WTF Is “Radical Islam”?

Generally, sparring with morons online can be fun. Being told that I’m a pawn of the devil, or a self-hating Jew often makes me smile. But there are more disturbing moments. The ongoing fascist-style campaign to paint all people of Muslim descent as an evil threat to the Western World becomes ever-more reminiscent of what was done to the Jews across Europe and America in the 1930s. Usually, the offenders are semi-literate Bible-bashers, but increasingly, just as in the 30s, secular “liberals” can be found in the melee, swinging a punch or a kick.

Recently, for no apparent reason I could identify, I was accused by some fellow Atheists of “defending Islam”. Now, I’m not aware that I’ve ever “defended Islam”. In fact, that term itself has an Orwellian ring to it, like “supporting terror” or “promoting homosexuality”. It seems “defending Islam” is something that good, secular liberals everywhere must avoid, or face public condemnation. In response, I pointed out that defending Muslims from attack isn’t “defending Islam” – to which I was told: yes it is: because all Muslims uphold Islam, which (as any moron knows) is an evil ideology. I pointed out that I know people who identify as Muslim, but who don’t practise, or in some cases don’t even believe. But these Atheist defenders of rationality told me I was wrong: anybody who claims Muslim identity is bad by definition, I was told.

Fascist stuff indeed: identity, I’ve always believed, is for the individual to choose for himself, and nobody else to force upon him. In my own experience, I tend to feel most Jewish when I encounter anti-Semites (and least Jewish in the company of other Jews). And certainly, a similar transformation is taking place among European and American Muslims: hatred towards Muslims is growing at breakneck speed, and the more times someone has MUSLIM screamed at them, the more Muslim they will feel. Like Judaism, Islam is a deep culture, with its book, traditions and routines. I remember childhood Friday evenings lighting sabbath candles and being allowed a sip of red wine; the prayers and tastes of the Passover dinner; the unique smell of a room decked in fruit and leaves during Sukkot, the harvest festival. My nostalgia over those memories, and my feeling that I was enacting an ancient ritual, are still there, despite my Atheism – the Jewish religion still forms a part of my experience, memories and identity, although I reject its superstitious beliefs. Muslims likewise, both secular and religious, will remember the rituals, the tastes and smells, of their childhoods, and feel Muslim, however little they practise their religion.

The Nazi propaganda campaign against Jews was subtle and sophisticated. How do you persuade Europeans that a tiny minority could be a threat? Some conditions are required: first and foremost, the population must be ready and willing to believe. And indeed, hatred of Jews (and Muslims) is an old European (and Catholic) tradition, dating back many centuries. Next, you take some grains of truth. And then you build up layer after layer of lies.

Post-9/11, the far-right leaped into action and repeated Nazi methodology to the letter. The far-right British National Party didn’t mention Muslims at all prior to 9/11. Their target was “Asians”, but this hate campaign failed to gain much traction. Within days of 9/11, their leaflets were rewritten, and Muslims had replaced Asians as the threat. Those people attacking Muslims today use the Islamophobe’s favourite phrase: I’m not racist; Islam isn’t a race. But to attack Muslims in the UK means to attack Pakistanis, who have been the target of race hate since at least the 1970s. And French fascists now label North and West Africans (who they’ve always attacked) as Muslims. And Dutch or Spanish fascists now label Moroccans (who they’ve always attacked) as Muslims. Bit by bit, European and American fascists have clicked into gear with each other. The anti-Muslim messages have been standardised, strengthened and amplified.

Secular fascism has returned. The Muslim-hating Atheist spreads similar stories of hate to the Christian crusader. Of course, the secular fascist tends to be more intelligent, and more persuasive. Unlike the Christian fascist, the secular fascist can uphold gay rights and women’s rights without hypocrisy, and hence sound more compelling. Secular fascists can sound liberal, and then use their “liberalism” against Islam – or more accurately, against their definition of Islam. Or more accurately still, against Muslims, whatever they believe, and wherever they live. Because the target of European fascism isn’t a religion or ideology, but minority groups: fascism gains strength by demonising minorities. Pre-9/11, there was no coherent “threat” for fascists to unite around. 9/11 gave them a common narrative.

