Archive Oldie: Yasmin Qureshi on Islam

After the Charlie Hebdo murders in France we need to readdress how Islam and “western values” are talked about. Some have not been too careful! Rupert Murdoch stuck his oar and demonstrated what a dangerous idiot he can be. We respond by unearthing a 2005 CHARTIST article Yasmin Qureshi wrote in the aftermath of the London bombings.


The London bombings pose stark dilemmas for those on the left and British Muslims in particular. The vast majority of us believe in allowing people to express their differences and practice their culture and religion, without being pushed into one set of homogenous thoughts. Should those freedoms be surrendered by supporting some of the measures being proposed by Tony Blair? Is it really credible to suppose that we should forget the international policy issues bound up in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Kashmir?
The media (left and right) seem to think that what happened on July 7th is all to do with Islam and that Muslims want to impose their way of life in the west, destroy our liberal democracies and want to oppress women, and they think that the Hijab is a sign of that. That is just plain wrong. The lessons of history highlight the perils of targeting a religious group through propaganda.
There are many issues and challenges for Muslims in this country and elsewhere, just as there are for the Jews, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. July 7th has nothing to do with encouragement of multiculturalism, the alleged lack of integration of Muslims in this country or the few oddballs in the Muslim community (others have them as well) who no-one has actually heard of, except by the courtesy of our media.
The bombings in London and elsewhere have everything to do with political dispute, the control of Middle East wealth by USA multi-nationals and the Western policy of installing most of the current rulers without any democratic process. Is it surprising then that in the Middle East they laugh at us when we talk of democracy?
Let me make it clear that I do not condone the bombings in London: two wrongs don’t make a right and violence begets violence. There are many peaceful ways of resolving conflicts. However, whilst 99.9% of Muslims understand this, there are ‘hot heads’ out there who do not.
In the last two months few have wanted to address the underlying causes of the London bombings for fear of being accused of sympathizing. But, if we want to safeguard and protect our citizens we need to address the uncomfortable and unpalatable truth of our policies, both present and past. The anti-terror laws and internments without trial in Northern Ireland didn’t help to reduce the violence. Similarly, the Israeli foreign intelligence agency, Mossad, has operated a policy of targeted assassinations of opponents and the Israeli government passed laws allowing physical violence to be used to get information out of suspected suicide bombers. These measures have not worked, either. Extreme measures taken by governments appear to have caused more tensions and problems.

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Why do I say that suicide bombing is not about religion or integration but is a political struggle?
Firstly, let’s examine the history of suicide bombing. The most famous suicide bombers were the Japanese Kamikaze pilots who would ‘ram their planes into targets’ knowing they would die. It was an effective means of hitting a target. Then, almost thirty years later, Iranians used the technique against the unlawful invasion by Iraq, resulting in the deaths of millions of Muslims from both sides. In those days, of course, Saddam Hussein was given military backing by the USA and UK. Is it therefore any wonder that Iran is hostile to the USA? The Lebanese Socialist Revolutionaries, who did not believe in religion but were fighting against the Israeli occupation, used suicide bombing. They regarded it as a cheap, but effective tool for warfare. The Tamil Tigers, Tibetan freedom fighters in India and others in India have carried out suicide bombings. If these groups had fighter jets, daisy cutters or tanks they would use them as nation states do.
Secondly, the young men who carried out London bombings had not gone to faith schools and there is nothing to suggest that the mosques they went to preached anything radical. They came from Yorkshire, had never lived in London and heard nothing of, for example, the radical cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, whom the government has banned from returning to the UK. The people who have not integrated so fully are predominantly the older generation and yet they are not the problem. The idea that integration or assimilation would be a panacea to bombing is a mirage but initiatives, or measures that will help all communities to understand each other and live with each other harmoniously are to be welcomed.
Thirdly, it is apparent from discussions and debates amongst many people, especially amongst young Muslims, that there is very genuine and real anger at what they see happening in the world namely:
  1. Lack of any real progress in resolving the conflict in Palestine. The building of the wall has deprived many Palestinians of their livelihoods, but it has been completed and serves as a daily reminder of the iniquitous and contemptuous manner is which they have been treated whilst the West has stood by and watched. At the same time Israel continues to establish and protect settlements in the West Bank and encourages immigration from abroad. They are angry that people who did not even come from the Middle East can have a country of their own on the basis that their religious scriptures state that Israel is for the Jews. I have been often asked how many other claimants have been successful in getting another’s land on the basis that their religion ordained it. Most Muslims are realistic and know that the state of Israel is here to stay, but they would like to see a viable Palestinian state as well. It is the ongoing failure to acknowledge and make this possible that frustrates and angers them.
  2. The invasion and destruction of Iraq was seen by all: the cluster bombs, the killings of Iraqi civilians, and the awarding of all reconstruction projects to USA firms. This is seen as the complete stranglehold of the USA over Iraq and as part of its continued expansionist plans for the rest of the Middle East.
  3. They also have seen and read of once thriving, progressive Afghanistan of the 60s and 70s being decimated with many Afghans dying – pawns in a power struggle between the USA and the then USSR.
  4. In Kashmir, they see Muslims being slaughtered by the Indian forces; they are aware of the UN resolution giving Kashmir a right to self determination yet this UN resolution, like those on Palestine, is being ignored whilst the USA chooses to enforce resolutions on Iraq without even obtaining UN consent. UN resolutions regarding Kashmir and Palestine have been ignored as if they do not exist.
  5. In Bosnia, two hundred thousand Muslim Bosnians were killed by Christian Serbs, before the West intervened. It was, according to US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, “the greatest failure of the West since the 1930s.”
Despite all this, the vast majority of Muslims although angry and unhappy have never considered taking any action, negative or positive. There is much talk of the Ummah or worldwide community of Muslims, but it remains talk. If, say, it were Christians, Jews, Sikh or Hindus at the receiving end of Western interference, would not some of them take up arms? Extremism occurs in all religions. In the absence of any apparent understanding of these sensitivities by Western policymakers, is it surprising that some Muslims believe that taking up arms is the only way to save other Muslims? They see scope for legitimate struggle.
These youngsters are not bothered by our moral, social or economic values or beliefs and have no desire to change our way of life. They believe they are fighting for Muslims being slaughtered all over the world and want us to feel the pain that they feel Muslims have been facing for the last fifty odd years. Sadly our leaders do not have the courage or the foresight to realize that these conflicts will not be swept away. Innocent lives are being taken all around us. We must pay for our oil instead of stealing it as we have done. History has shown that most conflicts are resolved by social interaction of all the conflicting parties. The person(s) who can work towards a solution to these issues will be remembered as great human beings and great leaders.


This article appeared in CHARTIST on 2005.




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