Not in my Name: the ‘Joint UK Muslim Statement’ offers no progressive solutions

I sense that the signatories of this letter would rather perpetuate problems and grievances than find solutions


This is quite a difficult response to write, as I am guaranteed to be labelled ‘Islamophobic’. Both I and my organisation will receive a continuous stream of ad hominem attacks, most completely untrue, but peppered with elements that are publically believed, hard to disprove or irrelevant.

But regardless of how difficult this is, it is necessary because I think Wednesday’s joint statement, headlined ‘Muslim Community rejects the State’s criminalisation of Islam and condemns moves to silence legitimate critique and dissent’, is detrimental to integration, will worsen community cohesion and offers no progressive solutions to the challenging policy area of counter-extremism.

At best, the hyperbolic language – such as the claim that the UK has criminalised Islam and that the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act is McCarthyite – is negligent, as it perpetuates the myth that there is institutionalised discrimination against Muslims in the UK and that we don’t respect Freedom of Religion here.

At worst, it is nefarious, as it serves to shut down debate, for such charged language will put Britons off speaking out and will make them feel anti-Muslim for doing so. It pushes naïve followers of the signatories to buy into a victimhood narrative, exacerbating the polarising ‘them-and-us’ construct that is so intrinsic to the radicalisation process, and a key part of its escalation to violent extremism.

But of course to say so has been pre-empted by the writers, and therefore the signatories, who have got their retaliation in first by saying “words like radicalisation and extremism [are] unacceptable”. This all shuts down debate about phenomena that clearly need to be tackled and is pretty commonplace for the self-styled anti-Prevent lobby, whose perpetual focus on the Prevent brand has added to its ‘toxicity’.

This is a difficult policy area for a number of reasons, and Quilliam is actively and independently working to improve and refine counter-extremism and present evidence-based policy advice for both the UK government and other governments internationally. Take my project to promote adherence to human rights in counter-terrorism legislation, for example, or another to work with the European Commission to improve evaluation, due diligence and cost-effectiveness of counter-extremism work across the EU.

Furthermore, look at Quilliam’s repeated calls for the separation of counter-terrorism from counter-extremism, both strategically and structurally, meaning that law enforcement agencies would have less interaction with educational institutions and stop the over-securitisation of this agenda. Or alternatively, see our pushing for a civil society approach to counter-extremism, which would involve adequate training for frontline workers who are better placed than the police to do effective values-based primary prevention work, and spot radicalisation as part of targeted prevention work.

Many of our findings and recommendations would improve the lot for British Muslims, but I sense that the signatories of this letter would rather perpetuate problems and grievances than find solutions. Only those whose currency is the politics of identity benefit from sowing tribal divisions. Moreover, improvements to counter-extremism policy are not desirable if you fundamentally oppose even the premise of counter-extremism like some of the signatories, who want to fabricate the illusion of, or indeed strive to create, critical mass in support of Islamism and in opposition to secular liberal democratic states.

The letter again pre-empts this accusation by suggesting that opposing “normative Islamic opinions” is a ploy to silence speakers. This is savvy positioning, as it simultaneously attempts to whitewash various views of its signatories that are antithetical to human rights as normative, and suggests that any opposition to this goes against our treasured liberal progressive human rights values.

In response to this, it is worth having a look at the particular views of some of the signatories, such as Abdurraheem Green’s anti-Semitism, Haitham Haddad’s support for female genital mutilation and suicide bombing in Israel or Iraq, or the views of Hizb ut-Tahrir, represented over 20 times in this 170-strong list, which include the stoning of adulteresses among the aims for their aspired-to caliphate.

I certainly don’t assume that everyone on the list shares those views, but I do question their judgement in aligning with such figures.

Here is the problem for the signatories – Quilliam has repeatedly insisted that the UK should not ban Islamist groups that stop short of committing, promoting, or preparing violent actions. Exposing and criticising bad ideas, logical fallacies, or an ideology that often creates an atmosphere conducive to terrorism, is a much better pursuit than legislating against them and does, in fact, uphold our ‘values and liberal freedoms’.

This does not mean that we should legitimise those who hold these views by giving them an unopposed platform, exposing vulnerable people to their poisonous ideology, or funding them from the public purse to counter violent extremism. Establishing the difference between legality and legitimacy is important, and recognises that non-legislative tools may be necessary to counter extremism of all kinds.

Lastly, we must remember that very often both the anti-Muslim far-right and the Islamist far-right see Muslims as a monolithic bloc. Sadly, the media often makes this mistake too and I don’t think it is helpful to assume that these 170 signatories speak for or represent the ‘Muslim community’, just as Quilliam never claims to.

Striving for representativeness feeds this fallacy for three reasons: firstly, it invariably prioritises religious identity over all others, perpetuating a central Islamist narrative. Secondly, the notion that Islamists might be representative is shattered when you consider their views towards women, gay people, and any Muslim who doesn’t absolutely agree with them, undeniably more than 50 per cent of the total Muslim population. Thirdly, a 2006 YouGov poll (p80) found the MCB, widely assumed to represent more British Muslims than any other group, only had 6 per cent support, and aren’t even included among the signatories.

Some newspapers, blind to such nuance, feed this with lazy headlines.

I too affirm my “commitment to robust political and ideological debate and discourse for the betterment of humanity at large”. My starting point is that Islam, secular liberal democratic values, and our work to counter extremism are all compatible.


