Shari’ah Councils and the Neocon Politics of Government Reviews

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When it comes to instituting inquiries which examine the actions of the government, the lethargy is yawningly apparent. The Chilcot inquiry has been postponed so many times one refuses to believe that after seven years, subsequent to warring in Libya, Iraq and now Syria, the due date (6 July 2016) will actually see the report published.

Theresa May’s inquiries into the alleged Westminster paedophile allegations saw similar deferrals. With documents related to the investigation spontaneously going missing from within the Home Office, inquiries being stalled and those linked to accused political figures being placed as chairs of the inquiry, towards the end of the 2014, the inquiry itself had become a scandal.

When it comes examining Islam and Muslims, however, our government is on form.

We must recall the speed and efficiency with which three separate investigations (Department for Education, Birmingham City Council and Education Funding Agency) were launched into claims of extremism and Muslim “takeover plots” in 2014, all of which were later found to be untrue by the cross-party education select committee.  More recently, we have also had the Jenkins Review investigating the Muslim brotherhood, which even sources within Mi5 argued would prove to be a “fruitless” exercise.  Clearly not content with the Jenkins Review, the Foreign Affairs Committee launched an inquiry into characteristics of different forms of “political Islam”. (I suggest a further inquiry into the characteristics of political Zionism, especially given the Zionist government’s lurch into psychosis with the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as defence minister.)

There is a further review being carried out by Louise Casey, which David Cameron mentioned in his “extremism” speech last year, and which will look to “promote integration”, no doubt reinforcing the anti-Muslim discrimination, stigmatisation and alienation meted out by Trevor Phillips in his documentary What British Muslims Really Think.

Shari’ah Councils Review

This brings us to every right-wing nut’s favourite topic to prove that the West is under siege: Shari’ah arbitration.

Last year, Theresa May announced intentions for an inquiry into “Shari’ah courts”/councils/arbitration tribunals.  A few days ago, it was reported that the review had now been launched into what is a far-right/neoconservative narrative to prove the Eurabia conspiracy theory of a “Muslim takeover”.

The remit of the inquiry is to determine whether “sharia law was being misused or applied in a way that was incompatible with the rule of law in Britain.”  It would also consider whether “sharia law may be causing harm in communities.” Alarmingly, it will also “examine the role of particular groups and Islamic authorities”. This was buttressed by an accompanying statement:

“A number of women have reportedly been victims of what appear to be discriminatory decisions taken by sharia councils, and that is a significant concern. There is only one rule of law in our country, which provides rights and security for every citizen.”

Rule of Law?

The faux secular liberal concern for Muslim women and rule of law is touching. Theresa May, of course, has no problem undermining the rule of law by reducing what is justiciable before the court.  In fact, a recent legal ruling against May found that she had deported some 48,000 students on the basis of hearsay evidence. As one comment-piece aptly put it,

“The Home Office behaved like a tin-pot dictatorship: detaining innocent people, accusing them of made-up charges without providing anything to back it up, denying them their day in court and then deporting them.”

But of course, one rule of law for our country. Unless of course you are Jewish and wish to seek a civil remedy in accordance with Halacha, that is.

The extraordinarily discriminatory aspect of the entire farcical inquiry has been enumerated previously on this blog.  May granted assurances to the Board of Deputies of British Jews that Beth Din courts would not made the subject of inquiry, despite potentially far more acute “discrimination” faced by Jewish women.

Counter Extremism Strategy

Aside from this flagrant double standard, which is more than indicative of structural discrimination against the Muslim minority, a fundamental point to note is that this review forms a part of the government’s counter-extremism strategy.  Theresa May first introduced the idea of a review in March 2015 as part of her “stronger values” extremism speech (see my analysis here and here). Shar’iah councils were mentioned again in the Counter Extremism Strategy document published in October 2015. “Discrimination”, or possible malpractices by institutions operating within the framework of Islamic orthodoxy are being forced into the discourse of extremism and therefore terrorism.  In other words, the review continues the neoconservative theme of uniquely viewing Islam and Muslim through the prism of security.

When coupled with David Cameron’s statement (again in the context of Islam and extremism) made last year that “we’re now going to actively encourage the reforming and moderate Muslim voices”, the review seems like another pretext operation to force measures which will inevitably attempt to coerce a deformation of Islam.

As noted earlier, the review will examine the role of “particular groups” and “Islamic authorities”. Indeed, one needs to examine the “who” in this grand inquisitorial task.  A brief look at the panel responsible for conducting the review instils little confidence.

Reform “Not bold Enough”

Chairing the panel is Professor Mona Siddiqui.

