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Still going a year on from 7/7: Where are we going beyond the decade?

Discussion in 'World Affairs' started by A.Rahman, Aug 12, 2006.

  1. A.Rahman

    A.Rahman ELITE MEMBER

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    Still going a year on from 7/7: Where are we going beyond the decade?

    By H.A. Hellyer A year ago, bombings struck our fair city of London. We used to make jokes about London: Britain’s unofficial capital (Yes, it’s never actually been formally made a capital in law. Isn’t it great not having a constitution?) used to be called “the Great Wen” or the “The Big Smoke.” Many of us probably neither remember that nor recall what a wen is, but we’re far more affectionate toward our “capital” now, after that abysmal attack. And indeed we should; the Olympic games do not come to just any old city, but only to a city of worth.

    That sense of esteem for our fair city is one side effect of that time, but there are others. And they are not all good. Elsewhere you can easily find a number of critiques on the anti-terrorism laws, extremism, radicalization, foreign policy and other such issues. They should be read, scrutinized, and debated; no one should think that the age of fire fighting in the Muslim or non-Muslim communities of the United Kingdom has come to an end.
    And indeed, we have seen a great deal of that fire-fighting frame of mind continue. A number of fire-fighting initiatives have come from the government’s “Preventing Extremism Together” working groups.
    Many British leaders from the Muslim and non-Muslim communities appear to have spent the past year stuck in that mindset. It is not entirely counter-productive and many sincere intentions went into it, but it cannot be the only frame of reference used by Muslim or non-Muslim communities in this country. In the aftermath of the July 7, 2005, attacks, the current was constantly toward this framework.

    At best, it is a framework that lacks vision and foresight. At worst, it involves poor “quick-fixes” and hopeless mantras; and is uncourageous and uninspiring. The issues dealt with are in themselves important. (Are we to let our civil liberties be destroyed by our own reactionary responses rather than the attacks themselves?) But the challenges that face us at the start of the 21st century—as Muslims and non-Muslims, Britons and non-Britons, Europeans and non-Europeans—are going to require a bit more valor and imagination. It is a waste of resources to look at ourselves in retrospect a year on; we need to look past a decade in the future and work backward.

    British, European and Muslim: Challenges we need to face up to

    There are short-, medium-, and long-term challenges that all Europeans, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, have to deal with. In the long term, we need to consider if we will close the gap between the rich and poor; if we will assist in the development of our health services; if we will improve in our efforts to deliver safe and clean energy to our citizens; if we will resolve the crisis of identities that so troubles us; if we will combat the destruction of our environment; if we will increase participation in our institutions from our citizens; if we will upgrade our media and communication to reflect all of our communities and individuals; if we will improve the level of trust between people and peoples. There are many problems that we need to focus on that are far more debilitating in the medium and long term to the future of this continent and this country than the issues that came out of the July 7, bombings.

    As for the Muslim community, committed to Islam as a faith and to their locality as their primary focus of interest, they too have responsibilities and duties. What are the possible contributions to Europe that arise from their being Muslim? What makes that contribution unique and different from a non-Muslim European, if at all? What contribution to Islamic intellectual history in the long term will be made by European and British Muslims? What visions do they have?

    It is feared in many quarters that neither Muslims nor non-Muslims have a real vision or strategy for the future.

    For the past year, Muslims have sought to respond as a community and individually to the challenges placed before them. Although this was necessary, Muslims cannot allow themselves to be defined in this way—by reacting and responding to the circumstances of the time. They need to have a vision about where they want to go as Londoners, as Britons, as Muslims, as Europeans, as people. Will there be a vision of audacity and splendor? Or will the very idea of any vision be cast aside and dismissed as a luxury that cannot be afforded?

    Yet, these questions are not really asked. How many conferences, how many meetings, how many rallies, how many gatherings, how many magazines, how many symposiums and consultations have taken place in the past year? And how many of them have been about intransigent responses rather than elevating the discussion to a higher level?

    Multiculturalism’s next phase

    The July attacks brought to the forefront a serious reality. It is seen in part through commentators’ reposes on the supposed threat of Muslims in terms of terrorism and the scare mongering of “Eurabia.” It bears considering, because it is an issue that will likely define the political spectrum of this country and this continent for decades to come; a short-, medium-, and long-term issue all at once.

