Thursday, 8 January 2015

Liberté, Charlie Hebdo and Islamic Reform

It was terrible news from France. 

The attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, with so many dead and injured, shocked people around the world. No sooner had the bodies of the slain gone cold, their names not yet released, than the vultures came to gloat and peck over the carcass of our freedoms.

We offered our thoughts and prayers with all involved and affected. After prayer and reflection, I could do no more other than, as after the Woolwich killing, to ask people to stand united against the terror, against the hate and intolerance which seeks to divide us. To oppose those who fuel, carry-out and exploit such attacks on our freedoms.

There is no justification in Islam for taking innocent life. These ISIS style "Khawarij" are barbaric people who reject Islam. They reject the commandments of the Prophet (pbuh). In fact, some 1400 years ago, the Holy Prophet and final messenger of God, Muhammad (pbuh), described in detail these these merciless barbarians and said they are not from Islam. They are condemned. They are the "Khawarij". He foretold that black-clothed Khawarij under a black flag will leave Islam like "an arrow shot from a bow".

Also disturbing was seeing the exploitation of the situation by various interests. The rapidity of this disgraceful behaviour is seemingly increasing with each and every tragedy. Social media plays its role here. It comes at the cost of our humanity. Hysteria develops. Today we saw political candidates standing for election like Maajid Nawaz and his supporters, exploit the murders in Paris, to bolster their own political causes and ambitions. It was stomach churning. The bodies were barely cold, the families were in mourning and the names had not even been released. These people then spent the rest of the day trying to explain their callous and gratuitously self-serving actions. The vessel spills what it carries. At the same time we saw sympathisers for the attackers, claiming that Charlie Hebdo brought this on themselves, for provocation, for extremism for peddling hate and prejudice. These people, just as misguided and extreme as those at the other end of the spectrum exploiting the situation.

Whether or not you agree with the actions and methods of Charlie Hebdo, Islam requires the Muslim to defend the rights of others. The rights of human rights violators were being upheld millennia before the West would consider doing so. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) upheld the freedom of speech - even of his detractors. Subject to our laws, we must do the same. There is never a recourse to violence. Never.

I have always stated that I do not like cartoons the likes of which published by Charlie Hebdo but I have always maintained they are entitled to and have a fundamental right to, publish them. They have a right to freedom of speech, subject to the law of the land. As do we all. Whilst saying this, it was ironic to see a well known cabal of my detractors joining ideologies with the Charlie Hebdo killers, by looking to deny my freedom of speech as they attempted to block my interviews with the BBC and other broadcasters today. When you sit at home feeling uncomfortable that voices are not represented, you are absolutely right. They are actively suppressed. In time, questions will need to be asked about how Hebdo continue to see themselves as equal opportunities offenders, whilst taking action against the smallest of slights on some communities, and having open season on Muslims. Former editor, Phillippe Val saw fit to sack cartoonist Maurice Sinet over complaints from Claude Askolovitch and others, that the Sarkozy-Sebaoun cartoon was anti-Semitic. Questions will have to be asked about why threats from the Jewish Defence League and Muslim extremists were ignored and treated so complacently, about the fatal lack of intelligence, security and protections afforded to Charlie Hebdo. The Muslims of France, a 6 million strong community, have complained for decades about marginalisation, alienation, joblessness, failed by the education and social systems. The inhumanity of the social conditions of the banlieue. About detention centres and disproportionate rates of incarceration and severity in sentencing. Regardless of how over-simplified people wish to make this, the repeated and terrorising outbursts from angry young Muslims in France is no simple matter. There are many rivers flowing into this lake. As a friend of mine one said, people do not break for no reason, it is because pressure is placed upon them.

The fact is, no one was 'avenged' today. Certainly, no Prophet of Islam. The killers of innocent people, who may well have mocked all religions and people from all walks of life, are utterly offensive to Islam, the teachings and message of the Prophet (pbuh) and against the morality of all good people everywhere of all race, religion and belief.

