A number of high profile attacks on the Muslim minority have surfaced lately in a relentlessly consistent fashion. The reason for the lack of writing on these events is for the simple reason that I was awaiting a particular checkpoint at which I could interject and proffer an analysis of what is exactly taking place. However the pick axes and pitch forks of the baying neocon mob did not subside and as I write, commentaries on the now infamous Channel 4 documentary (What British Muslims Really Think) continue to percolate and David Cameron slanders a Muslim scholar from the dispatch box.
Whilst macroscopic analyses of the documentary are important, and must be challenged, it is important also to tend to the implications of the subliminal question which the Channel 4 documentary through its various Machiavellian machinations and spin sought to force upon the public.
What exactly are these grand media orchestrations attempting to achieve? Interconnected intimately with this question is, in what direction is Britain heading?
These questions will be the focus of a subsequent parts. In order to better appreciate these questions, a brief recap and analysis of key anti-Islam events are needed.
The Brewing Neocon Assault on Islam
Over a decade and starting from Al-Muhajiroun, the religious-ideology-focussed securitisation policy of counter-extremism has worked its way down, demonising HT and Salafi groups using similar rhetoric (“Islamist”, “extremist”) and strategies (PREVENT, neocon smear campaigns). Those presumed to be classically within the orthodox or traditional Islamic sphere are now the target.
This latter phase has been brewing for quite some time.
Maajid Nawaz last year, to the approval of neocon hate-preacher Douglas Murray, averred that “medieval Islam” itself was a “serious problem” that needed to be tackled “head-on”.
On the eve of the New Year, neocon Raheem Kassam predicted,
“Tablighi Jamaat, the ‘Army of Darkness’ Islamic sect will be thrust to the front and centre of radicalisation concerns across the Western World”
Of course Kassam is not Nostradamus; the prediction is but a mere insight from his mixing in neocon circles.
Since then, “Deobandi Islam” (the Tablighi Jama’at are a self-rectification movement who affiliate with the school situated in Deoband, India) has indeed taken the stage of “extremism” concerns.
The “Deobandi” Proxy
The Times led with the onslaught in February, effectively arguing (against a Mi5 study, and dominant academic opinion) that the practicing of orthodox Islam would encourage “extremist” beliefs.
This was followed by a two-part BBC Radio 4 report which did its level best to show this section of Muslims as crude, backward, isolated and at odds with society in adhering to their mainstream Islamic beliefs. To exemplify the lengths gone to portray this image, references in the report are made to a mosque having the signs “no authorised people” and “trespassers will be prohibited” to accentuate the separateness and force the conclusion that Deobandis are “insular”. Of course, the possibility of it being a security or safeguarding measure precludes the mental faculties of Owen Bennett Jones. Instead of making prejudiced conclusions based on orientalist constructions of traditional Islamic practices, Jones would have done well do actually look at the authoritative writings of the senior scholars of that tradition.
Indeed, in the 1930s during the ongoing freedom struggle in India against the British – a political context in which hate for others is more likely to take root – the senior scholar of the Deoband seminary, Shaykh Husayn Ahmad Madani (d.1957) had written,
“The view that Islam is an inflexible religion is beyond my comprehension. To the extent that I can understand its laws, Muslims can live together with non-Muslims in the same country; it can be at peace with them; it can enter into treaties with them; as well as into commercial transactions, partnerships, tenancy, the exchange of gifts, loans, trusts, etc. Muslims can interact with them, participate in matters of joy and grief, and dine with them…”.
A sentiment shared with many other orthodox Islamic groups.
The content of the second part largely reflected journalist Innes Bowen’s BBC article entitled, “Masood Azhar: The man who brought Jihad to Britain”. Bowen’s own take on Deobandis courtesy of her book, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam, has been proven to be somewhat dubious in details (e.g. see here and here).
The group is smeared through tenuous, laboured links with terrorism that are made by highlighting a singular tour in the early nineties by Masood Azhar to a small number of mosques and madrassas. Omitted in this selective reading was the fact that this occurred at a time when Western and in particular British policy was actively supporting the Mujahideen (as opposed to terrorists) in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union as well as Bosnia. Margaret Thatcher referred to the resistance by the Afghan Mujahideen as “one of the most heroic resistance struggles known to history…”. This “resistance” was Jihad. Given this glorification of what is presently regarded by neocons as “extremist violence” today, the Tory government itself is a far greater threat to Britain. Yet we do not have a witch-hunt against members of the Thatherite group Conservative Way Forward which champions Thatcher’s derelict policies. To take that snapshot in history and force it through the War on Terror lens to target a largely quietist group is grossly deceptive and utterly misleading. Yet this has been the core thrust of the contentions against the Deobandis in an effort to force the narrative that orthodox Islam has “links” to terrorism.
