I find it interesting that those who jumping on the bandwagon around counter-extremism policies for the far-right, have absolutely no record of critiquing structural racism against black communities in the U.K. You ignored years of black people being systematically harmed, and all of a sudden feel that you have pathologised the issue through concerns around vulnerability and ‘radicalisation’.
Where is your critique of the structural nature of this decades old phenomenon? As the actor Jessie Williams said at his BET award speech:
“If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”
“While arrests are often grandly announced in the media, a close look at their aftermath reveals that the overwhelming majority of those arrested are never charged under terrorism laws. An alarming 63% are not charged with any offence at all.”
– Asim Qureshi
Before Hannah Arendt coined the banality of evil in her study on the Eichmann case, there was Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
During his detention his prison guard approached him. He asked Imam Ahmad if the hadith regarding those who assist the oppressors was authentic? Imam Ahmad replied in the affirmative and then was asked by the guard if he was one of those who helped the oppressors? This was ibn Hanbal’s response:
“No. The aides of the oppressors are those that comb your hair, and wash your clothes, and prepare your meals, and buy and sell from you. As for you, then you are one of the oppressors themselves!” 
Whenever you hear about individuals saying they are ‘just doing their job’ or that they are ‘trying to make a change from within’ – we should always ask questions about how the actions they take perpetrate injustices against others. Complicity is not always an active process, sometimes even well meaning behaviour can result in harm to others.
 ‘Manaqib al-Imam Ahmad’, by Ibn al-Jawzi, p. 397
Asim Qureshi, of the advocacy group CAGE, writes an open letter to Imams Online declining an invitation to appear at an upcoming conference organised by the group which was recently exposed as having received Prevent funding.
Speakers include Shaykh Imtiyaz Damiel of the Abu Hanifah Foundation, Mufti Abdur Rahman Mangera of the Rayyan Institute, journalist Remona Aly, Dr Bilal Hassam of British Muslim TV, Imam Qari Muhammad Asim of Leeds Makkah Mosque, Nick Pickles of Twitter UK, Karim Palant of Facebook, Naomi Gummer of Google UK, Shaukat Warraich of Faith Associates, Dr Shiraz Maher, Matt Collins, Director – Prevent Delivery Unit, Akeela Ahmed, Advisor Cross Government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred, Professor Tahir Abbas, Senior Research Fellow – RUSI, Imam Adam Kelwick and Ustadha Khola Hasan.
The following is an abridged version of a letter to one of the organisers that Asim Qureshi published on his Facebook page:
Dear brother Adam Kelwick,
Jazakallahkhayr for your invitation to join you at the Imams Online Digital Summit at the Google HQ in London. I appreciate you trying to engage with those who take a principled stance, conceptually and practically, against Prevent. My colleague Moazzam Begg met you in the past and mentioned how supportive you were of our work – barakallahfeek…
It is important to acknowledge from the beginning, that CAGE is unwilling to lend support to policies that harm the civil liberties or human rights of a single individual – not matter how distasteful the person may be. This is how rights work: they are either for all, or for none.
Our principled stance against Prevent is not simply situated in our current critique of its ‘science’ and modalities – but rather it comes from learning about the joint experiences of our forebears. When we speak to colleagues who fought for black civil rights in America, they warn us that Prevent/CVE sounds exactly like the US government’s COINTELPRO programme (please read Arun Kundnani’s book ‘The Muslims are Coming’). Our colleagues in South Africa are constantly making their own links between Prevent/CVE and Apartheid – they say that everything that we are seeing in the UK was done to them. The list of historical violations goes on. We find ourselves standing up for a cause that many stood up for previously, and like them, we do not take the excessive castigation of the state or the media as a sign that we are losing the argument – rather it is a sign of their weakness that they only ever rely on ad hominem attacks, rather than engaging directly with the concerns we raise.