A favourite way to “confront Islam” (or bait Muslims) is to cherry-pick.

“Islam oppresses women”.

“How so?”

“Look at Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan.”

Note how these three countries are repeatedly chosen as examples, ignoring most of the other 50 Muslim countries. Never mind that Saudi Arabia is home to a fundamentalist cult, Wahhabism; or that war-torn Afghanistan is home to the ultra-conservative group, the Taliban; or that Iran is a theocracy. Never mind that these three countries have totally different cultures to each other. Never mind that the modern state of all three societies has nothing to do with Islam, and everything to do with 20th century Western and Russian foreign policy, with oil, and the American imperial war. In the mind of the moron, this argument is enough. Of course, anything can be “proved” this way: Christian countries have the world’s highest rates of rape. Therefore Christianity is the rapist religion – easy! But of course, fascism is doesn’t target Christians. It targets Muslims, Jews, Roma, blacks… any group that forms a distinct minority in the West.

This was the Nazi method by which the Jewish Problem was invented. The corruption of a Jewish financier, or the explosion of a Zionist bomb, or the “backwardness” of fundamentalist Judaism were unrelated issues. But a combination of clever propaganda and a moronic public turned them into the same thing. Never mind that most Jews who were eventually dragged into concentration camps were neither Zionists nor fundamentalists nor financiers. The Jewish Problem came to mean everything Jewish.

The modern equivalent of the Jewish Problem is Radical Islam. It is equally meaningless, equally misleading, and equally capable of persuading morons that a real threat exists. It is a term that can be stretched to include any group or event. The 9/11 attacks were by Radical Islam, not Saudi dissidents protesting against US occupation of Arab states. Radical Islam (not the conservative Taliban) stopped women from being educated in Afghanistan, and stops women from driving in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaida, a terrorist organistion, and Hizbollah, which exists to defend against terrorism, are both Radical Islam. It’s enough that both groups are Muslim (although in fact, Hizbollah also has Christian members – details always spoil a simple story). The peace-loving Muslim who prays 5 times a day and the loud-mouthed protester who burns poppies in protest at British involvement in Afghanistan, are both Radical Islam. Support for Iraqi insurgents (and why shouldn’t anyone support those fighting against invasion of their own land?) is Radical Islam, and so is a group of teenagers throwing stones at Israeli soldiers who are helping to destroy their village’s crops. Palestinian activists who belong to the secular Fatah movement are Radical Islam. British Muslims who come out to defend their streets against EDL street thugs are Radical Islam. Women in burqas or hijabs are Radical Islam. The conservative, Islamist government of Turkey is Radical Islam. The conservative Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt are Radical Islam.

Fascism has risen again in Europe, and real people are being hurt today in real attacks – that is the real result of fascists, both religious and secular, “confronting Islam”. When street thugs target Muslim homes and businesses, they don’t care whether the owners are religious or not, political or not. While we’re easily distracted by the moronic antics of street thugs like the EDL, the most dangerous fascism now, as in the 1930s, lives among the middle classes. Generally, fascism is most prevalent among religious conservatives, but secular liberals can be the most persuasive and dangerous advocates of fascism. Seeing some of my fellow Atheists joining the bullying campaign against ordinary people (whether religious or secular) saddens me, but doesn’t surprise me. After all, Atheism isn’t a movement – it’s simple a lack of belief in a god. I find the religious beliefs of Muslims (and Jews, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists) to be ludicrous – but that debate must be one that accepts the right to believe. Using religious intolerance as a proxy for a race war isn’t a new trick – but apparently it’s one that is as powerful today as it always was.

How #CreepingSharia Reminded Me Of My Love For Britain

Tommy Robinson: Fascist and Laughing-Stock
Tommy Robinson: Fascist and Laughing-Stock

Fascism was highly fashionable throughout Europe and North America in the 1930s, and Britain too was affected. Antisemitism and a desire to keep the “lower orders” in check were widespread beliefs among the British aristocracy, the media, the police, the Conservative Party and large sections of the population. My Jewish grandfather and his family, living in the ghetto in the East End of London, faced discrimination and the threat of violence on a frequent basis. The far-right was strong and confident, and the British Union of Fascists (BUF), led by Oswald Mosley, commanded a membership of up to 50,000, and the support of the ever-moronic Daily Mail.

