On the 24th and 25th March 2014, the BBC hosting Maajid Nawaz on two of its shows, BBC 1’s Newsnight and BBC 3’s Free Speech to speak about Muslim community affairs (yet again). This is not the first time the BBC has hosted Maajid Nawaz in such frequency, nor the first time on the topics of Islam and the Muslim community, which Maajid is regularly called on to discuss, despite his disproportionately small level of support (or lack there of) in the Muslim community.
It can safely be said that Maajid Nawaz commands broad resentment from virtually all sections of the Muslim community in the UK, including even his fellow reformists (1). But despite this, many people analysing his latest promotion by the BBC have failed to grasp his true objectives, and the UK government objectives behind the current cause he is being used to champion. This has led many people to misinterpret his recent TV appearances, and focus on their dislike of him as a person, rather than the bigger picture behind his recent activities in the public eye.
While the UK media has demonstrated its unrivaled power to control who the wider public see speaking for the Muslim community and Islam, no one claims Maajid Nawaz represents the current beliefs and interpretations of the majority of the Muslim community.
However, this was never the objective behind his appearance, rather it is what Maajid Nawaz represents and the points he was trying to make, that reveals to us the real objective.
Maajid Nawaz, both by example of his person, and by his message, is an exemplar of what the UK government aims for the Muslim community to be in future, which are summarised as follows:
- Create a ‘reformed’ (and deformed) ‘Liberal Islam’ (2) (3) that fully adopts Liberal values,
- Detaching Muslims living in Britain intellectually and emotionally from the rest of the Ummah (global Muslim community), and set up British nationalism as the definer of their ‘main identity’ and
- Complete mental enfranchisement of Muslims into the concept of Secularism, by encouraging active enfranchisement and confidence in the Secular democratic system, via voting (4).
BBC2 Newsnight Program ‘Who speaks for Muslims’
On Monday 24th March 2014, Newsnight hosted and helped produce a film directed by Maajid Nawaz highlighting the ‘divergent voices’ in the Muslim community. Maajid Nawaz started out by talking about Muslim identity, and said that ‘for a large part of his life, it [his Muslim identity] was the defining part [of his identity]’. Clearly Maajid Nawaz means that being a Muslim no longer defines him, not really news to the Muslim community, but worryingly considering this is the kind of assimilation the UK government wants? Apparently so.
Mis-representing the Muslim community
Maajid then continued the video by depicting the Muslim community as being dominated by intolerant ‘loud voices’, and pushed through the idea to the viewer that not only are these ‘loud voices’ a small minority, but that Muslims are divided amongst themselves and either cannot be represented by those ‘loud voices’, or are dominated by them. Maajid then advanced that ‘there are an increasing number of Muslims who use their faith identity to advance a progressive [Liberal] agenda, yet we seldom hear from them’. Unfortunately we do hear such people all the time – the media’s love affair with Maajid Nawaz being just one example of a case in point! Maajid claimed that when he tweeted a derisory picture of the Prophet Muhammed (saaw), he argued the banal and trite claim of receiving ‘death threats’ (how original!), which simultaneously piqued the anger of the TV audience, and made himself look like a ‘martyr’ for ‘free speech’ (of course, thats the very same free speech he denies to mainstream Muslim organisations he advises the government against). It’s strange isn’t it? Virtually every outspoken celebrity, personality and blogger at some point has received death threats over the internet, yet to paraphrase the Joker character from Dark Knight, ‘no one panics’, its just expected as ‘part of the plan’ when you use the internet. Yet one person claims Muslim individuals on the net issue him with deaths, and everyone starts losing their minds!
The argument of Maajid’s video was highlighted very clearly: Muslims are divided, disunited, and have many people who call themselves ‘Muslims’, but hold extremely divergent views. If this is the case, the argument goes, then no one can speak for British Muslims. This then reveals the true objective behind this argument, namely, that no one can object to attacks against Islam, or can claim to defend fundamental Islamic opinions, as they do not have authority to represent Muslim opinions on any particular issue.
