Reformist Muslims are an inconvenience it seems
Guardian opinion desk editor, David Shariatmadari, has published an interview with Maajid Nawaz that is biased and deliberately misleading. This comes a week after the Guardian published a puff piece for a leader of Islamist extremist group Hizb ut Tahrir by Peter Oborne, in which the two come across as friends who occasionally go out for dinner together.
Maajid himself responded to the interview with a Facebook post in which he itemised the criticisms David made and offered detailed responses he claims were omitted from the final cut.
In particular, he mentions David’s unwillingness to highlight the violent nature of the theocratic revolution Hizb ut Tahrir aspires to, instead taking a cheap shot at Maajid’s failure to get elected as an MP and a number of anonymous negative quotes that point to Maajid’s unpopularity in certain circles.
With regards to this latter point, I find it hard to believe that Mr Shariatmadari is not aware of the fact that a wave of ultra-conservatism has engulfed the Muslim world in recent decades. From Afghanistan to Iran to Saudi Arabia to Egypt and Libya, Muslims are more conservative now than they have perhaps ever been. Meanwhile, jihadist-inspired violence is a daily feature in many newspapers around the world and this, in turn, has created a defensive and hyper-sensitive atmosphere.
Against this backdrop, voices calling for reform and introspection are deeply unpopular – whether in the UK or in Pakistan. In fact, one of Pakistan’s leading reformist voices, Javed Ghamdi, was forced to flee the country a few years after receiving death threats. Meanwhile reformists such as Faraj Foda in Egypt have beem killed after being accused of blasphemy.
Does Mr Shariatmadari really believe it is possible to be a reformist, anti-extremist and popular?
I defy anyone to name me a single reformist Muslim who regularly speaks out against extremism who is widely popular.
Interestingly, Maajid has been accused of blasphemy and has suffered death threats issued against him after a campaign of vilification. Interestingly, at the time of the threats the Guardian gave column space to one of the instigators of the campaign against Maajid.
Bizarrely, Maajid is criticised in Mr Shariatmadari’s piece for being too close to policy makers – but isn’t that the whole point of running a think tank, to get close to and influence policy makers? Or perhaps with this line of attack the author has given away his real problem with Maajid – the fact that he is being listened to by those who matter.
My issue with this whole sorry episode is the fact that it is poor journalism. In fact, it is not journalism at all, it is activism masquerading as journalism. Reformist Muslims, it seems, are just another inconvenience which impedes a certain consensus around an anti-government worldview.
Furthermore, the attacks the author relies upon are not even original observations. They are rehashed criticisms which have been floating around for years.
Rather, it appears the interview was a front to regurgitate old attacks on Quilliam in light of Maajid’s perceived influence on government policy, a development which clearly discomforts certain people. Presumably, they would be less concerned if the government were being advised by supporters of theocracy, since they seem to have no problem publishing interviews with theocrats which are far from critical.
This episode speaks to why we as a society are finding it so difficult to grapple with Islamist extremism. We still have sections of the media which find it useful for scoring parochial ideological points. Brave reformist voices have to contend with slings and arrows from within their communities; but also from activist journalists at supposedly liberal media outlets.
In the meantime, Islamist recruitment and propaganda efforts continue unabated.
Toby Smith is a student and campaigner for secularism
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