Islamist IS a dirty word
Faisal Bodi makes a brave effort in today's Guardian to defend the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) against recent attacks that it is too radical and that it harbours militant Islamists whose views are entirely incompatible with the liberal democratic society we cherish in Britain. That he feels the need to come to its aid shows a huge U-turn from the former editor of "Ummah News.com" and betrays a weakening in the Islamist cause in Britain.
The gist of his argument, should you not wish to wade through its detail (though, of course, you should) seems to be that the British establishment should embrace the MCB as it's the best way of engaging with Islamists; and engaging with the Islamists is the only way to make peace with militant Islam. Is here right? More to the point, as is often the case in discussions of alliances and hwo much prominence to give to certain mouthpieces, why does this help Mr Bodi's ends? To answer these we have to be very careful as to what we mean by Islamist.
The meaning I prefer, and which I believe is generally recognised, is those who wish to press for and see an Islamisation of Western procedures, principles and actions. Islamist ideologies hold that Islam is not only a religion but also a political system which should govern the social, legal and economic norms of the state in accordance with its interpretation of Islamic law. Islamic law being whatever that elite in charge say it is or should be. There's more on it here.
Bodi criticises the Home Office for weakening its links and efforts with Islamist groups. It should not have begun to build bridges with a more diverse range of bodies trying to represent Muslim communities who don't have such an aggressive and assertive brand of Islam, he says. After all, for all their failings, the MCB and its partners have helped persuade the Foreign Office of the necessity of engaging with Islamists. Why, though, does he see this as a good thing? Islamists are the dominant force for reform in most parts of the autocratic Muslim world, of course... Does he back this up with examples? No. Can he? Probably not, because whereever you look it is Islamists of a more or less assertive nature who are a real threat to the spread of freedom and democracy in the Muslim world. It is the Taliban in Afghanistan who harboured bin Laden on the original al'Qaida camp. It is militant Islamists in India who threaten the rule of law. It is the prospect of an Islamist government replacing the current incumbents in Syria which makes any action against Syria even less appealing. No quarter should be offered to those who wish to impose their views on us at the same time as overtures are made to moderate Muslims to help them reject oppressive Islamism and accept a diverse liberal democracy.
It seems from Bodi's article as if that approach is beginning to pay off though. Already the redoubt of defence for extreme Muslims has been shifted to arguing on behalf of the MCB, moderate Islamists, if such a combination is possible, rather than more extreme groups. Fascinatingly, back in 2002 Bodi was slating the MCB on the pages of the Guardian. "The MCB does not have any direct mandate from even a significant section of the Muslim community to represent it". He called the Council "unelected", "shunned" by "prominent regional organisations" and using his article for what the MCB itself described as "abusing his position to maliciously peddle falsehoods and distortions to further a personal agenda". Ignoring the obvious questions about whether such a slippery operator has anything to say of value or upon which we can rely in relation to the MCB, isn't it amazing that Bodi now transforms into its most ardent cheerleader? Anyone would think the worm was about to turn... Islamism is a dirty word. Now is the time to push home our advantage against it and further weaken its malign stranglehold on received Muslim opinion. We're clearly getting better at fighting back when the likes of Bodi have to so change their tune.