This then means that, all it takes is one Muslim to claim he or she has no problem with an anti-Islamic message, or claim that Islam is compatible with an unIslamic belief or lifestyle (which they coincidentally happen to partake in), in order to strip all Muslims of the protections from social persecution and harassment by Liberal critics of Islam, that they could claim as a minority community. For example, by Maajid Nawaz re-tweeting a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammed (saaw) from a series that ridicules him (saaw) and Prophet Jesus (saaw), he effectively opened the door to the normalisation of this ridicule by Liberal society, and the silencing of any Muslims who care voice their objection to this depiction – as being ‘intolerant’, because ‘if one Muslim has no problem with it, why do you?’ . This then enables mainstream doctrines of Islam to be attacked with impunity, and Muslims holding them or defending them, to be ostracized by the wider society.
The issue was misportrayed by Maajid Nawaz. The question is not who speaks for Muslims, but rather who speaks for Islamic beliefs. Although there is a lot of difference of opinion between Muslim scholars from differing schools of thought – the commonalities and foundational concepts outnumber those that are disagreed with. This is deliberately forgotten and ignored by Liberals and modernists (i.e. Liberal reformers of Islam) in order to muddy the waters in the debate. For example, all Muslims believe that there is one God, and that Muhammed (saaw) is the last and final messenger – could we say to any Muslim advocating this ‘you do not have the representation of the Muslim community to argue this’! Of course not, but this is precisely the argument Maajid Nawaz (and his fellow Liberal reformers) make about the other fundamental aspects of Islam they find incompatible with Liberalism.
‘Rescuing’ the Minority within the Minority
Maajid’s farce of a video continued by showing various individuals who described themselves as ‘Muslims’ but held beliefs and opinions about Islam which were patently absurd and contradictory to Islamic beliefs. The aim of this was rather simple – it was a rallying call for Liberals to put pressure on the Muslim community ‘in the defence’ of the ‘minorities within a minority’ whose voices ‘go unheard’ due to the ‘loud voices’ of ‘extremists’. Of course the objective behind this was insidious as it was ironic, giving the wider Liberal society the green light to interfere with and pressure a minority living amongst it, for the sake of protecting ‘minority rights’!
To this end, the program showcased, Omar Kuddus, an activist for same-sex intercourse being ‘halal’ (Islamically permissible). The video depicted ‘Gay Muslims’ as marginalised in Muslim community. This led to strangely contradictory point where Omar Kuddus claimed ‘why do we not have a voice? we do count!’ – Well according to Maajid’s final conclusion in the video (see below), no one can represent you except your local MP, so why are you complaining Mr Kuddus? Oh that’s right, the mainstream Muslim community apparently can never be represented, but the eclectic and fanciful opinions of fringe ‘Muslims’ who believe same-sex intercourse is ‘Islamic’, deserve to be? Contradiction anyone?
Maajid then interviewed the feminist activist, Sara Khan, director of Inspire, who argued that there was an ‘original Islam’ which ‘liberates Women’ [i.e. a Feminist ‘interpretation’ of Islam] but is somehow suppressed by Muslim ‘preachers’ who want women to stay at home. Isn’t it interesting, that Sara was able to argue that with a straight face, yet if a Muslim advocating standard Islamic beliefs argued that he/she followed an ‘original Islam’ to the exclusion of all others, they are called ‘fundamentalists’, ‘intolerant’ and ‘extremists’. I guess its only ‘ok’ when Modernists, Feminists and Liberals do it then.
The strange thing I find about the argument for Feminism to be embraced by the Muslim community, is that many Muslims (and non-Muslims) are currently confused as to what Feminism means. No doubt, Sara Khan’s advocacy for a Feminism of an ‘Islamic flavour’ is still fringe even amongst Feminists! This is because Feminism is not based upon one book, or one individual who is an exemplar upon which all follow, but rather it is based upon the majority or mainstream of Feminists – which is distinctly held by a non-Muslim majority – the so-called Liberal Feminists. The real argument that Sara has to argue, is not whether her watered-down interpretation of Islam to fit Feminism, represents Islam – but rather the question she should answer is whether her interpretation of Feminism with an ‘Islamic flavour’ actually represents Feminism! (though I doubt a video on ‘who speaks for Feminists’ will be produced any time soon).
