February 3, 2019 Abdul Haqq

Fifty Shades of Grey and Only One Black?

These extremists have determinedly created divisions to wipe out the ‘grey zone’ of reason and tolerance. They have conflated religion and politics and thereby poisoned Islam.[1]

A small delegation of Black British Muslims was recently invited to the Home Office to discuss issues facing their various communities. Sara Khan, the government’s [in]dependent Lead Commissioner for Countering Extremism, presided over the meeting. The above introductory quote is pertinent as it is cited in her book, ‘The Battle For British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity From Extremism’.[2] Her own remit appears to be to conflate particular cultures and religious practices with extremism; violent and non-violent.

The minutes of this particular meeting were shared with various leaders and activists among black communities unable to attend. I received a copy and was perturbed to see that, while attendees raised various areas of concern and challenges facing Black Muslim communities, Khan and another representative accompanying her appeared to have an altogether different agenda. Where attendees referred to emerging institutions among Black communities due to the institutionalised racism experienced from Arab and Asian entities, lack of opportunities, mental health issues and gang related violence etc. Khan and her colleague appeared more interested in determining whether ‘…most UK Black Muslims are Salafi.’ The resounding response was that the Black Muslim communities comprise Salafi, Sufi, non-sectarian Sunni, Shia and Nation of Islam[3]with other existing sects, schools of thought and denominations.

To further illustrate their agenda, Khan, while confirming her apparent desire to engage with ‘positive Black Muslim organisations that were empowering communities’ referred to research and data that apparently point to a ‘high probability of converts/reverts likely to become extremists.’  The minutes show these comments were made in response to the small contingent of community leaders expressing concern about the government’s failure – despite its previous assurances – to effectively engage with them for the past 20 years. Instead, it continued to defer to Asian and Arab organisations that purported to represent entire communities.

Not only were Khan’s comments potentially inflammatory; they smacked of the type of racist stereotyping and deflection that have plagued Black Muslim communities now for more than two decades. Once again, her comments were met with a dignified but emphatic response correcting her so-called evidence. Once again, it was suggested that such ‘research and data’ emanated from inherently biased sources from among Arab and Asian communities seeking to redirect blame toward various communities other than their own.

Institutionalising the Asian Superiority Complex?

Before continuing with Sara Khan’s meeting, it is important to acknowledge other government bodies also involved in campaigns to engage Black communities with Asian civil servants at the helm. Last November, I attended an event at Kings College University, London where I came across a former colleague now involved in a new line of work. After the event, we discussed his new position and the work it entailed. He had recently travelled abroad to deliver training workshops with a few British grassroots ‘experts’. He was keen to enlist my support, describing the initial disappointment of the trainees due to their trainers being of Asian background and not black. They could not therefore readily identify with their experiences and visa versa.

Representatives from another government department also contacted me recently to discuss their new remit of community engagement. Their plan is to directly engage Muslim and non-Muslim communities in order to learn and identify areas that could inform ministers and positively impact on policy affecting them. These civil servants were also from the Asian community and I actually queried why no senior Black representation was visible.

This is a serious issue and questions need to be raised about the lack of representation and indeed, leadership from Black communities for initiatives like those mentioned above. While the transparency and sincere intention of the two above-mentioned examples are not in doubt, there are palpable concerns regarding Sara Khan and her inherently patronising remit. To eliminate any doubt regarding her comments during the said meeting, the following dictionary definition is cited: ‘Verb: patronise – treat in a way that is apparently kind or helpful but that betrays a feeling of superiority.’

This characteristic among a significant minority of the predominantly Asian Muslim community has become more evident, particularly in the existing climate of Brexit which continues to cause divisions across society. However, Brexit cannot be used as an excuse. This insidious type of racism long predates Brexit. In a previous article, I addressed the latent racism existing among sections of the Asian (and also Arab and Somali) communities following remarks from a popular speaker, Abu Ibraheem.[4]In this article, I discussed the issue of weaponising stereotypes. Khan has done precisely that on this occasion. The following will again emphasise the degree of racism experienced by many Black Muslims:

If white converts find themselves marginalised, things tend to be worse for black converts, with many complaining of racist attitudes, particularly on the part of the older generations of the Asian community. Al-Qwidi found that white converts were more accepted than black converts by the Asian community both as people and as Muslims, which is to some extent a reflection of Asian attitudes towards black people in British society generally….[5]

When comparing this characteristic with others from the indo-pak subcontinent it is easy to identify similar traits:

Gandhi believed in the Aryan brotherhood. This involved whites and Indians higher up than Africans on the civilised scale. To that extent he was a racist. To the extent that he wrote Africans out of history or was keen to join with whites in their subjugation he was a racist…

To the extent that he accepted white minority power but was keen to be a junior partner, he was a racist.” [6]

 

Blackploitation in 21st Century: Black Communities as a source of benefit for others

Black communities continue to attract outsider attention under the guise of research with the objective to listen, learn and subsequently address the various challenges that affect them. Khan currently appears to be enacting the role of ‘junior partner’ for the government while others fulfill similar objectives by strategically aligning themselves to these communities under programmes like PREVENT:

Although South Asians sometimes categorized themselves as black when applying for government grants, African Caribbean blacks argued that South Asians no longer embraced a black identity and used the term strategically to access state funds targeted at ethnic minorities.’

