Proud and Prejudiced – a critique

‘Proud and Prejudiced’ was a programme that seemed to be about two extremist groups: the English Defence League (EDL) and Al Maharijroun (or whatever name they are currently operating under).  From the outset, it is clear that the programme makers are working within the premise that these are two groups of extremists both of which are as bad as each other. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One is a religious extremist group which represents an extreme minority view amongst the Muslims in Britain. Another is a racist organisation that has displayed its violent tendencies in public on numerous occasions and is backed by sections of the media that perpetuate the racist undertones espoused by the far right.

For all their ills, Al Muhajiroun have only carried out insensitive political protests at inappropriate times.  If white people had carried out the same kind of protests then the reaction would have been very different. There is still a sense that Muslims are not British or that Muslims are not part of our society, part of us.   The majority of British Muslims dislike groups like Al Muhajiroun and their ilk. However, it is important to note the climate in which they have emerged.  Al Muhajiroun use foreign policy and treatment of Muslims worldwide at the hands of the West as a recruiting tool. They target the disenfranchised inner-city youth who are looking for an identity and fill this void with a pseudo-Islamic identity which gives them affiliation to a faith and the reestablishment of the Caliphate.  Al Muhajiroun  is an extreme minority born out of post-colonial conflict and a reaction to the Western occupation, destruction, and division of Muslim lands.

The EDL on the other hand, are a product of Britain post New Labour.  From the football terraces, and racist organisations throughout the country, they use the seemingly acceptable veneer of fighting Islamic extremism to further a much more sinister agenda – racism.  The EDL have gone on racist rampages up and down the country. There is numerous evidence of their links to the BNP and other racist groups as well as videos online of EDL members performing Nazi salutes and singing, “I hate Pakis more than you”.   Their members are violent thugs have been convicted of racist acts: putting a pigs head on a mosque for example. It is no coincidence that the Norwegian mass murderer, Andres Breivik, expressed his desire to attend an EDL demo and cited the EDL as one of his influences. This is not fighting Islamic extremism; it is out and out racism.

This documentary is an example of media organisations commissioning sensationalist film making that masks the reality on the ground and ignores the political, cultural and social history of the development of extremism, because lazy journalism is easier than ethical journalism.  It may be a convenient story to portray this as two men that just don’t get along, almost like a playground scrap.  Journalism is more than simplifying complicated issues, it is about portraying struggles and issues in their appropriate context.  It is not balanced or responsible journalism to merely give the two men half an hour each, it is responsible journalism to ask why are people following Al Muhajiroun, and why has the EDL grown so much?

The programme reduces a serious issue of racism and Islamophobia to a personal vendetta between two men. It furthers the EDL’s agenda and plays into their hands to represent Muslims as extremist terrorists: men with massive beards, women you cannot see and children being indoctrinated.

Instead of highlighting the EDL’s violent racism, the only acts of violence that have been highlighted are Safyul Islam slapping Tommy Robinson and, later, Tommy Robinson headbutting one of his own rivals. The documentary has totally missed out all the acts of violence from EDL’s inception to the present day, including when the EDL smashed up Luton and Stoke.  It is dangerous to ignore this violence. By turning a blind eye to this violence, the programme risks becoming a platform from which Tommy Robinson can spew their bile.  Although some people may laugh them off and say that they are just lunatics with mad ideas, there are those who are disaffected and with whom the EDL’s words and ideas will have resonance.

Although Unite Against Fascism were mentioned a few times on the programme, they were never given any airtime.  It was stated that the EDL have been opposed by UAF wherever they have gone.  Why were they not interviewed for their views on these groups?  To have interviewed UAF for a meaningful argument against the EDL would have meant completely disregarding the foundations that the programme was made on.  It would have meant acknowledging the fact that the EDL are not just made up of Tommy Robinson’s mates out to protect the UK from the mores of extremist Muslims like Sayful Islam, but that they are a violent, far-right organisation who pose a real threat to our society.  Hearing from UAF would also have put up non-Muslim faces of those who oppose the EDL and shown that, contrary to Robinson’s assertions, white people and other ethnic groups like Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Black people actively oppose these racists.  But to do this the programme makers would have to abandon their fantasy and flawed paradigm that this is some kind of scrap between two men with laughable ideas.

The New Colony – Balochistan

The people of Balochistan have the right to self-determination and their own sovereignty, according to the United States House of Representatives Committee on foreign affairs.

The reasoning behind this article is to question the motives of any Western power to support the Balochi independence cause. Not for a moment am I going to excuse the heinous crimes committed by the Pakistani military in Balochistan. The Americans do not care for the freedom of the Baloch people. If the chair of the committee, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, really cared about freedom he would have spoken up for many other people around the world a long time ago.

Wikileaks released cables on Rohrabacher’s trip to Honduras where Rohrabacher promoted business after a military coup had disposed the democratically elected president and installed Porfirio Lobo, a candidate backed by the military and the oligarchy. A quick look at Rohrabacher’s campaign funding tells you that he is a good friend of big business and therefore it should come as no surprise that Balochistan is rich in natural gas, coal and uranium. But it is not just big business backers that drive Rohrabacher, he is also ideologically driven. The Republican Representative voted against supporting democratic institutions in Pakistan but voted for cooperating with India as a nuclear power. An ardent believer of free market economics, he is also opposed to the expansion of the influence of China and has spoken vociferously against communism. His views on Iran are very clear. Rohrabacher supports a potential strike by Israel against Iran – it is worth noting that the Balochistan region also crosses over into Iran.