Maajid Nawaz then interviewed the supposed ex-Muslim Atheist (and Communist!), Maryam Namazie – he did indeed save the ‘best’ for last. The video portrayed ex-Muslims as requiring special help, because they allege they receive ‘death threats’ for being ex-Muslim. Maryam Namazie claims that she and her fellow ‘ex-muslims’ challenge apostasy laws in Islam that kill apostates in Muslim countries, and that Muslims who insist on using ‘Muslim as the main identity and the only identity of countless individuals is actually part and parcel of the effort to handle them over to Islamist movement’. So choosing to call oneself and define oneself through reference to one’s very place in creation, is actually just about an insidious political movement Maryam?! You’ll forgive me Maryam if I don’t take anything a Communist has to say about political ideology and Islam, seriously.
The misrepresentation of the ‘apostasy laws’ aside, the first question we should ask is, how are ex-Muslims part of the Muslim community?! Muslims aren’t a race, so surely ex-Muslims should not be on a video apparently depicting ‘voices within the Muslim community’ as they are, by their own admission, not even within the community anymore! Of course this reveals again the reason for the video. Throughout the video, Maajid keeps repeating that these ‘minorities within a minority’ are ‘afraid to speak out’ and fearful of ‘coming out the closet’. – Exactly what reason could Maajid have to say these things, when there are no corroborating crime statistics to show that ex-Muslims have been killed for leaving Islam in the UK, or even physically attacked? The video was never aimed at the Muslim community, nor at encouraging the Muslim community to accept difference of opinion (even when it goes outside the boundaries of their faith!), but rather the target of the video was the Liberal non-Muslim majority – specifically, a rallying cry to help the ‘minority within a minority’, so that Liberals could feel justified when they ironically and forcefully intervene and impose Liberal values upon Muslims, in the name of defending minority rights.
Preaching the ‘Gospel according to Democracy’
Maajid Nawaz concluded his video with his final point: since no one defines or represents a community, Muslims in the UK should seek participation in democratic elections, and resolve their issues through, presumably a secular and liberal framework.
Maajid Nawaz said: ‘The idea that community leaders can represent all UK Muslims, belongs in the past, we already have a system for representation, parliament and local councils. I want Muslims living in the country to be free to speak their mind like everyone else, and most of all, to speak for themselves’
If Maajid’s argument is that no one can truly represent the Muslim community because no one is a perfect representation of everyone’s opinions, than he has just unwittingly argued that no one could ever represent any other kind community either! This means that Omar Kuddus, Sara Khan and Maryam Namazie all don’t represent the ‘gay Muslim’, Feminist or ‘ex-Muslim’ Atheist ‘communities’ either?! Which is an ironic contradiction.
Of course, the argument that representation is impossible due to difference of opinion, is in effect, actually a good argument against democracy. This is not just a fallacy of representation amongst a minority, but also the fallacy behind the hopes of democratic theory. The current Prime Minister doesn’t represent most people’s views or opinions, and no one would accept it if he put his personal opinions forward as representing British people. However since the state’s authority is based upon confidence in the system, the political establishment must ensure the British public continue to believe that politicians represent the public will, even when virtually all evidence points to the contrary. This is the necessary and convenient fiction used to placate the masses, and many non-Muslim thinkers and philosophers have rightly noticed this and criticised this (5).
The ironic fact is that there are a significant majority of non-Muslims in Britain who are disillusioned with British democracy (6); perhaps those in the UK Muslim community who refuse to participate in elections, are merely agreeing with their non-Muslim neighbors on the issue?!
The Studio Debate
The post-video debate in the studio was actually the side-show, not the main show, and was designed to affirm the conclusions in the video. The show’s host, Jeremy Paxman remarked that many invitations to leading personalities within the Muslim community had been turned down due to not being willing to share a platform with Maajid Nawaz – which was natural due to the lack of credibility of both Maajid Nawaz, and the programme itself.
While it was good that many respected Islamic scholars and personalities didn’t turn up, as the studio debate unfolded, it was clear that those who did turn up and had been invited to act as a counter to Maajid Nawaz, would unwittingly be used to prove his point about the ‘intolerance’ within the Muslim community. A standard BBC tactic of entrapment – one that the Muslim community knows about so well.
Both Jeremy Paxman and Maajid Nawaz then tilted the show against the two invited guests, Mohammed Ansar and political commentator Mehdi Hasan, embroiling them in a quagmire of discussing their offense to Maajid Nawaz tweeting of a derisory cartoon of the Prophet Muhammed (saaw). Both Mehdi and Mohammed were portrayed as having irrational and illiberal reasons for their offense – which only served to underline Maajid’s point about ‘intolerance’ within the Muslim community. The show was so tilted against the two invitees, that some people watching commented online that that programme of newsnight might as well have been directed by Maajid Nawaz!
