The Muslim Question (5) The Implications of Trevor Phillips’s Documentary for Muslims

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This is the final part to a series of blogs analysing the recent Channel 4 documentary titled, “What British Muslims Really Think”

Part 1: An Orchestrated Attack on Islam

Part 2: Brief Profile of Trevor Phillips

Part 3: Trevor Phillips’ Propaganda and Normalisation of Muslim Minority Discrimination

Part 4: Trevor Phillips and the Forging of a Closed Society

Having delved into the Straussian nightmare neoconservatives are dog-whistling to implement for broader society in the previous article, here we will examine the implications of Trevor Phillips’ words for the Muslim minority by drawing parallels with particular events in history.

Evil to Outsiders

Alienating a particular minority in order to achieve neoconservative objectives necessitates an enemy.  Further, the Straussian conception of justice of the state, in the words of Shadia Drury, means doing “evil to enemies or outsiders”.[1]

By treating Muslims as the outsiders – “a nation within the nation” – the enemy is conceived and thus, evil unto them is legitimised.

Thus, on incredibly discriminatory grounds, Trevor Phillips, in a strained effort to depict the Muslim minority of Britain as “separate”, made a series of claims which would be considered unacceptable and outrageous if made in the context of any other minority living in Britain:

“[There is] no way of telling what Muslims are thinking – so we have to dig deeper.”

“…Muslims don’t want to change and don’t want to move to adopt the behaviours of the majority.”

“Why are the views of so many Muslims so out of line with the rest of society?”

“I think there is little doubt that it’s the extremist adherence of one particular faith, Islam, who have created a major fault line in this country.”

And Phillips’ ultimate racist pièce de résistance:

“What the survey is showing is, a nation within the nation.”

Remember Gerard Batten’s “Muslim Charter”?

In early 2014 UKIP MEP Gerard Batten suggested that Muslims should sign a code of conduct which involved disbelieving in elements of Islam, including verses of the Qur’an. It was drafted by Sam Solomon, a Christian, who has in the past written a book attacking Islam and, using spurious arguments, pedalled the same myth perpetuated by neocons such as Douglas Murray and William Shawcross: that the increase of Muslim population through birth and immigration translates into a Muslim “taking over”. The book, published in 2009, is entitled Modern Day Trojan Horse.  Batten and Solomon are thoroughly embedded in the global far-right extremist Muslim-hate industry.

Pertinently, the charter demand was too extreme for even the likes of Nigel Farrage, who described it as “insulting”, and disowned the publication.

Today, a former equalities chief is proposing that Muslims sign-up to a base set of values which involves changing Islam. In other words, the very same themes are being spun, the very same conclusions are being drawn, and the very same solutions are being proposed.

The Jewish Question and the Origins of the “Nation within a Nation” Slur

Neoconservatives wish to architect their closed society off the back of the alienation of Muslims. However, as Muslims, we need to consider the implications this has for the Muslim minority.

As covered in a previous blog (here) this century is one which Europe, including Britain, has made Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment the basis for the architecture of its national identity.  As Professor Shlomo Sands explains,

“I think today – and this is important – that the Islamophobia has replaced the Judeophobia, and Islamophobia is one of the ways to construct Europe.” 

In order to understand the political Islamophobia taking place, and in order to take stock of its trajectory, we need examine the period in which political Judeophobia was defining Europe.

The nineteenth century discourse in Germany saw national identity carved against the “Other” of that time, i.e. Judaism and the Jewish people.  In other words, the perpetual attacks against Jewish religion, culture and their denigration was part of the institutional, political Judeophobia.

Phillips’ suggestive slur that Muslims constitute a nation within a nation was also hurled at Jews. It was the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (d.1814), known for his development of the concept of German idealism based on the ethical writings of Immanuel Kant, who first referred to Jews as a “state within a state”.  Explaining this, British historian and political scientist Peter G. J. Pulzer writes that this was a “common laid charge” against Jews.[2]

Like Phillips’ demand to change Islam in order to become a part of British society, Fichte and his associated nationalists demanded, as a pre-condition to the ending of second-class citizenship, that Jews should cease to be Jews, either by conversion or by unconditional assimilation. The German historian Heinrich von Trietschke (d.1896) in 1879 demanded,

“Let them become Germans, let them feel German simply and properly as Germans”.

This was reflected by liberals at that time too. German publicist and liberal Alfred Dove (d. 1916) similarly reflected,

“Remain what you are, but as you are!… Be Germans with us”.[3]

Phillips too contended in the documentary that the problem lay with the label “British Muslims” because it became “all about religion”.  Muslims should drop their religious identity along with their distinctive beliefs and simply “become British”.

The Jewish Question, i.e. the place and position of Jews in society, required an answer.

