I’ve always assumed that most people are able to make a clear distinction between the actions and beliefs of the majority of Muslims and the radical agenda of Islamists but having spent some time online looking at responses to the gender segregation debacle prompted by UUK it seems that many people from all over the political spectrum are confused on this point. This is unfortunate because it allows both the far right and the liberal left to be ensnared by extremist rhetoric and duped into playing into Islamist hands.
Islamism is not the practice of Islam but a political and ideological movement that seeks to establish as extensive a Muslim Caliphate as it can achieve. Its theocratic aims are to enforce a particular narrow interpretation of Islam upon all Muslims and to make certain aspects of dress and misogynistic culture normative wherever Muslims live. It should not have to be said but not all or even a majority of Muslims are Islamists. What may be less obvious is that not all Islamists are Muslims but more on that later.
The far right as represented by organisations such as the EDL are prone to type 1 errors falsely and indiscriminately seeing Islamists behind every Mosque wall and attacking any visible sign of Islam on British soil as “creeping sharia”. This attitude filters down into main stream conservative politics via UKIP and the right rump of the Tory party and can produce a genuine and legitimate sense of persecution in the moderate Muslim community which easily spills over into cries of racism as much of that community consists of Asian immigrants and other people of colour.
The conflation of race with Islam is of course exactly what the Islamists want. They know full well that this is one of the quickest ways to shut down criticism not only of Islam in general but of their extreme interpretation of it making it hard for mainstream political discourse to tackle the real problems that do arise.
This brings me to the other end of the political spectrum where the left are prone to type 2 errors, failing to identify Islamism where in fact it does exist. The recent advice from UUK supporting gender segregation was an example of exactly this. Despite having a wealth of experience in equality law and equal rights Nicola Dandridge naively fell for a culturally relative narrative spun by pro –Islamism groups such as The Islamic Education and Research Academy that freedom of religion for Muslims requires them to be able to sit apart in public meetings. This is not a universal Muslim view and many would argue that it is not a requirement of Islam at all and in attempting to be accommodating and politically correct Dandridge is being as duped as the EDL into advancing the Islamist’s agenda.
The same is true of those who refuse to contemplate restrictions on wearing the Burqa or Niqab in public spaces. It is Islamists who are trying to normalise worldwide a style of dress originally confined to Saudi Arabia that would have rarely been found in Asian Muslim countries and it should not be treading on anyone’s cultural or religious toes to restrict its appearance here. Many Muslims are of the opinion that Islam only requires ‘Hijab’ which refers to any modest dress and is also a name for the headscarf, varieties of which are ubiquitous in the Islamic world, so we should not aid and abet Islamism in defining what it is socially acceptable for diverse Muslim women to wear in public: Purdah is not a religious duty and this is why I say that not everyone promoting Islamism in the U.K is a Muslim because liberals buying into this myth are unwitting Islamists.
So it is that both the cultural relativists of the political left and the xenophobes of the right are doing the Islamist work for them by providing cover for extremism in the first case and the appearance of persecution in the second and this helps nobody’s cause but the Islamist and helps least of all the majority of moderate British Muslims who are content to keep their religion at home and in the Mosque.
"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"