Posts Tagged ‘political Islam’

I’ve written before about the use of the shibboleth concept Islamophobia as a tool by Islamists to peddle grievances for political gain.  So it comes as no surprise that ‘Dr’ Bob Lambert, the man who set up the Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit and brokered a deal with the Brotherhood to take over management of Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque:

In 2003, British police shut [Finsbury Park] mosque, but Abu Hamza’s followers continued to have a strong presence in the area. In February 2005, police helped broker a deal for the mosque to re-open under the leadership of the local chapter of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), a Muslim Brotherhood group. No sooner had the moderates gained control of the Finsbury Park mosque than they were confronted by Abu Hamza’s angry followers, led by the pugnacious Atilla Ahmet, who calls himself “the number-one Al Qaeda in Europe” and who, in October, pled guilty to providing British Muslims with terrorist training. “They brought sticks and knives with them,” recalls Kamal El Helbawy [former European spokesman for the Ikhwan – ed.], spokesman for the new trustees at the mosque.

Undeterred, a few days later Helbawy gave the first Friday sermon, explaining that this was a new start for the mosque and stressing how important it was for Muslims to live in harmony with their neighbors. Detective Inspector Lambert, the Metropolitan police officer who helped broker the takeover, says that, because of its social welfare work and its track record supporting the Palestinian cause, the MAB has “big street cred in the area and [has] made an impact on Abu Hamza’s young followers.”

Detective Inspector Lambert told us preachers like Anas and Al Oudah “can’t be discounted. … When you have Muslim leaders who are attacked both by Al Qaeda supporters and by commentators who oppose engagement [with Islamists], then they are in a useful position.”

is the co-author of a report entitled Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: a London Case Study, published yesterday by a newly formed research unit, the European Muslim Research Centre, at the University of Exeter.

And Lambert has form on this score, having acted ‘as consultant for an AHRC funded research project An Examination of Partnership Approaches to Challenging Religiously-Endorsed Violence involving Muslim Groups and Police headed by Dr. Basia Spalek, Senior Lecturer in Criminology & Criminal Justice, Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham and Dr. Salwa El-Awa, Lecturer in Islamic Studies, Theology Department, University of Birmingham.’

The background of some of his colleagues, in particular,  Dr Salwa el-Awa, a lecturer in Islamic studies at Birmingham, should raise more than a few eyebrows.

I recognised the name, but couldn’t decide where I’d seen it before. I googled it and it dawned on me that she was related to Dr Muhammad Salim el-Awa, a well-known Egyptian Islamist and Secretary-general of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, where he works closely with Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. I found a profile of him and discovered that Dr Salwa is his daughter.

Now, his links to the Ikhwaan are well-publicised even if the profile of him paints him as ‘distancing’ himself from their core doctrines.  What I didn’t realise was that el-Awa is now married to Hasan el-Ashmawi, a key figure (and former leader) of the Ikhwan.

The question is, why is the daughter of a well-known Islamist integral to a research project that will not only shape the way that the police deal with Islamists such as the MB/MCB/MAB etc. but also the government? The proximity of such individuals to the coterie of advisors that formulate and influence govt. policy on counter-terrorism is extremely worrying.

According to the project’s homepage, Dr el-Awa’s previous research ‘involved establishing strong connections with experts in and leaders of the Islamic movement in Egypt and UK, as well as relations and co-operation with other interested agencies.’  According to the report itself, ‘religion could play a positive role in counter terrorism’:

Contrary to traditional policing and academic perspectives, the research has highlighted the importance of religious knowledge for counter terrorism, not only in understanding communities within which extremists may operate, but also in motivating the work of police and community members who wish to prevent violence. Dr Salwa al-’Awwa, who co-led the investigation, said the study showed that religion could play a positive role in counter terrorism. The team found strong evidence that an effective counter message to Al-Qaeda’s propaganda must offer a convincing and reliable alternative for religious people to turn to, and that the knowledge and expertise of religious community leaders was essential.