It was the German Conservative Party, on the 8th December 1892 whilst adopting its new programme in the Tivoli Hall in Berlin, which proclaimed, “[w]e combat the obtruding and decomposing Jewish influence on popular life”.[4]

The Professor elucidates the two responses which dealt with the Jewish Question:

“The two principle forms that the German response took were both hostile to an elimination of the Jewish Question. The first was counter-revolutionary conservatism that resisted all attacks on the unity of throne and altar and re-emphasised the Christian character of the state as a rampart against the assaults of liberalism and secularism. The second was integral nationalism, defined by hostility to all alien elements, whether originating beyond the frontiers of the German states or within them.”[5]

These two responses have disturbing parallels with what is taking place in Britain.  As for the first, response, we have already seen the calls by Phillips and neocons to effectively tackle liberalism itself. Neoconservative politicians are also repeatedly emphasising the Christian character of Britain and courting the Christian clergy. As for “hostility to all alien elements”, this entire series is evidence of the exclusionary attitude structurally imposed on the Muslim minority.

Mimicking the political atmosphere of hate found in pre-Nazi Germany, will Britain continue upon this path towards another Holocaust?

A Lesson for Muslims – The Assimilation/Reformation Agenda Failure

This does seem somewhat grim.

In this pressure cooker environment of psychological bullying and intimidation, Muslims are expected to jettison their beliefs and practices in the name of assimilatory “active integration”. However, Muslims should take stock of the responses the Jewish communities undertook.

The Berlin Haskalah or Jewish enlightenment was a response to the domineering, pressurised and changing German social structure.  It saw the likes of the “third Moses”, Moses Mendelssohn (d. 1786), promoting a new Talmudic exegesis conformant to modernity, to counteract the “unfavourable view” of the Christian philosophers like Kant and Hegel.[6]  This increased the secularisation and modernisation of Jews at that time and also resulted in a class of Jews become prosperous, superseding Protestant and Catholics in wealth and prosperity.

Jewish distinctiveness was eroded to such an extent that Pulzer notes, that on the eve of the Nazi take-over “the German-Jewish community had undergone quantitative diminution through modernization, whether this took the form of urbanization, secularization, political and theological fragmentation, low fertility or conversation.”[7]

The pertinent question is, did this assimilation project work?

Au contraire, the Westernisation of the Jewish people and the reformation of their faith to achieve this, increased anti-Semitism. Pulzer identifies that hatred continued at three different levels of assimilation:

“There was those for whom successfully Jewish assimilating was simply one aspect – in extreme cases, the single most undesirable aspect – of liberal, enlightened secularism. The successfully Westernized Jew was precisely what they disliked most about the way the world was going. Then there are those for whom Westernization had not gone far enough: those for whom the ultimate logic of emancipation and assimilation was the disappearance of the Jew as Jew, if necessary by conversion. In so far as that had not happened by the last decades of the nineteenth century, they argued that they Jews had failed to honour their part of the legal emancipation. Lastly, there were those who simply regarded the Westernization of Jews as fraudulent. Behind the mask of the ‘German citizen of the Jewish faith’ there lurked the real, unchanged ghetto Jew, incapable of civilised behaviour either for reasons of tribal morality, as imparted, for instance, by the alleged teachings of the Talmud, or for reasons of racial inferiority.[8]

In short, regardless of the level of assimilation, they were hated for one of the three reasons:

  1. The assimilation of Jews was hated
  2. The assimilation did not go further enough
  3. The assimilation was a mask behind which lurked the real “ghetto Jew” informed by his or her faith.

Contained here is not only a lesson for mainstream Muslims, but neoconservative enablers like Maajid Nawaz, Sara Khan, Adam Deen, Dilwar Hussain, Usama Hasan et al.  The political discourse in Europe and Britain has already lurched significantly to the far-right despite their undermining of the Muslim minority and attacks on Islam. It need only to lurch some more, and then their time will come.  It is interesting to note that despite Maajid Nawaz’s own assimilation into the liberal status quo, and ingratiating with neocon haters of Islam, certain far-right groups still view him as a “stealth Jihadist” – an epithet often used by neocon Daniel Pipes. Gates of Vienna, a blog which promotes Douglas Murray (see here and here), published an article suggesting that Nawaz’s antics were merely a “mask”.  A decade ago, the rhetoric espoused by Phillips in his documentary would have been unthinkable, but the ideas originated with people promoted on blogs like Gates of Vienna. How long will it be before the rhetoric targeting those who are completely assimilated becomes mainstream?

The German sociologist and economist Werner Sombart (d. 1941) averred that far from being the cure for anti-Semitism, assimilation was part of the problem:

“The more Jews succeeded in seizing the opportunities offered by emancipation, the greater the tensions between Jews and non-Jews would be.”[9]

His solution was that Jews should not use their entitlement to its “full extent”.

Interestingly, neocons today bemoan what they call Muslim “lawfare” – in essence the use of law to hold public institutions and individuals to account.  Douglas Murray, for instance, dedicated a whole piece to his fellow neocon William Shawcross’ embarrassing use of Charity Commission powers to stop charities from funding CAGE.  Whilst the charity sector appreciated the court action, Murray used it as an opportunity to effectively demonstrate that Muslims were using their legal “entitlement” to its “full extent”.

