Joining the Army? Qari Asim’s Support for Violence

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“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? ~Muhammad Ali on his opposition to the 1967 US military induction for Vietnam.

“If you look close enough at these medals, you can see the reflections of dead Iraqis. You can see the embers of Libya. And you can see the faces of the men and women of the British armed forces who didn’t return and also those who did with lost limbs and shattered souls. I no longer require these medals. ~ Daniel Denham, Former RAF, 2015

There has been a concerted effort to militarise Muslims.  This has ranged from cultivating a militarist, state-worshipping mind-set in schools where the pupils are predominantly Muslim, to parading the Army in mosques, and now, using religion to encourage Muslims to join the army.

Times-assigned “leading Islamic scholars and imams” attended a conference with the military at Sandhurst to encourage Muslims to join the British Armed Forces. The article quotes Qari Asim, the Imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds, as reportedly saying,

“The armed forces are seen as a noble profession and it follows there are no inherent tensions.

The report further adds that he said scholars were agreed that Islam does not prohibit Muslims from serving in the British Army.

To better understand the validity of Qari Asim’s reported blanket proclamation, there is a need to understand the idea of violence from the perspective of a neocon state and its political domain.

No to CVE Violence but Yes to Neocon Warring?

Qari Asim is known to be involved in countering violent extremism (CVE) initiatives (this point is elucidated further below). The choice to propound CVE is curious in many ways.  Its British variant, PREVENT, seeks to pre-emptively inhibit violence.  The message from the British state thus is that violence pursued for political/religious causes must be prevented.  It is unjustified.

Running contradictory to this stance is the state itself.  The state monopolises violence.  This violence maybe perpetrated against the state’s own citizens, or people around the world.   In the context of war, the state actively conscripts individuals to sacrifice themselves in order to perpetuate extraterritorial violence for causes – religious and political – it deems appropriate or legitimate.

The question of course is, what is “legitimate” from the perspective of a neoconservative worldview which is undeniably dominant in today’s Britain?

During the Kosovo/Bosnia war in the nineties, neocon thinkers reconstituted the definition of “national interest” and “national security”, extending their meaning to enable global militarism. Wars could now be pursued not on the basis of defending the territorial integrity of one’s own country, but to protect the reputation of NATO or projecting and maintaining hard power in order to create a “world order conducive to American interests” through democracy-spreading shenanigans (Iraq, Libya etc.). Broadening the notion of interest further, neocon ideologues Robert Kagan and William Kristol averred that “interest” should be the “cause of war even when cannot prove that a narrowly construed ‘vital interest’ of the United States is at stake.”

State violence is therefore not defensive against territorial aggression, but proactive in favour of whatever neocons designate as an interest.

This violence represents a fundamental substrate of the political domain. It follows that violence is subordinated by the political. This has fundamental consequences from the Muslim perspective. For Muslims, their morality is Islam. However, in an army, soldiers are ultimately subservient to the dictates of the state. The state, however, is inherently devoid of morality. “Morality” is whatever the political domain determines it to be. This raises the question:  what is the nature of the political in relation to morality?

The realm of the political, particularly from a neoconservative perspective, demands a friend-enemy dynamic. Indeed, the “centrality of the enemy” and its “demonization” are “distinctively Straussian and neoconservative”.[1] Furthermore, where “no enemy can be found”, for neocons, “one must be invented.”[2]

“Morality” for neocons is supremacist neo-colonialism. It is destabilising countries through war and using extraordinary violence (“shock and awe” military doctrine) such as bombing civilian areas and killing tens of thousands of Muslims. It is approvingly citing Machiavelli to justify burning and plundering villages without “conscious nor shame”. It is knowing when, in the words of Irving Kristol, it is “wrong to do the right thing”. The separation of the moral from the political produces precisely the ridiculous mind which protests the removing of the word “Easter” from an “Egg Hunt”, yet is willing to nuke hundreds of thousands of men, women and children.

This depraved thinking has directed death, disaster and calamity on mainly Muslim populations of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. The British military is also engaged in the deeply unethical drone assassination programme.  The War on Terror has inflicted a slow and painful genocide against civilian Muslim populations.

Britain is part of the “coalition” that is currently bombing Iraq and Syria.  According to Airwars, almost a thousand civilian deaths have already been alleged from coalition actions across Iraq and Syria in March. An examination of the Airwars report for March shows that there has been significant UK involvement in the bombardments which have culminated in this Muslim blood-letting.

How can any Islamic scholar authorise subservience to an institution that is beholden to thinking which is not only amoral, but violently immoral?  How is the killing of Muslims – any Muslim – to be reconciled with the plethora of Qur’anic verses which categorically prohibit the killing of fellow Muslims?

