During the Cold War extremists like James Burnham, who declared themselves reformed Communists, pushed extremely hawkish policies which historians agree merely prolonged the Cold War by at least two decades. In a similar vein, a gaggle of self-styled ‘ex-extremists’ is today shaping security policy in both domestic and international spheres through alliances with the neoconservative right. In an excellent piece of reportage, Anderson Cooper, Kathleen Johnson and Drew Griffin of CNN recently exposed Walid Shoebat, one stalwart of this industry. Richard Silverstein who runs the excellent Tikun Olam began exposing Shoebat in 2007. Meanwhile in the UK, ex-extremist Maajid Nawaz of the controversial Quilliam Foundation, is being feted by forums like TED! A disgrace, indeed.
The contemporary religious revival is a complex business. In the same period that Muslim societies, in their weakness, seem to have re-embraced Islam, America, in its strength, has re-embraced Christianity. Western Europe remains avowedly secular. Despite the contradictions within the West, mainstream Orientalism holds that all cultures are developing towards the universal (or, more specifically, globalised) model of secular modernity and the market. The Muslim world experiences backwardness to the extent that it resists secularisation.
“The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation”, a subtle and erudite book by former Iraqi minister Ali A Allawi, challenges this thesis. Surveying the Muslims’ social, economic and moral failures, and the terror espoused by certain Islamist groups, Allawi suggests the problem might not be too much Islam, but too little.
Abdullah Quilliam was a 19th Century British convert to Islam, the founder of a mosque in Liverpool. He was also an anti-imperialist and a supporter of the Caliphate. He argued that Muslims should not fight Muslims on behalf of European powers, citing specifically Britain’s enlistment of Muslim soldiers against the resistance in Sudan. If Quilliam were alive today he would, at very least, be kept under observation by the British intelligence services.
It is ironic, then, that this activist Muslim’s good name has been appropriated by the government-backed and funded Quilliam Foundation, established in April 2008, supposedly to counter extremism in Muslim communities.
Those who read my stuff will know that I despise Wahhabism, and still more Wahhabi-nihilism. I oppose Islamic political projects which aim to capture control of the repressive mechanisms of contemporary Muslim states. I am stunned by the stupidity of such slogans as “Islam is the solution.” I take issue with anyone who attempts to impose a dress code or an interpretation of morality on anyone else, and I loathe those puritanical ideologies which fail to recognise the value of music, art, mysticism, philosophy, and popular and local cultures in the Muslim world. It is obvious that political Islam has often been exploited for very unIslamic purposes by the American empire and its client dictators in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere. Nominally Islamic political parties bear a great weight of responsibility for diverting the Iraqi resistance into a disastrous sectarian war. The terrorist attacks on London in July 2007 were abominable crimes and a catastrophe for all British Muslims. I know all that, yet I oppose the Quilliam Foundation.
Seumas Milne writes that “ministers want Muslims to accept shared values. Luckily they already do, including opposition to wars of aggression.”
The British government’s brand new counter-terrorism strategy is already in disarray – and ministers have only themselves to blame. The souped-up plan to fight al-Qaida, confound dirty bombers, halt suicide attacks and confront “extremism” in the country’s Muslim community was unveiled by the prime minister with much fanfare on Tuesday. But even before the 175-page “Contest 2” document had been launched, the credibility of its promise to engage with the Muslim mainstream had been thrown into question by the decision of Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, to cut all links with the Muslim Council of Britain.