    The July 7, attacks indicated that a majority of the British population is not about to throw their Muslim population behind bars or into internment camps. For better or for worse, Muslims are here to stay. That is a foregone conclusion … for now.

    That cannot be taken as an inevitable, inexorable reality. A careful look at the debate in Britain, and now also in Canada after the recent events there, indicate that a significant portion of the non-Muslim community is still undecided as to how it will relate to Muslims in their midst. One of their most significant questions is: How do Muslims relate to their non-Muslim neighbors?

    Multiculturalism brought respect for differences. That part of the discussion was fought over and ultimately the multiculturalists won. Differences are to be respected. But that will not be the end of the discussion.
    We are now in a second phase. Although it has been decided that differences are to be respected, on what terms can this be done? Is it to be a laissez-faire approach, in which we have a minimum of common values shared between communities and individuals from different backgrounds? Or are we going to build a new social contract where we agree on certain fundamentals?

    This is the issue: the future of politics

    There should be no fudging or misinterpretation about this point. This is possibly the political issue of our time; the issue that moves people on the left, right, and center. It is the issue that the extreme left and extreme right and everyone in between will engage in when the time comes to rally support: the “withering of the nation.” The far right has so far proven relatively incompetent and incapable of exploiting the issue. But this cannot be the case forever; indeed, not much time is likely to pass. It will not take much for the right argument to take this issue and make it the most central issue of politics. It is already perhaps the single most-important issue that defines the real differences between various parts of the political spectrum. Whichever part of the spectrum conquers this discussion will probably hold power for the foreseeable future, whether in Britain or elsewhere in Europe.
    Muslims will either prove to be an essential, integral element playing a key role in the discussion, or be a marginal contributor and key target that will have the terms decided for them by other components of society.
    This is not a choice that should be taken lightly. If the issues above are combined with a prevalent viewpoint in the mainstream that Islam is a foreign, alien religion rather than an integral British one, the possible outcomes for the Muslim community could be remarkably damaging.
     
  2. A.Rahman

    A.Rahman ELITE MEMBER

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    “Integralization”

    Muslim communities should think about what “integral” means in this discussion. Muslims, in order to fulfill their duties to their communities and to remain faithful to their principles, can be involved in an “integralization” process from within. A process that does not “assimilate” them to the hegemonic assumptions about everything in their societies, but encourages them to engage on every level in a full and constructive manner.
    This is not entirely a populist demand of the Muslim community, which is mainly used to thinking within political terms that are defined by the migrant experience and wanton bigotry from the mainstream. Nonetheless, it is an important decision to be made, as “out-of-the-box” as it may be. Muslims in the West should consider that if wholly orthodox and traditional Muslim communities in non-Arab environments have built integrally Islamic and indigenous cultures there, Western Muslim communities could do so as well. Not the creation of a parallel culture, but a manner to navigate the existing one while also raising it to a higher level. In other words, not simply responding to the mainstream’s assumptions but building on shared authentic notions.

    The alternative, which many in the West have already taken, is to try to rebuild other non-indigenous, imported cultures in wholly different circumstances. If a tree is grown and nurtured in one place, then uprooted and replanted in another environment—fungus, weeds, and all—the local soil is likely to reject it.

    On the other hand, if an original seed is planted elsewhere and has been planted in many other places, it can be planted and cultivated here in the West. It can, will, and should look different. A Muslim woman’s head scarf can be worn in the West, but why not in an authentically Western yet faithfully Islamic way? Why can’t Muslims in the West not be grateful for the good in their environment and simply weed out the bad, as was done in other places?

    The 12th century philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, in “O Beloved Son,” wrote that the peak of good etiquette (adab) is that “you do not burden people according to your own pleasure, but burden yourselves according to their pleasures so long as they do not violate the Shari‘ah.”
    Such is the principle of tolerance and self-sacrifice endemic in the Islamic intellectual heritage that is often forgotten in an era of identity politics. It is a principle that would probably go a long way in building a community of Muslims that is respectful of its own differences as well as its differences with non-Muslims.

