A Response to Shaista Gohir’s Huff Post Piece

MWN_Musawan_NMWAG_PREVENT

My Article: Deformist Subversions: “British Islam” Architects and Shaista Gohir

Shaista Gohir’s Response: 50 Shades of Extremism – Muslims Policing Other Muslims

A few days ago, self-proclaimed Muslim feminist Shaista Gohir took to the Huffington Post to respond to a piece I had written on this blog over a week ago where I critiqued her views on Islam, highlighted her suspect timings of reports in which she was involved in, and exposed her connections to the global Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) agenda.

I would respond except there is nothing substantive to for me to deal with. None of the points raised in the article were commented on let alone intellectually responded to. These include,

  • Her orientalist constructions imposed upon the veil
  • Attacking Islamic practices as “ridiculous” and use of spurious narrations to discredit established rulings like the Hijab
  • Her intellectually defunct promotion of free for all interpretations of Islam that do away with centuries of traditional Islamic scholarship
  • “Forcing” the characterisation of women who choose the Hijab as effectively being uninformed
  • Strawman conflation of crimes with Islam
  • Her links to Khalid Mahmood and the widely rejected and criticised, imperial CVE project

These and other points are neatly side-stepped and instead readers are treated to the development of a melodramatic straw man followed by an insinuation of incitement to violence.

As there is nothing substantive to respond to, I will, engage her straw man.

Straw Man

The straw man consists of subjective experiences of people objecting to various practices considered by them “un-Islamic” (whom are automatically designated “bigots” by Gohir because Gohir doesn’t agree with such views), the notion of “policing” other Muslims backed by her own baseless conjecture (“religious duty to punish them because they have a different religious perspective”), the Islamic tradition of difference of opinion, and the notion that challenging those who wish to distort Islam is a few steps short of violence.

The aspects about online trolls, and illegal violence are irrelevant to the content of the article. Frankly, if anyone does engage in violence, they should be dealt with according to the law. There is nothing remotely religious or pious about inciting violence or indeed, for that matter engaging in violence over a discussion.

Difference of Opinion and “Gohir’s Islam”

As for differences of opinion, this has certainly existed in the Islamic context. However, these discussions have occurred between jurisconsults within the framework of jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) established over centuries.  Gohir’s pronouncements about Islam fall outside this framework and are simply intellectually weak. It’s like a person interested in medicine arguing with a brain surgeon over what procedure should take place.  A difference between surgeons is within the established precepts of medicine is understandable.  The difference between the interested person and the surgeon is simply ignored.

Connected to this point also is her taking issue with me designating her views as “Gohir’s Islam”. When one encourages women (or any Muslim for that matter) to read, interpret and understand the Qur’an for themselves, and subsequently promotes views based on this laissez-faire hermeneutical approach, then the interpretation intrinsically remains limited to that person. If a person all of sudden decides to interpret English statute books herself, and rejects the interpretation of the highest court in the land, then that law no longer remains English law, it is that person’s own law.

Suppressing Criticism

Gohir seems to be living in a world where the notions of accountability and criticism do not exist.  Her insinuation that critique of the views of those who purport to speak for Islam and Muslims in the community is just short of a call to violence is spurious and a blatant attempt to suppress criticism.

Where anyone, regardless of gender, regardless of whether it is established organisations like the MCB or ISB (which I have also written about), engages publically to the detriment of the Muslim minority at a time when an ideologically-driven, neoconservative government is creating conditions which effectively make exercising of religious rights for the mainstream Muslim community difficult, they will be challenged and held to account. We live in a democracy.  Freedom of expression, so loudly invoked when attacking the faith of Islam, also entails the freedom to call someone a heretic (though I have clearly eschewed such a designation in my article). Freedom of expression works both ways; you cannot designate others “extreme” for their views and attract the security apparatus and expect no legitimate, critique of your own views. Crying the “victimhood narrative” whenever a critique is proffered seems to be a common deflection technique with deformists. Incidentally, all the material quoted and analysed is available in the public domain, thus to take issue with the reproduction of the material in an analytical format is baseless. People are free to make their own judgements over the material.

Hypocrisy

Gohir has a problem with Muslims “policing” the views of public figures.  She writes that “they want to harass in an attempt to silence and shut alternatives voices down” and even more dramatically, “perhaps even their religious duty to punish them because they have a different religious perspective.”

Aside from the latter part being complete nonsense conjured up for dramatic effect, whether an article on a blog examining publically available material constitutes “harassment” and an “attempt to silence” when Gohir has used another blogging platform to vent her frustrations has any rational legitimacy is one for the readers to decide. However, if we take this logic, it can equally be argued that Gohir’s own public articulations on Islam which contradict the orthodox Islamic understanding, denunciations of any other interpretations as “patriarchal” or “extremist”, and imposition of orientalised perspectives on Islamic practices can also be construed as “harassment” of the mainstream Muslim community and an attempt to “shut down” the mainstream Muslims voice. This is especially so against the bubbling industry of deformists hunting government funding.

In fact this argument is far more credible. Her complaint is hypocritical on so many different levels.

Firstly, couching legitimate critique of public figures as one of the “shades of extremism”, she is clearly attracting the security apparatus (PREVENT) to “silence and shut” voices which are legal yet alternative to her down.

Secondly, despite critiquing PREVENT, she has in the past also been the recipient of discriminatory, Muslim-profiling PREVENT money. PREVENT is actively shutting down dissent, and is resulting in the “harassment” of Muslim organisations and individuals for expressing their faith and even support for Palestine.  According to her own consultancy website (SNG Consultancy), she has been on the advisory groups for West Midlands Police Preventing Violent Extremism, Birmingham City Council’s Preventing Violent Extremism and Government National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group (NMWAG). Academic Chris Allen elucidating the function of NMWAG has written,

“…one of its more covert objectives was for Government to prompt a substantive change in the attitudes and beliefs of Muslims; possibly even to prompt the creation of an institutionally approved, ‘mainstream’ and ‘moderate’ expression of Islam that would be dually endorsed by various co-opted ‘liberal’ Muslims as also Government itself. As Allen & Guru (2012) note, it is likely that this was part of the impetus for the NMWAG: to challenge dominant expressions of Islam in Britain via the theology that underpinned it, not just those who were deemed ‘radical’.

For Government, the creation of the NMWAG and its desire to influence and challenge theological interpretations was done as a means through which it sought to appropriate and project its own liberal, communitarian and multicultural logic onto ‘Islam’…”

In terms of the NMWAG as a vehicle through which Government might engineer if not exact power, it was initially conceived that with Governmental support the NMWAG would more widely seek to empower Muslim women to increase their participation in all aspects of civic, political and public life in contemporary Britain.

Moreover, before receiving her recent £114,000 jackpot from Government, my sources state that in 2010, Gohir had attempted to procure a large sum of PREVENT money from the Home Office using a case study which she attempted to exploit. The Home Office allegedly understanding what she was trying to do, refused to fund her. If true, this is an indicative point in light of her recent appearances in the media and subsequent funding.

And finally, Gohir is also the board member of a feminist Muslim organisation that is 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. CVE has been highly criticised as baseless pseudo-science which encourages communities to be “scrutinized and surveilled under the banner of CVE” and establishes policies which “make religious people more “moderate,” or… teach[es] them that their religious texts say something other than what they believe”.

And Gohir grumbles with righteous indignation about Muslims policing views!?

Indeed.

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