June 6, 2013 § Leave a Comment
As a follow-up to my earlier post on ‘Myths of radicalisation’, which questioned the conventional narrative about how some Muslims get drawn to jihadism, here is an extract from my book From Fatwa to Jihad, telling the story of Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7/7 bombings, and of how he became a jihadi.
From Fatwa to Jihad, pp 81-83, 98-104, 107-110
In the days following 7/7, thousands of journalists decamped to Beeston, a suburb of Leeds where the three of the bombers had spent much of their lives, most apparently expecting to find a kind of ersatz Kabul. ‘I came here expecting lots of angry young men’, wrote Urmee Khan in the Observer. ‘But there was not one Free Palestine flag in sight’. Khan was a Muslim but, in her own words, came from the sheltered leafy lanes of Surrey in southern England. Beeston was as alien territory to her as it would have been to most people in Britain. Her ‘first impressions of Beeston’ were a ‘surprise’:
The housing was looking grim but far more normal than the menacing streets I expected. Maybe I had envisaged eerie gothic pathways with shuffling clerics spreading words of hate. No, it was all drab but very normal.
Later, Khan went to the town centre ‘expecting it to be run-down and shabby. Instead I found a vibrant and colourful building in what used to be a church. Noticeboards advertise Pilates classes, Muslim, women-only gym work outs, police drop in sessions and a sign advertising cut-price car window tinting. It was slightly surreal – this could have been any community centre in Britain, yet this was Beeston.’ « Read the rest of this entry »
June 2, 2013 § 14 Comments
How do we stop young Muslims becoming radicalized? That has been the question posed by many politicians, policy makers, analysts and journalists in the aftermath of the killing of Lee Rigby in Woolwich last week. Indeed, it has been the question posed ever since the 7/7 bombings first raised the issue of ‘homegrown’ terrorism.
The idea of ‘radicalization’ as the process by which young Muslims get drawn into jihadist circles has become received wisdom within security forces and among politicians, and not just in Britain. There is a widespread belief that extremist groups or ‘hate preachers’ groom vulnerable Muslims for jihadism, in the way that a trafficking gang might groom young girls for prostitution, by indoctrinating them with extremist ideas. The way to prevent Muslims becoming terrorists, many conclude, is to silence the preachers, proscribe extremist groups and close down Islamist websites. It was not surprising to find that these are precisely the proposals now being considered by Theresa May.
The trouble is that there is little to suggest that ‘radicalisation’ is a useful way of thinking about why a handful of Muslims might become potential terrorists. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 13, 2013 § 2 Comments
My book on the history of moral thought is all but complete (yay!). Hopefully, blogging will be back to normal next week. In the meantime, here is another old book review plucked from the vaults, this one of Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on a Revolution in Europe. It was first published in New Humanist in July 2009. For more discussion of the myths about immigration, multiculturalism and Islam, see my Milton K Wong lecture, which is in two parts.
In his classic 1920 book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy, the American historian, political theorist and anti-immigration activist Theodore Lothrop Stoddard warned of the coming collapse of white civilization under a ‘swarm’ of ‘colored’ people. Whites had already been driven out of their ancestral homeland in the Caucasus. The land ‘which in the dawn of history was predominantly white man’s country, is today racially brown man’s land in which white blood survives only as vestigial traces of vanishing significance’. And ‘If this portion of Asia, the former seat of mighty white empires and possibly the very homeland of the white race itself, should have so entirely changed its ethnic character’, Stoddard asked, ‘what assurance can the most impressive political panorama give us that the present world order may not swiftly and utterly pass away?’
Stoddard was worried, too, by the prospect of a resurgent Islam. ‘In so far as he is Christianized, the negro’s savage instincts will be restrained and he will be predisposed to acquiesce in white tutelage’, he wrote. ‘In so far as he is Islamized, the negro’s warlike propensities will be inflamed, and he will be used as the tool of Arab Pan-Islamism seeking to drive the white man from Africa and make the continent its very own.’ To protect Europe and America from a similar fate, Western nations had to ensure that ‘the rising tide of color finds itself walled in by white dikes debarring it from many a promised land which it would fain deluge with its dusky waves.’ « Read the rest of this entry »
March 10, 2013 § 13 Comments
I am still closeted away, finishing my almost-finished book on the history of moral thought. So, here is another of my old book reviews, this one on Tariq Ramadan’s The Quest for Meaning. It was first published in the Independent in August 2010.
