Sayeeda Warsi’s new book catalogues some of the hypocrisy and double standards of the British Government, the rise of the far-Right and bigotry against Muslims, yet has a glaring blind spot when it comes to Islamism. According to Warsi, Islamist terrorism is the result of everything but Islamist ideology.
Since most of those killed by Islamists are “Muslims” in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, her argument that terrorism is the result of Islamophobia, racism, foreign policy and social exclusion is unconvincing. Also, she fails to see that many aggrieved people end up involved in progressive political and civil rights work rather than inciting violence or murdering women, men and children in schools and marketplaces.
Without any apparent understanding of the context and rise of the contemporary transnational Islamist movement, including Iran’s key role in it, Warsi says “simmering resentment” began when the British Government apparently failed to prosecute Salman Rushdie for blasphemy. “Muslims,” she says, “wanted British laws to protect Islam,” and when it didn’t happen, the Iranians were more than happy to step in with what she characterises as “concern and moral support”. According to her, Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa put Iran in “pole position, ready and willing to come out leading the collective Muslim sentiment”.
Like any good apologist who is more concerned with blasphemy than murder, and who homogenises “Muslim sentiment” to coincide with her own, Warsi doesn’t seem bothered that the act of “concern” was a fatwa against a British citizen, nor that it took place during the bloody Eighties, when thousands of Iranians were executed by the regime. Warsi also seems to conveniently overlook the fact that blasphemy laws continue to persecute freethinkers such as Ayaz Nizami in Pakistan and Sina Dehghan in Iran.
Her apologia for Islamism is shocking. She says, for example, that “Islamist ideology has created a new generation of Muslim democrats” such as the AKP in Turkey (though President Erdogan has arrested tens of thousands, limited freedoms and rights of citizens, and is murdering Kurds).
She approvingly quotes a former US assistant secretary of state saying “’Islamists’ are Muslims with political goals”, which is like saying Pegida are Christians with political goals. She compares the “young men who first went out to help as the Syrian civil war started” with the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War, which is like comparing fascists with anti-fascists.
She says prominent Islamists such as Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood are “democratically engaged both in the UK and overseas” (though in 1971 in Bangladesh, some members of Jamaat-e-Islami were implicated in organising lynchings against people demanding independence, and senior UK-based Muslim Brotherhood leader Kamal Helbawy has praised Osama Bin Laden).
Every Islamist agenda Warsi writes about, such as gender segregation, the veil or Sharia courts, is sanitised and trivialised, while almost every organisation or personality is either misunderstood, misrepresented or merely branded “controversial”.
Zakir Naik, for example, who promotes the death penalty for apostates and ex-Muslims is, according to Warsi, “considered sectarian by some, an intellectual by others, an inciter of hatred by some and an enlightened orator by others”.
Having bought into the Islamist narrative, she falsely conflates criticism of Islam and Islamism with bigotry against Muslims and uses “Islamophobia” to scaremonger people into silence. And while she is critical of identity politics and the homogenisation of “Muslims”, she — wittingly or unwittingly — promotes both.
Warsi’s solution to the situation we are faced with today is more of the same: more religion in the public space and stronger “religious identities”, though it is clearly less religion that we need, not more. And while she considers secularisation a threat, it is in fact the separation of religion from the state, universal values and citizenship rights that will provide minimum guarantees against the intolerance and violence of religion in politics and power.
Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born co-spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and One Law for All.
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