Let us be clear; a Caliphate is a totalitarian state.
There is no room for nuance there. It is a state run by religious supremacists, privileging one religious sect and its irrational base of law, with the rights of the rest of us decided upon by self appointed ‘scholars‘ of that particular religious sect. From birth, a human being’s liberty is chained completely to the religious belief of others. It is a cage. Those who fight for that state, should not be appeased, or ‘brought to the negotiating table‘, or compared to Mandela (as, bizarrely, Corbyn’s fans are doing with Hamas across social media) by anyone proud to call themselves a liberal. From here on, I will use the term ‘totalitarian state‘ rather than ‘Caliphate‘, because it is right to call it out for what it is.
There appears to me to be a gap in the explanation of what it is driving young people toward Islamism. There are simplistic critics determined to reduce the entire issue down to “Blair did it“. Equally, there are those convinced that all Muslims are violent Jihadists in the making. Both reduce the problem to a narrative that fits their prejudices. Lingering somewhere in between, and not often spoken of, is the romanticising of a totalitarian Islamist state.
CAGE is one of those organisations that promotes itself as a human rights organisation, whilst simultaneously promoting the concept of imposing law derived from a religion. Thus, it becomes spectacularly easy to pick apart CAGE’s self-proclaimed defender of human rights label. This is because Human rights, and a totalitarian state that privileges one sect of one religion, that places religious dogma above reason if reason & science contradict the religion, are of course incompatible. We see across history and across the World today, where religion has a protected and privileged place in law, victims of that religion are abundant. From Christian Uganda, to Islamic Saudi Arabia. So Whether CAGE is treating Emwazi as a victim whilst perpetuating his ideal of a totalitarian state, or if CAGE is unable to answer the very simple – and Theocratic – question of whether stoning adulterers is wrong, CAGE has a consistency problem. Their opposition to the Prime Minister’s speech on extremism shows this inconsistency in quite a spectacular light. In the article, Asim Qureshi writes:
“For David Cameron, the starting point of the War on Terror was 9/11, as if there was a complete vacuum when it came to the West’s relationship with the Muslim world before then.”
– And here is the consistency problem. Whilst Qureshi accuses the Prime Minister of believing history to begin in 2002, Qureshi himself then goes on to say:
“The emergence of groups such as the Islamic State, condemned by Muslim scholars across the globe, are a phenomenon borne of decisions made by governments in 2002, not from ideology.”
– The problem CAGE has, is that it doesn’t consider long held Islamist views to be particularly extreme, or worthy of an effort to eradicate. And not too many ‘Scholars’ that I know of, completely discredit the concept of a totalitarian state. Indeed, Qureshi himself has spoken at events organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir; a vicious Islamist group, who have this little gem of freedom in their draft constitution:
“Those who are guilty of apostasy from Islam are to be executed.”
– CAGE seems to consider challenges to those views – the oppression of the LGBT community, the idea that adulterers should be violently harmed, the state run by Muslim men only, apostates abused – to be, as they claim with Cameron’s speech, “malicious“. A term, by the way, they don’t use at all to describe Mohammed Emwazi, whom they open their victimhood article with:
“Mohammed Emwazi is a British citizen who was subjected to security agency harassment for at least four years.”
– An interesting choice of words, and slightly – only slightly – glossing over the fact that Emwazi was a man responsible for beheading aid workers in Syria. Instead, it’s the Prime Minister who is malicious, for highlighting the poisonous narrative that Emwazi subscribed to.