The University of Birmingham report suggested that groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood would be appropriate in bringing such ‘religious knowledge’ to bear on preventing terrorism and included the following statements:

Certain Muslim groups are particularly demonised, including those labeled as ‘Salafi’ and ‘Islamist’, and are used to illustrate the inherent threat from ‘fundamentalist’ Muslims.

The MCU’s [Muslim Contact Unit] ability to engage with ‘radical’ and marginalized groups such as Salafis and Islamists allows for counter-terrorism work that many other policing and security units are unable to achieve. This approach has also facilitated counter-terrorism work by communities themselves, opening up another important avenue in the prevention of violence that has otherwise been closed down.

This study has documented direct examples of ‘success’ in terms of partnership work helping to counter terrorism – reclaiming a mosque from an infamous cleric’s hard-core extremist supporters, launching community based counter-violent extremism initiatives in London, supporting Muslim minorities – especially Salafis and Islamists – against widespread stigmatisation as terrorist ‘fellow travellers’ or ’suspect communities’.

Now, there’s no denying that there are plenty of bigots only too willing to paint Muslims in general as some sort of threat; a monolithic entity, restricted to Islamist interpretations of religious dogma, if you will.  And anti-Muslim bigotry does lead to violence, as the report amply documents.  But what the report tries to do, and fails miserably, is to postulate a link between the often highly selective reporting of individual extremist Muslims such as Anjem Choudary and Abu Qatadah; the legitimate criticism of Islamic dogma and the behaviour of specific Muslims; and hate crimes against Muslims and their communities.

Here’s one revealing paragraph in the preface to the EMRC report:

From our perspectives and experience, both academic and practitioner, the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime is morally abhorrent and needs to be countered. Muslim communities in the UK and Europe have important contributions to make to the local communities and broader societies in which they live. Yet to date, these communities, and Islam more broadly, are often the subject of misunderstanding and vilification. Whereas Islamic legal and political traditions have, at key points, inspired and informed Western political and intellectual traditions, and Muslims in Europe have historically made, and especially today continue to make, important contributions at every level of British and European society, portrayals of their religion and identity still often seem to focus on terrorism, intolerance, and issues such as the veil. While such portrayals are unjust and empirically untrue, they still appear to academically, politically and popularly inform perceptions of Islam in Britain and Europe. This insidious phenomenon runs the very real risk of driving deep divisions through European societies, and of alienating friends, neighbours and political partners.

Again, I don’t think that any right-thinking Briton would today argue that crimes against individuals or communities based on their adherence to a particular faith are not ‘abhorrent’.  Quite the contrary.  Unfortunately, what the authors seem to be saying, and its a narrative that we’ve seen Islamists employ as a strategy time and again, is that the majority of people somehow misunderstand Islam, Muslims and Islamic culture, and it’s this hypothetical ignorance that leads to so-called Islamophobia; that tax-payer funded da’wah and consultation with specific Muslim organisations on behalf of the UK Government should be used to counter this; and that political engagement with Islamists (This insidious phenomenon runs the very real risk…of alienating…political partners) is somehow a necessary expedient.

The premise, of course, is a false one.  Criticism of Islam and Muslims is generally directed at those anti-social and often extremist practices that the mainstream non-Muslim public object to and, aside from a small minority of bigots who essentialise Muslims and extremist Islam, such criticism is justified; a fundamental right in a free society.  Freedom of speech, with certain caveats, is one of the pillars of liberal democracy, and a quality that distinguishes Britain from the surfeit of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and beyond.

If we examine the report itself more closely, on page 9, where acknowledgements are made we come across some familiar names:

We have also benefitted enormously from guidance from our advisory board: Anas Altikriti, Mohamed Abdul Bari, Rachel Briggs, John Esposito, Andy Hull, Oliver McTernan, Basheer Nafi and Tim Niblock.

