Friday, July 24, 2015

An Ex-Muslim Perspective on Cameron's Extremism Speech : Listen up Canada.

David Cameron's speech on extremism was surprisingly, refreshingly on point. And like any other liberal, it makes me a bit uneasy to say I've agreed with so much of a conservative politician's speech.

But as I discuss more and more often on Twitter and in real seems politics is becoming less about the dichotomy of liberal vs. conservative, more about who's willing to address specific issues. I could never identify as a conservative...but I identify less and less with 'liberals' now too. There are so many things they have failed people like me on.

So many.

Being a minority within a minority group, I'm often overlooked by those who defend the faith I was born into (Islam). They prevent us from progressing, they are roadblocks to our reform, our betterment, our enlightenment...because they don't allow any real discussion about the role of Islam in Islamic terrorism. In their misguided attempts to shield 'the minority', they do it a great disservice.

Maajid Nawaz, an ex-extremist himself - someone with the exact lived experience we need to look at, had a hand in helping with this speech. It was thrilling to hear Cameron get all the terminology right. Carefully differentiating between Islam and Islamism, making a point to be very inclusive towards Muslims....looking to them as an important part of Britain, an important part of the solution.

The speech was well balanced between honestly calling out the issues and the ideology of Islamism (political Islam), it's link to the religion (which is becoming undeniable) while also trying to build a bridge with Muslims... who are indeed diverse - and the primary victims of Jihadists and Islamists.

To me as an ex-Muslim who is very much steeped in the someone who has a liberal Muslim family I care about immensely, it was a wonderful, moving speech.

I can only hope that my country, Canada, looks to the UK for examples of what it's gotten wrong with its brand of multiculturalism. Britain has its own shariah courts and modesty patrols ffs, it has a few far right 'anti-Islam' nationalist groups in existence. All very problematic results of cultural relativism.

I would like Canadian politicians to take a page (not every page) from Cameron's outlined strategy to combat extremism (apart from the 'Extremism Bill', which sounds a bit like our Anti Terror Bill that has been causing legitimate fears of curbed free speech, mass surveillance, etc).

In my not-so-important opinion, I think that legislating and curbing speech is never the answer. Speech that incites violence definitely...but drawing the boundaries for hate 'speech' is a difficult task and a slippery slope. Some people feel persecuted if others talk about marriage equality. Many Muslims feel it's hateful towards them to draw cartoons of a person they've never even met.

Calling things out, changing the narrative, holding everyone to the same moral standards, no longer being afraid of 'offending' certain cultures - this is what needs to happen. To me, it's offensive that someone will defend misogyny and 'bagging' women because they assume it's a part of my culture. No. Misogyny is only a part of my culture because everyone stands by and lets it continue. So join me in opposing it, or stay out of the conversation.

Canadian liberal media is cringeworthy with it's inability to recognize soft Islamism. Under the guise of tolerance and acceptance it promotes such principles as universally 'Muslim', it fails to hear from people within the Muslim community who value secularism, free speech and equality. In this way, it's not just the Fox News types but also liberal media that's responsible for creating a one dimensional narrative as far as 'depicting Muslims' goes.


Below are some quotes from Cameron's speech which I thought were important (you can read the entire transcript here):

“It’s here in Britain where different people from different backgrounds who follow different religions and different customs, don’t just rub alongside each other - but we are relatives and friends, husbands, wives, cousins, neighbours and colleagues.”

“It’s here in Britain where success is achieved not in spite of our diversity but because of our diversity”

“As we debate these issues neither should we demonize people of particular backgrounds. Every one of the communities that has come to call our country home has made Britain a better place"

It's incredibly hard for me to understand why despite statements like these, his speech is being said to have 'demonized Muslims/Islam'. 

“Tackling Islamist extremism, not Islam the religion” 

He specified he wasn't talking about 'Islam the religion' - what more do defenders of Islam need to hear? Are they really this petty and unable to compromise? Do they really lack an ability to be reasonable, to cooperate, to drop this tribalism and unite against evil? It's embarrassing to me as a member of the community...that Muslims often come across like this because of their response to anything that isn't going their way. The contrast between outrage they can create over an unopened can of Diet Coke and their silence on atrocities committed in the name of their faith, is sad for me to see. 

“I know what profound contribution muslims from all backgrounds and denominations are making in every sphere of our society. Proud to be both British and Muslim without conflict or contradiction.”

