The Woolwich murder and its backlash has exposed what has been apparent for decades – Britain’s liberal democracy has failed to prevent the persecution and victimisation of its Muslims.
The horror of the murder of Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich cannot be understated. However, the immediate violent reaction against Muslims and Islamic institutes is a disturbing trend demonstrating a growing intolerance within Britain of its Muslim population. The fear that has been exacerbated on the ground within Muslim communities, and the trend towards normalisation of religious hatred towards Muslims propelled by these events, is not something new. This has been made possible through a process of de-civilisation which has been in operation for decades and now stands exposed.
I will avoid using 9/11 as a reference point to deflect the chicken and egg debate. In this fray, the protagonists have been the so called ‘Islamists’ on the one hand and those espousing liberal democracy on the other. Around these two philosophies is a vortex into which all those with respective sympathies are dragged into. Thus, they are forcibly castigated as falling squarely within one or other philosophical position, irrespective of their independent reasoning.
The term ‘Islamist’ is a political ideology and is unhelpful when employed in this context. The more nuanced term of Takfiri is better suited, which is an ideology viewing liberal democracies as a challenge that corrupts, captures and exploits Muslim people and lands. However what sets them apart is that they view violence as the first and only choice to redress grievances. Historically, the Takfiris have posed violent threats to within Islam and Muslim leaders, and as early as the first century of Islam, they were responsible for assassinating the caliph. Being mindful of the disparity in power, the Takfiris today have relied on terror attacks with high visibility; something that has been termed ‘pornography of violence’. The idea is to entice the liberal states to address the attack with a maximum reciprocity that erodes the very basis upon which the latter’s ideologies are anchored. In effect the strategy is one of engineering a major implosion through a minor explosion.
The liberal democracies which bask on individual freedoms – equality and fraternity with the Kantian hope of ‘Perpetual Peace’ achievable by spreading these ideals – are thus challenged. Hence, in order to achieve perpetual peace the liberal democracies are driven towards perpetual war. This in effect is derived from Straussian philosophy that conspires towards making the majority of the globe liberal, to be achieved by whatever means necessary including war. The philosophy simply termed operates on the premise that unless the majority of the globe exists within the same parameters as we do, there remains a possibility of conflict. This was taken to its final conclusion by Samuel Huntington in his ‘Clash of Civilisations’ and championed by the neo-conservatives. In this framework both Islam and liberal democracies desire parallel ambitions. However it is the Takfiris, like their counterpart the neo-conservatives within liberal democracies, that resort to force as the means to achieve the end.
Within nationhood states, the central pivotal factor underpinning the authority of liberal democracies rests in its claim to offer security to its citizens. In the absence of this, exploited by the Takfiris, it becomes susceptible to challenge. Liberal democratic governments hence find themselves unable to establish trust without subsuming the very fruits of freedom, equality and fraternity. We have noted that while David Cameron talked about unity and claimed that those that did this will ‘make us stronger;’ his Home Secretary was proposing to ban ‘Hate preachers’ from appearing on TV and getting Google ‘by law to block extremist websites.’ This converged with London Mayor Boris Johnson referring to Islamism as ‘a virus’ and in the same breath calling for a ban on Islamic societies at university who observe segregated seating. The media went further with headlines such as ‘The enemy is everywhere’ and ‘How to spot a terrorist living in your neighbourhood’.
The acts of violence by Takfiris identified as ‘Islamists’ are now being used to unjustly profile Muslims. The Prime Minister informed the Commons that he was setting up a task force to ‘drain the swamp’ that is fostering ‘British Islamic extremism’, to be headed by cabinet ministers. Mr Cameron specifically spoke of greater surveillance throughout the educational hierarchy, prisons, community organisations and charities. Thus, in a scarcely disguised announcement, the government intends to snoop on greater numbers of Muslims, increase stop and search, monitor financial activities with greater vigour and profile and label misdemeanours as terrorist acts with sensationalist arrests. While his proactive approach to drain the metaphorical Islamic swamps received the nod from the right honourable members of the House and the greater public, nothing practical was articulated on the other hand for curbing the EDL’s racist and anti-Muslim bigotry.