Dear brother Adam – please understand that the issue with Prevent is not just about a few bad cases here and there, it is about the entire structure from its epistemology to its implementation. Experts from around the world (all of whom are involved in social justice movements with no links to the security industry) tell us that Prevent is wrong in its science. As someone with a legal background myself, the notion that you can have a statutory superstructure that is implemented to operate in a pre-crime space by making public sector workers and the charity sector into the eyes and ears of the state is beyond wrong. You know full well how this becomes a mandate for everyday bigotry to manifest itself on a nationwide level. The government tells us that in 2015, 4000 referrals were made to Channel, 2000 of whom were Muslim – an indicator for them that the policy is evenhanded. Let us be real: that is 2000 out of 3 million Muslims, as opposed to 2000 out of 57 million non-Muslims. A simple calculation will tell us that it means a Muslim is 20 times more likely to be referred to Channel for deradicalisation than a non-Muslim. The degree of policy, legislation and securitisation is completely disproportionate to the threat.
I understand that you have concerns with Prevent, and I very much appreciate you expressing them publicly. I think the two points you made in your Facebook post are well made and need to be teased out further. However, going back to who we as communities choose to work with, it does remain surprising that you would still choose to associate with the event at Google.
Google is not some evil entity set out to systematically harm Muslims and Islam, but when we consider who it works with on the issue of CVE, its perspective becomes all too transparent for communities. They are not simply a neutral venue devoid of politics, but rather have thrown in their lot with a specific narrative of counter-terrorism – one rooted in the epistemology of Prevent/CVE. The issue of whether the event is funded by Prevent becomes meaningless, as in this case if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…
Google Ideas, recently re-named “Jigsaw”, and the Google Next Foundation have partnered in the past with the Quilliam Foundation (in particular Maajid Nawaz), and supported their work to formulate their own CVE programme known as “Against Violent Extremism” (AVE). AVE is managed by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). Aside from ISD’s worrying links to prominent US neo-conservatives linked to what the Center for American Progress calls the “Islamophobia Network”, senior members of ISD who specifically work on Prevent/CVE issues have come from the Quilliam Foundation (Erin Saltman and Rashad Ali). In the case of Rashad Ali, he has worked for the Henry Jackson Society in the past. The programmes that they have worked on together enunciate Prevent-speak completely, and so they are not neutral voices in this field, but rather regurgitate that there is a significant threat, a narrative that is fear-based and hearkens to a security state.
This is not about non-engagement with the government. CAGE has engaged in multiple forums with them on many occasions, and will continue to seek to do so. This is about how we engage with the politics of those with whom we would not normally partner, such as neo-conservative think tanks. It is worrying that with everything social justice movements have been through, some Muslims still feel it is appropriate to do so. It is perhaps more disconcerting that Ulama would choose to work with such organisations and programmes once neo-conservative links and connections have surfaced.
From what you have mentioned in your post on FaceBook, I think it is genuinely incredible that you are looking to challenge media misrepresentations of Muslims, but make little mention of how this is often led by government narratives on ‘extremism’ such as David Cameron’s Munich speech promoting “muscular liberalism” as a panacea to problems within Muslim communities…
The Imams Online event ultimately does not provide a neutral platform for debate and discussion. A number of those who are involved have some link to Prevent/CVE, or the national security structure of the UK. For that reason, I will refuse your invitation to attend. The people in the room are for the most part not policy makers, they are individuals and organisations who are playing a role in furthering the notion of pre-crime prevention within the parameters of a discredited framework, a position that we find to be wholly unconscionable.
When Imams Online was launched, a number of scholars reached out to me concerned at the response to a question by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. When asked about the sources of funding for the organisation, he mentioned – and this is paraphrased – that government funding should not mean that there are issues with the project. It is important to acknowledge that this is a problem – whether it is Faith Associates or Imams Online – as communities seeking to engage with those speaking in their name, need to know that, as a matter of perception and fact, there are no conflicts of interest. Shaykh Hamza’s unwise words at the recent RIS conference are indicative of how when our scholars speak on matters from a perspective that does not take into account victim/survivor communities, the damage can be great.
Dialogue is not an issue for us at CAGE – we know it is necessary – especially when speaking to our own community. We would welcome sitting with you to discuss what meaningful conference might look like, but cannot engage where the terms of reference are based on the structural and epistemic violence of the state. Hence why the IO conference is not one where simply asking a question or challenging from the floor will produce any real dialogue.