“I know how much you hate the extremists that are seeking to divide our communities”

And Cameron doesn't just address one side of the extremism coin. He talks about the 'poisonous far right' also sowing division, attacking mosques. He talks about non violent extremism too, hatred, racism and marginalizing communities. It all plays a role and he acknowledges that.

I'm especially glad he brings up the British Muslims who feel both things are an equal part of their identity. It's a topic I brought up during my discussion with Tommy Robinson, former leader of the EDL on Godless Spellchecker's podcast. And again, I'd like to thank Stephen for providing the space for it. For not shying away from who Tommy is and who he is said to be - if we don't engage with and confront prejudices and bigotry from all angles... if we don't have honest discussions, we cannot possibly move ahead. I also think Tommy deserves credit for being open to engaging respectfully with criticism as long as people aren't shutting him down and hearing his side as well. 

Tommy is more reasonable than you might think, though he still says some incredibly crude and anti-muslim, anti muslim immigration things.... he was willing to listen to my perspective, and even admitted briefly that his generalizing *all* muslims is not at all helpful to combat extremism. One thing I asked him was why he was fixated on defining people as 'British lads' vs. 'Muslim lads', why could Muslims not be included in the 'British' identity according to him? His response was that who he was referring to were people who themselves identify as Muslim not British. While he may not be referring to *all* Muslims, his language is divisive. Language matters, which is why I'm happy Cameron addressed this exact point. 

For others to divide people's identities in such a way, just contributes to the feeling of alienation....which leaves people vulnerable to radicalization. Far right nationalists, anti-muslims might think they are fighting against Islamism by 'exposing' it or whatever, but in reality they are contributing to it indirectly. 

The way forward is unity and not tribalism Cameron surprisingly, eloquently put it. Something that both Muslim bigots and anti-Muslim bigots need to understand.

"Ideas – like those of the despicable far right – which privilege one identity to the detriment of the rights and freedoms of others.

And ideas also based on conspiracy…

…that Jews exercise malevolent power…

…or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam."

I'm so glad he touched on conspiracy theorists, it's something that frustrates me greatly within my own community. This desire to shift blame, this desire to not acknowledge Islam's own role...this constant anti-semitism.

The flipside of these conspiracy theorists is those who think all Muslims are conspiring to take over the West and impose shariah here. Let's face it...conspiracy theorists are a bunch of nuts, not to be taken seriously when coming from either side.  

"...the extremist world view is the gateway, and violence is the ultimate destination."

The above line is such an important one to understand. It's not just the ones supporting violence that are 'extreme', fyi. If only the Canadian left or Western left in general could grasp this. There is such a thing as 'soft Islamism', Your niqab defenders, your gender segregators - these people make strong  visual, personal statements in allegiance with an archaic, bigoted, discriminatory belief system. These things are political, they are a nod to, an acknowledgement of the validity of a misogynistic system....and their affiliation with that system. We need to at the very least be aware of what we're tolerating as 'culture'. Are you listening Canada? 

"the adherents of this ideology are overpowering other voices within Muslim debate, especially those trying to challenge it.
There are so many strong, positive Muslim voices that are being drowned out."

Yes, yes and YES. Thank you for saying that David Cameron. It's about time someone did. Here in Canada, dissenting Muslim voices are often avoided by the liberal media like the plague. The 'liberal' perspectives you will read in our papers will be some Muslimah claiming her niqab is actually a feminist symbol, or an article proudly proclaiming how open minded a Muslim mother is, for not freaking out when her son asked her about 'boobs'. These voices are given a platform as some ostentatious display of how 'tolerant' and 'liberal' these publications are. That they are aiming to dispel stereotypes about Muslims, hearing from these conservatives and hailing them as progressive heroes they fail miserably and in fact reinforce the stereotypes of all Muslims being orthodox and 'different', they contribute to this otherization of Muslim communities. Not only that, it's so bloody patronizing to have our communities be treated like a spoiled baby or a pet that just doesn't know any better. The fact we cannot be held up to the same moral standards as others by 'liberals' in the West is truly offensive. 

If you listened to these sources alone, you'd think we didn't have any progressive voices amongst us, no one to look inward and one to who wants to move forward. But those voices are avoided because no one wants to be called an 'Islamophobe', or be associated with someone who is called one. And there lies our problem, this is how our voices are drowned out....this is how our communities continue to be stuck in a rut. The masses are listening to the wrong voices amongst us. The fact that Cameron collaborated with a true Muslim progressive like Maajid Nawaz is heartening, for all of us. 

