Saturday, 3 October 2009

Mann, Muslims and counter-terrorism

There’s a report over at Matblog of some excellent advice coming from what is (if only for lack of another label) a British Muslim thinktank. Even more amazingly, it was being given at a Labour party fringe meeting.
In a debate entitled: How should the left engage with British Muslims?, one presentation was by Ed Husain, Co-Director of the Quilliam Foundation.
His reported advice is summarised as follows:

‘- What the left should not do:

* Adopt the attitude of ‘take us to your leader’, and only engage with Muslim communities through self-appointed male middle-aged leaders.
* Seek representation of British Muslims as a monolithic community.
* Turn only to religion to address British Muslims. Besides mosque structures, there are junctures where Muslims interact with wider society: football supporters, college students, pensioners, for example. We must speak to them as ordinary humans and British citizens, and not just talk to them through the prism of religion.

- What the left should do:

* Engage with Muslims as citizens like everyone else. The British Muslim representative model doesn’t work for a whole host of reasons.
* The left — and the Labour Party in particular — should be the grassroots movement of British politics that young Muslims/Asians/Brits are looking for. The Labour Party has failed to galvanize on people’s genuine concerns.
* The left should not shy away from confronting far-right Islamist extremism. Fascism is not only a white-European problem. The left sees minority communities as those that should be protected and not criticised. This liberal paralysis ends up in doing a disservice to minority communities. Instead, the left must confront attitudes in these communities that are anti-women, anti-secular etc.
- Overall, then, the answer is that the left should not engage with Muslims as Muslims per se, but as British citizens and ordinary humans.
- After 12 years of Labour, the government has done many things right, but it is also worth asking where it went wrong and why Blackburn and other northern cities remain so dangerously divided along ethnic and religious lines.’

Excellent stuff, and isn’t it a line secularists should be putting on ‘minority faiths’ to prevent a dying church, desperate to retain privilege, claiming common cause with those it once strove to put out of business?
It also begs another question; why is it us ‘ex-Christians’ (again for lack of an adequate label) are less successful at dealing with the culture we’re from and our families still ‘officially’ belong to than, say, secular Jews or the ex-Muslim movement?
You can see more on the debate and presentations at .
Incidentally, off-island readers may wonder why I have such interest in the Quilliam Foundation, while on-island readers will recognise Quilliam as a Manx name but may not know the foundation, so here’s a brief explanation.
The Quilliam Foundation is a thinktank involving several ex-members of extreme Muslim groups, set up specifically to try and aid counter-terrorist policy making - and in particular ways to draw disgruntled, disenfranchised young working class British Muslims away from such lunacy and into more productive community or political thinking.
The Quilliam from whom it takes a name was a 19th century Liverpool solicitor, Abdullah Quilliam, who founded the first British Muslim mosque and was something of an intermediary between the British Empire (which he was no fan of) and the Arabic world. He, in turn, was a descendant of John Quilliam, an unflappable Manxman who commanded Nelson’s gun crews. When asked by Nelson how ‘we’ were doing at the battle of Trafalgar, Quilliam reportedly replied “middling”, then calmly walked off as bits of ship’s equipment and crew flew furiously around him.
Sadly, though Abdullah Quilliam had Manx links and even kept a house here, what passes for Manx historical accounts of him are little more than racist whimsy and folk tales. For some sense of what he was really about Wikipedia is a good enough start, and for more on the Quilliam Foundation see the link on the sidebar.
Both the foundation and the inspiration, I'd argue, are worthy of more Manx attention.

1 comment:

Andy Armitage said...

I was about to say, as I was still reading his list, "Oh, just treat them as people, then." Then he said it for me towards the end. It's about time we treated people as human beings, and forgot their religious affiliations, encouraging them to leave those at home and at the meeting house. If people are, say, assaulted for their religion, well, there are laws against assault.

Someone cleverer than I ought to do a thought experiment, and draw up a scenario whereby the country is run for a day, a week, a month, without reference to religion at all. See if it can be done. That would be a big thought experiment, but one worth carrying out.

I wonder if the country would get on very well with people enjoying their religion in private and not expecting it to have a bearing, positive or negative, on their treatment in the public square (i.e. by councils, police, schools, government, etc.).