Contrary to CAGE’s revisionist history that places Islamist groups as the victims, resulting from government policy only, Islamist groups did not suddenly begin life in 2002. They didn’t suddenly decide a totalitarian state was desirable after 2002. Islamism emerged through a complex web of geopolitics, but also dogma. This indeed includes foreign policy, but it also includes lack of openness in conservative Muslim households, it includes restrictions on expression & inquiry in countries that enshrine Islam (too often supported and perpetuated by Western governments), it includes a response to liberal, secular, democracy, and a social framework that grants equality over religious privilege, and empowers people that Islamists would otherwise like to harm. Islamism is the desperate clenching to values that liberal, secular, democracy resists. But it isn’t new. For a quick review:
Taqiuddin al-nabhani founded Hizb ut-Tahrir in 1953 (a group that The Guardian recently gave a sympathetic platform to). He spent his early years studying Sharia, became a Sharia jurist, and went on to envisage a World in which Islam is not simply an inner system of reflection and self improvement, but encompasses the economic and political sphere (in other words, controls other people). The viciously oppressive nature of this romanticised state is reflected in al-Nabhani’s draft constitution:
“Every sane Muslim of legal age, male or female, has the right to elect the Khalifah and to give him the Ba’yah. Non Muslims have no right in this issue.”
“Furthermore, the Khalifah must not appoint any female or non-Muslim governor”
– A state, based on one interpretation of one religion, in which male members of that religion are given state privileges, special rights, and control over the lives of everyone else. al-Nabhani was an Islamist, whose group is an Islamist group, emerging long before 2002.
Ayman al-Zawahiri is currently heading up al-Qaeda. But back in 1994, he was the last emir of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, busy planning to blow up the Khan el-Khalili marketplace in Cairo & the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan on the same day. The plan was later changed, and resulted in the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan alone, killing 20 people and injuring many more. This was an Islamist group, using terror to further their ends. Egyptian Islamic Jihad emerged from a group set up by al-Zawahiri as a teenager, dedicated to:
“…overthrowing the government and establishing an Islamist state.”
– They were more than prepared to use terror to help progress this ideal, long before 2002. My complaint is the same then, as it is now. If you are convinced the current regime is oppressing you, the proper reaction is to promote anti-oppressive ideals; free expression, the right to equal participation in society through free and fair elections, freedom of conscience, free inquiry, the right to your own liberty to pursue your own happiness restricted only when you seek to restrict that same liberty for others. Seeking to overthrow one illiberal regime to replace it with your own, is not freedom fighting.
The intellectual powerhouse that informed al-Zawahiri’s ideal of an Islamist state, was Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was good friends with al-Zawahiri’s uncle Mafouz Azzam. al-Zawahiri was a keen student of Qutb. Qutb penned many works that inspired generations of Islamists, including “Signposts in the Road” and “Milestones”, the latter includes the paragraph:
“This need demands that the law which governs the social affairs of human beings should be in accordance with the general law of the universe; it demands that man submit to God alone, with the rest of the universe, and that no man should claim lordship over others.”
– The irony in this, is of course the idea that whilst ‘no man should claim lordship over others‘ follows a sentence in which Qutb envisages Muslims claiming lordship over every other human being. It is a self deluded claim of superiority of privilege for one faith.
Al-Zawahiri, Sayyid Qutb, al-Nabhani, along with Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, Israr Ahmed,Siraj ul Haq, and a plethora of other names give an abundance of philosophical justifications for a Islamic totalitarian state. Even today, the idea of a totalitarian is romanticised, with some believers not understanding why advocating such a state, might be considered a bit extreme. On the BBC Website, Joy Ahmed from South London says:
“Now they’re telling me about how Sharia law is barbaric. It’s like everyone became professors in Sharia all of a sudden.”
“As Muslims we are under the microscope. Day by day there’s been an alienation of Muslims in the UK over issues like the hijab, halal meat, Muslim men being made out to be radicalised.
“If there was a fully established caliphate it would provide somewhere for Muslims to call their own,”
– How could anyone possibly believe that law derived not from reason, but from the anchoring of morality to 7th Century Arabia to be ‘barbaric‘? Surely not? Sharing this concern, Siema Iqbal writing for The Guardian asks:
“Why anyone would join Isis is beyond my comprehension, so having the ability as a parent to stop my child ever coming to harm would be welcome. But just out of curiosity, if my child’s passport is confiscated, would they then be labelled a “non-violent extremist”…”
– Yes. They absolutely would be considered an extremist. Much like white supremacists seeking to resurrect the Confederacy might be considered extremist. That’s because your child in your scenario is preparing to run to a totalitarian state that throws gay people from buildings and beheads aid workers. Iqbal then says:
“Like others before you, including Tony Blair, you say your objection isn’t to Muslims and Islam but towards violent jihadism. It’s difficult for me to believe in your sincerity though, when you’ve created a society where just talking about certain aspects of Islam is now considered extremist.”
