I read with interest an article by a good ol’ family friend of mine, Azeem Ibrahim, in the Sunday newspapers this weekend. I have a lot of respect for Azeem but I felt compelled to respond to a few statements that he made. I have to say that I agreed with most of his thought in the initial parts of the article but I began to cringe a little when I read his solution to the problem section. So here it goes…
Azeem wrote, “There is only one way to beat Islamist terror in the long term, over decades. That is to reduce the motivation for young people to radicalise in the first place. Governments must redefine success against terrorism. Military objectives achieved and plots foiled are insufficient.
One way to do this is to undermine the intellectual conditions in which radicalisation takes root. We must discredit interpretations of Islam that permit the murder of innocent people. Western governments should draw media attention to authoritative Muslim religious and legal figures abroad who renounce violent jihad. This kind of tactic has been used successfully by Egypt and Saudi Arabia for many years. It is cheap or free. By drawing attention to authentic Muslim, and sometimes ex-jihadi, authorities who renounce violence abroad, governments can make it harder for radical groups to grow.
I am a little worried about the way in which Azeem seeks the support of ‘authoritative Muslim religious and legal figures abroad’ it is as if he has little faith in the work that western based academics of Islam are involved in. I may be biased but why seek that voice away from Scotland? Why must we seek solutions from figures that have little awareness or understanding of what it is like to be in the west? Will the threat of terror be diminished just by parading ex-Jihadists or moderates who grace the platform with ‘Islam is against terror and is a religion of peace’? After highlighting these messages it is as though they punch their cards, ‘work done’!? If you seek to ‘discredit interpretations of Islam that permit the murder of innocent people’ then why stop just there? What about all the other difficult interpretations that have created problems? Such as polygamy? Or wife-beating? To name a few. Terrorism is not the only disease that ails the Muslim communities in the contemporary world so let us set our parameters a little wider. Or maybe I’m reading this sentence too illustratively and Azeem just seeks to discredit the pro-terror interpretations but not seek a re-interpretation or re-reading of the Qur’an?
Well, it seems that moderation is the flavour of the month when it comes to Islam. I’m guilty as charged, I seek progress. If we seek a political quick-fix then fine but if we seek progress for a brighter, stronger future for Scotland then we must reflect further and seek a progressive solution. For that we must take bold steps.
I believe that the problem lies with the usual suspects who are far too moderate. It is the same ‘figures’ who diminish Islam to a set of right and wrongs with their politically laced so-called Islamic messages which leave a distaste of the religious experience to many Muslims. I am saddened when Muslims contact me to tell me how they walk away from Islam when these political Islamists stand up because they feel that their motives are led by a quenching of a current thirst and opportunism. Sadly it is these disenfranchised Muslims who I believe are the true partners in eradicating the terrorist threat and ideology because they have made a painful decision of thinking and reflecting over issues as they walk away. Those left are the ‘same old, same old’ moderates who keep all the issues stagnant. Where are we heading?
Azeem wrote, “Bilal Abdulla's path from Glasgow doctor to terrorist shows that undermining the conditions for radicalisation is no less important in Scotland. Until recently, there has been no Scottish Islamic organisation working on a national level. But now, initiatives like the Scottish-Islamic Foundation are filling the gap. It works closely with reputable Islamic scholars to increase the theological resistance of young Muslims to violent jihadist interpretations of Islam. At the same time it gives them the confidence and skills to make a positive contribution to Scottish society. In the long term, the challenge is not to stop radicals striking. It is to stop young Muslims radicalising, and that is what the Scottish-Islamic Foundation does. We must all start thinking about terrorism long-term. It is freelance now, and it relies on a pool of young radicals more than ever. The key to beating it is minimising the motivation to radicalise.”
Who are the Islamic scholars? In the words of their own spokesperson they are ‘a broad church’ so I wonder how broad is broad for the Scottish Islamic Foundation. It has been a few months now since I asked a few simple questions to the Scottish Islamic Foundation and the Scottish Government but they failed to answer them. Infact all I did get was a slap on the wrist from the same spokesperson who said that the Scottish Islamic Foundation do not aim to speak on my behalf but on the ‘pressing issues affecting Muslims’. Hmm, well, I am a Muslim and if it’s taxpayer’s money which has rolled out to pay for your seats then I have every right to ask these questions!
Oh, point to note, the same spokesperson said the questions I raised were ‘old debates’ – could someone please enlighten me on which of these relate to an ‘old debate’? Maybe the fact of the matter is that the Scottish Islamic Foundation is not ready, or maybe incapable, for the real debates! So here goes the questions, again. Answers on a postcard…
Does SIF represent the diversity of Muslim denominations in Scotland such as the Ismaillis, Ahmediyyas and the Shi'ias too? Why is it that all of these 'supporters' of SIF we keep hearing about are strongly inclined to views and understandings of the 'Muslim Brotherhood'? Where are the diverse voices? Is SIF a true indication of the reality in which Muslim communities thrive? There are too many voices that are overlooked in this debate. This reminds me of a lecture at Glasgow University a few years ago by Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK, in which she said, "the loudest voices are not representative and must be challenged". Muslims are not a monolith, so stop bundling us all in the same package.
The Scottish Government has stated that funding SIF will help 'celebrate diversity'. Is it that ill-informed by its political advisers to understand that there are multi layers to diversity within any faith group? What problems would the Scottish Government experience if they funded a small group of Protestant Christians to establish a Scottish Christian Foundation? Would there be dissenting views among Scots or would such a foundation be welcomed with open arms by all Christians of Scotland? In what way do SIF endorse a cross section of the Muslim communities? In what way do they show the bare bones of a political Islam that is both presentable and palatable by our Scottish Government?
The crux of the matter is that SIF may do an excellent job in providing moderate (or modern) views to the Scottish Government and those wanting to hear the usual 'Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance' platitude but this just not good enough in 21st-century Scotland. What we must accept is that change and progress in Muslim communities will only happen when there is a critical internal debate, silence is unacceptable and no issue must remain out of the question. It is only when this takes place that we will see a clear distinction between the extremists, political Islamist moderates and the Muslim progressives. I smell worry in the words and actions of the political Islamists, Mosques and our so-called Islamic leaders who want to cage and control the sentiments of the true progressive Scottish Muslims, but this new wave will emerge in full force, and time will then be the judge of who are the best partners in creating a flourishing Scotland.