Thursday 18 June 2009

The Curious Silence of Political Islam

Dave Osler earlier noted how some sections of the left are all sixes and sevens over the events unfolding in Iran. I don't know why this should be so surprising. The far left has long standing strategic differences over the Middle East. But what is really strange is the unanimity of response from the various strands of political Islam resident in Britain.

Let me start with the definition of political Islam. I understand it in a broad sense, as political movements that draw on Islam to meet their objectives. Applied to the British context this includes relatively innocuous organisations such as the
Muslim Association of Britain, who aim to integrate British Muslims into the country's political and cultural mainstream while promoting Islamic teachings. It would also include the to be re-launched Al-Muhajiroun, who campaign for an Islamic UK state. In other words, political Islam encompasses movements right across the spectrum. It should not be confused with Islamism, which denotes a particular strand of political Islam that simultaneously treats the religion as a political philosophy.

It would be reasonable to assume organisations of political Islam would have something to say about the situation in Iran. I know if I was a young Muslim I would be interested to hear the opinion of organisations that claim to represent my interests or would like to recruit me. I'm pretty sure the musings of the local Imam - if he touched on the crisis in the Islamic Republic at all - would not be enough. So what are these groups saying?

Let's have a look at the more mainstream sites. The
British Muslim Forum apparently aims to represent the political thoughts of Muslims resident in the UK and boasts of being the largest Muslim umbrella organisation in the country with 600 affiliates. Alas its not doing a great job of representing any kind of thought - at least on the internet - as the website has not been updated since February. The Muslim Association, the pressure group some on the ultra-left think is "Islamofascist" because of its links to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood doesn't have much to say either. Its last news item is Obama's speech in Cairo at the beginning of the month (the MB website is no better - seems every topic under the sun gets a look in ... apart from Iran). The story is the same for the Islamic Society of Britain, The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, and Progressive British Muslims (another organisation who, online at least, looks like it's gone into abeyance).

What about the extremes? Over the years the mainstream political establishment have been pressuring so-called community leaders to aggressively stamp out the extremists and Islamists. The silence of the mainstream offers the head bangers an ideal opportunity, doesn't it? You would think ... but
Hizb ut-Tahrir - an organisation no one could accuse of being idle - hasn't got a thing to say. US designs on Pakistan? Check. The global recession? Check. Revolution in Iran? Nope.

In fact, the only organisation that does is the two man show, the
Muslim Public Affairs Committee. They carry a couple of snippets from Youtube, but don't really offer any opinion on the events.

This is indeed a curious silence on the part of British political Islam. Could it be for sectarian reasons? Or is it more likely they are utterly bewildered by events?


Entdinglichung said...

I think, one reason why these organisations remain silent is, that they are all more or less Sunni organizations who always maintained some distance to Shia Iran ... some of the more extreme Sunni fundamentalists see Shia Muslims simply as "infidels"

Verstat said...

I haven't taken a look at the forums you've mentioned, but one thing that strikes me about political Islam, and especially Islamism (I'm not sure how useful this typology really is, by the way) is the essentially nationalist thrust of these movements. Many analysts take Islamist's proclamations and use of the symbols of transnationalism and the ummah at face value, when really these movements concerns are usually tied to a particular nation-state and rooted in socio-economic concerns. In this sense, the immediate developments in Iran might not be of much interest. Has there been more commentary about events in Pakistan by such UK-based groups? I'd imagine so, but think this is more to do with their national orientation than with the Sunni/Shi'a divide.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Off topic but an apology for some nonsense coming your way.

Phil said...

I don't know who it is who's trying to drag me into an LA-based blog war, but I'm not interested nor am I going to bite.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Apologies once again, they seem to have it in for you because my blog links to you and you didn't let their offensive and ever so mental comment stand.


ModernityBlog said...

Interesting angle, I haven't followed those organizations, but I suspect it is partly sectarian, partly it is so novel and people don't know which way to jump for fear of backing the wrong side.

Revolution can scare the hell out of the conservatives (both left and right), and you only have to look at those on the British Left who argue for the status quo in Iran for evidence of that.

The protests in Iran don't conform to a known pattern that frightens people.

Taking the issues on first principles is hard for some (British Lefties) as they seem to have spend years, ducking/diving and tying themselves in intellectual knots to defend the indefensible, the only think is they don't know the old advice: when you're not sure of something shut up and listen.

That might be what those organizations are doing?

PakPunk said...

Phil, do pardon me in advance for sounding pissed at your naiveté or brazen ignorance (there is so much one can read in it, but let's leave that aside).

Couple of Islamic experts that your post has attracted in the comments sections simply are a pair of inane arses who probably don't know the first thing about Shias/Sunnis division - how can they or anyone forget outright support of MAB and others british muslim organisations to the Lebanese resistance (which was mainly Hizbullah, comprised mostly of Shias) during the last Zionist attacks in 2006.

Now, of course you don't know why the events in Iran should be bewildering for the british muslims, after all as a true white middle class Marxist you have to have opinion on all - from the dark matter to the quantum electrodynamics, if it's not class struggle its dialectical materialism, mostly both, right?

Unlike omscient trots, for whom revolution always happens in exotic lands, most of the british muslims, modestly, have to focus on the problems closer to home i.e. rise of the rabid anti-muslim racism in the public discourse. The simple fact that any stand for or against the 'green revolution' will be used to prove their primitiveness or unwillingness to follow the same 'liberal' receipe of reform at home (which in turn is the proof of their primitiveness) is beyond your comprehension.

This empirical fact, this lived experience cannot be distilled with your usual mix of twitter based journalism and blatant generalisations (Phil BC- BNP voters are not racists - classic!). It takes working in these ghettos and with these lepers, not to 'cure' them or 'raise' their political level (as your fellow trot Lindsey German has recently suggested) but in the true spirit of and for an inclusive and internationalist socialist movement.

Phil said...

You might think there's plenty you can read into this PakPunk, but it looks as though you can't digest what's in front of your face.

Let me explain it to you. This is not a criticism of British Muslims, but those organisations who to varying degrees claim to represent its political interests. Because you cannot grasp this very simple point it renders the rest of your contribution an unnecessary, foolish and dimwitted rant.