However, the debate then went downhill, with both Mehdi Hasan and Mohammed Ansar having to present their liberal credentials in the face of the barrage they received attempting to depict them as intolerant ‘extremists’. This led to a series of concessions, where Mohammed Ansar had to invoke his history of ‘standing for gay rights’, and that no one is a community leader (which reinforced Maajid’s arguments). This was despite the fact that the issue is not about community leading, but about representing the fundamentals of Islam, upon which defines the Muslim community as Muslim. Missing out this point played right into Maajid’s lap.
Mehdi and Mohammed did make some pertinent points about Maajid Nawaz not appearing as Liberal as he claims to be, citing his history of demonising mainstream Muslim organisations as ‘extremists’ while putting himself as the ‘gatekeeper’ of what is authentic Islam – leading to him being widely hated by the Muslim community. Although these claims are true (and will be discussed more in the 2nd part of this article), Maajid Nawaz isn’t illiberal for helping the government use types of intellectual and social compulsion against the Muslim community in the UK. If Mehdi and Mohammed had studied the political history and nuances of Liberalism as an intellectual tradition, they would soon find that mainstream Liberal thinkers have never eschewed various methods of compulsion as a means to spread Liberal ideas, compelling the people to adopt Liberal ideas is merely one tool in its arsenal that it uses ‘when necessary’.
Mehdi Hasan made a pertinent final point – namely, that in national public debate, it is not Muslims that get to decide who speaks for them, but actually the media who do. This was absolutely correct, since the media can raise Muslims to prominence and isolate others merely by choosing who goes on their programs and who the wider non-Muslim community sees. This has led to the strange phenomena of fringe and often much hated individuals, like Maajid Nawaz, getting invited to influence the UK national debate about Islam and the Muslim community far in disproportion to his actual popularity, or the popularity of his ideas, amongst the Muslim community – but of course, that’s the point.
Maajid Nawaz, making Liberalism Compelling (but not convincing, or tolerant)
However, despite the media’s portrays of Maajid, he is not the voice of a ‘minority within a minority’, but rather, he is one voice of the majority of UK community against a minority. An adherent and true believer of the ideology of political Individualism, aka Liberalism. Mr Nawaz is the acceptable face of direct government interference, compulsion and intolerance of non-Liberal dissenting opinions, namely Islam in its original form.
While a non-Muslim and ‘white’ UK government can’t be publicly seen to lead a concerted campaign against the mostly asian minority Muslim community, Maajid is the perfect weapon, for to non-Muslims he appears as a Muslim and an asian too – so there’s no worry of accusations of racism, or complaints of government interference in minority religious matters – they just ‘throw’ Maajid Nawaz against the Muslim community to go witch-hunting for ‘extremists’ and exorcising the demons of ‘Islamism’ out of ordinary unsuspecting Muslims. Of course, they can always make him out to be a martyr for Liberal values when Muslims complain, and then they denounce all those against Maajid as being ‘intolerant’ of his work standing up for the ‘minority within a minority’. All the while, the Muslim minority suffers political and social intolerance against their beliefs, lifestyles and religious values.
In the second part, I look at the BBC inviting Maajid Nawaz to talk on BBC 3’s programme ‘Free Speech’ to discuss being ‘gay and Muslim’, and we take a further look at the claims made about him, the history of his organisation, Quilliam, and the way to navigate between defending Islam to those with a Liberal mindset.
A brief note on Newsnight’s disinviting ‘a woman’
Leading up to the newsnight show, the Feminist campaigner, Myriam-Francois Cerrah was apparently selected to appear on the Newsnight panel. However, an editorial decision was made last minute to swap her for Mohammed Ansar, an individual which has appeared on BBC before.
The simplest explanation why Myriam was de-selected by the editor of the Newsnight show, Ian Katz, was probably due to the fact that Maajid Nawaz had already included the ‘Feminist voice’ in his short video, in the form of Sara Khan from the Feminist campaign group ‘Inspire’, and didn’t want to double-up on having one ‘perspective’ on the show (or perhaps because both Myriam and Mehdi Hasan write for Huffington Post).
