By Jahangir Mohammed
The British State has been attempting to develop a version of Islam that is subservient to a secular ideology, ever since the Rushdie affair. This version of Islam has been widely described as “moderate” Islam in the media. The State has also been grooming individuals and organisations whom it would deal with as representatives of “moderate” Islam (moderate Islam for them being Islam without politics and ideas of governance).
This policy of reforming Islam was pursued more aggressively after 911 and the advent of the so-called war on terror. In fact, the War on Terror was little more than a cover for preventing the rise of Islamic self-determination in the Muslim world. The British Home Office began sponsoring new “moderate” Muslim groups to counter the ones they had previously promoted which were now considered too “extremist”. It also started to float the notion that Sufi Islam (the entirely spiritual type) was genuine Islam. The ideas of a reformed or moderate Islam became enshrined in the Governments Prevent Strategy. Prevent was the first policy in recent history that targeted all aspects of the life of an entire community, ostensibly to prevent violence, but the hidden agenda was to outlaw certain beliefs and ideas within Islam. This would allow the State version of Islam to be promoted freely and unchallenged. The Governments recent iteration of the Prevent Strategy published early this year, makes it clear that the policy is about unacceptable ideas, which include talk of implementing Sharia, even in the Muslim world.
Along with Prevent, new terrorism laws were enacted. Their remit was so wide that they incorporated not just acts of violence and their preparation, but also allowed for the prosecution of ideas, beliefs, thoughts and their promotion (Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006).
Having prosecuted or marginalised some preachers, created new groups to tow the line, attempted to outlaw some Muslim groups, withdrawn funding for those groups who it was alleged hold the wrong version of Islam; what remained was to outlaw certain ideas and ban the materials in which they were contained. This would then allow for an unchallenged promotion of “moderate “Islam and reduce the space for promotion of what Neo –con writers call “political” Islam. Of course the British State could not pursue a direct ban on books. Instead, in this next phase on the war on Islamic ideas, it has chosen to pursue a back door policy of effectively banning books using terrorism laws and the courts.
In recent cases, British courts have ruled that certain books and videos are terrorist material, effectively banning them and classing the ideas contained within them as not being genuine Islam. On the 13thDecember, a Birmingham bookseller (in Regina vs Faraz ), was sentenced to three years, for publishing and distributing a number of books and DVD’s classed as terrorist material ( using the opinions of an expert Muslim witness whose own ideology was clearly different to that of the authors in question, and hence his opinion was a difference of thought , not expertise ). This trial clearly shows that the next phase of the battle to create a compliant Islam is now being played out in British courts.
The books being judged and sold by Faraz inlcuded Milestones by Sayyid Qutb, and a number of writings by Sheikh Abdullah Azzam , Hassan al Banna and others. These were written in a different era, and for different conflict situations, yet judgements were made on them in Britain 2011. The prosecution case, the “expert” testimony and the Judges summing up, all point to the fact that it was not Faraz who was on trial but Qutb, Abdullah Azzam and the ideas and thoughts in the books; and whether or not they constituted legitimate Islam as defined by the states prosecution and “expert “. Having established that the books on trial represented an erroneous interpretation of Islam, Faraz as was bound to be found guilty. His crime was to be a publisher and bookseller of the books and hence to be associated with them, and by implication an adherent of the “erroneous “ideas and thoughts in the books now defined as “terrorist”. Therefore we have had the ludicrous situation where a British Court has been debating at length the legitimacy of the ideas of Syed Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, Hassan al Banna, Ibn Taymiyyah; and whether they had correctly interpreted verses of the Quran. And we have had the absurdity of a British Jury and Judge passing judgment on what is and isn’t legitimate Islamic thought and ideas.
The underlying conclusion appears to be that certain religious and political ideas are a threat to a secular British State and to be outlawed. It appears that the trial is history repeating itself. In 1964 when the first Arabic edition of Milestones was published in Cairo, its ideas were considered so dangerous that it was treated as a threat to national security. The nationalist and secularist Nasser banned the book, had it confiscated from libraries, bookstores and homes. Owners of the book were jailed, and every book was ordered to be burned by the military. Seyd Qutb himself, paid the ultimate price for publishing the book, he was hanged in 1966.
What made Milestones (Ma’alim fi’l-tareeq ) so “dangerous” was not a threat of violence but the ideas in it. It was a manifesto for Islamic Governance and for the implementation of Sharia in all aspects of life. Qutb had been the key ideologue and editor of the Muslim Brotherhood’s weekly newspaper Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin. The Muslim Brotherhood, had initially supported Nasser and the Free Officers movement in overthrowing the monarchy, a slave to Britain. In return they mistakenly reached an understanding that Nasser would allow the formation of an Islamic Government. Nasser however, concluded that his secular nationalist ideology was incompatible with Islam and turned on the Brotherhood. So began a repressive campaign by the military against the Brotherhood and the Egyptian people, that was to last until this year. Today, the Muslim Brotherhood has again done a deal with a nationalist and secularist military in return for a promise of power whilst many Egyptians demand a revolution and overthrow of the system. Once again they hope they can introduce Islam via a nationalist /secularist ruling system. Only time will tell if they have made the same miscalculation as they did back then.
In the Arab and Muslim world the “Arab Spring” has bought to the fore discussion of the role of Sharia and the introduction of Islamic ideals of politics and governance. Whilst in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere it is clear that Islamic Governance will be the future, the British State appears to have adopted the role of Nasser and dictatorships in the Muslim world, in using the courts to effectively outlaw Milestones and eliminate “political Islam”. Today its Milestones, tomorrow the British courts could rule on the works of Hassan al Banna, Madudi, Khomeini and anyone else who talks of Islamic Government and Jihad.
What Nasser and those that followed him did not realise is that you can lock someone up or kill the individual, ban their books, but you cannot kill or prevent the rise of ideas. After Qutb’s death his ideas spread like wildfire throughout the Arab and Muslim World, and Islamic Movements. The books classed as tier 3 (terrorist) materials in yesterdays Faraz case have been confiscated by the State and will now be destroyed. The British Government seems also not to realise that you can destroy books but cannot kill ideas. The Islam and ideas that they are trying to de- legitimize are the future of the Muslim world and naturally Muslims in Britain will embrace them too. The Terrorism Laws will one day be history and stand as testimony to Britain’s role in attempting to prevent the rise of Islam in the Muslim world. In the Meantime Muslims in Britain will have to get used to Muslim political prisoners in their midst.
Jahangir Mohammed is the Director Centre for Muslim Affairs and adviser to Cageprisoners, and can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect New Civilisation’s editorial policy.