Roshan Muhammed Salih is 5Pillars editor. You can follow him on Twitter @RMSalih.
Sara Khan’s new book The Battle for British Islam is basically a 250 page press release for the government’s discredited Prevent counter-extremism strategy, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
Badly stung by the unwillingness of many British Muslims to simply lie down and surrender, the prominent “counter extremism campaigner” takes aim at virtually every grassroots mainstream Muslim organization out there for refusing to take the state’s medicine.
She lambasts those anti-Prevent activists on the Left who obviously aren’t obsessed enough about such crucial issues to the British nation such as stoning adulterers to death and segregating men and women at public events.
And she bigs up those brave, misunderstood souls, such as herself, who are selflessly trying to get everyone to love each other (while simultaneously pocketing taxpayers’ cash).
By the end of the book I could almost hear her thinking: “If only those damn, pesky Islamists wouldn’t be so obsessed by their religion, would stop complaining about Islamophobia and would close their eyes when Britain bombs a Muslim country, I wouldn’t have to let a counter-terrorism officer write a book and then put my own name on it.” (Only joking, I’m sure MI5 and the Home Office had absolutely nothing to do with her potential Pulitzer Prize winner).
Salafis and Islamists
The basic argument of The Battle for British Islam is that Salafis and non-Salafi Islamists have hijacked the religion of Islam by politicising it and have harmed our ability to keep society safe, aided and abetted by “useful idiots” on The Left.
Khan says the rise of puritanical thought and Islamist ideology has become almost unstoppable.
“Ever since I was a teenager,” she writes. “I have witnessed how Islamist extremism has wreaked havoc on the lives of British Muslims. In my work over the past eight years as co-founder and director of Inspire, a counter extremism organisation, I have seen at first hand how this ideology has ripped families apart, turning daughters against mothers and sons against fathers. It has robbed kids of their childhood and their promising futures, and has even groomed teenagers to be killers.
“It has encouraged intolerance and the dehumanisation of both non Muslims and other Muslims, furthering sectarianism, acts of excommunication and even violence. Islamist extremism provokes anti-Muslim hatred and creates polarised communities; yet despite the damage it causes it continues to thrive among some Muslims in the UK.”
The good guys are those pro-Prevent tolerant, secular, Union Jack-waving Muslims who aren’t too hung up by what the Quran and Hadith actually say, but who live in a happy-clappy live-and-let-live universe. So that means institutions like Faith Matters, Islamic Society of Britain, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and Quilliam, and individuals like Fiyaz Mughal, Usama Hasan, Abu Muntasir and Tehmina Kazi.
On the other hand, the bad guys are the anti-Prevent, anti-Britain, pro-Caliphate, anti homosexual, pro-stoning to death Islamists like CAGE and Moazzam Begg, Hizb ut-Tahrir, The Muslim Council of Britain, Islam 21C and Haitham al Haddad, The Islamic Human Rights Commission, FOSIS, IERA, MEND, Prevent Watch, Students Not Suspects and, yes, 5Pillars.
And these bad guys are being bolstered by institutions such as the National Union of Students and the University College Union who have clearly been hoodwinked by a bunch of devious extremists.
Khan argues that the Salafis and the non-Salafi Islamists used to be divided before 9/11 but have since united to achieve common goals, such as fighting Prevent and spreading groundless scare stories about it. And it’s because of them that Prevent is so misunderstood.
According to her, Prevent is just about stopping individuals from being drawn into terrorism in the interests of national security. It’s about helping vulnerable young people before they enter the Criminal Justice System, especially in schools, and any mistakes that have been made can be remedied by better training and better communication.
In short, the government is targeting Islamic extremism, not Islam itself.
But there is hope! The way to beat the Salafis and the Islamists, she says, is not by banning them because that would be illiberal. No, it’s by empowering women and taking on extremist theological narratives. In other words, by forming a wide societal coalition to take on the Salafi-Islamists.
Prevent is the problem
I suppose I should begin my dissection of the book by tackling the central argument – that Salafis and Islamists have discredited Prevent and that they are lying about what it is.
Everyone should be aware that Prevent is opposed by a wide cross-section of Muslims, many of whom are not Salafi and many of whom are not Islamist. Moreover, they often disagree with each other about theology and politics and some of them are even very secular. But they all object to Muslims as a community being vilified by our government and media and being profiled and monitored in a way that other communities are not. They also resent being labelled as a “problem community” and being blamed for radicalisation and extremism.
The problems with Prevent and general counter terrorism policy are not “perceived,” they are real. From the stopping-and-searching of random Muslims at airports, to the monitoring and spying on the community, to aggressive policing and entrapment tactics, to the recruitment of agents, to the harassment of kids in schools and students at universities. And believe me I could go on.
The net effect of all this is that Muslims feel targeted, stigmatised and paranoid. And they feel they’re not being engaged by the authorities or being listened to by the powers-that-be.
All this is happening, of course, while foreign policy grievances (which are only addressed in a cursory way in Khan’s book) are being completely ignored or downplayed, and while state and media Islamophobia remain unaddressed.
And an increasingly broad cross-section of non-Muslims, especially in public institutions, can also see Prevent for what it is – nothing less than state Islamophobia and a massive spying and monitoring exercise on one particular community.
Is Sara Khan a victim?