On Sunday 4th October, 1936, Mosley decided to flex the BUF’s muscles by marching his “blackshirt” street thugs through the East End, the most Jewish area of England. The local Jewish population, including my grandfather, came into their streets to stop the blackshirts marching. They battled the fascists, and the London police who joined the blackshirts in fighting the Jews. But that’s not the full picture: the Jews alone couldn’t have stopped the blackshirts (and their police friends) from marching. The Jews were joined by other immigrants – largely Irish – along with socialists, communists, trade unionists and ordinary Londoners. Local women leaned out of their windows and dropped pots and pans on the blackshirts. The fascists were beaten off London’s streets.

The Battle of Cable Street was a turning point in British history. The BUF never recovered from their physical beating and humiliation. The British people had given their verdict on fascism – unlike in much of mainland Europe or the USA, British fascism was in retreat by the start of the Second World War in 1939. Mosley attempted a come-back in the 1950s and 60s, this time choosing black immigrants instead of Jews as his target, but he was largely irrelevant by then. His fascist mantle was picked up in the 1970s by a new group, the National Front, which targeted blacks, Jews and the latest arrivals: Asians (meaning primarily Indians and Pakistanis). The growth of the NF coincided with the Skinhead cultural movement among young working class whites, and the skinheads were (often unfairly) labelled as fascists and racists.

When I reached my teens, the NF was at its peak, and my black friends would run on sight of a skinhead. But then, in the early-80s, support for the NF collapsed. But why? It wasn’t through official state action: the British police were incredibly racist, and often took the side of the NF in street confrontations. The Thatcher government was riddled with racists who had little understanding of the situation on the streets, and showed no interest in clamping down on street racism.

The answer was culture; or specifically working class culture as expressed through music. In the 60s, while middle class Brits were joining the hippie movement, the young, white working class had discovered Soul music, imported from the US. In the 1970s, the young black British population, with close links to the West Indies, was listening to reggae, the huge new trend from Jamaica. Young white people in the cities, who already had a taste for black music, were discovering reggae, which required going to black concerts and mixing with black people. In the late-1970s, the two-tone movement appeared, blending white skinhead and punk music with reggae and ska from the West Indies. The two-tone movement (including groups like The Specials, The Beat and The Selecter) saw concerts bringing enemy gangs together in the same venues. Rastas and skinheads shared music, danced together and smoked weed together. The National Front lost its constituency of angry, white, racist young men. This didn’t happen because government wanted it to – it happened largely without the knowledge of Britain’s rulers. It happened because of some X-factor in the British population; a natural ability to accept, integrate and mix with immigrant cultures that seems lacking elsewhere in Europe or in the United States.

If two-tone was the first, crude blend of white and black music, it was just the beginning. By the 1990s, mixed couples and mixed music scenes were becoming more frequent. Mixed-race children were becoming a common sight. The Jamaican Dub sound was adopted by musical pioneers in Bristol, who created a new set of genres such as Trip Hop. Jungle music, a London creation, took Jamaican ragga and European dance music and blended them. From this emerged Drum and Bass, and in the late-90s, UK Garage. UK Hip Hop began as a copy of the American version, but was quickly adapted to British styles, from which emerged a truly British poetry form, Grime. Asian sounds joined the mix of Jamaican and European influences. The blender ran ever faster, creating new musical styles that were ever more intertwined, and ever more British.

Outside the cities, most people were oblivious to this. As always, British urban youth were decades ahead of the establishment and the middle class mainstream in integrating their cultures together. The only time the urban scene ever made mainstream news was if a gun was waved at a Garage concert or a stabbing occurred at a Hip Hop rave.

