Sadiq Khan and the Future of Europe: Mehdi Hasan

Mehdi Hasan on Sadiq Khan’s election, contrasting multiculturalism and integration in Britain and other European countries:

Mr. Khan’s resounding victory was a stinging rebuke to the peddlers of prejudice. Here is a Muslim who prays and fasts and has gone on the hajj to Mecca. But he sees no contradiction in being a card-carrying liberal, too. As a member of Parliament, he voted — despite death threats from Islamist extremists — in favor of same-sex marriage and he campaigned to save a local pub in his constituency from closure. He has pledged to serve as a “feminist mayor” of London and made his first public appearance after the election at a Holocaust memorial service.

The capital, admittedly, is a city apart — diverse, immigrant-friendly and home to around four in 10 of England’s 2.6 million Muslims. But even outside London, the more relaxed and tolerant British model of multiculturalism has done a far superior job of integrating, even embracing, religious and racial diversity than the more muscular, assimilationist models in Continental Europe.

While Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have declared multiculturalism a failure, the truth is that their countries, Germany and France, have never tried it. As Tariq Modood, the author of “Still Not Easy Being British,” writes, multiculturalism is the “political accommodation of difference.” For the French, however, difference has never even been tolerated, much less accommodated. In contrast, British-style multiculturalism has treated integration, as even David Cameron conceded almost a decade ago, as “a two-way street” and never required, in the words of Will Kymlicka, the author of “Multicultural Odysseys,” that “prior identities” must “be relinquished” in order to build a national identity.

Is it surprising that polls find that British Muslims are more patriotic and take more pride in their national identity than their non-Muslim counterparts and studies show that ethnic and religious segregation in Britain is either steady or in decline?

That isn’t to deny the problems. Britain’s Muslims tend to have the highest unemployment, worst health and fewest educational qualifications of any faith community. But this likely has more to do with a history of racism than it does with an unwillingness to integrate. A 2013 study found that Muslim men in Britain were up to 76 percent less likely to get a job offer than Christian men of the same age holding similar qualifications, while Muslim women were 65 percent less likely to be employed than Christian women.

The situation, then, is far from perfect, but there is a good reason that British Muslims look across the English Channel and breathe a sigh of collective relief.

Source: Sadiq Khan and the Future of Europe – The New York Times

Why Islam doesn’t need a reformation | Mehdi Hasan

Mehdi Hasan on the intellectual laziness of those who call for an Islamic reformation and the uncomfortable facts behind Luther’s reformation:

The truth is that Islam has already had its own reformation of sorts, in the sense of a stripping of cultural accretions and a process of supposed “purification”. And it didn’t produce a tolerant, pluralistic, multifaith utopia, a Scandinavia-on-the-Euphrates. Instead, it produced … the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Wasn’t reform exactly what was offered to the masses of the Hijaz by Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the mid-18th century itinerant preacher who allied with the House of Saud? He offered an austere Islam cleansed of what he believed to be innovations, which eschewed centuries of mainstream scholarship and commentary, and rejected the authority of the traditional ulema, or religious authorities.

Some might argue that if anyone deserves the title of a Muslim Luther, it is Ibn Abdul Wahhab who, in the eyes of his critics, combined Luther’s puritanism with the German monk’s antipathy towards the Jews. Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s controversial stance on Muslim theology, writes his biographer Michael Crawford, “made him condemn much of the Islam of his own time” and led to him being dismissed as a heretic by his own family.

Don’t get me wrong. Reforms are of course needed across the crisis-ridden Muslim-majority world: political, socio-economic and, yes, religious too. Muslims need to rediscover their own heritage of pluralism, tolerance and mutual respect – embodied in, say, the Prophet’s letter to the monks of St Catherine’s monastery, or the “convivencia” (or co-existence) of medieval Muslim Spain.

If we are to fight extremism we must bring people together, not silence and ban them

What they don’t need are lazy calls for an Islamic reformation from non-Muslims and ex-Muslims, the repetition of which merely illustrates how shallow and simplistic, how ahistorical and even anti-historical, some of the west’s leading commentators are on this issue. It is much easier for them, it seems, to reduce the complex debate over violent extremism to a series of cliches, slogans and soundbites, rather than examining root causes or historical trends; easier still to champion the most extreme and bigoted critics of Islam while ignoring the voices of mainstream Muslim scholars, academics and activists.

