perhaps ignorant of is that they existed amongst Christian teachers and governors also – yet Muslims remained the focus of the fifth column trope.

The anti-Muslim sectarian Mahmood in this report again regurgitated the myth of coordinated Muslim takeovers. The highlighting of Mahmood is important because, though there is no express connection in the above case, a curious tag teaming between the two took place in subsequent events.

Birmingham Central Mosque

Timing, as they say, is everything.  It began earlier this year with two completely justifiable statements being made by a Muslim Labour Councillor and Chair of Birmingham Central Mosque, Muhammad Afzal. Of pertinence is the first; that PREVENT is racist.  This was at a time that statements up and down the country from Muslim communities were echoing the same.  PREVENT’s reputation was in tatters within the academic community and the Muslim community was beginning to gain confidence in articulating its opposition.  Such a statement coming from one of the oldest and most widely recognised mosques in Britain would mean that resistance against PREVENT had nationalised.

Against this backdrop the Birmingham Mail launched a smear campaign which saw twelve reports all targeting the aging Afzal. In this storm, Gohir launched an attack based on an event which occurred six weeks before the campaign. In other words, Gohir raised the issue through the press at a particularly vulnerable time.   She alleged the mosque, and in particular Afzal, was dismissive of women’s rights issues.  These claims were rejected in an official statement by the mosque. Regardless of whose version of events was correct, the timing of the release to the press was highly suspect.

This suspect circumspection was compounded when the neocon cog Mahmood firmly took the side of Gohir and in his trademark fashion overcooked his servitude to neocons, firstly by stereotyping all the mosque trustees as “sexist” and then by stereotyping sections of the Birmingham Muslim community as “living in the past”.

Revealingly, Gohir had phoned Mahmood to complain.  That is quite the relationship with a man who has yet to publically distance himself from the Henry Jackson Society. Lesser known still is that he is the chair and registered contact for the “Tackling Terrorism All-Party Parliamentary Group”.

Since these and other publicity stunts, my sources in Birmingham state that the anti-Muslim, neocon Charity Commission headed by former Henry Jacksonite William Shawcross has launched an investigation into Birmingham Central Mosque.

Meanwhile, Gohir has been rewarded handsomely to the cool tune of £114,000 for her organisation.

Links to Global CVE

Political scientist Joseph Massad cogently asserts, noting the imperial continuation of Western imposition on language constructs and hypocritical gender analyses dominating the globalised gender studies and women’s rights issues, that research in this field is marked with Orientialist methodologies of “culturalism, comparatism, and assimilationism” which form “different strategies to transform Muslims into “liberal” Christian Europeans and to recreate the Muslim world in the image of an imagined liberal Christian Europe”.[4]

As I have covered in a detailed piece, the globalization of CVE programmes presents the latest rhetorical framework to implement Western ideological hegemony.  In the case of Britain, issues related to gender have been subsumed, without any empirical basis, into the counter-extremism discourse under the rubric of “conditions” which foment extremism. Thus, David Cameron has sought to cast himself as the white saviour of Muslim women.

Gohir also operates within this global securitization project. She is a board member of the Muslim feminist movement Musawah. In addition to Wadud, eulogised on Musawah’s website is Fatima Mernissi. Gohir’s Muslim Women’s Network website also parades the “honour” of meeting “the most well-known Muslim Feminist in the world”, Fatima Merinissi.   Mernissi, however, is also known to reproduce and apply Western orientalist generalisations and perspectives upon Arab and Muslim societies.[5]

Importantly, Musawah is one of the founding member organisations behind the “Global Alliance of Women Countering Extremism”, which was launched off the back of Barack Obama’s summit on CVE at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015.

In a “Thought Action Kit” for women preventing violent extremism published by the United States Institute for Peace, social gender issues are brought within the CVE framework:

“Gender matters in addressing violent extremism because the actors, ideology, and actions are deeply gendered, as are the forces that challenge them. If policy makers do not consider the gendered dimensions of violent extremism, their strategies to curtail the phenomeon (sic) will not only fail, but backfire.”

