Muslim reformist and modernist “thinker” Adam Deen appears to be a stauncher supporter of the Government’s new counter-extremism measures than the Quilliam Foundation and the neoconservatives, writes Mohammed Usman.
The BBC Home Affairs correspondent came under fire a fortnight ago for criticising the UK government’s plans on introducing a new counter-extremism bill, which will undoubtedly affect the Muslim community.
The newly elected Conservative government announced plans to fast-track new laws that would give the state the power to silence via numerous draconian measures, any Muslim deemed to “reject British values” – yet were non-violent, peaceful and abiding by the law of the land.
The proposed bill will include new powers to impose “Extremism Disruption Orders” (EDOs) that control the movements of its victims, preventing them from attending demonstrations, giving public speeches or lectures, appearing on the TV, and they must seek permission from the police before publishing anything, whether on social media, websites or even in print. The new laws also give the government, the power to outlaw organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and CAGE, who are non-violent, but deemed “extremist” by the UK government’s self-appointed standards.
Mark Easton produced a piece that was aired on BBC’s News at Ten (a text version can be read here), which argued that it may be dangerous for the government to outlaw what it considers as “extremism”, as the definition of extremism is relative, changes, and has been used to refer to people in the past who were previously considered as “extremists” in their time, like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, and could be used to refer to some of Churchill’s critical comments of democracy.
Easton argued that non-mainstream views we call “extremism” may be useful to help challenge established views, saying “Extreme views are necessary to test the wisdom of the mainstream”.
The BBC editors scheduled Mr Easton’s piece after the BBC News at Ten aired a short interview with Anjem Choudary about the proposed measures. In response to this piece, the Daily Mail launched an attack against Mr Easton claiming that he was comparing Anjem Choudary to Gandhi, Mandela and Churchill! Despite the fact that he never mentioned Anjem Choudary at all.
While Anjem Choudary is widely disliked amongst the Muslim community for his inflammatory speeches, which are deemed to be deliberately antagonistic to the wider British society – he is viewed as a red herring, used by the media and government to justify restrictions and laws whose primary target is everyone else in the Muslim community.
But Mark Easton didn’t compare Anjem Choudary to Churchill or Mandela. And even if he did, it is widely known that Winston Churchill ordered the mass bombing of German civilians and Iraqi villages after WWI. Nelson Mandela signed off terror bombings of South African white Boer civilians – in shopping complexes and public places, ironically prompting the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the time, to call him a “terrorist”. So it could be highlighted that Anjem Choudary isn’t so different from them – except that he has never been accused of directly ordering attacks on civilians.
The Daily Mail didn’t report any grassroots or expert reactions, but instead, had contacted at least some of the people beforehand to comment in the story they were portraying, and whom they believed would deliver the quotes it wanted to create a “storm”, and then conveyed it as simply reporting comments that had already been said – making the news, instead of reporting it.
Right, left, and Christian reaction
The government’s plans to introduce EDOs is being widely opposed; from the right-wing media like the Spectator, and by members of the Prime Minister’s own Conservative Party. Other voices who have raised objections to it: Nick Cohen of the Standpoint Magazine, the National Secular Society, the Christian Institute, and even the Quilliam Foundation and Douglas Murray!
The objections to EDOs was not majorly based upon the principle of free speech, or the right to religious-based political opinions – indeed the intentions behind the proposed ban was to counter the growth of Islamic thought, is widely shared. The objections they held were mainly around the concerns that a general law against “extremism” could affect others deemed “non-mainstream” and beyond the intended targets.
Simon Calvert, spokesperson for the Christian Institute, said: “While everyone applauds the principle of tackling Islamic extremism…if the Government does not ensure that there are adequate safeguards, then, because of the low burden of proof, it is perfectly plausible that comedians, satirists, campaign groups, religious groups, secularist groups, and even journalists could find themselves subject to these draconian measures.”
Quilliam Foundation’s Political Liaison Officer, Jonathan Russell, said: “Theresa May has traditionally been strong on building a legal framework to tackle terrorism.
“We welcome manifesto commitments to develop a strategy that goes beyond terrorism and aims to ‘confront, challenge and undermine extremism of all kinds’.
“However, the free speech of extremists must only be curtailed at the point when it violates existing laws.”
