Thursday, September 09, 2010

From Fatwa to Jihad: Legacies of the Salman Rushdie affair by Kenan Malik

Kenan Malik says the Rushdie affair changed his life. In 1989 a crowd of over a thousand Muslims burned Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in Bradford. Like Rushdie, Malik was born in India. Both were born Muslims. Rushdie was already a prize-winning novelist with the Booker Prize for Midnight’s Children. Rushdie’s new novel was not an easy read. I never finished it. Muslims were offended by its derogatory references to their religion, its prophet and his wives. The Muslim reaction marked a turning point in British Islam. Muslims became assertive.

Liberal British people were appalled at their desire for censorship. Penguin the publisher refused to withdraw the novel from sale. India banned it. The Saudis encouraged a campaign against it in Britain. 7,000 Muslims marched through Bolton to protest against the novel. On 14th February 1989 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa sentencing the author and publishers to death. $3 million was the reward for any Muslim who murdered Rushdie. For a non-Muslim assassin the price was merely one million dollars. Britain, which had been vilified by Rushdie, began years of intense security protection for him. Penguin’s offices had police protection. The British government broke off diplomatic relations with Iran, but condemned the book as offensive to Muslims.

Malik writes that before these events, Muslims in the U.K. were identified more by race than religion. He describes a racist country, which had provoked young men like him to take action. But now, South Asian Muslim immigrants who had come to England for a more prosperous life, started to stand up as Muslims. 1981 saw the Brixton and other riots. This violence and clashes between different groups, racial and political, led to government promotion of multiculturalism. Malik offers a very critical analysis.

In Muslim communities he says it led to the businessmen who control the mosques being the link between Muslims and the political establishment. Mosques have no central organising structure. All are independent. Imams are often not the respected community leaders. Businessmen and other non-elected community leaders were able to rise further in esteem with minority and majority communities, as they became the one seen to be getting government money into the minority communities. He says that multiculturalism transformed Muslim anti-racism into demands for separate Muslim schools, halal meat in schools, separate schools for girls and a more tribal, not a united society and eventually it led to the terror of 7 July 2005.
He asks why the terrorist rage of the Islamists? He denies two common explanations for the bombings. He says Islam has no violent global jihad lurking within. Nor does he believe Western hatred of Islam has provoked the rage. He says that young respectable Muslims have been radicalised because Islamists have given them a cause to which to rally in their generational rebellion against both traditional Islam, which was happy to live as a non-assertive minority in Britain, and against a racist, Islam hating West.

He says, “there are four broad ‘schools’ of Islam today”: traditionalist, fundamentalist, Islamist and modernist. Traditionalists accept that over the centuries Islam has been transformed into different cultural manifestations from that of 7th century Arabia. Fundamentalist object to this transformation and want to get back to the real, original Islam. But fundamentalist divides into majority Sunni and minority Shias. That division is as much political as it is theological.

Do Arabs or non-Arabs have the final say as to what is true Islam? Is Saudi or Iran the true leader of Muslim orthodoxy? But the enemy of fundamentalism is tradition not modernity. I know that in Nigeria these groups have been at loggerheads for decades. In the seventies, the military government banned public preaching because of conflict between Izalatu Bidi’a, influenced by Saudi Wahabbism, and the traditional Islam of Nigeria. The Wahabbis said they preferred Christians to traditionalist Muslims.
Islamist radicalism grows out of fundamentalism. It rejects nationalism and democracy. Sunni Islamists wants a universal caliphate restored. Violent jihad and suicide bombing are the tools to use. Modernists though espouse Western liberal values to the extent of being influenced by secularism with its privatisation of religion separating religion and politics. Malik is a modernist.

Kenan Malik argues that after the Satanic Verses liberals are now sensitive about the feelings of Muslims and have restricted their speech so as not to offend. They agree that cartoons of Mohammed should not be published, for fear of offending a minority community. But Obama confirms that the liberal establishment does not show the same sensitivity to the feelings of the majority community.

Let me say I am not opposed to freedom to build places of worship for religions other than my own. I recently visited our local mosque to see their plans foe a new building. It was very impressive; probably it will be the most impressive structure in the area. I incurred the wrath of some fellow Christians for saying I had no objections to the new mosque. But my home area of Ealing is not Ground Zero.

Communities need to be sensitive to one another’s feelings and show respect but when those communities have different values there will be a clash. Malik’s book looks at how that tension is being resolved in England. He sees that government has chosen the way of multiculturalism in the U.K. in contrast to the melting pot way of the U.S.A.

Malik says.” The term ‘multicultural’ has come to define both a society that is particularly diverse, usually as a result of immigration, and the policies necessary to manage such a society. It has come to embody, in other words, both a description of a society and a prescription for managing it. Multiculturalism is both the problem and the solution – and when the problem and the solution are one and the same we can only be dealing with political snake oil. “

The problem as ever with writers about the impact of Islam is that while they are adept at analyzing the problem and the defects of prescribed cures they have little or nothing to offer as alternative medicine. I think Malik is much the same. A very perceptive diagnosis is offered but no prescription.

Malik says, “Multiculturalists assumed that minority groups would not want to jettison the past but to embrace it, that those born here would want to define themselves through their parents’ cultures and traditions. They imagined Britain as a, ‘community of communities’, and pushed second generation Britons of immigrant stock back into the traditional cultures that they had rejected. And so those second generation migrants found themselves adrift without any cultural ballast.” He thinks the lsalmists; working mainly through academic institutional setting not mosques, had an attractive cause to which discontented youth could rally. But it is a unique cause for it is the only one that demands the ultimate in self-sacrifice from its devotees.
In 1993 I was surprised to receive an invitation from a Muslim group to a meeting in our town hall. I had never heard of Al-Mouhajiroun. I found myself the only non-Muslim present in a meeting that called for the overthrow of national governments by any means and the establishment of one Islamic umma. Later the Blair government banned this group. But Malik contends that many of those that the Labour regime took on as advisors and to be links with Muslim communities are men whose sympathies are with the Islamists. Blair failed to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir. In the 19th century England gave refuge to political refugees from Germany like Marx and Engels. Here they developed their revolutionary doctrines that were to kill millions in the 20th century. Has 21st century U.K. done the same with radical Muslims whose home countries are deemed too illiberal for British courts to repatriate these revolutionaries who threaten to cause worldwide havoc. Their young British recruits are invisible to their own communities let alone to the security forces. The 21st century West has its very own fifth column of invisible sleepers. When will they next awaken?

I grew up in a world where people feared nuclear war. Now the fear is terrorism, a far more subtle and difficult threat to combat Where is the way forward as proposed by modernist peaceful Muslims like Malik. It seems to me that Islam is like the Church of England, a broad church with very diverse beliefs and practices. Like the Anglicans too there is a lack of discipline when radical heretics are part of the community.

The Islamists seem like the Freemasons or homosexuals. Some reveal themselves, but unless they do, no one knows who they are or what they may be up to.

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