Wednesday, January 31, 2007
In this vein, most of you will have seen or heard of the results of a study by the Policy Exchange thinktank, 'independent' and that, which claimed to show among other things that 34% of Muslim youths (16-24 year olds) want Shari'a law, 31% support the death penalty for apostasy, and 13% 'admire' organisations 'like Al Qaeda' who are prepared to take the fight to the West. These were the headline grabbing findings, and it's important to distinguish the devious and racist way in which the report seeks to galvanise press attention, and the devious and racist way that the report itself seeks to blame Muslims, exonerate racism and still affect a complacent 'liberal' attitude toward British society, whose virtues are constantly extolled.
The 1990 Trust first raised a few problems with the report yesterday, when it pointed out that the think-tank is actually a neoconservative outfit run by former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, and is 'independent' in the sense that 'Migration Watch' is independent. Munira Mirza, the report's lead author, is a Furedite, which almost automatically means that she is obsessed with 'multiculturalism', specifically with proving its failure, and is equally obsessed with 'free speech', specifically free speech for racists. She has written a great deal on both topics, and is admired by the far right for doing so. Secondly, the 1990 Trust has done its own research, the results of which suggest we're a long way from cultural armageddon. For instance, so far from masses of Al Qaeda supporting Muslims, they could not find more than one percent who supported the 7/7 attacks, which is probably about the same proportion of non-Muslims who would say they support it. Thirdly, the 1990 Trust points out that the Policy Exchange findings include a great deal of spin, not least from the report's chief author, which as usual relies on popular misunderstanding of the word 'sharia' (it's something evildoers practise among themselves), and so on. In fact, the poll findings themselves are merely there to provide a frontispiece of original research for what is otherwise a lengthy commentary that is highly derivative of a limited number of sources, most of them connected - as Mirza is - to the right-wing libertarian cult formerly known as the Revolutionary Communist Party. Every finding in the 'report' is mediated through dense layers of rhetorical banality and didactic dogmatism. You trust them at your own peril.
While the bulk of its findings are to do with growing religiosity, these are integrated into a narrative of disintegration, in which Muslims identifying themselves as Muslim is treated as a problem. Mirza, in the Policy Exchange press release, conflates religiosity with political radicalism, and the absence of religiosity as a sign of accomodation to the 'norms of Western democracy' - this no less than to claim that Islam is incompatible with 'Western democracy', that it is as such, as a cultural essence, responsible for division, political radicalisation and ultimately terror. Therefore, the condition of admission is cultural submission. Mirza complains in the report of Britishness being undermined, decries a culture of 'self-loathing', denounces local councils who 'ban' Christmas as this somehow encourages the "Islamists" and so on. The report tries to undermine claims of anti-Muslim racism, pointing to a finding that "84% of Muslims believe they have been treated fairly in this society". It is a curious way to proceed this: they omit in both their press release and introduction the qualifier "on the whole", then omit their other claims about actual discrimination. For instance, they elsewhere mention research showing that one third of UK employers discriminate against blacks and Asians - but again, this is only mentioned as if it undermined claims of Islamophobia. Indeed, when they come to the discrimination faced by Muslims, the report's attitude appears to be that it's somehow vitiated by the fact that non-white people in general face discrimination. As if different forms of racism were competing rather than contiguous. I might as well mention that similar research presented on the BBC suggested a couple of years ago that the problem may be even more severe than that, indicating that a quarter of applications to employers by candidates with traditionally English sounding names were successful in securing an interview, compared with 13% for the applicants with Black African names and only 9% of applicants with Muslim names. The Islamic Human Rights Commission did some research on this alongside the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and found that 80 percent of Muslims felt they had been discriminated against because of their faith, although the majority (55%) felt this was only on some occasions. Anyway, having so speciously dismissed claims of Islamophobia, the report goes on to imply that the remaining 16% who do feel that 'on the whole' they have not been treated fairly, are suffering from a 'victimhood mentality'. Despite "concerted efforts" by Britain to "make Muslims feel included and protected" (Belmarsh and torture flights obviously the most 'concerted efforts' of the lot), young Muslims "continue to feel vulnerable, isolated and anxious about experiencing Islamophobia". It gleefully wields statements from some Muslims that claims of Islamophobia have been exaggerated, drawing on Kenan Malik's widely published claims (Malik is another Furedite), and claims that this is what is making Muslims feel fearful.