    In this, faithfulness to the religion need not be an excuse. The Malays of Southeast Asia remained true to the orthopraxic heritage that was brought by Hadrami traders and immigrants, but even their upholding of their inherited Shafi‘i madhhab was slightly different than Yemen’s. The heartlands of that school of law are now actually in Southeast Asia, yet the niqab (face-veil), which is ordinarily compulsory according to Shafi‘i teachings, is not generally worn. This was not decried as a deviant attitude. Such a stance was wholly in keeping with that school of law and also avoided unnecessary confrontation with a culture that did not have the face-veil as a part of its makeup.

    This is just one of many examples in Muslim history of properly assimilating aspects of the indigenous culture without upholding anything forbidden. That is not only a cultural exercise, but also an ideational one. The scholars of Islam historically partook not only superficial habits and social norms, but also philosophical paradigms, examining, engaging, and ultimately filtering them through their own Islamic frameworks. They were fundamentally faithful but not dourly dogmatic.
    Such a tree planted can be cherished and developed.

    Responding to and transcending the debate

    It is important to point out how wrong authors such as Melanie Phillips and others are in their “Eurabia” discourses, but pointing it out is not enough. It must be accompanied by assisting in the building of a new nation that actually means something substantial, and is not built on “leave us alone and we’ll all get along.”

    One contemporary Islamic syllabus in the U.S. took three books as its key texts: an introduction to theology, a collection of two ethical treatises on good etiquette and manners, and “A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present” by Howard Zinn. The second of two books that were recommended also was a historical text, to help orient the religious students to a state of mind that would demand that they relate to the indigenous people of the land.

    The fear that their counterparts in Europe would not relate to the indigenous culture, and in fact, distance themselves from it as much as possible, is shared not only by those figures on the far right such as Oriana Fallaci of Italy or Phillips of Britain. It is also shared by deeply moral European figures such as Pope Benedict XVI as well as a growing number of Europeans who may not be averse to respecting differences, but wish to do so on non-relativistic terms. The question goes beyond Europe, as the recent reaction to events in Canada indicate.

    As yet, the instinct among many in the Muslim and non-Muslim political leadership has been to attempt to discredit the political actors who use these issues as populist rallying cries. Non-Muslims decry them as racists; Muslims as Islamophobes. This cannot continue. The demonization of the British National Party or the U.K. Independence Party will not change the fact that many of their stances are not as incredibly radical as the mainstream. Indeed, the mindset, when deconstructed to the actual issues, is probably very centrist. Modernity, European integration, and the fairly quick population changes across Europe have resulted in these issues becoming key to the way Europeans orient themselves politically, even if they would not vote for far-right parties that have been demonized by mainstream parties. The far right did not create the concern that many have for these issues; it only exploited those issues and provided their own answers. Other reasonable and well-thought out answers need to be provided.

    Consider that in France, around 20% of the population voted for the far-right Fronte Nationale. But when only the issues were polled, around 70% were sympathetic to far-right stances. The demonization strategy, combined with bad leadership among the far right, halted their advance. But this cannot be expected to hold true for long, and Muslim communities should take heed of this. The issues surrounding identity and national belonging should not be ignored by these communities. Rather Muslim communities should take the discussion head-on, and through constructive engagement, transcend the discussion to a more beneficial level.

    This is not to say that Muslims should simply accept the hegemonic terms in this discussion as a fait accompli, but rather they should enter the discussion. So far, Muslims have engaged with the left and even the far left (though not on this particular issue), but the center and right have not yet been engaged in the same way. The issue itself has barely been touched, and if it proves to define politics for the next decade in Europe, Muslim communities will have to engage with all sectors of society on it.

    It is worth noting that this is a discussion that has many levels and different angles. On the one hand, it should never be forgotten that the debate about integralization is not new. Ibn Taymiyya made this clear when he advised Muslims to acculturate themselves to their non-Muslim environments provided they do not commit forbidden actions. As far as Ibn Taymiyya was concerned, failure to do so would not only endanger Muslims’ survival, but would also stand as an obstacle to their bearing witness to Islam to the demographic majority.

