9.1 The emergence of the ‘Muslim issue’ in British politics
We start with an extract by Tahir Abbas, Reader in Sociology at the University of Birmingham. It comes from the introduction to Islamic Political Radicalism: a European Perspective, which he edited. He surveys the developments in Britain since the Rushdie affair that have brought the Muslim community into prominence and impacted negatively on its position in British society.
Activity 40 Islamic political radicalisation
Read the extract below now, making notes on:
- i) the major points he makes
- ii) the particular problems of socio-cultural diversity that arise in this area in contemporary Britain.
Before the events of 9/11, the Rushdie affair of 1989 highlighted to the world that there were issues pertaining to the South Asian Muslim community regarded as relatively innocuous until then. Pictures of the ‘book burning in Bradford’ reverberated around the globe and the media reaction was particularly negative, home and abroad. The collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991 and troubles in far off Muslim lands firmly placed Islam and Muslims in the immediate sphere of media and political attention. After 9/11, and certainly after 7/7, a whole host of factors have negatively impacted on British Muslims. Increasing anti-terror measures, increased policing powers, racial and ethnic profiling in the criminal justice system, a civil societal debate around culture that places South Asian Muslims at its heart, although never quite explicitly, questions around the apparent unassimilability of Muslims, with a focus on community cohesion and widening cultural and economic and social positions – all of these have co-existed alongside the apparent and increasing ‘jihadi salafi’ radicalisation of young Muslims. Gender issues are also important to explore, as it is often men who are most likely to be embroiled. Young Muslim women have been shown to better engage with the theological, political and social pressures placed on their identities as being both British-born and a Muslim. Certainly, it is reasonably well confirmed that Muslim women outperform their male counterparts in higher education, and where possible are better able to negotiate issues of ethnicity, identity and high-profile religious minority status. What recent events have invariably revealed is a worrying lack of knowledge of Islam not just within majority society but also within Muslim communities. Politically, debates in relation to the ‘Muslims in Britain’ issue have been between the left, which focuses on economic structure and the Iraq war; the right, which has championed culture and the nation; and the liberals, who have focused on civil liberties and freedoms in a democratic society. Polarised societies remain in the hands of subjugated radical Islamists on the one hand and dominant neo-conservative Christian evangelicals, whose rhetoric is dominated by such notions as ‘good Muslims are with us’ and ‘bad Muslims are against us’, on the other. Furthermore, concerns about multi-culturalism, segregation and ‘Britishness’ remain palpable in a society that sees its elites struggle to appreciate the extent of its diversity while only slowly relinquishing any notions of empire or of remaining a player in the global marketplace. What ceases to enter the imagination is that often Islamic political radicalism is about the tensions of trying to be European, British Asian, Pakistani or Kashmiri as much as it is about being Muslim.