chapter  9
16 Pages

British Islam tomorrow and the battle ahead

At a time of ever-increasing global economic, social and political interdependence on the one hand, with uncertainty on the other, questions in relation to what it means to be a Muslim minority are at the forefront of debates in policy, government, media and the academy in Britain. A range of discussions emerge on radicalisation, secularisation, modernisation, identity conflicts, intergenerational change, cultural relativism and social and economic alienation. A particular phenomenon to emerge is that of Islamic political radicalism. Arguably, those on the left of the political spectrum believe the ‘War on Terror’ and structural inequalities are at the heart of the problem, while those on the right argue it is more about the very essence of a religion that is seen as alien, barbaric or ill-adjusted to the expectations and aspirations of a post-Enlightenment Western Europe. Blame does not lie exclusively with the religion of Islam, the material realities of already-isolated British Muslims or indeed British foreign policy. They are all equally relevant in this sensitive equation. While the current focus has been on post-9/11 and post-7/7 experiences,

there have been earlier periods in the so-called radicalisation of Islam and Muslims; in particular, through the writings of Muslim ideologues in the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s, namely Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi; the actions of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and its wings, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Fateh, in the 1960s and 1970s; and the activities of the Libyans, Iraqis, Iranians or the Lebanese, including Hamas and Hezbollah, since the 1980s. There is a perceptible pattern where Muslims in Islamic lands have reacted against the ‘double standards’ and the prevailing interests of Western capitalistic economies vying for power and domination. In the decades since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the Muslim world has been in turmoil while Muslim minorities in the Western world have faced economic, social, political and cultural marginalisation. It is these harsh experiences that continue to characterise the current sociological, anthropological, cultural-studies and political-science interests in the study of Muslims in the West. Muslims across the globe have become the focus of particularly negative

1979. Images of 2 million men

and women on the streets of Tehran, shown on television screens all over the world, shocked many in Western Europe. The Rushdie affair of 1989 highlighted the extent to which the media and British Muslims (who vociferously opposed the publication of the book) became ‘emotionally unhinged’ over the issue, and how the South Asian Muslims of Britain were shown to be weak and intolerant when, in fact, they were expressing their opinions in relation to a publication that was to them profoundly offensive. This piece of magical realism deeply upset Muslims at the time, and it gave rise to discussions of freedom of speech, blasphemy laws and the protection of nonChristian religions in Britain.1 The first Gulf War (1990-1), the atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1993-6), the Taliban in Afghanistan (1997-present), Grozny and Kosovo (1999), the recent Palestinian Intifada (September 2000), the War on Iraq (2003-present) and the attack on Lebanon by Israel (2006) have all played a part in fostering a transnational Muslim political identity: a genuine and conscious identification with others sharing the same religion even though there are vast ethnic, cultural and social differences between groups.2