By 2000, it seemed the far-right could never re-establish itself in such a mixed society, so at peace with itself, but 9/11 changed that. The new kid on the fascist block, the British National Party (BNP) quickly rewrote its literature, replacing the word Asian with the word Muslim. Anti-Muslim ideas began to gain traction, especially after 52 people died in the London bombings of 2005. Then the English Defence League (EDL) was born; while the BNP had tried to create a respectable, suited version of fascism, the EDL went back to NF ways, building a street army of angry young white men. The EDL grew fast, but then in the past year or so seemed to have peaked. The EDL’s apparent association with far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik doesn’t seem to have helped them.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have seen regular tweets about the EDL and its idiot supporters, and especially its moronic leader, Tommy Robinson. EDL supporters on Twitter output a regular drip-feed of hateful misinformation about Muslims, which has been hard to tackle. Until yesterday, that is. Tommy Robinson had tweeted one of his standard pieces of anti-Muslim nonsense. Seeing a picture of a “mosque” on the Twitter home page (it was, in fact, the Taj Mahal), Robinson sent the following tweet:

Welcome to twitter homepage has a picture of a mosque What a joke #creepingsharia

The idea being, of course, to convince the British public that Islam is encroaching on every aspect of our daily lives. There have been many such tweets from Robinson and his supporters. But this time, some Twitter users decided to respond, and take the piss out of (to use a British expression) the #CreepingSharia hashtag. By yesterday afternoon, the trickle of tweets was growing into a flood, and by evening it was a tsunami. The British people, in their many thousands, had finally been given their chance to react, in a truly British fashion, to the cancer of the EDL. The response wasn’t anger, threats or hatred. It was a flood of laughter. The EDL was turned within a few hours into a national and international laughing-stock. It was more than a chance to let off steam – it was a turning point. It was a chance for the majority to demonstrate to British Muslims that the EDL is a small, unrepresentative and unliked group of people. The atmosphere on Twitter yesterday can be described as a carnival. I don’t think my grandfather, or other veterans of the Battle of Cable Street, would mind me comparing the two events. Yesterday, 16th April 2012, the British people hounded and humiliated the EDL just as they had the BUF on 4th October 1936.

Here’s a small selection of #creepingsharia tweets (sorry if they’re wrongly attributed – many were retweeted many times):

@DestinyofL: ‘Star Wars’ makes a ‘hero’ of a youth who is radicalised by a bearded old man who lives in the desert wearing robes #creepingsharia

@amna_kaleem: The weather in Britain is always Sunni or Shi’ite. #CreepingSharia

@lacatchat: If you look really carefully, a packet of iced gems looks like lots & lots of little Mosques. #creepingsharia

@stanyalplatford: All the fantastic and clever #creepingsharia tweets utterly nailed @EDLTrobinson . What a fucking prick.

@BristolAF: Fell asleep on the sofa again last night. My lovely Muslim housemate tried not to wake me when she got back from work. #creepingsharia

@ZiaQureshi11: I once had a go at my housemate for cooking bacon in my frying pan and not cleaning it properly #creepingsharia

@KarmaUnc: Marvelous to see the Twittersphere overwhelmingly handing @EDLTrobinson his #creepingsharia arse back to him on a plate today #EDL

@ammaarrahim: RT if the #creepingsharia trend made your day today… certainly made mine 🙂

It was a reminder to me that, whatever the downside of living on this cold, wet island among a people who enjoy moaning about most things on most days, there’s a huge reason to be proud of this country. As race hate strengthens in Hungary, The Netherlands and the USA, the British can again be an example to the rest of the western world. While patriotism grows in popularity elsewhere, the British don’t do patriotism. We don’t fly flags on our homes or on public buildings. It’s our contempt for those who label themselves British or English Patriots that is quintessentially British or English.

As for my great love, British urban music, this has continued to evolve over the past decade. For those of you who can’t be here in London to experience our mixture first-hand, here’s a taste of what young white, black and brown Londoners are dancing to, together, in 2012. It contains flavours of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and the USA, but it’s uniquely British, and it unites young people from all backgrounds. The far-right doesn’t stand a chance.