By Tim Marshall
We have among us in Europe, and in the Middle East, a few brave individuals swimming against a tide of ‘intellectual’ and some times physical intolerance. They are reminiscent of the heroes of the Charter 77 movement who from within the heart of the USSR, at the height of the Cold War dared to say the unsayable.
Finally there are signs that the tide is turning.
Last week’s mass murder in Tunisia has opened the political space for the British Prime Minister to confront what has been the truth all along – that there is indeed a link between Islam and Islamist Jihadists. He, and others, are tiptoeing to a public acknowledgment of this knowing it must be done in a non confrontational manner.
For years the response to myriad examples of slaughter has been ‘This is nothing to do with Islam’. This was usually said first by ‘leaders’ of the ‘Muslim Community’ and then parroted by a spineless political class and Osama’s Useful Idiots in the media. The rationale for this seems to be a paralyzing fear in the post colonialist era of daring to criticize anything which sprang from a non-European culture. Thus did a poisoned mutation of Islam embed itself in some of the Muslim communities. Thus were generations of small British girls abandoned by the authorities to the butcher’s knives used in female genital mutilation.
I wrote ‘Muslim Community’ in quotation marks because there is no such thing. There are many communities, marking the diversity of the faith. For years the media and politicians usually only went to self-appointed spokesmen of one British community, that of mainstream Sunni Islam, usually of Pakistani heritage and holding a strict Deobandi and sometimes Wahhabi (Saudi) influenced interpretation of their faith. Had they bothered to speak with, for example, the persecuted Ahmadiyya sect they would have realised there was a plurality of views.
Some of those views are now being given space in the public square. For example, the Quilliam Foundation is doing magnificent work under difficult circumstances with some staff operating in an atmosphere of intimidation from extremists within the Muslim and non Muslim communities. From the left Nick Cohen of the Observer has been ploughing a lonely furrow for years, trying to hold the vestiges of liberal values together even as fellow left wingers invite what are essentially religious fascists to share their odious views on our campuses and mosques.
Those on the side of a 21st century Islam have their counterparts in the Arabic speaking world and here the intimidation is even greater.
There, a few lonely voices are confronting the sensitive, difficult, and dangerous idea that Daesh, Al Qaeda, Hizbollah, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, et al do spring from Islam, do have a coherent, albeit evil, world view, and do underpin it with selected Islamic scripture. To argue this, is not to denigrate Islam, it is not to argue that it is not a religion of peace, it is simply to diagnose a problem in order that it can be solved for the good of us all.
If the jihadist gang leaders, who send the young suicide attackers to their, and our, deaths do so through selective choice, and interpretation of scripture, then the job of the public, and the learned ones, is to explain how misguided the gang leaders are and why.
This week an important article in this discourse has emerged from a leading Arab journalist. Iyad Abu Shakra has dared to say something which if written by a non Muslim guarantees the accusation of ‘Islamophobia’.
Writing in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat he argues that Muslims have been silent for years while crimes are carried out in their name, or worse have sought to excuse mass murder.
“Muslims, especially the Arabs among them, now have a choice: Either ignore the bitter truth and enable the disease to spread until it kills, or choose to acknowledge its existence in preparation for fundamentally dealing with it.”
He goes on to quote an article by Nadim Koteich which followed the Charlie Hebdo/Jewish supermarket attacks in Paris in January.
“the killers do not kill for nothing, they kill in the name of books, fatwas, ayahs, and age-old tradition. All of these things are inseparable parts of true Islam……. These killers are us. They are our religion at its most extreme. They are our true Islam taken to its furthest extent and they are not beyond the scripture.”
“….There is a true crisis in the way we think, which is the cause of our evil acts and the fact that we move from one defeat to another, and to destruction.”
Daring to propagate such views is roughly akin to those who drafted Charter 77 in Prague in 1977. The Charter was banned, its authors intimidated, and it was forbidden to even speak about it. Nevertheless they managed to smuggle it out. The country where it was received with the most support was the United Kingdom where a generation of activists and thinkers did what they could to support the Chartists, and crucially let them know they were not alone.
Among those who drafted the text was playwright Vaclav Havel who went on to become President of Czechoslovakia and a towering figure in 21stC European history.
His words are universal and connect us to those now on the right side of history who are trying to help shape a 21st century Islam –
“None of us know all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit of the population, or all the ways in which that population can surprise us when there is the right interplay of events.”
Translations from Arabic by MEMRI.