Anas al-Tikriti is the founder of the Cordoba Foundation, a Muslim Brotherhood front which received Prevent funding towards tackling violent extremism and tried to play host to Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-based Salafist preacher linked to the radicalisation of both the Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan, and the failed ‘underpants’ bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.  He’s also the former head of the Muslim Association of Britain and founder of the British Muslim Initiative, both Brotherhood front organisations.  Not coincidentally, his father, Osama al-Tikriti, is the head of the Iraqi Brotherhood chapter, the Iraqi islamic Party. On the same page, we see Brotherhood ideologue Tariq Ramadan and the Islam Channel’s Director of Programming.  The Islam Channel’s CEO is Mohamed Ali Harrath, a convicted terrorist and former member of the Tunisian Islamic Front.

Mohamed Abdul Bari is Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, an organisation founded by supporters of  Abu ‘Alaa Mawdudi’s Pakistani Islamist organisation, Jamaat-e Islami.  His deputy is Daud Abdullah, co-signatory to the Istanbul Declaration.  Abdul Bari is also chairman of the East London mosque, a masjid that has played host to numerous extremists and has links to the Jamaat too.

John Esposito is a well-known American academic sympathetic to the Brotherhood.

Basheer Nafi is a member of the Brothers who has written books published by the Brotherhood publishing house, Dar el-Shorouq, and was arrested by federal US Immigration Service agents and charged with immigration fraud. He was considered an active leader of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organisation working for a network of academic front groups, and was linked as well to the Islamist militant group Hamas.  He eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser violation of his visa status, and was deported and barred from entering the U.S. for five years.

But perhaps most startling of all, we find this:

We also wish to thank the trustees of Islam Expo and the Cordoba Foundation who have provided the funding to launch the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC) and enabled us to carry out the research for this report.

Islam Expo‘s founding members include Mohamed Sawalha, the fugitive Hamas commander and co-founder of the Muslim Brotherhood front, the Muslim Association of Britain.  Cordoba are, of course, run by al-Tikriti.

How could anyone take this report’s conclusions seriously?


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According to reports (عربي English), Dr Muhammad Badie, a veterinarian and self-professed conservative once imprisoned for 9 years, has been elected the 8th Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood.  He replaces Magdi Akef who, in an unprecedented but widely reported move, chose to step down.

Information on Dr Muhammad Badie’s background can be found here.

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I’ve been following Turkey’s domestic politics from afar for quite some time, with particular attention paid to the hotly debated commitment to secular democracy of the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).  In some circles they are seen as moderate Islamists; a friendlier, more modern version of Necmettin Erbakan’s Refah Partisi (Welfare Party), which was subsequently banned by Turkey’s constitutional court; the last preserve of the founding ideology of Kemalism.  Others see them as a wolf in sheep’s clothing; political Islamists in tailored suits.  According to Bassam Tibi:

AKP leaders pursue a double strategy: They verbally dissociate their party – and themselves – from political Islam while simultaneously embracing Islamic identity politics and, like many Islamist parties across the globe, also engaging in anti-Christian polemics.  The AKP uses education as its major instrument to further Islamist identity politics, introduce reinvented Islamic values, and de-Westernize society.  And while the AKP claims secular credit for pursuing Turkey’s EU membership, it defames Europe as an exclusionary “club of Christians.”  Since its November 2002 accession, the AKP has engaged in a “creeping Islamization.”  The AKP has sought to further this through politics of cultural Islamization, especially in education and media.  Erdoğan has worked to expand Anatolian culture in the cities, helped by internal migration.  The slums and shanty towns have become the AKP’s chief base of support.