Whatever the reason for the de-selection, however, the matter didn’t end there, Myriam played the ‘gender card’ as ‘apparently’ (7) it was wrong for her to be de-selected from the panel because she is a woman! Or as she put it: ‘whether me or another female voice, it’s important Muslim women are included in discussions on representing Islam’ (8). However, representing Islam merely requires intellect, and since all male and female intellects are equal, surely it shouldn’t matter the gender of the participants? Surely only a sexist would complain about the gender of the participants? Of course, but not so when Feminists argue it, it appears.
Myriam scoffed at BBC Newsnight’s editor Ian Katz, when he proffered the argument that the panel needs to represent a wider range of views (and not just another feminist). Myriam argued that: ‘the issue is to do w[ith the] meaning of ‘representative’ wom[a]n [are] more active outside formal [Islamic] structures like mosques but no less active in [community]’ (9). Of course, she misses out the fact that the panel represents no voice but the opinions of the individuals themselves, a fact she admitted herself (10). There is no doubt women are highly active in the Muslim community on many levels, but where the real issue lies, is not in whether Muslim women can represent Islam, but rather in the fallacy that Myriam can represent their views just because she shares the same chromosomes as them.
However the truth is, she would represent female Muslim voices in about as much as Mohammed Ansar and Mehdi Hasan would represent ‘male community’, namely, none.
Mehdi Hasan raised the point during the show that the media select Muslim speakers in a carefully controlled way to give a specific image to the public. Mehdi claimed during the show that the show contributes to the Media making Islam look like it has only male speakers. However, the Muslim community should not be pandering to the strangely cultural quirks of Western society, like insisting token females should always be present on any panel which may happen to be mostly or exclusively male, in order to satisfy the West’s psycho-traumatic need to correct its own historical injustices. Somehow I don’t think we are going to hear from Siraj Wahaj, or Khalid Yaasin about why there wasn’t a ‘black Muslim’ on the panel to represent the views of the ‘black Muslim community’!
One of the good things about Islam is, it disregards, race, gender and nationality when it comes to intellectual affairs, and adopts a purely meritocratic outlook. The West has a lot of to learn about defeating sexism, racism and nationalism from Islam, namely, you only defeat it when you transcend it and it becomes a non-issue.
Perhaps Myriam could maybe counter that she would have wished to represent ‘Muslim Feminism’ on the panel. However, Maajid Nawaz beat her to it, by including in his film, Sara Khan from ‘Inspire’, an avid proponent of Feminism amongst the Muslim community, someone Myriam supports (11).
Curiously, Myriam expressed dislike at Maajid Nawaz’s including Feminists in his short video with his bag of ‘progressives’ (i.e. Liberal missionaries in the Muslim community) because she believed that it would taint the cause of ‘Muslim’ Feminism in the mind of the Muslim community: ‘[Maajid Nawaz’s] linking of Muslim feminists to ex-Muslims as different examples of “progressive” voices within the community has done a huge disservice to Muslim feminists who struggle as it is to be recognised as speaking from within. Now we’re being put in the same boat as those who campaign against the faith!’ (12).
Although Maajid Nawaz included ex-Muslims in his film, he didn’t link them to Feminists, but rather included them as one group of ‘critics’ of the Muslim community and its’ beliefs about Islam. Considering that ‘Muslim Feminists’ also critique the Muslim community and its’ beliefs about Islam, (like how Feminists reject Quranic injunctions for double inheritance to males (13) ) why wouldn’t Maajid Nawaz support Feminism in his film? After all, as a Liberal, its natural he supports Feminism too!
Feminists are merely campaigners for the application of Liberalism from the gender angle, and therefore have ultimately the same goals as Maajid Nawaz, namely the transformation of Islam into a Secular-Liberal compliant ‘religion’. So Maajid isn’t against Feminism, on the contrary, it is just one part of the Liberalism’s multi-angled assault on Islam. So the question should not be whether Maajid Nawaz should make public his support of Feminism, but rather, the real question is why these Feminists don’t work more closely with him in their mutual goal?
1 Long time Modernist writer Ziauddin Sardar decrys Quilliam for being ‘neo-con’ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/apr/24/islam.religion
4 This is something that hasn’t even been fully achieved with the majority non-Muslim population in the UK, as testified to by record levels of low voter turnout.