14 September 2009

Islam vs who?

The recent clashes between Muslims of south Asian extraction and what looks like a group of angry young white British men have been portrayed as fascism vs Islam. My own view is that it isn't really clear what is going on here.

There are certainly elements of "go home" neo-fascist thuggery going on, but the organisers of the protest against the Harrow mosque appear to be a more mixed lot. I don't have a problem with there being mosques. Just going along to harass Muslims is wrong, but the key problem is what goes on inside. This is former Islamist Ed Husain's point in the Sunday Telegraph talking about his organisation Quilliam:

"When Quilliam's researchers revealed that Abu Qatada, "al-Qaeda's ambassador to Europe", was smuggling propaganda letters from inside a British prison, the then justice minister turned up on the BBC to dismiss our findings and say such work was "unhelpful". Boris Johnson recently called for greater understanding and tolerance of Islam at the East London Mosque – the same place where I and many others were introduced to radical Islamist ideology, and whose Saudi-trained imam is a signatory to a document that many say calls for attacks on the Royal Navy."

Indeed. If it were clear that mosques were places where Muslims were NOT being fed propaganda to undermine the British liberal secular democracy, there would be no fear. However, we know that the truth is different. Islam in Britain is different from the US and France as Husain says:

"When I visit America, I see Muslims who are free, vibrant, dynamic, and fully American. In France, too, there are greater rates of inter-religious marriages: Muslims marrying people of other faiths, and negotiating how we coexist. In Britain, rates of Muslims marrying outside their faith community are woefully low, and the numbers returning to the villages of Pakistan and Bangladesh for a spouse worryingly high."

So while tolerance of the right of Muslims to peacefully live their lives as they see fit matters, so does demanding tolerance by Muslim migrants (and indeed all migrants) for the British political system, and rejecting calls to use violence to change society. It also means respecting the rule of law, the equality of women before the law and respecting the right of free speech of others.

It means confronting the tendency of some young Muslim men to blame Western society for when they drink, are promiscuous and then feel guilty and want to turn to something "bigger than themselves".

This is why I am sceptical about news reports that simply portray street clashes as ones between fascists and Muslims, there is fascism on both sides, and fear of Islamism is a legitimate concern.

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