Islamism and Multiculturalism
This piece, written by the Director of Stand for Peace, was first published at the Gatestone Institute
British suicide bomber and jihadist, Abdul Waheed Majeed, in his last moments before ramming a truck laden with explosives into a Syrian prison, posed in a white Islamic tunic and black scarf for the cameras. Asked by the cameraman to say a few words in Arabic before his “martyrdom,” Majeed replied: “Sorry? I can’t speak. Everyone asks me that and … I’m not a very good speaker.”
Majeed, like a large number of British Muslims, does not, it seems, speak Arabic. He was of Pakistani heritage. About 70% of British Muslims are, in fact, South Asian. A mere 6.6% are believed to be of Arab descent. Evidently, very few British Muslims can actually speak Arabic.
Nevertheless, British Islam is firmly focused on the Middle East. The poet Hamza Beg, writing in the journal of a taxpayer-funded organization, Asfar, noted: “Since 1999, Pakistan, for example, has had a military coup, a purported return to democracy, and the assassination of the leader of the opposition, Benazir Bhutto. However, an entire generation of British-born Pakistanis have been more interested in Israeli incursions into Lebanon, the occupation of Palestine, and the war on Iraq. How has this occurred and what does it mean?”
British Muslims, Beg continues, have rejected “their parents’ cultural understanding of Islam as a religion. British-Pakistani Muslims have become Muslims first, and are losing patience with the Pakistani practice of the religion embedded in Sufi traditions.”
“In rejecting a culturally conditioned Islam,” Beg concludes, “Muslims in Britain have given up their equal footing and fallen prey to Arab imperialism.” Indonesian scholar Azyumardi Azra refers to this process as “Arabization.”
In a similar story, one South Asian blogger in the United States writes:
“Why hasn’t South Asian poetry, art and dress impacted any of the large American Islamic organizations of today? Why are nearly all Muslim converts distinctly Arabic in appearance, style, and culture? … This idea of Arabization of tongue and culture, of course, has been devastatingly successful, and fed right into the weaknesses of the colonized South-Asian inferiority complex. Hence South Asia began marginalizing their own culture only a few decades after the Saudi’s [sic] began the propaganda machine. The rich colors of the South Asian woman have been discarded…”
Over the past century, Arab-focused Islamists have attempted to homogenize Islamic cultures outside the Middle East.This process initially occurred in South Asia – Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of India.
The Indian academic, Baladas Ghoshal, blames the “Wahhabi creed” of Saudi Arabia. He claims it has attempted to purge South Asian Islam of its cultural practises and emblems, and has instead imposed a “pure and ideal form of Islam to be followed by Muslims all over the world.”
Wahhabis, Ghoshal writes, believe that the “adaptation of other customs, traditions and cultures in its path toward the expansion of the religion had only led to aberration and corruption of original and pristine ideas of Islam. It is only through the practice of mediaeval [sic] Arab traditions and way of life that the evil eyes of other religions can be kept at bay.”
Islamist movements in South Asia also adopted these efforts at Arabization. In the 1930s, ideologues such as Abul Hasan Nadwi – part of the radical Islamic Deobandi sect, which later gave birth to the Taliban – attempted to establish in India a single, unique Islamic identity based on “pure Islam.” According to Nadwi, this meant dressing like Arabs, speaking Arabic and reading the Arabic language press. Islamic revivalism, Nadwi claimed, required “emphasizing its affinities to his Muslim confreres in the Middle East.”
Islamist groups such asJamaat-e-Islami have since adopted these ideas. They claim that non-Arab culture cannot exist outside of Islam and that Pakistani Muslims were part of the “Arab nation.” The Jamaat-e-Islami theologian, Abdul Ala Mawdudi, has said that culture destroys the “inner vitality” of Islam: it “blurs its vision, befogs its critical faculties, breeds inferiority complexes, and gradually but assuredly saps all the springs of culture and sounds its death-knell.”
Over the past decades, since Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have distributed vast amounts of money to non-profit groups and schools run by South Asian Islamist movements, organizations such as Jamaat-e-Islami, for example, set about purging Pakistani and Bengali Muslims of their cultural ideas. The Muslim writer Sazzad Hussain observed the consequences of Islamist-led homogenization of his culture in the Indian state of Assam:
“The Islamist fundamentalist has one very distinctive characteristic—the denial of modern nation-state identity of Muslims to form a uniformed ‘Islamic’ identity at the cost of local tradition and cultural practices. … These days the Muslims of Assam are not identified as Assamese Muslims or Muslim of East Bengali descent. Instead they are merely homogenized as ‘Muslims’ … The use of Burqa and Hijab are alarmingly rising among the Muslim women in Assam. The ankle length Thaub, a Bedouin male dress and the red and white chequered headgear Kaffaiah are now in fashion for many Mollahs and Maulvis [clerics] and Madrassa students in Assam. It has reached to such an extent that this red-white or green-white chequered Kaffaiah is now replacing the Phoolam Gamocha, the symbol of Assamese culture…”
“Arabization and Islamization,” Baladas Ghosal writes, “are inseparable parts of a single cultural ideal.”