What happened today, what did the killers achieve?

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right FN in France, and her anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant policies are stronger than ever before. Anti-fascist activists at Charlie Hebdo (yes, they were leftist anti-far right, did you not know?) have been slaughtered. There is more hate against Muslims. There is more fear. There is more anger. Twelve people died, many injured. Families destroyed. And as for the cartoons... the cartoons have been spread across the world like never before.

Ahmed Merabet, was one of the brave policemen who gave his life to defend Charlie Hebdo. He was a Muslim. He was a Muslim defending Charlie Hebdo. This is Islam. And the mainstream media will not tell you this, or you will find it in the small print on page seven. The debate will rage about Islam, when the issue is not Islam. It is a surreal irony that it always appears that terror attacks are committed by those not following Islam. Not by those who are following a complete and authentic Islam. And yet all the while, and increasingly so, people believe this is to do with Islam. This is the fitna, the great mischief, that needs addressing.

On part of the solution is the authentic Islamic education of the Muslims - otherwise they will continue to be misguided and acting against the wishes of the Prophet (pbuh) and the teachings of the Quran. Either out of Nordic pragmatism or enlightenment, nations like Finland have long funded this. Britain has responded with paranoia, witch-hunts and PREVENT. Anyone would think that the powers that be do not wish to either Muslims, or non-Muslims, well informed about Islam. If that was what you wanted, maintaining the ignorance and providing disinformation is precisely what you would do. An Islamic re-education and a return to the Light, can only be lead by Muslim scholars and educators who seek to reform our knowledge, intellects and the Muslim heart. That is the model of reform within Islam. The processes and systems are in-built, they do not need to be created. They merely need to be supported. Reform has never come from the likes of the Sam Harris funded McCarthyist Quilliam Foundation, or hate preachers like Hirsi Ali, faux reformists like Zuhdi Jasser, or Tom Holland, Islamophobes like Douglas Murray and his ilk. It never has and never will. Reform of our hearts and minds will come from within the Muslims. The texts are not in need of reform. If a child cannot read a book, we do not rip out the pages of the book; we educate the child. Reform is certainly needed of Muslims. The heart is considered the centre of human consciousness in Islam, from which all healthy and peaceful behaviours radiate. If people are not at peace, how can they ever live in peace?

Those who thinks 2.4bn people representing the fastest growing and most discussed religion in the world, will reform through outside influence, share an exceptionalism and arrogance that is costing us lives and tearing at the fabric of society. History asks us not be so naive as to forget that there are those who would see us at each others throats, whilst they fill their coffers. A casualty of 150 years of Western funded and supported, industrialised mass slaughter, invasion, usurpation and tyranny in Muslim majority nations has been knowledge, understanding and enlightenment. But if you have ever met someone from a conflict-zone, you will know why that is. The horror of war does not create peace in the heart. It does not create enlightenment in societies. The eyes and heart become dead and await new life to be breathed into them. Communities become battle weary, and hardened by the toils under tyrannical despots. By drones. By ethnic cleansing.

Whatever will be the outcome of today, communities cannot turn against one another. This cannot be an excuse to put pressure on to Muslims. This cannot be used to put pressure onto the people of the West. This cannot be used to create more fear and intolerance. There is already too much hate. We can change this. We just need to exert our collective will and place peace at the top of our priorities. Above profit. Above self interest.

We are all so very much in need of peace. Let it come sooner.

Thursday, 20 November 2014


Aristotle once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And so endeth the sabbatical.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

If The Government Is Looking For Extremists, Just Look Out Of The Window

This weekend saw a resurgent far right nationalist movement mobilise across the country on a largely pro-forces and anti-Islam platform. 

It is an incredibly divisive and dangerous message of schism which our elected officials have been complacent towards by allowing it to take-root so significantly.