I urge us, as a community, to listen to the voices of the disenfranchised. To seek the betterment of our situation, we need to think about the rights of all, and put into place structures within our own communities that help to engender trust. We cannot do this while the shadow of government funding and its false epistemology hangs in the air.
I appreciate the time you have taken to read this.
This is Rizwan Syed, he is an undercover reporter for the Daily Mail, who attends mosques and Muslim events under a false name with undercover cameras and audio recorders.
If you happen to meet him at any mosque or event, and he asks you questions about political affairs or “controversial” theological topics, please inform the mosque committee or event organisers immediately.
SHARE WIDELY – 5PILLARS EDITORIAL TEAM
“This rat goes into mosques and pretends to befriend people so he can write disgustingly vile stories about the community. From what I have learned, he tries to pressurise children into make remarks by misconstruing what they say.
If you see this man in you mosque, make sure you politely eject him, explaining that there is no place for snakes.
Just to be clear, he is worse than just being a Daily Mail, stooge. His initial ‘investigation’ was for dispatches who dumped the whole project. So it seems he took his material to the Daily Mail as he found an outlet that would mirror his vile lies.”
“When I finished reading this book, I realised that I’m still actually quite racist.”
These were the words spoken to me by a white doctor of Anthropology who has spent her life defending black men facing the death penalty in the South of the US. Her own story is one full of racism, having grown up in a racist house that despised her for rejecting their ‘ways’, in having a sister who married a member of the KKK in order to have a pure blood child, and being generally surrounded in a miasma of bigotry and violence.
Despite all of this, she grew up to fight every inch of prejudice and structural racism that she sees. It is that effort that I have learnt from directly, as she has taught me to learn the stories of my clients and their families, as humans, and not as witnesses. Her never-ending devotion to understanding is precisely the reason why my children call her Dado (grandmother) when she comes to stay at our home, because that is the relationship we feel she has with them.
And yet, on the completion of reading this book, my friend and mentor confided that she had not escaped her racism. Having now completed Coatses’s beautiful epistle to his son, I now understand how she came to that conclusion. It is not that I think my friend has any racist or bigoted tendencies, it is that Ta-Nehisi Coates forces us to reflect on our life and the lives of those around us, as we listen to his voice.
The experience he recounts, albeit with a brief sojourn to Paris, is largely about his experiences as a black man in the US. For me, as someone whose entire working life has revolved around policy and practice in the War on Terror, his intersection of the black experience to that of Muslims is a welcome sign of someone who sees and understands the structural nature of the threat we face,
“Michael Brown did not die as so many of his defenders supposed. And still the questions behind the questions are never asked. Should assaulting an officer of the state be a capital offense, rendered without trial, with the officer as judge and executioner? Is that what we wish civilization to be? And all the time the Dreamers are pillaging Ferguson for municipal governance. And they are torturing Muslims, and their drones are bombing wedding parties (by accident!)”
However, it is not these limited references to Muslims where I connected to Coates…it was in his experience as a black man. Throughout the book, he references moments where the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, and Biggie Smalls become a soundtrack to certain experiences. He speaks of Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Franz Fanon, the names that woke me from my slumber. It dawns on me, that while I have never experienced the specific systematic discrimination of young black Americans, my younger self had subconsciously adopted their resistance as a reference point for my own. Perhaps it is because Asian communities had provided little to no avenue for resistance or counter-culture that could help to define our specific experience in the UK, that I, and many like me, chose to identify so strongly with conceptions of being black – that is – until for some of us, Islam provided a holistic response.
Ultimately, the central concern Coates has, is how his son will respond to the world around him. A world where he is trying to provide Samori with every opportunity he can, while at the same time forcing him to realise that the system that surrounds him and props up his privileges is utterly broken,
“I do not believe that we can stop them, Samori, because they must ultimately stop themselves. And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos.”
How does a father teach his child this lesson in a way that makes sense and is understandable? I am a father of three boys, and I am someone who works with trauma survivors. To what extent do I expose them to the reality of this world, and to what extent do I ask them to reject the superficial veneer that hides the truth of the matter? How do we teach them to resist prevailing narratives, when we want them to lead comfortable, poverty free, peaceful lives? Coates does not provide clear answers to these questions, but his voice of frustration vibrates like a deafening bell for the parents who live the same struggle,
“All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good,” which is to say “accept half as much” These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile. No one told those little white children, with their tricycles, to be twice as good. I imagined their parents telling them to take twice as much. It seemed to me that our own rules redoubled plunder.”