In the West, and particularly in Britain, the loss of South Asian identity to the unifying label of “Islam” is readily apparent. The change of Muslim dress, some Western Muslims believe, is a telling sign of this Islamization:
“Growing up in Pakistan, I’d never seen anyone wear a hijab …. It was only in the late 1980s that I saw my first hijab, worn by the mother of a Pakistani-American girl from Peoria, Illinois. Saudi-Wahabi social influence filtered to Pakistan and much of the rest of the non-Arab world throughout the next two decades, thanks to a campaign that attempted to export the kingdom’s religio-social values to its would-be satellite states. Slowly, more and more women started to wear the black burqa and the tight hijab.”
The Islamization of Western Muslim communities, however, has occurred with the assistance of Government.British multiculturalism polices encouraged British society to exist as a federation of communities in which each minority community was not required to adopt the values of the majority. This inverse segregation only served to chain particular communities to their self-appointed community groups. Among Britain’s South Asian community, these groups were Islamist-run. Consequently, a by-product of British multiculturalist polices has been, ironically, the homogenization of Britain’s Muslim community.
Western multiculturalism policies, imposed by governments in the name of diversity, have caused the destruction of traditional South Asian culture.
Former Islamic extremist Ed Husain has referred to the result of “25 years of multiculturalism” as not “multicultural communities” but plural “monoculturalism.” Husain recalls:
“Many Muslims want to live apart from mainstream British society; official government policy has helped them do so. I grew up without any white friends. My school was almost entirely Muslim. I had almost no direct experience of ‘British life’ or ‘British institutions’. So it was easy for the extremists to say to me: ‘You see? You’re not part of British society. You never will be. You can only be part of an Islamic society.’ The firstpart of what they said was true. I wasn’t part of British society: nothing in my life overlapped with it.”
Kenan Malik, a British writer of Asian heritage, has noted: “Where once [it was] argued that everyone should be treated equally, despite their radical, ethnic, religious or cultural differences, now it pushed the idea that different people should be treated differently because of such differences.”
The first victim of multiculturalist policies was the individual. The Indian economist, Amartya Sen, has stated: “The way that British authorities have interpreted multiculturalism has very much undermined individual freedom. A British Muslim is not asked to act within the civil society or the political arena but as a Muslim. His British identity has to be mediated by his community.”
Groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami have never achieved truly popular support in South Asia, not even in Pakistan – despite the best efforts of their Wahhabi patrons. When Hassan Butt, a former member of the British extremist group, Al Muhajiroun, visited Pakistan – the home of his parents – he said he was regarded as a stranger “because he had rejected traditional Islam.” Butt said he felt similarly isolated in Britain because the establishment treated him “as a Muslim, not a British citizen.”
The second victim of multiculturalism was the very cultural expressions that multiculturalism claimed to preserve. Britain’s multiculturalism policies offered taxpayer funds and political legitimacy to anyone who claimed to represent a community. As with all communities, it was the politicized activists who rose to the top and asserted their authority with little opposition. In the case of the British Muslim community, these activists belonged to Jamaat-e-Islami, the Bangladeshi Islamist group responsible for acts of genocide during the 1971 Independence War in Bangladesh.
Groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain are mostly run by individuals and groups tied closely to Jamaat-e-Islami. A 2007 poll by Policy Exchange revealed, however, that 94% of British Muslims do not believe the Muslim Council of Britain represents their views.
Italian academic Lorenzo Vidino has observed:
“The British multicultural model has traditionally relied heavily on community leaders who act as trusted intermediaries between the community and the state, to whom the latter can delegate the administration of various services. No such class existed among the masses of poorly educated South Asian immigrants in postwar Britain. The situation created the opportunity for the Mawdudists [Jamaat-e-Islami], thanks to their superior resources, organizational skills and good understanding of the British political system to surpass other groups in the competition for the role of community leaders.”
British Islamists, exploiting the imposition of multiculturalism, forced their officially recognized and publicly funded model of Muslim identity upon their conscripted South Asian constituents.The bright colors and sounds of Pakistani and Bengali culture were lost to the dark homogeneity of Wahhabi-inspired Islam.
As Amartya Sen has noted: “It is … not surprising at all that the champions of Islamic fundamentalism would like to suppress all other identities of Muslims in favour of being only Islamic.”
In the 1970s, British Asians had identified themselves in racial terms. They described themselves as Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi. After the imposition of multiculturalism, however, these labels gradually became “Muslims” and “non-Muslims.” The academic Delwar Hussein writes that in the 1980s, the British establishment embraced the concept of “Muslim community” and started to fund Jamaat-e-Islami groups such as the East London Mosque to deliver social welfare programs.
