British and American security: Ignorance is not strength

by Dr Anthony McRoy

Last week I was in a dual lecturer/ dialogue mode, taking visiting US Evangelical students to meet leading British Muslims, such as new MCB leader Dr Bari, Fareena Alam, Sarah Joseph, Humeera Khan and officials from the Islamic Human Rights Commission, Muslim Association of Britain and Muslim Public Affairs Committee to talk about specific subjects: British Muslim concerns and aspirations; British Muslim media; women’s activism in the UK Islamic movement; British Muslim relations with other faith communities and attitudes to America; and British Muslim political activism. The meetings went very well and the America students were extremely appreciative of all they heard, including the copies of The Muslim Weekly.

However, I was struck again by the insularity and frankly, the ignorance of the Americans involved. This was best exemplified on the first day when Dr Bari, a young London Muslim Centre official called Ihsan and Fareena often referred to ‘7/7’. When question time came one student asked: ‘What’s this "7/7" you all keep referring to?’ Considering that these were intelligent mature people – who had met me the Saturday before, where I had been introduced as the author of ‘From Rushdie to 7/7: The Radicalisation of Islam in Britain’ - this was flabbergasting. Even more so when you consider that Britain is America’s mother country, and that 7/7 occurred when Bush was visiting here. Imagine if a Briton visited America and asked ‘What’s this "9/11" you all keep referring to?’ Americans would be gobsmacked! Of course, many in the 25-strong group acknowledged that Americans – especially their media – pay little if no attention to foreign events.

Inevitably, after I brought each group on a tour of Whitechapel, I was asked about Al-Qaida and their motivations. The usual refrain was heard from some students – that ‘they hate our values’; ‘they want to conquer us’, ‘they won’t stop until they make America an Islamic State’, etc. I was able to set them right on those scores, but it demonstrates a major problem; few Americans know why Al-Qaida is fighting, nor what can be done to gain peace (the final question each group asked me). The ignorance is breathtaking, but quite understandable.

Two years ago, at a Ramadan event in the Houses of Parliament, one young Muslim man approached me. He said he had wanted to meet me for some time, since he liked my articles. Then he made a telling observation: "We wouldn’t dare say the things you say about Al-Qaida!" I understood what he meant. As a Born-again Christian, nobody could suspect me of sympathy for Al-Qaida’s methods (which contradict every aspect of New Testament ethics) or its ultimate aim of the united Islamic caliphate. Obviously, as an academic, I can write articles giving a scholarly analysis of Al-Qaida from a detached perspective – recognising where their methods were clever and effective, even if from my moral perspective, based on the ethics of Jesus, these tactics were malign. If a Muslim attempted this, as the young man implied, he might be accused of sympathy for Al-Qaida. Hardly surprising that Muslims are wary of attempting this (and in the light of the Forest Gate raid, such fears are well-grounded – even a long beard is sufficient ground for suspicion these days).

However, the problem with this is that it leaves the field open for Islamophobes to present their distorted propaganda, as well as the US and UK governments to propagate their claims that foreign policy has nothing to with the conflict. As the reaction of the students showed, this strategy has enjoyed success – basically by default. It is not helped by the fact that Al-Qaida broadcasts are always in Arabic, rather than English, which inevitably blunts the impact of the message (as well as leaving it to sometimes questionable translations of certain institutions). In contrast, the video of Mohammed Siddique Khan after 7/7 had an immediate impact – because it was in easily understandable English.

Moreover, Westerners – especially Americans – are woefully ignorant of the historical basis for the current conflict – the continuing consequences of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France, and US domination that filled the vacuum created by the post-1945 collapse of the British and French Empires. With each group of the students when they started questioning me about the causes of 9/11 I had to explain the 1916 Agreement. Don’t blame ordinary Americans for intransigence or even prejudice when it comes to Middle Eastern events – their government and media ensure that they are kept ignorant, so that the current situation continues. The latter borrowed from Orwell’s dictum in ‘1984’ that ‘ignorance is strength’.

The unwillingness of the British government to take on board detailed recommendations of the Muslim Task Force as revealed in last week’s issue should come as no surprise – especially the refusal to hold an independent public inquiry. After all, such an inquiry would inevitably emphasise the centrality of Britain’s historic and contemporary foreign policy vis-à-vis the Middle East as being the cause of 7/7. Neither the US nor UK governments want this information to filter down to the masses; they wish them to remain ignorant, so that this negative foreign policy can continue. They want them to continue to believe that Al-Qaida kills Westerners simply because the group delights in slaughtering infidels, and is intent on conquering the West, imposing a Talibanesque government on us.

However, as I informed the American students, the truth is different. I told them that there are two dimensions of military jihad; offensive and defensive. The latter can be as violent as the former, but the aim is different – to drive-away the enemy invader. All modern jihads are defensive. Offensive jihad can only be ordered by a Caliph (and there isn’t one now), and even if there were an Islamic caliphate from Morocco to Indonesia, it wouldn’t attempt an attack on the West because of Surah 8:66 which states if the enemy is twice as strong as you, you don’t engage in offensive jihad. So, even if America now ‘cut and run’, it wouldn’t be endangering itself, because its nuclear arsenal will remain a perpetual deterrent to anyone attempting to conquer it – on theological as well as practical grounds.

I also told the students in answer to their questions that what gives Al-Qaida the edge is a combination of two factors. Firstly, the concept of martyrdom, removing fear of death, making the Neo-Con idea of bombing Muslims into submission redundant and counter-productive. Secondly, the fact that Al-Qaida’s major aims – the reversal of the Sykes-Picot agreement, the liberation of Palestine and end to Western domination are concerns shared by virtually all Muslims, even secular ones. As long as these issues remain unresolved, Al-Qaida will gather support, and the conflict will continue. The only way America can undercut Al-Qaida on these issues is to fulfil the deepest wish of Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East – for America to leave, just as they left Vietnam. Not just their troops, but their dominance and support for puppet, oppressive regimes.

For this to happen, the American public must pressure their government and Congress to leave. However, the strength of the US establishment is the ignorance of the American public about why the conflict is raging. That ignorance will continue until Muslims are able to put the case about the causes of unrest. Unless they do, we will see more 9/11s, 7/7s, and more raids like that at Forest Gate. Nonetheless, as that young Muslim indicated, for Muslims to do so would inevitably lead to their being accused of support for Al-Qaida.

The way forward is for the MCB, together with the other Islamic organisations mentioned earlier, to urgently organise their own independent and (very) public inquiry into 7/7. As part of this, they should invite American scholars such as John Esposito, Yvonne Haddad and Noam Chomsky to present public expositions of the causes of the conflict. With the US media present, this might help put the record straight. With the ignorance of the US public removed, the strength of the Neo-Con imperialists would evaporate, and pressure could build up for a repeat of 1972-75 – the withdrawal from Indo-China. This would simultaneously liberate the Middle East, isolate Al-Qaida, make America and Britain safer – and also secure Western Muslim communities from state repression. The collapse of American public ignorance is the strength of Western - including Western Muslim – security.


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