What took place despite Jewish assimilation, despite Jewish reformation and despite “Germanisation”, is recorded in the darker annals of European history.  It did not prevent the Final Solution from being implemented.

Concluding Remarks

Trevor Phillips, by his own understanding sought to increase the bigotry and hatred of Muslims. Last year, writing in the Jewish Chronicle and addressing the Jewish minority, he wrote,

“For many years, I believed, as did many others, that the best and safest way to protect minorities was to stress that we were just like everyone else, and to prevent people from saying anything that would lead to any one group being picked out or stigmatised.”

Yet this is precisely what Phillips did not do with Muslims and by implication effectively exposed them to threats of violence.  The opposite was propagated and those recruited to attack Islam were bolstered as a policy of alienation and suppression was called for.  In taking the position he did, he reinforced the racist proclamations of the far-right like Robert Spencer and neocons like Michael Gove, Douglas Murray, et al.  This indeed is a catastrophic position to assume which is set to fuel tensions among communities.  It is for the upright reasonable people of this country to rein in the tiny elite and their duplicitous standards propelled by dangerous agendas whom have made Islam the base of their operations. And it is for Government to equally apply Phillips’ advice rendered to the Jewish community and halt its fascist policy of stigmatisation and alienation.

Uniquely subjected to the PREVENT Strategy and terror legislation, persistent negative media portrayals, and political point-scoring (“Islamist-apologist!”) Muslims have become second-class citizens in all but name. History informs us that this does not bode well.

The solution to this crisis, however, is not to capitulate and relinquish the unique practices and manifestations of Islam in order to satisfy war-thirsty neocons and their paid puppets.  This is a strategy of failure.

Indeed, the notion that strengthening adherence to Islam and spirituality increases propensity to violence is an ailing neoconservative trope without academic basis; if Islam promoted violence and remained inflexible it would have ceased to exist a millennium ago. Further, the dynamism of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence), has ensured it has maintained its relevance, despite systemic, institutional destruction wrought by European colonialism. History bears testimony that even the most destructive forces of repression have not – and cannot – inhibit the organic revival of Islam in the hearts of its followers.  This has happened through adherence, not by abandonment nor entertaining intellectually decrepit attempts to deconstruct Islam. As the close Companion of the Prophet, peace by upon him, Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “we were a disgraced people, and Allah honoured us with Islam.”[10]

Thus, the solution is to make our faith stable with Islamic obligations, support it through Sunnah acts, and decorate it with continued remembrance of Allah and the recitation of the ultimate source of stability: the Qur’an; it is to entrusting our Islamic learning to the traditional Ulama, the bulwark vanguards of the Islamic faith; it is by fortifying the mind with intellectual self-defence; it is by firmly believing in the fact that Islam is a benefit to mankind, not a harm; and it is through an Islamic intellectual revival which inspires the next generation to demonstrate Islamic values by positively benefiting the “rest of society”.

“Mighty indeed were the plots which they made, but their plots were well within the sight of Allah, even though they were such as to remove the mountains.” (Qur’an, 14:46)

“…but if some misfortune overtakes you, they rejoice at it. But if you are patient and do right, their plot will not harm you at all….” (Quran 3:120)

“The best of people are those who bring the most benefit to the rest of mankind.” (Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Daraqutni)


 References:

[1] Drury, S.B. The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005, p.xxxv

[2] Pulzer, P.G.J., Jews and the German State: The Political History of a Minority 1848-1933, Wayne State University Press, 2003, p.16

[3] Ibid., p.37

[4] Ibid. p.2

[5] Ibid., p.15

[6] Ibid., pp.5-6

[7] Ibid., p.7

[8] Ibid., .3

[9] Ibid., p.35

[10] Mustarak

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One thought on “The Muslim Question (5) The Implications of Trevor Phillips’s Documentary for Muslims

  1. Salam Alaykum,

    One thing we Muslims (all over the world not only where we are in a minority) must do is to read the history of the Jewish minorities in Europe in the mid-19th Century, since it seems very obvious that we are undergoing some of the same problems. I believe the issue will more or less become the same for Muslims as how the analogous Jewish case developed, our dogged opponents and enemies saying that: “there is some ‘Islamic’ about these Muslims that cannot be reformed or changed no matter what Muslims do, even if they expressly change their ideology, thus only extermination is the solution”

    (Interestingly we are seeing this applied to larger Muslim populations in the world for a long time, where even highly secularized but nominally Muslim lands are targets of what ultimately becomes huge death and destruction in such places, and a dispassionate study of the matter would show that such lands would have remained “more civilized” and “closer to Euro-American ideals” had they simply been left alone).

    All in all, tough times that seem to be getting tougher.

    Wa Salam

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