Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Denis MacShane's piece on 'Islamism'

In a rambling piece in today's Telegraph, the Labour MP Denis MacShane argues that "the Labour Government, Whitehall and the entire political-media class in Britain have been slow to wake up to the need for an intellectual-ideological confrontation with Islamism." The main point of the piece seems to be to advertise Ed Husain's The Islamist and offer support to the thesis of Melanie Phillips, Michael Gove, Ed Husain, Daniel Pipes that Islamism is a threat to Western civilisation.

The article bears a remarkable resemblance to MacShane's article in the Daily Telegraph in October 2006 following Jack Straw's comments on the veil.

MacShane is of course notorious amongst Muslims for his 2003 speech in which he said: "It is time for the elected and community leaders of the British Muslims to make a choice – the British way, based on political dialogue and non-violent protests, or the way of the terrorists, against which the whole democratic world is uniting." It was rather ironic that at the time he made those remarks he was a minister in the Foreign Office, which of course has never in the past caused carnage around the world. In response to those comments, Labour party activists in his own constituency accused him of "inciting racial and religious hatred, by publicly implying in the press that the Muslim community elected members and leaders are in favour of terrorism and being anti-British." MacShane later apologised for the remarks.

I think that the current 'Islam vs. Islamism' debate has to date been too superficial. Undoubtedly, those in Downing Street are keen to argue that it is 'Islamism' and not foreign policy that is the main driving force behind terrorism, despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary.

The 2005 report by the International Crisis Group entitled Understanding Islamism provides a more measured and in depth approach to the issue of 'Islamism'.

In my view, these are some of the key points the report makes:
"Western observers and policymakers have tended to lump all forms of Islamism together, brand them as radical and treat them as hostile.That approach is fundamentally misconceived. Islamism - or Islamic activism (we treat these terms as synonymous) -- has a number of very different streams, only a few of them violent and only a small minority justifying a confrontational response."
"The most extreme instance of the tendency to lump all forms of Islamic activism together is the "clash of civilisations" thesis, which views the entire Muslim world, qua civilisation ("Islam"), as a single whole, as one problem and, by implication, target. But the same tendency is apparent in other, notionally less simplistic, theses regularly articulated by leading Western voices."
"The concept of "political Islam" and its definition as a problem only occurred when Islamic politics began to articulate anti-Western or, more specifically, anti- American attitudes. There has, therefore, been confusion between the implied notion that "political Islam" represents a deviation from an apolitical norm (a notion which is historically inaccurate) and the tacitly understood (but concealed) notion that it is a deviation from a pro-Western political norm. In effect, "Islam" was only seen to be political when it was seen to be a threat."

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