It also cites the usual array of Spiked Online contributors and liberal Islam-baiters (like Martin Bright). Curiously, while referencing the Runnymede Trust's account of Islamophobia, it does nothing to address any of its findings, and provides no evidence that Islamophobia is in fact being exaggerated. It's an intuition that they have, one supported with anecdote and the spurious authority of Furedite references. It defends Straw's brave stance against the niqab and complains about the 'recurrent demands for respect' that Muslims keep making, which they claim stifles criticism. If it did this, there wouldn't have been acres of news print supporting Straw - nor, by the way, would there have been widespread coverage of this contrived study led by and relying on some ex-RCP sectarians turned right-wing libertarians, the conclusions of which were evidently written long before any 'research' had begun. It further accuses Muslim women who wish to dress how they see fit of 'narcissistic self-aggrandisement'. It insists that not all cultures are equal, which supposes: a) that such things discrete cultures exist, and can be isolated, studied, compared and found wanting, and b) that 'Western' culture is superior. That is, it is both culturalist, even where it claims to be attacking cultural essentialism, and supremacist.
Finally, it complains about those who argue that British foreign policy is partially responsible for the emergence of minority currents in political Islam that wish to target the UK, asserting that it is simplistic (which it only is if the case is made simplistically) and that it is "pathetic" to oppose foreign policy purely on such grounds (which it only is if the policy is opposed purely on such grounds). And so on and on: everything in this report is a sustained reactionary complaint about the evils of political correctness, and about the trouble with Islam. Exonerating British policy at every level, except where it claims that the government has been too soft on Muslims, it provides the intellectual basis for a future David Cameron-led government.
This morning, 'Breaking News' has it that eight people have been arrested on terror charges following investigations by police in MI5. The fact that this has been publicised bears no relation to the actual threat level: we don't have to search our memories that much to think of innocent people who have been arrested, detained and then released without charge, some of them without even having been shot at. Nor is it too hard to think of a plot with hardcore weaponry involved that was specifically shunned by the media. This raises the question of how many of those who are arrested on the basis of such investigations are charged and convicted. Well, a Freedom of Information Act request by Olly Kendal produced some interesting statistics (which he reproduces in his Comment is Free piece, and elaborates in the comments). In 2005, 266 people were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 and Terrorism Act 2006, and 11 for terrorism-related offenses not under these acts. Of these, only 30 were charged under Terrorism Act offenses, and only 8 have been convicted. In 2006, 143 people were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 and Terrorism Act 2006 until September. A further 16 arrests were made for terrorism-related offenses, not covered by either act. Of these, 52 were charged under Terrorism Act offenses, and 4 have been convicted. So, out of a total of 436 arrests for terrorism, only 12 people were found guilty of a terrorist offense. This doesn't include any suspects who had their brains destroyed instantly utterly. Further, one suspects that a number of these convictions result from charges that are to do with activities (such as support for Kurdish groups) that have been banned by the government under Terrorism Acts, yet which don't have a great deal to do with terrorism.
However, the point is that however many are arrested, and however few are convicted, the background noise of facetious, strident, intellectually bankrupt, yet widely covered 'reports' such as this one provide a coherent cover story. It reassures people that Muslims are to blame for their own victimisation, which at any rate is imaginary, or if not imaginary then surely no worse than that faced by other minorities. It confirms reactionaries in their conviction that they are being unfairly silenced, even where their voices are the most frequently heard. It raises a threat to 'Western democracy', which it says originates from Islam itself. It provides a spurious academic respectability for ignorant bluster, parochialism and non-sequitur: you wouldn't put up with one percent of this crap for five seconds if you heard it in a pub, or read in a column. It throws the spotlight on non-problems (can Shabina wear her preferred clothing without undermining Britishness?), denies real ones, and actively obscures the role of the 'war on terror' and its repressive apparatus. It offers supremacism as a serious intellectual outlook, and does so in the name of overcoming division. But it is far from unique on any of these points.