In an age in which public intellectuals are often highly divisive figures – think of the storms surrounding Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins or Bernard-Henri Lévy – few generate more controversy than Tariq Ramadan. Political activist, Muslim scholar, and professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, he is to some the ‘Muslim Martin Luther’, a courageous reformer who helps bridge the chasm between Islamic orthodoxy and secular democracy. To his critics, Ramadan is a ‘slippery’, ‘double-faced’ religious bigot, a covert member of the Muslim Brotherhood whose aim is to undermine Western liberalism. When, in 2004, Ramadan was appointed professor of religion by Notre Dame, America’s leading Catholic University, the US State Department revoked his visa for supposedly endorsing terrorist activity.
The debate about Ramadan was re-ignited earlier this year with the publication of The Flight of the Intellectuals, American writer Paul Berman’s savage attack on European thinkers such as Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash for what he regards as their appeasement of Ramadan. The Quest for Meaning, Ramadan’s first book aimed at a wider Western audience, arrives therefore at a timely moment. It is, he writes, ‘a journey and an initiation’ into the world’s faiths to discover the universal truths they hold in common and to set out ‘the contours of a philosophy of pluralism.’ Unfortunately it will do little to settle the argument about the nature of Ramadan’s beliefs. There is a willfull shallowness about this work, a refusal to think deeply or to pose difficult questions, that is truly shocking. Insofar as it is provocative, The Quest for Meaning seeks to provoke not through the excess of its rhetoric but through the banality of its reasoning. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 3, 2013 Comments Off
This is a video of a conversation I had with the sociologist and broadcaster Laurie Taylor on ‘Why I am an atheist’. It was one in a ‘daisy chain’ of discussions on belief organized by 5×15 at the Wellcome Collection in London in December. The daisy chain featured, as well as Laurie Taylor and myself, Laurie’s son Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA (and a fellow-panelist of mine on The Moral Maze), Nick Spencer, director of research at the religious think tank Theos, and Linda Woodhead, Professor of the Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University, each interviewing the next daisy in the chain, as it were. My conversation with Laurie Taylor is at the top. Videos of the other conversations are below. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 22, 2013 § 5 Comments
Those who have followed the excerpts I have been publishing from my ‘Book in progress’ on the history of moral thought will know that there were several gaps in the chapters. That was because I left till the end a series of chapters on the Indian and Chinese traditions. These are now almost complete, and I will publish, as before, monthly extracts from each remaining chapter. Some of the chapters have been renumbered as you can see from the complete set of extracts.
This extract is from chapter 5 which explores the ancient Indian traditions, primarily Hinduism and Buddhism.
January 18, 2013 § 36 Comments
The European Court of Human Rights ruling this week on four cases of conflict over religious rights, and the continuing controversy in Britain, France and elsewhere on proposals to legalize gay marriage, shows the ongoing battle over how we should define religious freedom. I wrote a long post on this question last year, trying to establish some fundamental ground rules from first principles. Here I want to address one issue that has become prominent in recent weeks: the claim by a growing number of believers, especially Catholics, that the legalization of gay marriage amounts in itself to an attack on religious freedom, even to the persecution of Christians. More than 1000 Catholics priests, bishops and abbots – almost a quarter of Catholic clerics in England and Wales – signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph suggesting that while ‘After centuries of persecution Catholics have, in recent times, been able to be members of the professions and participate fully in the life of this country’, legalizing same sex unions would return Britain to the days of persecution, ‘severely restricting the ability of Catholics to teach the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship’. The journalist Cristina Odone, former editor of the Catholic Herald, agreed that ‘David Cameron’s persecution of Catholics makes him Henry VIII, mark II’. ‘Once gay marriage is a law’, she claimed, ‘Catholics will be barred from many professions — just as they were from the Reformation until the 19th Century’. There are, she adds, ‘many Christians willing to play Thomas More to David Cameron’s Henry VIII’.
Such claims, it seems to me, not only fundamentally misunderstand religious freedom, but, in their wild hysteria, serve also to undermine those very freedoms. « Read the rest of this entry »