Activist Yusuf Naseer explains why there is popular support for Jeremy Corbyn among British Muslims and draws comparisons with the work of advocacy group CAGE.
If Jeremy Corbyn and his politics has taught us anything, it is that standing for principles and speaking truth to power is a lifelong mission. Corbyn has been on the backbenches of Parliament challenging the status quo and mainstream narrative most of his career. For that, he was ridiculed and smeared as an “extremist”.
Radicals are often dismissed as “extremists” in the beginning, because they challenge the accepted orthodoxy and wisdom. The term “extremist” has always carried a political charge, and is used to belittle a legitimate challenge to the narrative of power. Corbyn showed if your cause is just, you stand with principles, challenge power long enough, and appeal to wider society, people eventually come around to your way of thinking. The “extremist” stance then becomes the norm.
The Muslim community admires Jeremy Corbyn, but we need to ask why there are so few people and organisations like him among us? Our community is so timid and willing to endorse mainstream political narrative and demands, that few risk being labelled “extremist”.
Defining “Quietist” Islam
This politics of deference to power, sends young Muslims heading in the direction of groups like ISIS. The irony is that the same placid organisations and individuals fearful of being labelled “extreme”, present themselves as part of the solution to young people turning to violence. They offer a further diet of, submissiveness, compliance with official narrative along with a “passive” Islam as the solution.
It is the same approach of Muslim organisations that legitimised policies like Prevent in the first place. Their surrender to government political narrative, and in some cases, their desire to be around the political table, left the Muslim community with a decade long struggle to reverse the narrative and impact of Prevent. Many Muslims have suffered in that time.
Opposition to Prevent and the policies of the War on Terror are today mainstream and “safe” to talk about on platforms and with politicians. However, we should never forget two things.
Firstly, we must not forget those Muslim organisations and individuals who initially submitted to the disastrous approach that gave us Prevent.
They should not be allowed to take up the leadership of the Muslim community on these issues again, because their fundamental approach has not changed, and if allowed to do so, they will lead us down the same path.
Secondly, we should not forget those individuals and organisations that took up the challenge, and offered leadership, were prepared to stand by their principles and labelled and smeared as “extremists”. The radicals and “extremists” are the ones who challenged Prevent in the first place. They are the ones who have made the ground safe for Muslims to talk openly about Prevent and the “War on Terror”.
Establishment and radical Muslims
There are thousands of Muslim organisations in the UK who appear to represent what has become establishment Islam and Muslims. They are like a sea of passiveness, in stark contrast to the mood at grassroots level and youth.
Among Muslim organisations, CAGE has stood out as a beacon of hope, challenging power and inspiring future generations.
At its outset, CAGE developed its work with analysis and understanding of “War on Terror” policies and the approach that needed to be taken to challenge them.
At a time when few in the Muslim community comprehended what the War on Terror meant for Muslims, CAGE challenged the existence of Guantanamo Bay. It led the way, by compiling lists of those detained and calling for due process and the rule of law to be applied. It highlighted and exposed ghost detention centres, secret trials and torture. Its ground-breaking reports on these and many other issues such as Schedule 7, became a source of reference around the world for ordinary citizens, and for human rights organisations and lawyers.
When it became clear that Prevent and the countering violent extremism policies were causing great harm to the Muslim community, CAGE was among the first who took up this challenge to oppose them, whilst others were busy complying with the Prevent agenda.
The Labour Party, introduced and defended all these policies. The Left’s muscular approach to social engineering gave us Prevent, the thought crimes sections of the Terrorism Laws and emergency powers of detention-without-trial. CAGE challenged them from the outset with little support. Muslims must remember whilst the Labour Party has a new leader, it is still the same party with the same with the same MP’s.
CAGE has opposed Prevent from the outset. It has produced many ground breaking reports which have challenged the narrative and theory. Its work has attracted attention in other countries, and it now has offices in other parts of the world. When Prevent and securitisation began to affect the work of Muslim charities, CAGE mounted a legal challenge to the Charity Commission; headed by one of the most powerful neocon ideologues this country has seen, William Shawcross.
Their legal action was vindicated by the ruling of the most senior Judge in the country Lord Chief Justice Taylor. Whilst the non-Muslim charity sector has applauded their action (an action the third sector should have taken), Muslim charities have remained largely indifferent to the positive implications this stand has for the sector.
Not surprisingly, CAGE have been vilified as “extremists” and “apologists for terrorism”. They have operated without any foreign government backers and on a minuscule budget, and even without a bank account for many years.
CAGE anticipated it would find little support amongst a passive and timid Muslim establishment, so it has always engaged with wider civil society organisations and communities for support.
CAGE forged alliances with secular and even anti-religious elements of academia, journalists and anti-statist organisations, whilst maintaining their own Islamic principles. Their work has commanded widespread support across various layers of society.
CAGE’s is now challenging Schedule 7 stops and is being supported by civil society groups.
The CAGE approach appears to work. A wide cross section of society now understands the impact of War on Terror polices. Prevent is opposed across all sections of society, due largely to CAGE’s work and calls for repeal or reform is mainstream.
CAGE, Corbyn and disassociating from “extremists”
Since he became Party leader Corbyn has been smeared in exactly like CAGE; labelled a dangerous “extremist” and “apologist for terrorism”. Corbyn has mainstreamed calls for a foreign policy change, and move away from War on Terror. Exactly what CAGE has been since 9/11.
The sad part of a positive Muslim story is, that whilst the Muslim establishment will flock around Corbyn and radicals amongst other communities, they lack the confidence to be radical themselves or rally around its own, like CAGE. The submissiveness of the Muslim establishment is out of touch with the grassroots. They have adopted a theology of submission far from the teachings of Islam that demands a theology of challenge and speaking truth to power.
History too has shown it is always the radicals or “extremists” that do the hard work and produce change. The moderates usually pick up the pieces.