Jonathan Russell, political liaison officer at Quilliam

134 Responses to “Not in my Name: the ‘Joint UK Muslim Statement’ offers no progressive solutions”

  1. Gary Scott

    I agree. Lazy headlines. There have been many and most directed at Muslims. Newspapers, blogs, comments and politicians are ramping up the fear factor against ‘Muslims’ despite the fact that terrorism is lower now than it has been in my lifetime! We’ve now started reporting on Brits who are fighting with Peshmerhga but failing to report attacks on British Muslims. I don’t blame them for being angry,.

  2. Dee Wiggle

    I would have no problem criticising/dismissing/laughing at any statement that’s happy to have people like Moazzam Begg, Yvonne Ridley, Lauren Booth, etc. as signatories on it.
    Those people are either abject lunatics or sinister, mendacious creeps who’ve graciously furnished the British public with an abundance of evidence to that effect.
    The tide is turning. Totalitarian Islamist murderers are increasing their media presence (alongside their crimes against humanity) and showing even the staunchest apologists that, contrary to the flimsy, masochist narratives of the fringe left, they are affluent, educated, multi-racial, multi-national (untouched by the War on Terror in many cases), as likely to be Belgian as Syrian, British, Yemeni, Chechen, French, Australian, white, teen girls, etc.

    That letter is just more of the nonsensical flailing from the sub-section of society that wants you to think Jihadi John was a beautiful man driven to commit atrocities because The Man had a stern word in his ear. Laughable crap all round.

  3. damon

    We are told that Quilliam has very little support in the wider British Muslim community.
    And that (I’m guessing) that letter signed by the 2010 people is much closer to mainstream Muslim opinion.
    Which if is the case, them we’ve got a massive insurmountable problem in the UK, which could mean that even some of Douglas Murray’s more controversial statements could be said to have validity.
    Like where he said (I think anyway) that future Muslim immigration to the UK should be discouraged.
    If he said that (and I’m not completely sure that’s exactly right) where was he so wrong?
    No one wants to import big problems into their country. Or a majority won’t anyway.

    The letter signed by the 2010 is deplorable. It means there can be no conversation.
    Muslim societies at universities will still want fundamentalists like Haitham Haddad to come and speak to them.
    And will get into a terrible sulk and say they are picked on when people pick up the courage to say ”No”.
    There’s no way out of this now.

  4. ronmurp

    “Lastly, we must remember that very often both the anti-Muslim far-right and the Islamist far-right see Muslims as a monolithic bloc” – while at the same time accusing critics of various aspects of Islam of treating Muslims as a monolithic bloc.

    It doesn’t matter how often and how loud you say, “I know a tiny minority of Muslims are terrorists; I know most Muslims just want to get on with their lives and have no animosity toward people of other religions; …”, any criticism of Islam is treated as not merely Islamophobia but Muslim-phobia.

    And yet, we are left with many publicly prominent Muslims struggling to answer in a straight forward manner the simple questions: do you reject stoning adulterers, and do you reject any punishment for apostasy.

    Their difficulty is either they cannot denounce these elements of Islam because they fear what would ultimately be a takfir denouncement from their more pious fellow Muslims, or they really do support these Islamic requirements but are duplicitous in trying to present a western friendly face.

    I am anti-Islam. I do not hate Muslims. While opposing many aspects of Islam in Iran, I know from the work of people like Maryam Namazie ( that there are many people who are oppressed in states like Iran – they are not our enemies – while at the same time we see the warmongering military industry motives in #47Traitors – enemies within. I am anti-Islam, and anti-Christian when lived as conservatively as Islam.

    I disrespect some Muslims for their duplicity. I respect Anjem Chaudary more for his direct and honest (as honest as the law will allow) rhetoric than I do many of the other supposedly benign representatives of Islam in groups like CAGE. I have great sympathy for the families of the indoctrinated jihadis that leave Britain to join ISIS.

    I have pity for the young gullible jihadis themselves who are both throwing their own lives away and going on to destroy the lives of others in the Iraq/Syria region.

    But people like Mehdi Hasan think that because they are not particularly religious, because they have a naive literalist and limited understanding of Islam that this absolves Islam. It does not. That the Quran and Hadith contain the horrific commands they do, any amount of special pleading for scholarliness or nuance is totally meaningless.

    The Quran and Hadith contain literal horrors. And the Quran is inerrant, and the Hadith the reliable word on the thinking of Mohammed. This is a shocking religion. What right minded unindoctrinated rational person with any humanistic tendencies would allow such vile garbage to influence people so easily.

  5. KBPlayer

    So to neatly summarise yesterday’s tantrum, several of those signatures are from an illiberal group whose constitution and the author of that constitution calls for death to apostates, oppression for women, dehumanising non-believers (a joyful existence we’re expected to pay for), controlling the minds of our children for the sake
    of the perpetuation of the faith, the suppression of free expression,
    oppressing homosexuality, anti-Semitism, and all out war on Israel, followed by another signature from a man who offers his support to a hideous convict unhappy that not enough people had been brutally murdered in the July 7th attacks. The irony of the entire statement is that several of those accusing the government of “crude and divisive” tactics, themselves are some of the most crude and divisive, illiberal, and anti-secular people in the country. They just want us to be a little bit nicer to them.
    (Agree that calling this gang of grotesques representative of British Muslims is highly insulting and misleading.)

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