‘This perception generated tensions between the black Caribbean and Asian ethnic communities over where blackness ends and begins.’[7]

The ‘junior partner’ role fulfilled by some members of Asian communities is almost synonymous to the ‘house Negro’ depiction so vividly articulated by Malcolm X:

The house Negro usually lived close to his master. He dressed like his master…so whenever that house Negro identified himself, he always identified himself in the same sense that his master identified himself…’

 ‘So now you have a 20th Century type of house Negro…He’s sharp. He dresses just like you do. He speaks the same phraseology, the same language. He tries to speak it better than you…[8]

Unsurprisingly, many, including Asian communities, have appropriated Malcolm’s speeches as his insights continue to resonate across generations and cultures. However, they will always reverberate far more with black populations in the West.

Sectarian Bias: A return of McCarthyism?

Khan’s bias is indisputable and arguably one of the main factors for successfully landing her current role. Her book constitutes the existing government’s theological blueprint, much in the same way that Ed Husain’s ‘The Islamist’ did the previous Labour government’s:

For the activists we have met in this chapter it can seem as if the Hydra of Greek mythology confronts them. This monster had many heads and, as one was struck off, another grew in its place. So it is with the Salafi-Islamist monster –a multi-headed creature with one body and considerable strength. Those who take it on, tend to meet a grim fate. The poison comes from all angles, deterring anybody else from joining the fight. Heroically they fight on, but aware that, to win, the movement against Salafi-Islamism needs to be much stronger.’[9]

Had Khan thoroughly utilised the resources at her disposal, she would have realised the plethora of research that provides unequivocal demarcations between extremism – violent and non-violent – and Salafism. Professor Michael Kenney’s acclaimed research and recent publication highlight this:

This helps explain why numerous Salafis I interviewed in London between 2007 and 2012 were aghast at al-Muhajiroun’s appropriation of their creed.  These respondents included leaders and rank-and-file congregants from a well-known Salafi mosque in Brixton that quarreled with the Emigrants whenever they brought their da’wah stalls to this South London neighborhood. The “Brixton Salafis” saw the Emigrants’ embrace of their creed as a cynical ploy by Omar Bakri and other activists to enhance their religious credentials by wrapping themselves in the cloak of the Prophet Mohammed. According to these respondents, network activists were not Salafis, as they liked to claim, but “khawarij,” akin to an early sect that caused conflict within the Muslim community, and “takfiris,” Muslims who recklessly excommunicate their coreligionists and call for violence against them.’[10]

Additionally, equally authoritative research like that conducted by Dr Anabel Inge concludes:

Salafi preachers in the United Kingdom have actually been among the most vocal and prolific opponents of ISIS and Jihadism in the British Muslim community, devoting sermons and articles to ‘refuting’ the militant group, and warning Muslims not to associate with it…[11]

By citing my particular position, she also observes:

According to Abdul Haqq Baker, UK Salafis’ ‘excessive’ literalism and ‘blind following’ of the scholars has meant that over the years, Salafi women and men have pulled out of society, withdrawn themselves from society because ‘we don’t want to be mixing’. So they ghettoize themselves—and they’ve ghettoized their children in the process. A further consequence of this ultra-conservatism has been a vulnerability to accusations of extremism in the post-9/ 11 age, he said. These critical comments may seem surprising, coming from the former chairman of one of Britain’s most important Salafi mosques.

Abdul Haqq Baker still regards himself as Salafi; but since the late 1990s, he has gradually reconsidered how Salafis should contextualize the teachings, particularly in Western environments. He told me in November 2015 that UK Salafis, having more knowledge of their personal circumstances than the scholars do, should judge for themselves how far to apply strict Salafi teachings in Britain. If unsure, they should consult the scholars. But they should challenge the rulings of the scholars if they fail to recognize the realities of the Western context.