Whatever your opinion of the AKP, there’s no doubt that Turkey has acquired a more prominent role on the international stage under the stewardship of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül.  Yet, for all the talk of accession to the EU and a favourable relationship, as a key member of NATO it must be stated, with the US, its Turkey’s relationship with its fellow Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East that is starting to cause consternation.  As Soner Cagaptay observes:

Some analysts have described the AKP’s foreign policy as a “zero problems with neighbours” approach.  Under the AKP, Ankara has indeed eliminated problems and built good ties with some neighbours, such as Syria and Iran, and signalled a thaw with Armenia, with whom Turkey shares a closed border.  On the other hand, Ankara’s traditionally good ties with other neighbours such as Georgia and Azerbaijan have deteriorated under the AKP, and Turkish-Israeli ties could unravel despite diplomats’ best efforts.  The AKP’s foreign policy, far from producing “zero problems with neighbours,” has resulted in significant ups with some neighbours and significant downs with others—especially those that are pro-Western.

And it’s Turkey’s pursuit of close ties with the Iranian theocracy  and the Syrian Ba’athist state apparatus  that has analysts most worried.  Turkey has supported Iran’s nuclear ambitions as well as forging ahead with joint Turco-Syrian military manœuvres.

At the same time, Turkey’s bilateral relations with Israel have suffered:

The party’s critical rhetoric regarding Israel, which has eroded all Turkish public support for ties with Israel, had been dismissed for a long time in the West and in Israel as domestic politicking.  However, that evaluation changed earlier this month.  On October 7, the AKP dis-invited Israel to “Anatolian Eagle,” a NATO air force exercise that has been held in central Turkey with U.S., Israeli and Western states’ participation since the mid-1990s.  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan justified his party’s decision by saying that Israel is a “persecutor.”  Yet, the next day, the AKP announced that it had requested that Syria, whose regime persecutes its own people, participate in joint military exercises.  A proverbial mountain is moving in Turkish foreign policy: the AKP’s “us versus them” mindset, which does not see nations but rather religious blocks in the Middle East, is corroding the foundations of Turkey’s 60-year-old military and political cooperation with Israel.

Contemporaneous with the AKP’s wooing of its pro-Islamist Middle Eastern neighbours, has been the reorientation of public opinion at home.  For instance, according to a recent survey by the International Republican Institute, of Turks asked whether they felt their country had become more religious since the AKP came to power in 2002, nearly 70% replied in the affirmative.  Yet, in the same survey, over 70% agreed that restrictions should be placed on the activities of Islamic foundations.  Overall, the findings presented a mixed bag, with a large majority (74.3%) indicating their ambivalence towards the wearing of the hijab, desiring more religious education (63.8%), but a plurality (73.4%) rejecting the Shari’ah as a model for government.  Indeed the figures probably reflect Turkey’s unique cultural admixture of secularism, Islamic roots and pan-Turkism.

So where is Turkey heading?  Some suggest that the AKP’s objective is to have the best of both worlds: membership of the EU, yet a staunch ally and bulwark against perceived US-led interference in the Near and Middle East; an overtly secular state with Western institutions coupled with a quietist, moderate form of Islam enculturated amongst the population at large.

Whichever direction Turkey chooses, it has important strategic implications for all of the key global players.

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I’ve been meaning to post these two sets of articles for the last couple of days, but just haven’t found the time.

The first set of 3 articles, at Elaph.com, document the relative strength of Islamism and Islamist movements in Germany:

قراءة في واقع الإسلام السياسي في ألمانيا(1-4)

قراءة في واقع الإسلام السياسي في ألمانيا(2-4)

قراءة في واقع الإسلام السياسي في ألمانيا(3-4)

The second set, also at Elaph.com, examines Arab Shi’ite political thought:

تساؤلات في المرجعية السياسية الفکرية للشيعة العرب 1

تساؤلات في المرجعية السياسية الفکرية للشيعة العرب 2

تساؤلات في المرجعية السياسية الفکرية للشيعة العرب 3

تساؤلات في المرجعية السياسية الفکرية للشيعة العرب 4

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I enjoy reading about political Islamism, and I’m sure you do too, so I’ll be uploading regular essays culled from around the web here, for your enjoyment.  Eventually, I hope to keep a store of important documents and pamphlets here on another page, but for now, enjoy this seminal Martin Kramer article.  In it, and bear in mind this was written way back in the early nineties (pre-9/11!), he examines the phenomenon of Islamic fundmamentalism and its various manifestations in the light of recent electoral successes andWestern foreign policy.  It’s a poweful lesson in epochs for all those prematurely celebrating the terminal decline of political Islam:

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Khalil al-Anani had a piece in the Daily Star the other day, which I missed, on the possible repercussions springing from the Egyptian regime’s ongoing crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood.  These are the main points of the article:

  • The recent spate of arrests, sympathetic press in independent papers such as al-Masry al-Youm and al-Dustour, as well as the tried and trusted state media, has resulted in the isolation of the Brotherhood in mainstream Egyptian society.  However, the MB have never been more powerful, perhaps not domestically, but abroad and especially in Europe, and the organisation will outlast this particular onslaught.
  • The regime’s relationship with the MB continues to mirror that faced by them under Nasser: having won so many seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the MB overstepped the mark somewhat with regards their supposedly accepted ‘quietist’ role in the Egyptian public sphere.  That is, there was an understanding that charitable work and da’wah would be the only fields in which the MB would be allowed to operate.  Post 2005, as the regime’s thoughts started to turn towards the post-Mubarak era and the question of succession, it has been decided to eradicate the Brotherhood once and for all, and in so doing keep the lid on the inevitable power struggle in the wake of President Mubarak’s ‘standing aside’.
  • The MB have been unable to secure a broad-based coalition upon which the fight government oppression and other issues afflicting Egyptian society, and have, in turn, become disconnected from heir grassroots’ support/power base.

Al-Anani outlines seven likely scenarios:

  • The crackdown could lead to mass disruption and civil unrest in the wake of economic turmoil and Egypt’s uncertain political future.
  • The MB’s isolation could have unexpected knock-on effects such as the radicalisation of the organisation.
  • Continued suppression could lead to the disenchantment of the young cadres turning on the MB’s leadership and splitting the organisation.  The recent arrests have been seen by some as akin to the execution of Sayyed Qutb, and have expressed their dissatisfaction at what they see as a lack of political will on behalf of the leadership to confront the Mubarak regime.
  • Arresting moderates in the organisation could secure short-term political capital, but generate long-term problems for the government if the MB left the centre ground.
  • Radical Islamists movements could emerge amidst the MB’s tribulations, groups modelled on al-Gama’ah al-Islamiyyah that espouse violence as means of bridging the void between the state and religion.
  • One possible scenario is the break-up of the MB into smaller, independent groups unfettered by a central command/leadership structure and possible more radical.
  • Finally, the suppression could mirror the period in Algeria in the early 90’s when the Islamists were deprived of political power by a secularist-military alliance that culminated in the bloody feuds that continue to threaten peace in the country today.

It must be said that I disagree with al-Anani over his suggestion that the MB have become isolated from their popular support: those in Egyptian’s miniscule middle classes and more affluent social strata were never likely to endorse them and the recent arrests and consonant media revelations have done nothing to change that.  Furthermore, the MB, despite not being able to capitalise fully on the lack of progress with the so-called Road Map and not forming a coalition with the civil rights movements as we witnessed a couple of years ago, are reaping the rewards of the communications strategy, particularly online.  MB bloggers, as was borne out by the recent Harvard report into the Middle Eastern blogosphere, carry substantial weight domestically and across the Arab world.  Furthermore, the Brotherhood’s alliances abroad, outside of the Middle East, appear to be bearing fruit as meetings with White House officials prior to President Obama’s speech in Cairo and the invitation of several Muslim Brothers to the event itself will testify.

No.  The Brotherhood are a long way from finished yet and, together with Egypt’s burgeoning salafist movement, they have achieved respectable gains in their ongoing efforts to re-Islamise Egyptian society.  The MB are here to stay.

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