Scrutiny of the Muslim community, these days, is unrelenting. From bringing the Met into disrepute by discouraging female officers from shaking hands with male colleagues, teaching firebrand radicalism to five year olds, destroying Britain’s social harmony to refusing dogs in their taxis, Muslims now routinely find themselves in the firing line of the country’s media machine and most prominent politicians.
Tony Blair, John Reid, Charles Clarke, Jack Straw and David Cameron, amongst numerous others, have all made alarmist comments on issues from the veil to the Shariah. The temperature has steadily risen to fever pitch since 7/7 and shows no sign of abating or of consulting sanity any time soon.
In the barrage, some of the most basic and widely accepted Islamic beliefs and notions have become targets. The Shariah, Dawah, Islamic education, Islamic politics, the concept of an Islamic state and even the desire to remove western occupation from the Muslim world have all been declared part of the ideology of extremism.
Academics and think-tanks are wheeled out periodically to provide some intellectual credibility to the sensationalism. Take the recently published report by the Policy Exchange ‘Living Apart Together’. To clarify its use of ‘terminology’, it recycles the oft-repeated western distinction between Islam and political Islam (‘Islamism’ ), describing the latter as supporting a ‘strict’ Islamic state and largely rejected by ‘devout’ Muslims. Amongst its many statistics, it provides no evidence to support this distinction nor is able to demonstrate it has any credibility in Islamic thought. Instead, it makes a self-fulfilling assumption – that Islamic politics is an aberration of Islam – to demonstrate increasing ‘radicalisation’ amongst Muslims.
This highlights the real problem with the current language and its impact on assessing the Muslim community. The growing ‘politicisation’ of the Muslim community is equated with ‘radicalisation’. As Muslims increasingly employ Islam in their politics, they move from ‘Islam’ to ‘Islamism’. The same report shows increasingly Islamic attitudes amongst the younger generation on issues such as, for example, Shariah, the veil and Islamic schools, describing this interest in religion as more ‘politicised’.
The unspoken assumption amongst many-a politician and commentator therefore is that more Islam, particularly Islamic politics, means more radical. Increasing levels of Islamic practice is a problem; it increases the likelihood of radicalisation, extremism and possibly even flirtations with terrorism.
Such sensationalism could only ever find believers in the current climate. The narrative is simply used to put pressure on Muslims, declaring that by using Islam as the rallying point of their political activity they tend towards ‘extremism’, their criticism of the west is unthankful for the refuge it afforded earlier generations of Muslim, challenging western values is a sign of dangerous separatism and that outspoken criticism of the west’s foreign policy hints at religious radicalism and provides succour to terrorism. It is an attempt to silence any criticism of the west or its policies in the Muslim world.
Contrary to this assessment, mounting evidence shows that practicing Muslims – particularly the youth – are less likely to be involved in crime and drugs, more likely to be educated, morally responsible and socially upright; and overcome greater social obstacles in achieving success, than those who do not. Islam has a key role to play in uplifting the Muslim community – the Muslim community needs more, not less, Islam.
It is hard to understand how the current language from politicians and commentators is designed to make things better. Muslims, bruised by the language of such preachers of fear, are scuttling away, intimidated into staying silent, whilst the growing paranoia about Islam goes unchallenged. By playing on peoples’ heightened security fears and focussing on one community exclusively and branding its mainstream and orthodox beliefs (such as the Shariah) ‘extremist’, the prospect before us is one of increasing polarisation, a growing distance and misunderstanding between Muslims and non-Muslim in this country.