Friday, 18 April 2014

Autocritique: Islam, Europe & Democracy.

My very first blogpost was an article on the British refusal to let Geert Wilders enter the country and to be received by Parliament where his film would then be shown. Later Mr Wilders was allowed into the country, to great controversy, given his own views of Islam as a ‘fascist ideology’. At the time I took the line that it would be much better if Lord Nazir Ahmed didn’t push for Wilders to be blocked from presenting the film. Rather Lord Ahmed should’ve challenged him and defeated Wilders in his claims about Islam, it’s not as though the film’s message is difficult to refute. He equates terrorism with the Quran pushing aside the collapse of Arab nationalism which led to the emergence of radical Islamism. Never mind the legitimate grievances of Muslims, not only the atrocities committed against Muslims in Palestine and Chechnya, but in former Yugoslavia as well. Nothing to do with the hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq either.
It still seems clear that if Geert Wilders had been allowed to enter then he could have been defeated in debate. I think that would have been constructive. My stance on this particular issue is not a part of a general position on free speech. It’s not a reflection of any bias towards the reactionary Right in its bid to further marginalise Muslims in Europe. So I would maintain the position I took up to that point. But I should reassess the following claims and implications in my article: 1) Lord Ahmed has a responsibility to adequately represent British Muslims, 2) the assumption that the Muslim population of Britain is a problem community; 3) any implication that if we don't listen to Wilders we'll have fascism on our hands. It's these aspects of my article which I wish to address here.

1. As Lord Ahmed was never elected we shouldn't hold him to the responsibilities of an elected representative and, in actuality, we should be opposed to the position he holds. It's not that Lord Ahmed poses any threat to democracy, it's that the UK doesn't have much of a democracy in the first place. We're a constitutional monarchy and, principally, I would favour a secular republic with a much more democratic form of government. So we should be asking deeper questions and not presupposing a present existing democratic system. We should ask why British Muslims don't have enough representation and head from there. Ahmed could not pose as such a representative even if he wanted to. Nevertheless, I would add that Lord Ahmed welcomed Israel Shamir to Britain and he has little ground to stand on to block Wilders from coming here.

2. It is the case that British Muslims are too often put on the spot to defend their religion. The expectation is that the British Muslim community have to prove themselves as loyal citizens. Instead of a presumption of innocence and loyalty, we have a presumption of guilt and disloyalty. I'm ashamed to say that I wasn't always immune to the mass hysteria which came with the 'War on Terror'. Actually the Muslims in the UK have nothing to prove. The 'clash of civilizations' thesis is a farce which was spawned by a mediocre squirrel-scholar. The facts are that the major allies of the US and the UK in the Muslim world have long included authoritarian regimes and continue to do so. The 'clash' is a convenient narrative. We claim to back democracy in Iraq while we support theocracy in Saudi Arabia. Muslims and non-Muslims alike are right to be critical of this.

3. There is no likelihood of a Fourth Reich popping up in the next few years. Nor was there such a possibility in 2009 when I was writing of the need to ward-off the BNP threat. There is a long-term threat of neo-fascist groups which we have to deal with. Geert Wilders is a manageable threat – just another political whore – as containable a toxin as Nigel Farage (until quite recently). The opposition to his arrival only served to strengthen his Janus-faced persona as a defender of freedom and advocate of banning scripture. He defends individual freedom, except when you want to migrate (if you're a Muslim), if you want to wear a veil, if you want to read the Quran, and so on. The threat we face is twin-headed, humanitarian liberalism and cultural nationalism converge. Wilders is not a fascist, he actually comes from the market liberal tradition; yet he is increasingly aligned with proto-fascists and has now climbed into bed with Marine Le Pen.

The battleground is not just a marginal one which we can block off easily. It is a matter of challenging and undermining the status quo, where we find even progressive liberals effectively take the side of nationalists and reactionaries. The very people we would expect to guard the liberal flame of human rights and civil liberties are no longer trustworthy. Just as the social democrats of most European states have now become the enemies of what is left of social democracy. The difference is that this isn't a matter of preservation (as there was never much there in the first place).

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