Despite the global rise of Islamist extremism, the response to it here has been unfortunately predictable and highly counter-productive. Partly because of widespread ignorance around Islamist ideology, coupled with the active deflection by Islamists themselves and their sympathisers, the debate around Islamist radicalisation in our society is nothing short of regressive.
Rather than acknowledging the threat it poses, time and effort has been spent on the downplaying and denial (even the existence) of Islamist ideology, coupled with a complete lack of pushback by civil society. Worse still, some anti-racist groups have partnered with and supported Islamists. This sorry state of affairs has in some quarters become virtually normalised in British society, in particular within certain Muslim apologist activist circles, the liberal Left and even amongst the authorities.
Which is why these very same people, who care about upholding human rights and our democratic values, should watch this recent video put out by 5Pillars, a British based Islamist website. In their 1 min 45 second video, they helpfully expose their own anti-Western agenda and support for the Islamist worldview by neatly summarising the central tenets of Islamist extreme ideology which include support for a caliphate, Islamic penal codes and physical jihad.
The same Islamist ideology which also played a part in radicalising some British Muslims to leave the UK in support of ISIS’s caliphate.
Tellingly, the purpose of the video was to name and shame those British Muslim groups who 5Pillars believe threaten Islamist ideology and beliefs; I am proud to say Inspire being one of them. Adopting the Islamist old age tactic of charging these Muslim groups of seeking to “change Islam” which needs “defending,” 5Pillars have repeatedly sought to denigrate and vilify counter-Islamist Muslim voices who support human rights, gender equality, and believe in the modern day norm of democratic nation states.
For decades, defending and promoting Islamist ideology has unsurprisingly been a key focus of British Islamist groups. Their Islamist outlook however is totally at odds with leading Muslim theologians. Prominent scholar, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah for example has highlighted how outdated religious laws must always change and has done so since early Islam. While claiming to ‘represent’ and ‘defend’ Islam, Islamists themselves expose their own opposition to the Islamic tradition and Islam’s own historical record!
This is certainly the case with the outdated notion of a caliphate, or as scholar Wael B. Hallaq calls it “The Impossible State” because of the inherently self-contradictory notion of an “Islamic State. ” Today, leading theologians have argued that the caliphate is an outdated concept and that Muslims should adopt the idea of the nation state and equal citizenship .
Islamists regularly bemoan the end of the Ottoman Empire, idealising the last caliphate. They do so with selected memory. Their claim to establish a global caliphate is utterly at odds with the historical record.
It is well known during the 19th Century, how the Empire adopted secular laws and reformed it’s practices which included the decriminalisation of homosexuality. (5Pillars also attacked the normalisation of LGBTQ ‘lifestyles’ in their video.) Ottoman society in this period of time began to move away from punishments such as stoning; and the death penalty for apostasy was not implemented. These laws ironically were hardly applied in practice in Muslim history; Syrian scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (d.1328) remarked that there has never been stoning in Syria up till his time. Imam al-Burzuli (d.1438) rejected stoning and lashing and replaced them with financial penalties and incentives in the 14th century.
Yet here we are in the 21st Century where Daesh carried out such practices and where British Islamists continue to support and call for these extreme practices. Telling us the dire state of debate among some British Muslim and the failure of our country to confront Islamist extremism.
Fundamentally what 5Pillars’ video did so well is a) expose them and b) highlight the existence and support for Islamist extremism among some British Muslims. The comments on their Facebook page is proof of this. Despite the regular playing down of non-violent extremism, the video is evidence of how Islamist ideology and the ideas behind it are central to groups like ALM and Daesh.
Yet as someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in the British counter-terrorism and counter extremism community, I am tired of those within that community display blinkered thinking and policy. Too often colleagues and partners exclusively focus on Daesh, while ignoring the radicalisation that is taking place right here under our noses by UK based Islamist groups and the brazen promotion and support for Islamist ideology. It has become apparent to me that even for many well intentioned activists, faith leaders and authorities, challenging this ideology – and the British groups who promote it – has been placed in the “difficult box” leaving it to a few handful of people who are repeatedly vilified as demonstrated in 5Pillars’ video.
The authorities would do well to heed the words of Jason Burke. The author, writing about the fall of Daesh’s caliphate, forewarns the next Islamist threat and has argued that Islamist militancy follows the same trajectory; the first “a slow, unnoticed period of growth.” Many of us are only too well aware of the growth of those ideas in our country, but the truth is nobody is prepared to do anything about them. Which is why, at our peril, countering Islamist ideology will continue to remain in the “difficult box,” unless there is a sea change in our thinking.
History, as they say, repeats itself. We, however, never seem to learn. Just as we look back now and wonder how as a society we defended and condoned FGM, forced marriages and even CSE (and ignored the voices of the then campaigners), we today are witnessing the same inability and unwillingness to challenge and counter Islamist extremism. Another self-fulfilling prophecy which has already led to devastating consequences and will lead to more.