Disturbingly, it also categorises the highlighting of epistemological and etymological differences between Western and non-Western ideologies towards the topic of women and gender as the behaviour of “extremists”:

“Extremists will often frame women’s rights as “Western” or colonialist and immoral…”

Within this document, Musawah is listed as an organisation which “challeng(es) the extremist understanding of Islamic text”, establishing it as a project to deconstruct Islam from the Euro-American perspective and presumptions.

Concluding Remarks

There is no doubt that social and cultural malaises do exist in every society.  However, the Western treatment of Islam, both here in Britain through the Waduds, Gohirs, Dilwar Hussains, Maajid Nawazs and Usama Hasans, and abroad through the ideological hegemonisation vis-à-vis Western programmes to deconstruct Islam, is both colonialist and misplaced.  The irony is that these attempts are based upon “Shari’a laws” which themselves are European, colonialist codifications of “modern” family laws. Colonialism mutilated and then paralysed the dynamic Islamic jurisprudence, cementing such aberrations through the imposition of the nation state.[6]  In other words, traditional Islamic sciences today are the subject of reform for the problems caused by European colonialism. Indeed if the colonialist “reform” did not work then, how will it work today or indeed in the future?

If there is a need for reform it is the hearts of those Muslims who seek to deform Islam into an eviscerated ideology engendered by new forms of the old Orientalism.  Reform of the propensity to engage in new renderings of imperial projects is also needed on the part of neoconservatives and faux secular liberal interventionist saviours, whom continue the onslaught against what Massad calls “the last bastion of Shari’a”.[7]

“Verily we have sent down this Message; and We will assuredly guard it” (Al-Quran: 15:9)


References:

[1] Massad, J.A, Islam in Liberalism, The University of Chicago Press: London, 2015, p.113-14

[2] Whelehan, I., Modern Feminist Thought: From the Second Wave to Post-Feminism, New York: New York University Press, 1995, p.6

[3] Fn.1 p.119

[4] Ibid. p.212

[5] Massad. J., Desiring Arabs, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2008, p.152-157

[6] For replete examples of this point and in particular women’s rights were in fact limited by colonialist impositions, see Hallaq, W.B., Shari’a: Theory, Practice and Transformations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, p.450-73

[7] The reference here is to “personal status laws” which revolve around the European conception of the famile as a “nucleus”. See Fn.1 p.112

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5 thoughts on “Deformist Subversions: “British Islam” Architects and Shaista Gohir

  1. “If Islam doesn’t have a monopoly on morality, what is the point of being a Muslim?”
    Exactly.
    It doesn’t and therefore there isn’t ( unless it offers a framework within which you will interact properly with your fellow man – and obviously that is frequently not the case) .

    • @John I did not respond to your comment initially due to want for time. You assert Islam does not have a monopoly on morality.

      Morality is drawn from the spiritual moral law based upon the primary constitutive sources (i.e. the Qur’an and the Sunnah) of Shari’ah, which is immutable. To reject its “monopoly” on morality is to say that the Qur’an and Sunnah does not furnish the best solutions to the worlds moral predicament. Now if you are a non-Muslim, the rejection of such a notion is understandable. The source of morality, if he or she can even point to one, is that respective set of beliefs or ideology. However, to reject this as a Muslim who believes in the divinity of the Qur’an, this is self-evidently problematic.

      As for the second part of your comment, “unless it offers a framework within which you will interact properly with your fellow man – and obviously that is frequently not the case” – you conflate the existence of guidance on social interaction with practices that you see in society.

      Firstly, it does provide guidance on social interactions and it is one of the most emphasised aspects of Islam. In fact verses in the Qur’an and narrations of Hadith are replete with guidance on good conduct, rights of the spouse, children, parents, neighbour, guest, wayfarer etc. Such an observance is simply factually incorrect.

      As for your personal experience, it has no bearing on what Islam itself establishes.

      Kind regards,

  2. “If Islam doesn’t have a monopoly on morality, what is the point of being a Muslim?”

    To seek the mercy of the Creator and avoid His displeasure are a couple of good reasons.

    Anyone can declare things moral or immoral but the only morality that really matters is that of the Creator, the subjective and ever changing “morality” of fickle humanity is a misaligned finger-post that very often point straight off cliffs and into volcanoes.

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