Resisting pre-conceived notions of what is acceptable is no easy task. As a British-born Pakistani, I have made it my ultimate aim to shield my children from the over-obsession with whiteness, and in this instance I mean the specific desire that many Asians have for lighter coloured skin. My wife and I are dark skinned, as are two out of our three children. My eldest boy, in particular, has a skin colour and melanin count that does not require much protection from the sun we have in the UK, except on exceptionally bright summer days. When I see my wife fuss unnecessarily about putting a hat on him because others will comment on further darkening, it is the only time that I become upset. Upset, not with her, but with the way in which we have been forced to construct our decisions. Largely, I have been successful in shielding my children from this, but then I receive a curve-ball that I never anticipated. My middle boy, Aadam, saying, “Why am I the only one who isn’t dark? I want to be dark like you all.” I never told them one way or another about what is and isn’t beautiful, it was his own anxiety about being different and wanting to fit in better with those of us around him.
So how do we move away from the superficial? How do my children, and the son of Coates, avoid the ever present elephant in the room, that colour, race and class are everything. Coates realises that the truth itself is where any emancipation can begin, by accepting the truth of who we are, and the world that surrounds us. The problem with this acceptance, is that it leaves us in a very bleak place. For the sake of our children, it is not enough to simply encourage them thrive in a hostile environment as singular case studies of success,
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage. Enslavement was not merely the antiseptic borrowing of labor—-it is not so easy to get a human being to commit their body against its own elemental interest. And so enslavement must be casual wrath and random manglings, the gashing of heads and brains blown out over the river as the body seeks to escape. It must be rape so regular as to be industrial. There is no uplifting way to say this. I have no praise anthems, nor old Negro spirituals. The spirit and soul are the body and brain, which are destructible—that is precisely why they are so precious. And the soul did not escape. The spirit did not steal away on gospel wings.”
‘Between the World and Me’ is a book I will return to again and again. In particular, I will return to it when I am in need of helping my children make sense of the world that surrounds them. My instinct is to shield them, but perhaps that is the most sure-fire way of disabling them, and it is precisely there that Ta-Nehisi Coates makes his most important contribution.
Asim Qureshi reviews the book, Unsettling Sikh and Muslim Conflict by Dr Katy Sian
“I wonder what happened to her? I think the last I heard was that she was in Pakistan…”
At the centre of Dr Katy Sian’s book, Unsettling Sikh and Muslim Conflict, lies the question of Sikh identity, and particularly, what being Sikhni means in modern day Britain. Sian effectively charts how Sikhs in the UK have largely built an identity that is based on the politics, history, folklore and myths surrounding their intersection with Muslim communities dating back to their formation during the Mughal period of India.
Sian charts every day interactions within the Sikh community and found what was manifest were the Islamophobic narratives about who Muslims are, and the extent to which they pose a problem. The quote above from her prologue tells a familiar story within Sikh communities, of Sikhni girls who fall in love with Muslim boys and eventually end up being sold into a life of forced prostitution in Pakistan. The work is filled with a number of anecdotes from those she interviews, but is also interspersed with her own experiences. One example of the casual Islamophobia she encounters comes at the very beginning of her first chapter, where at a family gathering an acquaintance remarks,
“…it’s the Muslims who have caused all the problems in the world…We need to shoot all the Pakis!”
While the above sentiment may perhaps represent the strongest manifestation of anti-Muslim responses within the book, it is the consistency with which Sian presents the formation of Sikh identity as a response to Muslims that is particularly stark. Although she successfully charts how British colonial treatment of Sikhs as a martial race, and Hindu massacres against them, very much informed their trajectory of their development as a people, it is still Muslims that are chief among their concern. What is missing however, within the Sikh narrative, is the extent to which British colonialism and Hindu nationalism has impacted them both culturally and politically, and how those constructions have fed into their positioning of Sikhs within the diaspora,
“Diasporic Sikhs share with Muslims similar instances of being constructed by the West as a problematic community; for example, following the attack of 1984 the agitation of Sikhs in the quest for a separatist state created global arousal whereby Sikhs became intrinsically linked with terrorism…In the British context, the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s saw persisting campaigns concerning Sikh dress code, particularly with cases of the turban and the possession of the kirpan; such activity pioneered British multiculturalism. Given the homologies between Muslim and Sikh diasporic conditions, the question arises of why Sikhs appear so invested in distancing themselves – in primarily antagonistic terms – from Muslims in postcolonial Britain.”