For example, if a woman wants to practise strict gender segregation—not mixing with men and wearing a full jilbab—but understands clearly that doing so will rob her of the opportunity to gain qualifications or make a living, she should decide for herself to modify her religious practices accordingly. Such an approach would not only help empower Salafi women and encourage greater participation in society; it would also represent the true spirit of Salafism, he said.’[12]

Conclusion: Salafism, Converts & Extremism

My own PhD research examined the two key factors targeted by Khan’s – and by extension, the government’s – agenda; Salafism and converts. Her oversight or decision to ignore the above-mentioned research is as unsurprising as it is expected due to her established political and religious bias underscored by apparent prejudice. I continue to argue that ideologically, Salafism is not a cause for concern. However, acknowledgement must be given to the reality of a type of behavioural extremism among a vociferous minority of Salafis. The regressive, divisive and isolationist behaviour displayed by such Salafis is a source of consternation and embarrassment for many. Increasingly, more balanced and mature Salafis have been challenging these behavioural extremes from within these communities.[13]My research highlights the subjectivity of behavioural extremism and that many of the apparent characteristics alone do not equate to extremism of the violent or non-violent type according to existing western terminology. I also place emphasis on identifying signs of ideological extremism as these serve as precursors to subsequent and particular behavioural tendencies.[14]

In addition to the above, my research question on whether converts are more susceptible to violent radicalisation or more resilient to it, produced sufficient empirical data that highlighted the latter – resilience – providing they were exposed to foundational and contextualised socio-religious teachings as opposed to politicised misrepresentations of the faith during the early stages of their cognitive and religious development.[15]

To date, most evidence concurs ideological extremism cannot be equated to Salafism or Salafis. At most, as I have discussed above, aspects of behavioural extremism can be attributed towards some adherents. Newly coined terminologies, like Salafi-Jihadi and Salafi-Islamist have gained traction among western academia and political circles but have not, up until fairly recently, been found in Islamic religious and historical lexicon.

In an era where identity politics has been propelled to a point of no return, some things remain immutable, irrespective of claims, counterclaims and assertions. Among these incontrovertible truths are that Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, Daesh (ISIS), Al Muhajiroun, Omar Bakri and Anjem Choudhary et al, Abdullah El-Faisal, Abu Qatadah, Abu Hamza Al Misri and all other established extremist entities are not and can never be Salafist due to the ideological extremism and terrorism they espouse – no matter how much academic, governmental and security apparatus attempt to conflate the two entities to claim otherwise.

 

 

 

[1]Akyol, M: ‘How politics has poisoned Islam’, New York Times, 3 February 2016, http:// www.nytimes.com/ 2016/ 02/ 04/ opinion/ how-politics-has-poisoned-islam.html

[2]Khan, S, McMahon, T: ‘The Battle For British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity From Extremism’, http://amzn.eu/8eVatesSAQI, 2016

[3]Disclaimer: It is important to note that the Nation of Islam is not actually considered within mainstream Sunni Islam across the majority of the Muslim world.

[4]Baker, A H: ‘Brothers, we’re not Asian – Let’s stop acting like we’re Asian (and grooming young impressionable white girls)!’ https://abdulhaqqbaker.com/brothers-were-not-asian-lets-stop-acting-like-were-asian-and-grooming-young-impressionable-white-girls/

[5]Zebiri, K: ‘British Muslim Converts: Choosing Alternative Lives,’ One World, 2008, p.65

[6]Biswas, S: Was Mahatma Ghandi a racist?’ BBC News, 17thSeptember 2015: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-34265882

[7]Winddance Twine, F: ‘A White Side of Black Britain: Interracial Intimacy and Racial Literacy’ Duke University Press, 2010, p.17

[8]Malcolm X: ‘The Race Problem’, African Students Association & NAACP Campus Chapter, Michigan State, East Lansing, Michigan, 23rdJanuary 1963: http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/mmt/mxp/speeches/mxa17.html

[9]Khan, S, McMahon, T: ‘The Battle For British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity From Extremism’, http://amzn.eu/bfQAHaw SAQI, 2016

 

[10]Kenny, M: ‘The Islamic State in Britain’, Cambridge University Press, 2018

[11]Inge, A: The Making of a Salafi Woman: Paths to Conversion’, Oxford University Press, 2017: http://amzn.eu/6fLv6q0

[12]Ibid: http://amzn.eu/3I99aCp

[13]Refer to my Cultish Tendencies Series of discourses: Cultish Tendencies 5: Similarities between Abu Khadijites (Salafi Publications) & Juhayman Al-Utaybi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fysBwZbiSYI

[14]Baker, A H: ‘Extremists in Our Midst: Confronting Terror’, Palgrave MacMillan, 2011

[15]A H Baker Website: https://abdulhaqqbaker.com/presentations/

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