My activism against the far right English Defence League (EDL) has been well charted in the public domain. My BBC1 debate with Tommy Robinson last year lead to face-to-face private discussions over a meal. No stone was left unturned in those three hours and despite being left dumbfounded and contemplating whether I had been “reading a different Quran” to others, since coming out of prison he has redoubled his efforts. Woolwich has resulted in a fivefold increase in support for his group and a tenfold increase in anti-Muslim attacks and incidents. Our paths crossed again over the May Bank Holiday weekend in a heated clash of words on the backstreets of Newcastle ahead of the EDL demonstration last Saturday, which I estimate was at least 7,000 strong; notably four times the official estimates from Northumbria Police. In light of the subsequent public reaction to our meeting, and the disappointing response from some prominent commentators on the left, my statement on social media dealt with the myths, clarified that ‘hug’ and being ‘papped’.

Despite that picture and the story printed in the Sunday Mirror, there is a human and personal side to this war of wills which many forget about. It is as much my faith as it is my sincere belief, that we cannot elevate, educate or enlighten those on the far right by demonising them, denying them a platform to engage or by attempting to crush them. There must be positive dialogue – albeit challenging and highly critical – to bring about change. We must move towards a peaceful settlement founded on tolerance and ultimately love for our fellow man and our communities, if we ever wish to hope to improve our condition.

As sickening and heinous as the killing of Lee Rigby has been, it is an utter disservice to his memory, to our forces and to his family, for the far right to be allowed to exploit this situation for their own ends. The societal impact and creation of rifts of intolerance makes it arguably more abhorrent than the disrespect shown to those passing through Wootten Bassett. The move by Help for Heroes and the statement from founder Bryn Parry to refuse donations from Tommy Robinson and the EDL has been a severe blow to the imprimatur of faux-credibility of far right nationalist extremists and their everyman Englishman delusion. They have not, and remain not, a friend to our forces. Woolwich must not be allowed to become a trigger moment for the EDL and other far right groups to mobilise their forces against the perceived common enemy of Islam, an ‘identified enemy’ in a ‘war’ as the leader of the far right recently described. This must be considered by some distance as equally extreme and as equally dangerous rhetoric, as any coming from the mouths of those preaching hate. We now face some fundamental questions about the shape our society needs to take moving forward from this – how we balance the freedom of speech and expression, especially where it is non-violent, against the interests of the state apparatus and the need for peaceful community relations.

In the past I have certainly called for the EDL to be proscribed, I make no secret of this. Those public calls were made at a time when the Home Secretary had taken the unprecedented decision to ban extremist Muslim groups who were fomenting hate and hostility.  At that time and still now, I see no argument why that should not have extended to the EDL when applicable to others. Peddling a twisted ideology based on hate, intolerance and a fundamentally flawed view of reality is always dangerous and an undeniable gateway to appalling crimes. To not have done so was to not only pander to the far right for politicking but to send a clear signal to British Muslim communities: your right to a safe, peaceful and tolerant existence in British society is not a priority interest for this government.  Government paralysis over the actions of the far right will continue to result in attacks as numbers swell. It is an absurd appeasement with direct parallels to the darkest of times in the 1930s.

I worked extensively on local, regional and national programs to counter extremism and delivered findings relating to both strategic communications and community engagement at the earliest inception of the Channel program. Those of us, who have actually delivered, know what works and also what clumsy, ill-informed, knee jerk reactions can do to increase radicalisation, marginalisation and disaffection. This is not the time to move towards easy and lazy Quilliamesque Peter King McCarthyism, where they become self-appointed arbiters and gatekeepers of the acceptable and unaccepted, but rather to take the best of the learning we have, the best of what has been delivered and the exemplars of best practice.

From the drum beats it seems that our betters will be shortly deciding to lower the bar on tolerance, for the sake of the common good, against those who spread extremism and hate in our society. If it transpires that the PM and Home Secretary choose to ignore the far right at this time, it will set a dangerous precedent for the future of community relations and sends a further worrying signal – that the rise of the far right will not be opposed by our elected officials. It is a mistake we have made before and cannot afford to repeat.

[Cross posted on the Huffington Post]