Throughout the book Khan portrays herself as a victim and says she has suffered abuse for her views. She seems particularly upset at being called a “House Muslim” and a “native informant” by some on social media.
She writes: “‘House Muslim’ is derived from the Black Power and anti slavery movement in the United States. To get an idea of how offensive it is to British Muslims working in collaboration with Government to prevent radicalisation, one should listen to Malcolm X’s use of it. The ‘house negro’ in his terminology was a slave who loved his master more than his master loved himself, talked like his master, ate like his master and enforced his laws against the slaves in the fields.”
My only comment on that is “hmmm…”
She continues: “Those Muslims who believe in engaging fully with British society, supporting gender equality and human rights, condemning violence in the name of religion, promoting inter faith dialogue and standing against all forms of sectarianism within Islam, find themselves a beleaguered group these days. No insult is out of bounds in the bully pulpit of social media. Even violence and threats towards their person seem to be regarded as an acceptable form of discourse. But they soldier on, providing valuable community services to our country, such as youth leadership courses and hate-crime monitoring, as well as rebutting the arguments of Islamist ideology. They often pursue this work with the minimal financial and moral support.”
But is Khan really a victim? The fact is that anyone in the public eye is going to get abused if they have strong opinions. I am racially and Islamophobically abused all the time; it’s certainly not nice and if violence is threatened that is completely unacceptable, but I must admit that I find it difficult to feel sorry for her when nothing of any significance has actually happened to her.
I really don’t see Khan as a victim. She has the support of government and mainstream media even though her credentials to talk about Islam and counter terrorism are at the very least debatable.
These institutions are far more powerful than what the anti-Prevent people have behind their campaign, which is basically grassroots-funded and manned by dedicated volunteers.
It is the anti-Prevent brigade that is regularly demonised by mass market newspapers and by government officials; it is we who are weak and the likes of Sara Khan who are strong.
That said, Khan is entitled to her opinion of course, but it is essential to understand that it is an unrepresentative opinion within the British Muslim community itself and one that has been artificially amplified by government finances and mainstream media support.
Why should Sara Khan, someone without theological credentials, be given a platform to “save her faith”? And why should she have the last word on counter-extremism when there are far more qualified people to pronounce a verdict on it?
But perhaps it isn’t so surprising that Khan defends Prevent so vehemently because, after all, she works for it, as she herself explicitly admits, perhaps for the first time in such a detailed manner.
“I believe that, in order to combat radicalisation, partnership work is vital, whether with statutory agencies, police or Government. Civil society groups have a unique and important role to play in reaching communities, working directly with those who have been radicalised, their families or local networks, and governments have a duty to work with and support such organisations.
“In this spirit, Inspire, the organisation that I run, has engaged with women to protect families from extremism, through its #makingastand campaign. Our anti ISIS work has been achieved with the support of Prevent. Recognising the value of #makingastand, the Home Office helped fund our campaign to deliver its message to nine cities across Britain. It also provided technical assistance for Inspire’s social media videos – short films of young Muslims dissuading other young Muslims from traveling to Syria, and highlighting the brutality of ISIS.”
The book is also co-written by Tony McMahon, a consultant working with Breakthrough Media which has orchestrated a secret propaganda programme in collaboration with the Home Office. The book itself describes McMahon as an “independent consultant working with the UK Government and civil society groups on counter extremism projects.”
Of course in an ideal world there should be no problem with British Muslim institutions taking government money to fund their projects; but in the current environment when many Muslims believe that the government is waging a war on Islam and Muslims at home and abroad, any connection with government is absolutely toxic.
A must-read for anti Prevent activists
Unfortunately many non-Muslims who don’t have a good grasp on Islamic theology or counter terrorism and radicalisation issues will be fooled by Khan’s book. And some naive Muslims may be as well.
So I want to make something clear: the vast majority of anti-Prevent people care about a cohesive British society just as much as Sara Khan does. Most of us are born and bred in this country, pay our taxes, obey the law and help old grannies cross the road. We want to live with our neighbours in peace and harmony and also want to address the radicalisation of a small number of British Muslims and the terrorism threat that does exist in this country.
But we know that the way to address these issues is not by bombing Muslim countries with impunity, or allowing the mainstream media to demonise Muslims, or monitoring and targeting the community as a whole. Rather, it is by holistically addressing issues such as British foreign policy and state and media Islamophobia, having a much more targeted counter terrorism policy, and by working with grassroots members of the Muslim community to root out the extremists rather than people like Sara Khan who have no ability to reach them.
So in conclusion I would recommend that every anti-Prevent activist reads Sara Khan’s book because they, like myself, will surely consider it the most detailed defence of Prevent so far by the British authorities, who are the real power behind Khan.
And they, like Khan, are hopping mad with the success of the anti-Prevent campaign which has made the brand completely toxic. And all they can do now is label us as “extremists” by focussing on what some of us might believe about certain aspects of Islamic law which has absolutely no relevance to Muslims in Britain or British society in general (Khan seems more obsessed by stoning to death, the caliphate and hudood punishments than ISIS does!).
They are clearly rattled and they are clearly losing. They have no support within the Muslim community whereas we have loads. And they are losing the argument in the wider community as well. So we should all read this book cover-to-cover and use it as inspiration to continue the fight.
For more information on The Battle for British Islam look here