The interviews conducted by Katy Sian highlight an intergenerational narrative of trauma that runs linearly from Mughal responses to the emergence of Sikhism in 1469 to the violence of partition in 1947 all the way to fears around Muslim ‘extremism’ in the UK. The largest part of that narrative revolves around forced conversions, the martyrdom of the Sikh men who resisted those conversions, and the bemoaning of the Sikh women lost to those conversions. When Gayatri Spivak wrote her seminal essay Can the Subaltern Speak? she referred to white men saving brown women from brown men. In a strange form of colonised narratives, Sikh views towards Muslims seem to reflect that view, except to contextualise it to their own environment, where Sikh men are saving Sikh women from Muslim men,
“…when a Sikh man, Mangal Singh, reflected on his experiences he talked of how he and his two brothers chose to kill or, rather, martyr the women in his family to escape conversion to Islam. ‘“We had to do this”, he told me “because otherwise they would have been converted.””
It is in a post-9/11 environment in particular, that the conflict between Sikhs and Muslims has magnified. Not only are Sikhs being attacked due to mistakes by racists in who they are attacking, but the prevailing internal narrative within Sikh communities has meant that they have come to view Muslims as being different, external, a community not capable of integrating into British society as they have.
While some of these narratives remain internal to Sikh dialogue about Muslims, there are increasing ways in which aggressions and micro-aggressions play out externally. Even in universities, literature was distributed among Sikhs warning specifically of how members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir would pretend to be Sikh, become boyfriends to Sikh girls, and forcefully convert them to Islām before selling them, in a completely fabricated scenario. Sian recounts a meeting she attended between Sikh leaders and the Metropolitan police where such issues were raised, but no actual evidence could be produced,
“In relation to the police meeting on the topic we can see the same narrative structure of the threat, or rather the fear, of the Muslim being articulated. Moreover the views expressed at the police meeting support the hegemony of such a narrative that is evidently embedded within the Sikh community. The meeting proved significant for a number of reasons. I attended the meeting to find out more about the general issues affecting the Sikh community, but on closer inspection political logics were in play throughout the whole meeting. Let me elaborate. First, the police starting the meeting with discussion of the terror threat level in the UK seemed perplexing. By starting a meeting to discuss Sikh issues with the terror level, the Sikh community representatives shaped the following discussions, which were all centered upon Sikhs against Muslims, or “friends” against the “enemies.””
Dr Katy Sian is ultimately showing, that a securitisation and also a ‘westernisation’ of the Sikh identity discourse has organically developed old colonial logics into a new threat within the discourse around British Asians. Such a discourse creates a conflict that is reductive and nearly entirely based upon myth, rather than facts. Of greatest concern is how such a discourse plays into the structural racism and hegemony of the state as it seeks to control communities and, even at times, to keep them in conflict with one another. Such a context cannot be ignored, for it sits at the heart of how we engage with one another in a neo-colonial Britain, and also how we also engage with our own conceptions of identity and dissent against a structural form of assimilation.
What Sian does not delve into is what this story means from the perspective of Muslims. In a neo-colonial world where post-colonial thinking is restricted largely to academia and activism, how can Muslims begin to understand intersectionality so that the struggles of others become their own. It may be controversial for some Muslims to hear, but when Sikhs are attacked for being Muslim, when an Ahmadi mosque is made victim of an arson attack and when Jean Charles de Menezes is shot in the back of his head, these are issues that the majority of Sunni and Shia Muslims must take on because, in actual fact, they are not only manifestations of racism, but manifestations of Islamophobia.
Dr Sian’s book, ‘Unsettling Sikh and Muslim Conflict’ can be purchased here