An Orchestrated Assault on Islam
I intimated on social media that the attack on the Deobandis seemed to possess a degree of orchestration. My allusion was to a government connection, and specifically RICU – the government’s very own “Ministry of Truth” propaganda department. This suspicion gained substance with Nafeez Ahmed’s article which revealed that, Bowen along with BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner did have contact with RICU in the past. Ahmed, exposing a seemingly interconnected propaganda network between Whitehall officials and Bowen, who eschewed her own comparatively balanced analysis found in her book in favour of hyperbole, wrote,
“Bowen’s talk at the Ministry of Justice occurred just five days after The Times (which last week featured her Masood Azhar story on the frontpage) cited senior Whitehall officials describing a Ministry of Justice review of the ‘anti-western values’ of Deobandi Muslim prison chaplains.
“In other words, the same Ministry of Justice officials who had briefed The Times on the alleged danger of Deobandis amongst Muslim chaplains, appear to have arranged for Innes Bowen to address the department around the same time the story would break.”
It is interesting to note that Bowen in the article denies having had contact with RICU with regards to her latest foray but does not disclose her broader contact with Government. Given Bowen introduced and used a dubious Mi6 source with a contradictory legend, Aimen Dean, who has financed the anti-Muslim, hate-funded Henry Jackson Society, is it possible that the other department Bowen may have had contact with is the ostensibly HJS-linked Extremism Analysis Unit?
The Prisons Façade and Trojan Hoax Template
Continuing the new pretext for the “British values” incursion into terraforming Islam, the Times published two articles dedicated to Deobandis (Andrew Norfolk, 19/04/2016) in the prisons context. One article “leaked” a report commissioned by anti-Muslim neocon Michael Gove on the analysis of prison chaplain materials. It found “extremist”, “homophobic” and “ultra-conservative” material.
The report also claimed “more than one jail were encouraged by chaplains to fund-raise for Islamic charities that had links to terrorism”. Except, these “links to terrorism” have proven to be specious in the past. Without further details, the validity of this claim cannot be analysed.
To further the culturalist attack on Islam, Andrew Norfolk links the prison chaplaincy issue with Deobandis, and from Deobandis to material found on a random website presumably connected to Deobandis. From here, readers are presented with what are rulings concordant to the established Islamic (Hanafi) understanding. Included among some admittedly unsavoury comments are jurisprudential rulings pertaining to the level of covering for a Muslim woman, the prohibition of chess, music, watching television, photography of humans, the importance of the Ummah, and “encouraging murder” for apostasy.
This last allegation was repeated in the Independent under the misleading headline: Muslim prison chaplains ‘encouraging murder of non-believers’. The reference is, of course, to the orthodox Islamic judicial sanction for a person who renounces his or her faith. To conflate a judicial sanction, which is not applicable in the secular nation state and specific to a paradigmatically constituted, epistemologically Islamic society in which the religious affinity subsumes within it political implications, with “encouraging murder of non-believers” is plain inflammatory and grossly inaccurate.
Unfortunately, the paper snippets I read in the Times did not contain a link nor could I find the relevant website online to check the accuracy of the comments referenced.
More pertinent is the express discrimination in the targeting of Muslims once more; is the author of these articles, Andrew Norfolk, and those investigating and judging the material in the report as “extremist” willing to make similar value-laden judgements on Orthodox Jewish teachings taught in Yeshivas and possibly in prisons?
This latest focus on prisons typically possesses all the hallmarks of Trojan Horse fiasco. Like that Muslim-demonising event, key neocons were brought into the department to prove “extremism” and establish the PREVENT duty. Michael Gove is the secretary of state for justice and his henchmen Peter Clarke has been ferried in once more. According to another source, in 2012 Emily Dyer joined HJS leaving the Department for Education where she worked as a Higher Executive Officer for the Preventing Extremism Unit, and where she wrote several papers on extremism within educational settings. Before working at the DfE she worked at Policy Exchange where Gove was a founding chairman. Dyer has accepted her position a position as policy fellow at the Ministry of Justice’s Strategy Unit where she will be advising on the “extremism” strategy.
No doubt Quilliam is cast once more in this neocon theatrical.
The demonization of Islam and dehumanization of Muslims on the basis of adherence to Islam, claims of “insularity” and “terrorism” only serve to reinforce the notion of structural discrimination against the Muslim minority; the Orthodox Jewish community, for instance, has yet to have media onslaught for their practices which are then subsequently linked to “extremism” and thus (state) terrorism (perpetrated by the IDF). This contiguous pathway remains the preserve of Muslims. So much for the hollow claims of equality and secular indifference.
These overarching themes of separation, and obscure links to terrorism were augmented with the Channel 4 documentary What British Muslims Think in which Trevor Phillips outcaste Islam and Muslims as the alien “Other”. In the next set of blogs, the documentary will be analysed and implications pondered upon as history is revisited and the trajectory of Britain mapped.
 H.A., Madani, Muttahida Qawmiyyat aur Islam, (1938) p.51
 Martin, M., An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012, Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2014, p.39