No to CVE Violence but Yes to “Epistemic Violence

There is a further, subtler hypocrisy with the CVE/PREVENT movement and “leaders” like Qari Asim.  Today, the state actively perpetuates slow-burn violence[3] through repressive PREVENT policies against mainly Muslim citizens. Intrinsic to this state structural violence is the coercive demand to believe in the religion of the state. As David Cameron stated in a colonialist fashion early last year, “national security” is preserved by “signing up to our values. Freedom. Tolerance. Responsibility. Loyalty.” It epitomises the following words of the neocon, Carnes Lord:

If… strategy is the art of using wars to achieve the objectives of the war, statecraft is the art of using wars and other instruments available to political leaders to attain national goals

This demand to believe in the “British values”-based secular political religion of the state is backed by sanctions: being labelled an “extremist” results in reputational harm; resource depletion; social anathematisation; and the use of state structures to “officially” harass Muslims and organisations – ironically contravening “Freedom” and “Tolerance”.

Further co-opted into this political religion created through the PREVENT framework is the intolerance of anything which is anti-military through the use of emotional patriotic language. Criticising the joining of the British Army is itself “anti-Western”. Being “anti-Western” means being an “extremist” and therefore a national security threat. In other words, structurally violent policies like PREVENT are being used to forge collectivist nationalism that makes the glorification of state militarism and dying for the state integral to it.

Violence courses throughout the state and is structurally used against the Muslim minority here at home. Disgustingly, those subjected to the reciprocal violence are being urged to contribute to violence against Muslims here (by signing up to PREVENT) and abroad producing a situation which is tantamount to communal self-harm.

Qari Asim – From Selective History to Selective Violence

Qari Asim has a history of being linked to organisations promoting militarism amongst Muslims.

He is the trustee of British Futures, an organisation which has been promoting a selective history of Britain’s colonialist past that focusses on Muslim contributions to the WWI effort, and ignores the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the millions of Muslims that succumbed to Western colonialist violence.  Those working for British Futures have already have been delivering this imperial narrative at Sandhurst to young Muslim children.

It is also noteworthy that British Futures has partnered with New Horizons in British Islam (NHBI) to “explore Muslim contributions to WWI”.  NHBI “works for reform in Muslim thought and practice”. It hosts a plethora of neocon-linked deformists on discussions about Islam.

Not content with being responsible for promoting a selective history which dovetails the neocon agenda on British identity, it seems Qari Asim has moved to selectively applying his religious exhortations too.  He has contributed to the Imams Online state propaganda magazine “Haqiqah”. The magazine itself boldly declares that “violence does not come through reasoned or liberalised thought.”[4] Does this include state violence? Specifically, Qari Asim, outlining the traits of the deviant Khawarij sect, states that they will “consider their blood lawful” and cites the following hadith:

“They will kill the Muslims…”[5]

The questions for Qari Asim are many.

  1. How does Qari Asim reconcile his blanket endorsement of Muslims joining the army with this particular Khaariji trait?
  2. Qari Asim, reportedly claimed that Islamic scholars are agreed that Islam does not prohibit Muslims. What does Qari Asim make of Shaykh Asrar Rashid who, criticising Imams, stated that “joining the British Army is impermissible – haram…”?
  3. In 2014, he also urged Muslims to not go to Syria and put their “lives at risk”.  Is the Qari now suddenly comfortable with placing the lives of young Muslims at risk for the meta-physic of neocon nationalism?
  4. How does the Imam reconcile his anti-violence CVE/PREVENT stance with the repression against Muslims born from such policies, and his support for pro-violent stance on joining an army?

Concluding Remarks

There is nothing new in fronting “Islamic scholars” to do the bidding of neo-imperialists and their imperial policies.  This was a colonialist strategy used extensively by the British in India and Egypt.  The Ulama are once again being abused for a neocon agenda.

The exploitation is not even brazen.  The Times report notes that “officials from Sharia councils also attended” to add an air of legitimacy to the “leading Islamic scholars” claim. Yet neocons are at the forefront of placing Shari’ah councils under discriminatory investigations and stigmatising them by protracting them through Muslim takeover myths.

Despite this overt exploitation, it seems religious men like Qari Asim continue to be bent on assisting designs that are fundamentally detrimental to the Muslim minority.  His statement of blanket permissibility to join the army is dubious both intellectually and morally.

Placing aside the hypocrisy of promoting anti-violence whilst encouraging Muslims to join the army, in a country where war veterans toss their service medals to the ground on Downing Street to protest the bombing of Syria, the reported statements of Qari Asim smacks of desperate sycophancy. Such statements ultimately attempt to subordinate Islam and Muslims to violent neocon whims.  This is indeed an objective destined to fail.


References:

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

[2] Ibid. p.xi

[3] also known as “epistemic violence” in postcolonial studies, see Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak”.

[4] Haqiqah, Issue 1, p.13 and 15

[5] Ibid., p.22

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