I have been following the work of Ayaan Hirsi Ali for over a decade. She has been writing about Islam and the rise of Islamic Extremism extremely eloquently and forcefully since 9/11. The excellent collection of essays ‘The Caged Virgin – An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam’ 2006 and her autobiography ‘Infidel – My Life’ 2007 has recently been joined by her searing analysis of Islam, extremism and the western misunderstanding of it: ‘Heretic – Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now’ 2015.
She is one of a growing number of modern, rational commentators on these issues that, crucially, have a muslim background and heritage and as such have immensely more traction in the muslim world than the numerous analysts from the West. It is crucial that she, and others such as Maajid Nawaz here in the UK, are given support and visibility from the media and political class to increase the profile of the modern muslim worldview. It is wonderful that she has an occasional column in the Sunday Times and her latest article is reproduced below. She has thrown her weight behind David Cameron’s unfolding rhetoric on the issue but, like many of us, is awaiting with bated breath to see whether the follow through on policy has any real substance and is able to stand up to what will be a withering campaign of moral outrage from the postmodern/left wing intelligentsia.
(Note: For a complimentary analysis from another modern muslim it is recommended that the article below should be read in conjunction with the analysis of ISIS posted here)
A few more ingredients and the PM’s recipe for beating Islamism is ready
TWO wonderful things happened last week to advance the cause to which I have dedicated the past 14 years of my life. First, I heard a British Muslim woman — Nadiya Hussain — say these words after winning The Great British Bake Off: “I am never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I am never going to say, ‘I don’t think I can.’ I can. And I will.”
Then I heard David Cameron say in his party conference speech that he would “confront — and I mean really confront — extremism . . . [a] diseased view of the world [which] has become an epidemic — infecting minds from the mosques of Mogadishu to the bedrooms of Birmingham”.
Two breaths of fresh air. For, make no mistake, if the extremists had their way, a Muslim woman such as Hussain would never be allowed to appear on television and to express herself in the terms she used. Her face would be covered. She would be behind closed doors. She certainly wouldn’t be hugging her fellow competitors and crying for joy. For such behaviour is seen by extremists as bringing dishonour on her family and her faith.
Since 2001 I have followed the spread of this kind of extremism in Europe. I have followed with almost as much concern the lacklustre response of governments to this lethal threat.
Although things seem calm on the surface, when one walks through the streets of big cities such as London, Berlin and Paris one can sense that something is terribly off. There’s a palpable tension. The growth of Muslim populations has been gradual, as has their penetration by extremist organisations. The difficulties of integrating immigrants into European economies and societies have only slowly become apparent. But this year Europe’s political elites feel suddenly overwhelmed by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants — most of them young Muslim men — when they were already struggling to keep a lid on the rise of extreme right-wing political movements and parties.
Many European voters, and not only on the right of the political spectrum, feel let down by their leaders. This despondency is largely due to the reluctance — in some cases adamant refusal — of leaders to address honestly the challenges of Muslim immigration and integration into the host societies. Platitudes on the benefits of multiculturalism and accusations of xenophobia have done nothing to mitigate what has now become one of the burning issues of our time.
It will probably take some time before we witness a reversal in the spread of Islamic extremism. Yet there is at last a sign of hope that things may change for the better. This sign of hope comes from Britain. Not only do we have a new national heroine in a Muslim woman who refuses to be constrained by antiquated rules designed to make women subservient; we also have, in David Cameron, the first western leader willing to take the risk of tackling Islamic extremism head-on.
Shortly before the election, Cameron called Islamic extremism “a poisonous ideology” that justified “the most sickening barbarism and brutality”, and pledged to come down hard on organisations that “stay just within the law but still spread poisonous hatred”. By contrast Ed Miliband promised to make “Islamophobia” an “aggravated crime” — as if that were the more serious problem.
The fact that Cameron won the general election, even if the issue was not a dominant one in the campaign, suggests that when an establishment leader addresses Islamic extremism with courage and clarity, voters respond favourably.
Five months after his election victory, Cameron and his cabinet appear close to delivering. In his speech to the Tory party conference last week he promised to “tear up the narrative that says Muslims are persecuted and the West deserves what it gets”; to take on extremism “in all its forms, the violent and non-violent”; to tackle segregation; to zoom in on schools that incubate extremism, even shutting them down; and to clamp down on the terrible practices of forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), promising to prosecute those who perpetrate them.
This is the right way to go and I applaud it. But let me now add the principles that Cameron should put at the heart of his strategy.
First, it’s important to give the problem its real name. Islamic extremism concerns specific beliefs, attitudes and behaviours embedded in the political system of Islam. In his speech Cameron did not refer to Islamic extremism as such, even though he discussed extremist madrasahs, the terrorist group Isis and jihad. Yet leading political figures in the United Arab Emirates now publicly refer to “Islamic extremism” as “the most destabilising and dangerous global force since fascism”.
Second, by focusing on the problematic aspects of Islam, one can learn to distinguish between those aspects of Islam that are compatible with a liberal society and those that are not. It is then possible to form genuine partnerships with Muslims who as individuals and as groups have values that are aligned with British values, British laws and British norms.
Third, if the links between Islam and extremism are made clear, one can develop tools to help identify, predict and prevent extremism. Take a Muslim-majority neighbourhood where men and women mix freely and where they have friendly relations with people of other religions or no religion. If one were suddenly to see women veiled from head to toe and men wearing long beards, demanding that the genders be segregated and pushing for a ban on alcohol, one could readily infer that extremist elements were at work there.
Fourth, good civic values need to be inculcated at school. If combating Islamic extremism is our goal, then Muslim children will have to be taught that armed jihad is bad, and why; that sharia as it exists in Saudi Arabia and used to in Afghanistan is unjust; that obeying one book and one man without question is unwise; that the principles of tolerance, freedom, democracy and equality before the law are sacrosanct; and that it is perfectly legitimate for people to have faiths other than Islam or no faith at all.
When Cameron stated in his speech that we should not just be saying what is wrong with forced marriage or FGM, but should also be emphasising what is right about Britain, I took it to mean that he is prepared to have these values inculcated into every single Briton, including Muslims.
The prime minister spoke boldly last week, and we should all welcome his words — especially British Muslims such as Nadiya Hussain who sincerely want to be both Muslim and British.
What is needed now is appropriate follow-through. To tackle this challenge effectively, many years of strong public policy measures will be necessary. Islamic extremism will not disappear spontaneously.