Since this is such a hot topic right now, some disclaimers off the bat:
- This discussion is focused primarily on the the manifestations of the Islamic faith in the UK currently and for the past 20 years or so. I do not at all believe that Islam is inherently violent, crude, misogynistic or anti-science, as evidenced by previous eras of Islamic tolerance and progressiveness. Also I have many many Muslim friends who are wonderful, lovely people, so I don’t think there is any inherent problem with practitioners of the faith either.
I personally think that in Islam one can find beauty, poetry, and joy, both in the scriptures and other manifestations (art, literature, etc).
- I would appreciate it if discussants refrained from outright dismal of people’s points on the basis of “ignorance,” “bigotry,” etc, without even addressing what is specifically idiotic or bigoted about the person’s points. I (and I imagine most of us here) am just trying to learn and not to prove a point.
Also for the sake of time I won’t cite any links here but if anyone is interested I’m happy to provide cites for any of my factual assertions.
So I live in the US, and Muslims here are, IMO and per statistics, fairly well-integrated. Most people who live in cities probably know at least one, if not several, Muslim people who make contributions in all areas of American society. I think I’ve seen the burka/niqab/abaya maybe once or twice, but definitely not daily, although the hijab is not uncommon.
However, in the UK, it’s come to my attention recently that the situation is different. The Muslim migrants to the UK traditionally were poorer and less educated than those to the US, and they came in much greater numbers. Evidently there are cities in the UK where there are large pockets of Muslim immigrants whose interaction with outside society is minimal. It also seems like these communities don’t necessarily want very much interaction with outside society. There was, for example, the Trojan Horse scandal, where it was determined that there were 6+ ostensibly state-run schools whose administration had been taken over by fundamentalist Muslims who had variously eliminated art/music, all foreign languages besides Arabic or Urdu, employed teachers who extolled the virtues of salafist Islam, and taught creationism as fact (not all these things happened at every school), as well as various other offenses.
There are, per my understanding also large, popular mosques whose imams are fairly extremist (Finsbury Park mosque is a good example until it underwent a transformation recently), and there are a number of well-known extremist groups (al-Muhajiroun, Islam4UK are some older ones, I am not sure of the names of current ones). Imams are also imported from Saudi Arabia or otherwise chosen for their hard-line, salafist teachings.
All of which makes me wonder if the whole idea that “extremist Muslims” (however you want to define that) are not actually in the UK a fringe minority, but a substantial minority, if not majority, of British Muslims. Although I will note that the vast majority of these people are non-violent.
Also there are of course many, many well-integrated Muslims in the UK as well.
In addition, I feel that many Muslims in the West, both in the UK and US, become very . . . defensive when their religion is criticized (maybe understandably). They are all quick to condemn acts of terror but also immediately insist that the majority of Muslims are moderate and have values compatible with living in a liberal democracy, etc. It seems that anyone who suggests that there may be problems with the current practice of islam and Islamic communities is branded an Islamaphobe . . . like Maajid Nawaz or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and their arguments are summarily dismissed. Sure, some of what Ali says is pretty extreme in itself, but she is basically just criticizing the current practice of Islam, not saying all Muslims are terrible people or anything. I don’t think anyone who suggested that the insular, ultra-orthodox jewish areas of New York should be reformed would be branded an anti-semite.
In addition, there seems to be a very “us-vs.-them” mentality, where Muslims feel like they need to present a united front to the rest of the world and avoid any acknowledgement of internal divisions and criticisms. (I have no cite for this, this is just my impression).
Finally, Muslims in the UK come from many different nations, and speak many different languages. However, most of these discussions center around the Muslim population as a whole, not Bangladeshi Muslims or Arab Muslims or whatever, and the spokespeople for the Muslim population seem to be pretty pan-Muslim. So that’s why I keep saying “Muslim” as kind of a monolith.
So my questions
- What, if anything, is incorrect about the above statements?
- If this is the case, what can we do about it? Should we do anything about it? Why did this situation come about?
- If you think I’m mostly right, how do you reconcile this with the ideas of modernity in british Islam, like the fact that the mayor of London is Muslim and popular, or that in a recent poll ~79% of British Muslims said they felt very proud to be British, which was a larger percentage than the white, non-Muslim British population?
Again, I’ve left off cites completely but I’m happy to provide them (although many of the cites can also be quickly found by googling) if anyone wants.
We can also debate what terms like extremist and fundamentalist mean.