Another ‘expert’ witness, Ralph Peters, a retired US Lieutenant Colonel, was eager to give his biased opinion. As far back as 2006, he had drawn up maps of Pakistan with Balochistan as a separate state. In 2008 in an article for the New York Post he wrote that, “Pakistan suffers from a flawed founding vision: Islam has not been enough to unite Sindhis and Punjabis, Baluchis and Pashtuns.” He is an expert for Fox News, that bastion of ‘fair and balanced’ reporting, and on there he ranted, that Jullian Assange should be assassinated for being a ‘cyber-terrorist’. Can Peter’s opinions really be taken seriously and can we blame Pakistanis for thinking that he has an ulterior motive here?

Dr Hossein Bor, an American Baloch, sounded like a colonial servant as he pimped himself out to Rohrabacher. Attempting to appeal to the US for support for the independence of Balochistan he cited the rich natural resources of Balochistan, the Iranian oil pipeline, Afghan Taliban, and the Gwadar port. It seems that some in the Baloch freedom movement are happy to be used as US proxies to achieve their freedom. When asked about the Baloch people and the West he replied, “they have welcomed US support with open arms.” He also stated that if Balochistan became independent that they would provide the US with military bases in Gwadar and went on to say that Balochistan “is the most strategically important piece of land in the world”. Dr Bor spoke more like an American hawk than an expert witness, and also warned of the dangers of China’s naval base in Gwadar. He was there to sell the cause of Baloch nationalism to the US and did it through scaremongering about China and talking to the hawks about US strategic interests.

Freedom for the Baloch people is not the primary concern for the US, but countering China is. The Chinese government has invested heavily in the Gwadar port in Balochistan. The port city will be connected to the Karakoram highway, which connects Pakistan and China, and that China has been helping Pakistan to widen. The Gwadar port gives China access to the Arabian Sea, strategically close to the Gulf through which 30% of the world’s oil is shipped. Having China so close to the Strait of Hormuz and access to the shortest route to Central Asia states via Afghanistan makes the US nervous. In a US Department of Defence report the port was referred to as being part of the ‘String of Pearls’ initiative, which sees China strategically placing itself in locations to ensure its energy security. Where do the Balochs and Pakistanis fit into all of this? They are but pawns in the new Great Game being played out by the US.

This article was also published in the Huffington Post on 28 February 2012

FOSIS Are a Good Example of Muslims Engaging With Society

Such is the level of racism and Islamophobia in society that when encountered by a politically active Muslim, people automatically seem to put them in the radical or extremist box.

The main problem here is that there is a set of double standards at play for categorising people with political opinions. There seems to be one set of criteria for Muslims and another for the rest of the human race. I have found a simple but effective method for people to determine if a Muslim’s views are extreme or not. If a white non-Muslim was to express the same view would you think they are an extremist? Would it make you look for the number to the terrorism hotline? Or would you accept their views as a legitimate opinion that has a place in the broad political spectrum of society?

In the majority of cases Muslims have perfectly acceptable opinions, which tells us that there is a problem in the way we look at Muslims in society. This is understandable in some cases, since we have been fed constant reports linking the words ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’ to Muslims. It is only natural that Islamophobia has now become inherent in society.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies is anything but radical or extreme, unless you have a problem with Muslims engaging with political and democratic processes and using those avenues to air their views and get involved with wider society. But, I suspect that the critics of FOSIS disagree with the political opinions aired and campaigned on by the federation. Some even have an issue with Muslims, as an entity, airing political opinions whilst standing on a religious ticket.

No FOSIS member has served for the military in the Islamic Republic of Iran or any other military. But there are student religious groups whose members have served for the IDF or have gone on to serve for them. FOSIS has never justified suicide bombings of any type, but in 2010 at the NUS conference, the Union of Jewish Students invited a Muslim speaker from CENTRI (Counter Extremism Consultancy, Training, Research and Interventions). This speaker openly told me that he accepted and was comfortable with a fatwa from a traditional scholar in Syria that suicide operations against Israeli military targets were permissible. Extreme? Radical? Or an opinion that is prevalent in the Muslim world? Are the UJS now guilty of what FOSIS is being accused of, inviting speakers that have ‘radial’ opinions?

Some may take issue with the fact that FOSIS campaigns on international politics, specifically their anti-war and pro-Palestinian stance. But for FOSIS to ignore these issues would be to ignore their democratic mandate and disregard the issues their members wish for them to campaign on. These are issues which Muslim students hold close to their hearts and many are affected by.

Another argument is that FOSIS members are from the Wahabi/Salafi school of thought – a literalist school of thought emanating from Saudi Arabia. It is true that most FOSIS members I have encountered follow the Wahabi school of thought, however this is not extreme in and of itself. In fact FOSIS’s elected member on the National Union of Students Executive in 2009 was openly a Sufi. Sufis follow a more traditional and spiritual way of Islam and are seen to be more moderate than Wahabis. If anything, FOSIS is more diverse, pluralistic, democratic and representative of Muslims than any other religious grouping within the student movement in the UK.

FOSIS does not have a clandestine radicalisation program that takes students and turns them into extremists. Extremists have political grievances which they choose to air on in illegitimate ways. Extremists will always use examples of victimisation of Muslims engaging in democratic processes as examples of why Muslims engaging in politics is futile and should take up more of an extreme approach. The unfounded targeting of FOSIS plays into the very extremists’ hands that people are so opposed to.

Universities are places where young people become radical. They are radicalised by ideas, politics and life. It is a place where you learn and engage in the battlefield of ideas. The problem is that when non-Muslims get political we put them in the ‘lefty’, ‘eco’ or any other political box, but when Muslims get political we just deem them extremists, now that is extreme!