"the third plank of our Strategy is to embolden different voices within the Muslim community.
Just as we do not engage with extremist groups and individuals, we’re now going to actively encourage the reforming and moderate Muslim voices.

This is a significant shift in Government approach – and an important one."

The fact that any major politician has stood in our corner, openly declaring he wants to empower 'reformist' (dissenting) Muslim voices... is unprecedented. It is indicative of a shift in the right direction. It's exciting, it's emotional....

Canada take note. Please. 

So Cameron is a politician, the next quote is the obligatory 'Nothing to do with Islam', he's kind of got to say it if he wishes certain people to absorb his message...

"It cannot be said clearly enough: this extremist ideology is not true Islam." 

If the raw material is there for people to interpret in an ISIS like way, it's not really for anyone to decide what is true and what isn't.

However he does promptly make a statement to clarify he's not denying a link. It's unbelievable really, that a politician is saying these things openly...and not avoiding certain words. 

"But simply denying any connection between the religion of Islam and the extremists doesn’t work…

…because these extremists are self-identifying as Muslims.

The fact is from Woolwich to Tunisia, from Ottawa to Bali, these murderers all spout the same twisted narrative, one that claims to be based on a particular faith.

Now it is an exercise in futility to deny that. And more than that, it can be dangerous.

To deny it has anything to do with Islam means you disempower the critical reforming voices…
…the voices that are challenging the fusing of religion and politics, the voices that want to challenge the scriptural basis which extremists claim to be acting on…

…the voices that are crucial in providing an alternative worldview that could stop a teenager’s slide along the spectrum of extremism.

These reforming voices they have a tough enough time as it is: the extremists are the ones who have the money, the leaders, the iconography and the propaganda machines.

We need to turn the tables."

Absofuckin'lutely we do. It took people a hell of a long time to realize this.... but I'm glad some are starting to get it. Seek out the secularist Muslims, seek out the true open minded ones... the ones looking forward...not the one's with a foot in another century. 

"We have to back those who share our values.

So here’s my offer.

If you’re interested in reform…

…if you want to challenge the extremists in our midst…
…if you want to build an alternative narrative…
…if you just want to help protect your kids…

…we are with you and we will back you – with practical help, with funding, with campaigns, with protection and with political representation."

"And I know that for as long as injustice remains – be it with racism, discrimination or sickening Islamophobia – you may feel there is no place for you in Britain.

But I want you to know: there is a place for you and I will do everything I can to support you."


The only bit in the speech that didn't make a lot of sense to me was the part where he talked about faith schools being wonderful (yikes), and how he chose one for his own kids, *but* he also said they don't help with the integration. 

If faith schools are segregating kids on the basis of religion, then they can't be all that wonderful. Especially when it is recognized that a lack of integration is a possible contributing factor to radicalization, alienation.

Thankfully there wasn't much focus on how wonderful faith schools are....the bulk of the speech was awesome. 


So what are some criticisms of this speech you ask? 

Well, Muhammad Shafiq of the Ramadhan foundation had this to say to The Independent:

"There is also a contradiction between Mr Cameron extolling British values such as free speech and then suggesting that Muslims who object to gay equality are somehow extremist and their views should not be tolerated."

This is the same person who led a Twitter hate campaign against Maajid Nawaz (who helped write the speech) for daring to tweet a Jesus and Mo cartoon last year

Wikipedia says: "Shafiq then posted on Twitter "We will notify all muslim organisations in the UK of his despicable behaviour and also notify Islamic countries."[31][32] Shafiq further Tweeted "Ghustaki Rasool Quilliam," so linking Nawaz's anti-extremist think tank with an Urdu term which means "defamer of the prophet",[33] which under Islamic law is a crime that carries a death penalty.[34] "

What was The Independent thinking, asking someone like that for their views? He basically had Maajid marked for death...what do you think he's going to think of a speech Maajid helped write? These are precisely the kinds of people mentioned in the speech that we shouldn't be giving media time to. 

To address his actual issue here, legislating against people's thoughts or beliefs however hateful, is problematic for me... but i'm not sure that anyone opposing sexual equality would be prosecuted. Mentions of being tough and 'cracking down' were kind of vague. Calling these people out as 'extreme' or intolerant is not wrong though.  

From what I gathered, he asked the media to exercise judgement in who they hear from more...and is this guy listening to himself? Did he actually just say that people objecting to 'equality' are not 'extreme'? I mean we're talking about denying human beings 'equality'! How on earth is this not an extreme view? No harm in calling it what it is. 