The de-civilising process of Muslims is gaining momentum with the incessant reminders of the past and persistent deliberation of future threats that feed into demonising Islam and creating ‘the other’. These potent caricatures further permit accusations using a ‘liberal’ ideological approach, thus permitting the state to undermine civil liberties while at the same time silencing dissent. Citizens are convinced by the contrived threat level to acquiesce to the surrender of their rights. However, this strikes at the heart of what the liberals champion.
The media in tandem with the politicians and ‘experts’ transformed the gruesome attack from murder to terrorism not because of the nature of the act itself, but because the perpetrators were identified as Muslim. The evil committed on a Woolwich street by two crazed people was now projected upon Islam and 2.6 million British Muslims. Our political leaders, experts and media fed into the collective paranoia borne from jaundiced narratives over the decades. The impact upon a society which has already been instilled with a view of Islam as the existential threat and Muslims as the fifth column meant the subsequent results were no surprise. What followed in the next twenty-four hours were over a hundred attacks upon Muslims and within a fortnight the targeting of a dozen Mosques and properties. This was accompanied by a torrent of abuse on the internet and media. The police weighed in with ten highly publicised arrests, yet most were quietly released without charge. These factors further stoke resentment in the country that shows outpouring, in some cases violent, at the slightest provocation.
The barbaric act of the two criminals being transmuted into terrorism helped render the de-civilising trend of Islam and the British Muslims. This de-civilising trend over the past few decades has also had at least two impacts on the Muslim community. First, when a crime is perpetrated by a Muslim it brings forth Muslim community leaders and organisations in droves to side against the perpetrator, especially when they are labelled as terrorist. Secondly, crimes committed against Muslims receive muted response as shown by the failure by most of these same groups to condemn the butchering with a knife of seventy five year old Mohammed Saleem on the streets of Birmingham, on 29 April. Similar silences have followed the scores of attacks including arson on Islamic institutes since the Woolwich incident. This disparity has led to young and pragmatic British Muslims feeling a sense of inadequacy coupled with reservations about the need to continually reaffirm Muslim loyalties in response to acts they abhor and in which they share no blame. As a result, they consider it an affront that they must be seen and heard to condemn them.
As the incoming vice president of academic affairs at King’s College London wrote ‘frankly, Muslims do not need to have to reaffirm and clarify their faith in a way that creates the perception of them being inferior from British society.’ This de-civilised status where Muslims experience greater erosion of civil liberties, guilt by tenuous association and are labelled extremist – a term used to silence dissent and alienate – means they are in effect assumed to be guilty until proven innocent. The result is the alienation of many. Conversely, leading British Islamic groups have urged the government to consult them over plans for combating extremism, in a bid to help police their own.
The external impact of the de-civilising of Muslims will ultimately have a detrimental impact on all of society. Muslim communities as a whole will be forced to refrain from critical analysis of policies of concern, especially those impacting Muslims outside of the UK. It will also fail to address the grievances of the disenfranchised in any meaningful way besides outright condemnation. The resultant current will be cementing mistrust amongst members of the community, pitting good/moderate against bad/extremist Muslims as defined by the liberal apparatus, while all of them will remain under suspicion. The impact is a disunited community. While talk of a civil conflict within British Muslim communities is unlikely, it will be politically moulded to become socially distrustful. This will directly lead to the swelling of the swamp of discontent, the very danger Mr Cameron is attempting to drain, and will be ripe for the Takfiris to find recruits.
While the acceleration of the de-civilising trend by the liberal democracies has become the norm after every ‘terrorist incident’, many Muslims are questioning if the xenophobic past from mainland Europe, where the de-civilising of Jews led to the Kristallnacht, can rear its ugly head once again to haunt the present Muslims. The immediate lesson from the Woolwich murder seems to suggest that for the majority of British Muslims, the future is perilous. Under the circumstances, the prudent move would be to prepare for a nest away from the green and pleasant shores of this island in case urgent flight becomes necessary. This would be a sad testimony to the failure of Britain’s liberal democracy.