Hirsi Ali, for instance, was treated to a series of encomiums and softball questions in her blizzard of US media interviews, from the New York Times to Fox News. (“A hero of our time,” read one gushing headline on Politico.) Frustratingly, only comedian Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show, was willing to point out to Hirsi Ali that her reformist hero wanted a “purer form of Christianity” and helped create “a hundred years of violence and mayhem”.

With apologies to Luther, if anyone wants to do the same to the religion of Islam today, it is Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims to rape and pillage in the name of a “purer form” of Islam – and who isn’t, incidentally, a fan of the Jews either. Those who cry so simplistically, and not a little inanely, for an Islamic reformation, should be careful what they wish for.

Why Islam doesn’t need a reformation | Mehdi Hasan | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Guardian Debate on Islamophobia and antisemitism: Mehdi Hassan and Jonathan Freedland

Two short video extracts from the 15 September Guardian debate, both adding nuance and understanding to the issues:

Mehdi Hasan on Islamophobia and antisemitism: You won’t change peoples’ minds with data, facts and figures – video | Membership | The Guardian.

Jonathan Freedland on antisemitism: Britain’s Jews don’t necessarily support what Israel does – video,

What the Jihadists Who Bought Islam For Dummies on Amazon Tell Us About Radicalisation | Mehdi Hasan

More on radicalization in the UK (but applicable more universally). I also recommend the film Four Lions:

Sarwar and Ahmed, both of whom pleaded guilty to terrorism offences last month, purchased Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies. You could not ask for better evidence to bolster the argument that the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement. The swivel-eyed young men who take sadistic pleasure in bombings and beheadings may try to justify their violence with recourse to religious rhetoric – think the killers of Lee Rigby screaming “Allahu Akbar” at their trial; think of Islamic State beheading the photojournalist James Foley as part of its “holy war” – but religious fervour isnt what motivates most of them.

In 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5s behavioural science unit, was leaked to the Guardian. It revealed that, “far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.” The analysts concluded that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation”, the newspaper said.

For more evidence, read the books of the forensic psychiatrist and former CIA officer Marc Sageman; the political scientist Robert Pape; the international relations scholar Rik Coolsaet; the Islamism expert Olivier Roy; the anthropologist Scott Atran. They have all studied the lives and backgrounds of hundreds of gun-toting, bomb-throwing jihadists and they all agree that Islam isn’t to blame for the behaviour of such men and, yes, they usually are men.

Instead they point to other drivers of radicalisation: moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, for a sense of belonging and purpose. As Atran pointed out in testimony to the US Senate in March 2010: “. . . what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Quran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world”. He described wannabe jihadists as “bored, under­employed, overqualified and underwhelmed” young men for whom “jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer . . . thrilling, glorious and cool”.

Or, as Chris Morris, the writer and director of the 2010 black comedy Four Lions – which satirised the ignorance, incompetence and sheer banality of British Muslim jihadists – once put it: “Terrorism is about ideology, but it’s also about berks.”[idiots]

What the Jihadists Who Bought Islam For Dummies on Amazon Tell Us About Radicalisation | Mehdi Hasan.

What Islam-bashers Can Learn From ‘The West Wing’s Aaron Sorkin | Mehdi Hasan

A funny by pertinent piece by Mehdi Hasan, citing Baroness Warsi’s use of the West Wing in response to UK Independence Party former leader Lord Pearson citing some of more extreme verses from the Quran:

In the show, President Jed Bartlet takes on a Christian evangelical radio presenter who had called homosexuality an “abomination”. “I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr President. The Bible does,” she replies, citing Leviticus 18:22. To which Bartlet responds:

“I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7… What would a good price for her be? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or is it OK to call the police? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you?”

Makes the point that the issue is about fundamentalists and literalists, not religions per se.

What Islam-bashers Can Learn From ‘The West Wing’s Aaron Sorkin | Mehdi Hasan.