    On the other hand, it is a discussion that needs to be ongoing to make Islam relevant in contemporary circumstances. The modern Muslim community is often dissatisfied with traditional Islam because of its seeming unwillingness to “come into the 21st century.” Such are the questions behind Professor Tariq Ramadan’s recent “Is Islam in need of a Reformation” tour. Although this perception may hold water for many traditional Muslim communities, it does not vis-a-vis conventional jurisprudence. A “reformation” exercise is not required nor desired; conversely, “upgrading” or “contemporarizing,” is not only permitted, but also demanded by orthodoxy. And sometimes, orthodoxy is resisted by conservatism. Muslims from non-indigenous backgrounds may have the right to preserve their culture, and indeed, such a right should be preserved in law. But they have a duty to act as witnesses to their spiritual pole, and that duty can clash with the former right.
     
  3. A.Rahman

    A.Rahman ELITE MEMBER

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    Leadership is seldom easy

    Leadership is what is needed within and without our Muslim communities. It is not easy. Emotions run high within, making long-term visionary steps difficult to even articulate. A year on, that is still clear. Expectations from the mainstream make leadership even more difficult. On the one hand, Muslim leaders must forge a path ahead for their communities to follow. On the other, they must remain faithful to their principles rather than simply heeding the call of the non-Muslim majority; hardly a soft rock or a tender hard place. It is not an easy job. Representative Muslim organizations can be criticized all day and all night, but they are trying to hold onto the support of their communities, which are instinctively (after years of bigotry) averse to criticism, particularly with regard to national belonging, since it was in the realm of race relations that many difficult events took place for Muslim communities. It was also in that realm that positive action took place—all at the same time as managing the difficulties of a diverse community in terms of ethnic and religious outlook, while also responding to challenges from the demographic majority. No, it is not easy; the risk could be that those who say the right things may not be very popular, and said unwisely, they could lose what positions they have. But visions are not built by always saying what people want to hear.

    History teaches us that there are different paths that vision, at least for Muslims, might take. Massive China’s few Muslims virtually dominated the import-export business during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 CE), and held the office of Director General of Shipping (not an insignificant post) consistently during this period. Yet, the “Golden Age” of Islam in China came about 100 years later. Uzbekistan, another country where Muslims were a minority, gave Muslims all over the world Sahih al-Bukhari, one of the most famous collections of statements from the Prophet Muhammad. It was someone born on European soil, Abu Madyan Shu’ayb ibn al-Hasani al-Ansari of Cantillana (near Seville, Spain), who spawned many of the mystical traditions that we see reflected in the Far East and Middle East today. It was in Cordoba that the lasting contributions to Islam by Ibn Hazm, al-Qurtubi, al-Zarqali, al-Ghafiqi, Ibn Tufayl, Ibn Rushd and Ibn al-‘Arabi took place. Many contributions were taken up by the rest of Europe, and many taken up by the rest of the Muslim world. Is this even conceivable today among Muslim European communities?

    These are precedents that are recorded in the books of history and lauded today, but they are not the foundation for Muslim or non-Muslim communities. They could be if the vision exists and the bravery is evident.
    The issues that led to the July 7, bombings cannot and must not be ignored.
    The potential is certainly there within all communities to contribute to a revitalization of our country, our continent, and indeed, our world. Perhaps they are less seen, and less obvious, and more active at the grassroots level; but they exist. There are efforts afoot, and with a bit of constructive himma (aspiration) for a beneficial future, perchance we might move forward as a society.

    © H.A. HELLYER/ISLAMICA MAGAZINE

    H.A. Hellyer is an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick. After receiving degrees in Law and International Political Economy, he completed a doctoral study of the European Union and its Muslim populations that related to law, political philosophy, and Muslim jurisprudence. A research consultant and social policy analyst, Dr. Hellyer is engaged in research on contemporary Muslim communities. His book “Islam in Europe: Multiculturalism and the European ‘Other’ ” is due to be published in February 2007.

    It is likely that attitudes toward crime, and to a lesser extent, the economy, are the other key issues in defining the British political spectrum; see www.politicalsurvey2005.com for some interesting, if not definitive sampling information.
     
  4. parihaka

    parihaka FULL MEMBER

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    Thanks Rahman, that's the best read I've had in a while:)