James Bloodworth, a political journalist and editor of Left Foot Forward, wrote in the Independent supporting Mark Easton against Mr Easton’s detractors: “We don’t arrest the eccentrics, crackpots and – more often – adolescents who espouse such ideas, because we grasp that they will never catch on and that their proponents will probably grow out of it.”
Nevertheless, there are voices supporting the governments draconian measures, from media outlets like the Sun, Daily Mail, to the neo-conservative Henry Jackson Society, the Islamophobic Clarion Project (infamous for the U.S. ‘Stealth Jihad’ conspiracy), and… Adam Deen of the Deen Institute.
Deen, who advocates for the “reformation of Islam” went further than the Quilliam Foundation, and even the neo-conservative Douglas Murray in supporting measures against Islamic-based political opinions. In January 2015, Deen appeared on BBC Panorama produced by John Ware, a journalist notoriously suspected of anti-Muslim bias.
On the programme, Deen was asked: “One of the Home Secretary’s measures for non-violent extremism, well it seems to prevent some people from speaking and publishing, not necessarily because they were going to break the law, but because what they say is offensive. Do you think that’s the way to deal with this problem or not?”
Deen responded, “I think in the short term, yes”. His ethics appear to be in favour of silencing the opinions within the Muslim community which he disagrees with – or, perhaps he feels do not represent the “modern” version of Islam that he wants to preach.
His only objection was that “in the long term it creates a martyr”. So silencing peaceful and legal speech is not ethically or morally wrong according to Deen, only possibly ineffective in the long run.
Deen also posted a link to a BBC article about the new counter-extremism measures, with no commentary, but “liked” a comment posted under the article by a non-Muslim who wrote: “I am sure most Muslims are quietly glad – they have had to put up with the loud mouth extremists ‘shouting’ out their version of Islam for far too long”.
The Daily Mail article attacking the BBC’s reporter Mark Easton, interviewed and quoted Deen, who despite criticising the Daily Mail many times for “stealth racism“, and “fixation on race and Islamophobia” years ago, was happy to join in the newspaper’s spun-narrative against Mr Easton, and accepted their unfounded allegation of a “comparison” Mr Easton made between Gandhi, Mandela and Choudary.
Deen appears to agree with the Mail that Easton’s argument to prevent silencing the opinions of people like Choudary was wrong because Anjem didn’t believe in Secular Democracy – scarily implying that people who do not believe in current forms of Democracy, or who criticise it, should not be given equal rights and protections like everyone else.
Deen’s comments in the Daily Mail article, not only appeared alongside the Clarion Project in the same article, but his comments were even used by the notorious Islamophobe, Pamela Geller, who quoted Deen’s interview comments in her article, voicing her outrage at the BBC report, only criticising the UK government for not supporting ‘Defenders of Democracy’ like herself. Her article was then reposted by the British National Party (BNP).
Deen denounced Anjem Choudary in the article as “an extremist Muslim who believes that ‘The Good’ can only be derived from scripture”. Even though Deen was speaking specifically about Anjem Choudary, the criteria he uses to judge someone as an “extremist” Muslim is worrying. Any Muslim who believes that “the good” or morality can only be derived from divine scripture is an “extremist”, that his argument would support the potential criminalisation of a lot of mainstream Muslims under the new counter-extremism bill.
Deen’s current thinking seems to wierdly contradict his past arguments against Atheism, where in 2009 he said in the lecture “Ethics without God“: “moral values cannot be discovered in a test tube…we have objective moral duties…traditionally, these duties, these obligations, these prohibitions were grounded in God’s commands, and that’s what gave them their objectivity. But in the absence of God, what basis do we have for objective moral duties?”
It seems that Deen has changed his opinions since then, and appeared to embrace a secular anti-multicultural exclusivist position held by the UK government, as he recently tweeted: “When we stop deeming non-violent extremist Muslims as merely “misguided” and regard them as enemies of our Deen then we will redeem ourselves”.
Deen’s comments eerily echoed the words of Home Secretary, Theresa May, who said: “Let the message go out from this hall that the extremists will never succeed in dividing us. Let the message go out that we know Islam is a religion of peace and it has nothing to do with the ideology of our enemies”.