– Created a society that opposes illiberal ideas? And that’s a bad thing is it? We secularists believe you have a right to believe whatever bigoted nonsense you so wish, according to your conscience, but you don’t get the privilege of perpetuating bigotry without challenge. Complaining that oppressive religious values are demonised as ‘extreme‘, is simply recognising that society has progressed & you haven’t.
The final sentence of Iqbal’s piece links to an article by Owen Jones in which he references homophobia, so I’m going to assume by “certain aspects of Islam” she means homophobia. And so do I consider the perpetuation of homophobia, the fear it instills into children born gay, the bullying it entails, and the oppression across the World by religious supremacists that it informs to be extreme? Absolutely I do. Bigotry doesn’t get a free pass just because it is coated in a Qur’an.
Yasmin Khatun also from London, says:
“When you look at what’s happening in Syria and Gaza, there’s just this feeling that they will not protect Muslim civilians and, as a result, you have some Muslims who feel a caliphate would better protect and represent them.”
– We agree that in Syria and Gaza, citizens aren’t protected. That includes all citizens. That includes Muslims, but also non-Muslims. In Gaza, Hamas protect no-one, especially those who don’t fit their Islamist narrative & desire for a totalitarian state. The answer to both, should be the enshrining of equal protections for the civil – not religious based – rights for all citizens, recognised by the international community, regardless of gender, belief, sexuality, or ethnicity. By contrast, an Islamic totalitarian state may indeed protect Muslims… by privileging that one specific religion, whilst absolutely not offering any sort of right to representation – or life itself – to those that the religion deems to be sinful. Again, white supremacists would feel much better protected and represented in a white supremacist state. This is in no way a good argument for a racial totalitarian state.
When two brothers ran to join IS from Oadby in Leicestershire, the Mosque insisted the boys had not been radicalised at the Mosque. And yet, whilst the Mosque in Oadby has taken a much welcomed proactive approach to community outreach, it also romanticises a religious totalitarian state:
“Muslims believe that Islam is a total and a complete way of life. It encompasses all aspects of life. As such, the teachings of Islam do not separate religion from politics. As a matter of fact, state and religion are under the obedience of Allah through the teachings of Islam. Hence, economic and social transactions, as well as educational and political systems are also part of the teachings of Islam.”
– Whilst it is right to include foreign policy in a discussion on radicalisation, let’s not discount the possibility that centuries of advocating a state that punishes blasphemy, harms the LGBT community, decides that Muslims have a superior role to play over state affairs, and doesn’t particularly deal too well with apostates, isn’t a problem. I have no idea why we pretend that it’s an unimportant aspect of the relationship between Islam and modern secular, liberal, democratic frameworks.
It isn’t that Islamism – a desire to marry mosque and state and impose one interpretation upon society – is a new development born out of the Iraq War, but more that Islamism is incompatible with a World moving toward liberalism, and so Islamism’s nasty illiberalism is amplified and then cries for our respect. Any analysis of the rise of groups like IS would be wholly incomplete without a discussion on foreign policy – specifically the West’s failure to act over Syria, and the West’s continued inexcusable support for regimes like that in Saudi Arabia – but equally it is wholly incomplete to discuss the rise of groups like IS, without acknowledging the history of Islamist thought, the totalitarian state it, and its continued romanticism within the Muslim community.
Islam is entering a phase of its existence in which reflection is more important than ever. Whether it emerges as a religion dedicated to enriching the soul of the individual, giving hope and guidance to the believer, or whether it emerges as a religion that inherently requires state power and authority over the lives of other human beings (whilst grotesquely requiring the rest of us respect that notion), is perhaps one of the most important inner battles that it will ever face.