In a 2009 article reviewing Tariq Ramadan’s questionable proposal to “reform” Islam, Siddiqui complained that Ramadan’s reform strategy did not go far enough. Raising the issue of the “current Muslim desire to simplify art as legitimate only when it is ‘Islamic’”, Siddiqui goes onto state,

“Contemporary Muslim thinkers and scholars don’t really do systematic theology, which is what I suspect Ramadan is earnestly trying to do in this book. However, the problem as always is how reformers can liberate themselves from the shackles of the law when their goals, albeit being higher objectives, are still conceptualised within medieval legal frameworks.”

She concludes, that his voice was not “bold enough”. Clearly, for Siddiqui the problem is the orthodox Islamic framework itself, constituted of centuries of refined legal theory, application and critical analysis – processes and principles which have yet to be shown lacking intellectual rigour, veracity and relevance. Deformation advocated by the likes of Maajid Nawaz would presumably be “bold enough”.

Considering Siddiqui is a professor of Islamic studies, by her own admission, when looking at a particular court case some years ago, she had been unaware of the concept of rukhsa (legal dispensation), which resulted in her requiring to research the topic. Apparently “there isn’t much on it” – a claim any competent student of sacred knowledge can demonstrate as distinctly hollow.

Siddiqui seems oblivious to the overarching context within which she has been tasked to conduct the review.

Four years ago, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office engaged in a project to show how Britain was a place of tolerance and positivity.  Numerous individuals who have moved to Britain were paraded with beaming comments.

Ironically, in a video which lauds Britain’s “laissez faire” attitude to living one’s own life, Siddiqui is fronted as the face of the “accomplished Muslim” who proudly proclaims:

“this isn’t a society that’s going to force you in any direction…”.

This review, and the counter-extremism and integration strategy it is operating within, prove otherwise.  No sooner did Trevor Phillips deliver state propaganda which argued for society to cast away its “live and let live, laissez faire” philosophy and enforce assimilatory “active integration”, the Queen’s Speech revealed that the government was to legislate to “promote community integration”.

And Siddiqui is happy to be a part of this callous social engineering project:

“It’s a privilege to be asked to chair such an important piece of work.”

Quite.

The Imams of Imams Online

Also on the panel are two Imams seemingly picked to represent the two major groups of Muslims: Imam Qari Asim (for the Sunnis) and Imam Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi (for the Shia). Tellingly, both of these Imams are linked to the Imams Online government project. Imam Razawi is a contributor, whilst Imam Asim is a senior editor of Imams Online and head Imam of Leeds Makkah Mosque.  As I noted in my blog examining Imams Online, Imam Asim has been allegedly involved with PREVENT in the past years, and has been highlighted in Parliamentary discussion as effectively carrying out discredited countering-violent extremism objectives. Further, he has featured in a Quilliam research paper, and signed a document authored by Usama Hasan of Quilliam.

Makkah mosque was also the launch pad for David Cameron’s supremacist and discriminatory tirade against Muslim women. In a blog post, though criticising Cameron for linking the lack of English language with terrorism, and the targeting of a whole community, Imam Asim reaffirmed his commitment – and the commitment of British Muslims – to “countering extremism”.   This, as Parliament still struggles to define “extremism”.

It is also worth pointing out that Imams Online was recently exposed for being connected to the pro-Israel, neoconservative Countering-Violent Extremism (CVE) imperial agenda, as well a RICU, the government’s propaganda department tasked to project black propaganda discriminatorily at the Muslim minority.

In other words, we have two Imams already engrossed in state CVE projects, leading a Shari’ah council review launched in the context of countering-extremism.

I placed this precarious position directly to Imam Asim and professor Siddiqui on Twitter:

I have not yet received a response.

Examining “Certain Groups”

The Guardian report highlights that “certain groups” will be “examined”. Even if one were to accept the review panellists, there are other problems which will delegitimise the findings of the review.

Imam Asim is from a Sufi background; Shari’ah councils both founded by Sufi and Salafi groups have been in the media spotlight.  Issues of unconscious, or even conscious bias are all too real.  Given the specific theological background, and the link to CVE, how objective will these panellists be?  To view the Sunni community as a monolith to be “handled” by Imam Asim and “judged” by a deformist is frankly absurd.

It is to be rejected by the Muslim community.

Concluding Remarks

The counter-extremism strategy is premised upon spurious, rejected premises.  From theory to application, it is a fallacious ideological hammer wielded to force the deformation of Islam and render the Muslim community as an alienated “other”. It is institutional oppression of the Muslim minority dressed up as concern for society.

Within this deceitful and specious context, the Shari’ah council review has been launched thus reinforcing the notion of a continued effort by neoconservatives to perpetuate their cold war against Islam and Muslims.  It is yet another mechanism by which state interference with private religion is taking place. The likes of Mona Siddiqui and Imam Asim – already co-opted by and concomitant with the state in varying ways – have become, inadvertently or otherwise, agents of state oppression and cogs in the well-oiled neocon machinery of structural discrimination.

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