Lorenzo Vidino has written that, “the funds received from councils … allowed Mawdudist [Jamaat-e-Islami] organizations to significantly alter the balance of power in East London as secular organizations struggled to compete.”
As groups that actually represented Britain’s South Asian community disappeared under competition from well-organized, well-funded – and yet unrepresentative – Islamist groups, the diversity of South Asian identities started to fade:
“At the time of independence Bangladeshis who came here [to Britain] had a very strong sense of Bengali identity. But all that disappeared, because the official government classification ignored language, culture and secular politics, and insisted on viewing all Bangladeshis as Muslims. Suddenly they had lost all identity other than being Islamic. And suddenly Bangladeshis stopped being Bangladeshis and were merged with all other Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia.”
In 1988, the Rushdie affair helped to consolidate the Islamist hold over Britain’s Muslim community. Although initial protests against Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses began in India, it was in Britain where the most significant upheavals took place. Saudi Arabia encouraged Jamaat-e-Islami organizations in the UK to establish the United Kingdom Action Committee on Islamic Affairs (UKACIA) to coordinate the campaign against Rushdie. The Deobandi sect contributed to the anger – organizing book burnings and mass marches.
Several months later, the Iranian regime issued its infamous fatwa [religious edict] against Rushdie. An Iranian charitable organization run by the regime offered $3 million for the Muslim who murdered Rushdie.
The fatwa served to unite British Muslims and to isolate them even further from a state that had already made clear that they were to exist as Muslims and not as private citizens. Inayat Bunglawala, a British Islamist, recalls the importance of the fatwa: “I felt a thrill. It was incredibly uplifting. The fatwa meant that as British Muslims we did not have to regard ourselves just as a small, vulnerable minority; we were part of a truly global and powerful movement.”
The establishment’s response to the Rushdie crisis was, in part,pusillanimous. Although the Government criticized Iran and provided police protection for Rushdie, it did not break off diplomatic relations with the Tehran regime. Moreover, British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe told the BBC: “We can understand why… [the book] could be criticized.” It was “found deeply offensive by people of the Muslim faith” and “offensive in other ways as well … The British Government, the British people have no affection for the book.” Norman Tebbit, then a Cabinet minister, called Rushdie “an outstanding villain” whose “public life had been a record of despicable acts of betrayal of his upbringing, religion, adopted home and nationality.”
By unprecedentedly attacking the content of a novel, British policymakers chose to legitimize the complaints of the Saudi-backed Islamists in Britain as well as the Mullahs in Tehran – and so portrayed these extremists as representative voices of Britain’s South Asian Muslim community.
Today, some of the key Islamist figures behind the Rushdie demonstrations are involved with taxpayer-funded interfaith dialogue work. Manazir Ahsan, for example, was a key figure within the United Kingdom Action Committee on Islamic Affairs. During the crisis, Ahsan approved of Ayatollah Khomeini’s support for the murder of Salman Rushdi. He statedthat Khomeini “has expressed the Islamic legal point of view … We hope other Islamic governments will confirm this.” Today, Ahsan, is on the executive committee of the Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom (which he co-chaired from 2011-2012) – an organization that has received 80% of its funding from the taxpayer.
British Interfaith Dialogue is a natural product of multiculturalist policies: the division of citizens into pre-approved identities. The Inter Faith Network, in fact, rejects some religious sects, such as the minority Muslim Ahmadiyya community, as unsuitable partners for dialogue – apparently for fear of upsetting the Islamist-led organizations that make up its member bodies, who regard the Ahmadiyya as heretical. Just as multiculturalism offered supremacy to particular individuals and groups, so too, today, taxpayer-funded interfaith dialogue has damaged relations between different religious communities and has falsely legitimized Islamist groups as representative of all British Muslims.
Of course, Western governments are not morally responsible for the hateful ideas and murderous actions of the Islamist networks. That wickedness lies with the Islamist groups themselves. But by continuing to promote pernicious policies of multiculturalism while failing to protect the individual liberties on which the West was built, government policy serves to provide ammunition and willing recruits to the Islamist cause.
Against the onslaught of Islamist patronage from the East and government complicity in the West, the vitality of South Asian music, dress, books, poetry and ideas risks disappearing completely. Multiculturalism has not just failed to bring about a more harmonious society; it has allowed Islamist mobs to purge communities of the very cultural ideas multiculturalism promised to preserve.
 James Toth, Sayyid Qutb: The Life and Legacy of a Radical Islamic Intellectual  Ibid.  Kenan Malik, From Fatwa to Jihad, Page 105  Lorenzo Vidino, The New Muslim Brotherhood, Page 136  Malik, Page 104  Lorenzo Vidino, The New Muslim Brotherhood, Page 135  Ibid.  Malik, Page 18  Malik, Page 32  Malik, Page 33  ‘Britain: Dilemma Over Rushdie Book Escalates’, John Clements, Inter Press Service, 15 February 1989