Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Debating Radicalism: Extreme, Moderate and Progressive


Debating Radicalism by Professor John Holmwood, Head of Department – Sociology, University of Birmingham

John began his lecture with a context of the climate of fear that has been created by the British media. The Sun commented in the negative about the Archbishop of Canterbury calling for certain elements of the Sharia to be incorporated into the UK legal system. This was taken out of context and was presented as a statement of Islamisation of the United Kingdom. The next issue that was discussed was the terrorism act and the way in which it is a big issue on campus. John stated the position of the radical group Hizb-at-Tahrir, who have been banned from the UK because of their radical views on an Islamic State.

The lecture was based on a debate that John took part in. John was invited to a debate by the Hizb-at-Tahrir to talk about secularism and this was to happen in Birmingham. This was picked up by a blogger ‘Ministry of Truth’ who found that a Muslim was forwarding the advertisement for this. The blogger then deconstructed the views of Hizb-at-Tahrir which are fairly conservative (they are accused of being anti-Semitic and homophobic). There are some who would argue that folk should not engage with the Hizb-at-Tahrir or those from racist political parties such as the BNP. The question which John was posing was whether it was a good or bad thing that he took part in this debate. It seemed that the experience was a good one as there were some in the audience who were interested in the values of secularism. John found it rather odd that the participants were grateful for having him and asked if it would be alright for them to visit the university as if to say that the university space is not a public one.

I am left with some questions but before I do that let me personalise this issue. I can truly feel the tension that John has felt. I have often been accused by some, not by radical groups such as Hizb-at-Tahrir but by those organisations that are today accepted as ‘moderate’, of being too ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’. This I have become accustomed to and when I was researching Muslim philanthropy patterns in the UK it did get a tad dangerous when Imams were calling my office and saying I had been ‘sold to the Jews’ and was a ‘secret agent of the state of Israel’. But such sentiments are at the extreme end of the spectrum. The average Muslim would distance themselves from the very extreme views of Hizb-at-Tahrir but I go back to my earlier statement that in today’s world we have cleverly re-packaged and disguised our position. I don’t think there is that much difference on issues relating to anti-Semitism, homosexuality, position of women or the Islamic state between radical organisations and the so-called moderates. There is a fine line. I am in hope that these lines become more defined and distinguished. Maybe what is happening is that there is a shift from right (Hizb-at-Tahrir) to the centre (our so-called moderates) and this is all moving towards the progressives.

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