Shafiq's basically just said 'well why won't you tolerate intolerance coming from Muslims' - and he's put this in a paper for everyone to see. 

Then The Independent went on to ask Cerie Bullivant, spokesman for Cage (an organization Cameron addressed by name in his speech) 

"But there is another domestic problem which David Cameron is not addressing. A lot of Muslims don’t feel safe in the UK any more and the types of policies that Cameron is pushing are making that worse."

Umm... I think Cameron did address that a few times actually, he even referred to the far right as 'poisonous'.

"And I know that for as long as injustice remains – be it with racism, discrimination or sickening Islamophobia – you may feel there is no place for you in Britain.

But I want you to know: there is a place for you and I will do everything I can to support you."

Here's what Cameron had to say about Cage in his speech, and rightfully so. What I've seen of them has been vile.

"And while I am it, I want to say something to the National Union of Students.
When you choose to ally yourselves with an organisation like CAGE, which called Jihadi John a ‘beautiful young man’ and told people to “support the jihad” in Iraq and Afghanistan…

…it really does, in my opinion, shame your organisation and your noble history of campaigning for justice."

In another piece, The Guardian gave even more space to Mohammed Shafiq to air his grievances. What is wrong with these publications? Who are they having on as ambassadors of Muslim opinion? What reputable paper would ask someone who's led a campaign marking someone for death as an 'insulter of the prophet' to write a piece for them? This isn't even 'soft Islamism', this is the real deal... telling someone they would notify Muslim countries of their blasphemy....we all know what that implies. Charlie Hebdo is still fresh in our minds. 

He makes a terrible comparison equating hate preacher Anjem Choudary with Tommy Robinson. 

"I abhor what Tommy Robinson and Anjem Choudary stand for and what they say, but removing Choudary’s right to free speech will restrict our ability to confront him."

Anjem has openly said people should die if the shariah punishment is applicable. Tommy may say hateful things, may have gotten into fights, but he doesn't advocate for the deaths and stonings of innocent people. They are in no way comparable. To try to put them in the same box, is to try and minimize the violence advocated for by Islamists. Tommy has also left the EDL, he has tried to make a change, despite some instances of continued anti muslim bigotry....but Anjem hasn't exactly made an effort to be less 'extreme' at all. 

The fact that Anjem has spewed his hate for so long, the fact that protests against British police where Shariah has been demanded have happened in Britain show that it is a country dedicated to free speech. This doesn't mean caution against people advocating violence shouldn't be exercised.

"But we British Muslims will continue the fight against terrorism" 

How? By throwing dissenters to murderous sharks for blasphemy? Fuck Off. 


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  1. Wonderful. As a British person, I agree with you completely. I too endorse 99% of what Mr Cameron said, finding only his vague claim about 'real' Islam confusing and his promotion of faith schools disappointing. The most important thing we could do to tackle radicalisation and anti-Muslim bigotry is have children of all faiths and none grow up together. Otherwise, this is an excellent speech and a real shift in attitude which I think found precisely the right balance - zero tolerance of Islamism and support for liberal Muslims & Muslim reformers (and hopefully ex-Muslims.)

    I am shocked at Muhammad Shafiq but also glad he was honest and did not dissimulate. Can you imagine if anyone said "
    "There is also a contradiction between Mr Cameron extolling British values such as free speech and then suggesting that people who object to Muslim equality are somehow extremist and their views should not be tolerated?"
    That would be blatant Islamophobia but put 'gay' in place of 'Muslim' and its all fine.

    Well, no, Britain is a place that supports the rights of Muslims and LGBTs. Get on board or expect to be regarded as a bigot.

    1. Exactly, its simple really. Diversity includes everyone.. not 'just muslims' - its ironic to me that even in Canada so many 'pro diversity' immigrants are anti lgbt. This was shockingly apparent when 'my chacha is gay' was read in schools and ppl threatened to pull kids out of school, or sue the school board. I just wondered how they'd feel if others had that reaction to respecting the rights of Muslims.. Pure hypocrisy.

  2. Good post. Unfortunately, I don't have much faith that Cameron's plan will bear fruit. Trying to tackle extremism and lack of cohesion whilst also promoting faith based segregation in schools is a bit of an oxymoron. Segregated schools > segregated communities > segregated Britain. Things will get worse before they get better.

    1. I agree, that bit was totally contradictory. Hopefully more and more will realise that faith schools don't exactly go hand in hand w cohesion. Its one or the other really...

    2. I believe that faith schools should have a out-right ban. Education and religion should be separated.