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‘STRENGTH IN DIVERSITYTowards a Community Cohesion and Race Equality Strategy’
A response from Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain
Table of Contents
1. Introduction ..........................................................................................................4 2. Executive Summary ..............................................................................................6 3. Weaknesses and unanswered questions in the Consultation Document ............8 4. Areas not adequately explored by the Consultation Document ........................ 14 5. Conclusion .......................................................................................................... 18
1. Introduction We read with interest the Home Office consultation document ‘STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY – Towards a Community Cohesion and Race Equality Strategy’ issued on 19 May 2004. After reading the opening introduction by Fiona Mactaggart MP, in particular “This is not an area where the Government can or should have all the answers, but it is our role to lead an honest and robust debate, in which people freely express their views…”, we thought we would take the opportunity to present our views on this important subject. As you are aware, Hizb ut-Tahrir is a global Islamic political party. Our central goal, for which we were established, is the resumption of the Islamic way of life by the restoration of the Caliphate (Khilafah) in the Muslim world. In this noble endeavour, the party has faced extreme oppression from western supported dictators plaguing the Muslim world such as Karimov, Hussein and Mubarak. As you are well aware, in Uzbekistan our members face brutal treatment from the ex-Soviet tyrant Karimov, who has boiled our members to death and imprisoned their young children for the distribution of a single leaflet. Under such injustices, the party remains steadfast in carrying the Islamic call without raising arms or utilising any form of violent struggle, for we firmly believe in following Islam. Indeed Islam gives us our strength. In the context of Britain, our role is not to establish an Islamic State, nor engage in the type of political work the party is characterised by in the Muslim world. Rather, our work in Britain is twofold. Firstly, to articulate the ideas of political Islam to the wider society, addressing the misconceptions about Islam and presenting a compelling argument against western imperialism in the Muslim world, for which the British government is an active contributor. Secondly, to address the Muslim community in Britain, presenting to them the correct way to live in the west, building our communities on a positive foundation such that our community stands out as a model in achievement and behaviour and participating in the society as ‘active citizens’ without eroding our identity, of which a central pillar is the concept of belonging to one ‘Ummah’ (being part of the global Muslim community).
We have taken this unprecedented step to engage in the Home Office consultation programme because we feel the quest to judge the real sentiments of our community has been - to date - disingenuous. It is beyond the scope of this response to argue why there is an absence of a true and open debate. It is clear to the Muslim community we interact with that the recent spate of arrests and the projection of individuals in the media who vie in making exaggerated statements have been utilised to generate fear in our community. The outcome of this tactic has been the establishment of a community ‘leadership’ which neither reflects nor represents the community’s real sentiments and the continued discontent within the community, albeit discontent that is expressed privately. Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain does not claim to represent the Muslim community in Britain, however any observer of the Muslim community will concur that we have over many years developed a close relationship with our community. Our members represent the ‘diversity’ of British society, with professionals, students, young, old, men and women contributing their time and energy in conveying the thoughts of Islam. Our party membership aspires to present through their lives a positive model, of Muslims who have been successful without compromising their ideals and identity. We have been at the forefront of calling for responsible behaviour despite the provocations, perceived or otherwise against our community. After the Madrid bombings, for example, we distributed thousands of leaflets in English and Arabic elucidating a clear argument from the Islamic texts addressing how such actions of indiscriminate violence against civilians are not permitted by Islam, while at the same time articulating a political path for our community. We hope you accept our feedback so that ‘honest and robust debate’ can truly be realised.
UK Executive Committee Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain 17th September 2004
2. Executive Summary
2.1 The consultation document ‘STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY – Towards a Community Cohesion and Race Equality Strategy’ (henceforth referred to as ‘the document’) aims to address several different subjects. These include: • • • Promoting a sense of pride in being ‘British’ Eradicating racism and extremism Tackling inequality
We plan to address these, highlighting some key weaknesses and unanswered questions surrounding these areas.
2.2 In addition there are many issues in this document that need addressing in respect to the Muslim community in Britain. The document phrases these questions in ways that are perhaps not entirely the most pertinent for the Muslim community. 2.3 In our view there are a related series of questions that need addressing, these are: • • • How can Muslims live harmoniously with non-Muslims in non-Muslim societies? How can they achieve this whilst retaining their high Islamic morals and values? How can society reconcile a Muslim’s view of their relationship with the global Muslim community and their relationship with the State? 2.4 In this brief response we aim to show that there is an alternative model for Muslims living here to the one proposed by the Home Office, which is essentially a path to assimilation, although the paper itself argues otherwise. This alternative is workable, and we believe may be welcomed by many in this society as a model that secures stability and harmony. 2.5 Furthermore, it is worth noting that there are historical examples of how
communities of different races and religions successfully and harmoniously co-existed in the Muslim world during an era when the basis of society was the Islamic laws and values. This amply demonstrates that it is perfectly possible for there to be other than a secular solution to such complex relationships. As Muslims we feel that there needs to be a response from the Muslim community, to show how the idea of citizenship in a nonMuslim society is something that is not alien to the Islamic belief.
3. Weaknesses and unanswered questions in the Consultation Document
3.1 In our view this consultation document contains several matters that will not achieve an improvement in the relationship between the Muslim community and the wider society leaving serious questions answered. We wish to address these issues so that these matters are given further thought by all. 3.2 Firstly: Promoting a sense of pride in being British The document mentions: ‘We need to ensure that all citizens feel a sense of pride in being and a sense of belonging to this country and to each other, and to ensure that our national symbols, like the Union Jack and the flags of the four nations, are not the tools of extremists, but visibly demonstrate our unity, as we saw through the Golden Jubilee celebrations’. 3.3 This issue is problematic for the following reasons: i. There is no clear definition of what is ‘Britishness’. ii. Pride in a national identity has frequently been a very damaging and negative emotion. iii. National pride, especially in the nation’s history, is difficult when much of the nation’s strength was built upon the colonial exploitation of others. To further elaborate on each point: 3.4 There is no clear definition of what is ‘Britishness’. 3.4.1 As this debate has progressed over the past few months it is striking to note the lack of a definition of ‘what is British’. 3.4.2 If Britishness means an attachment to things that are cultural, not ideological, such
as the food, or dress, or sports that are played in Britain, then there is not a problem for Muslims to adopt these (provided it falls within the permissibility of the Islamic legal code). We too can enjoy fish and chips, a game of cricket on the village green or a Savile Row suit. If Britishness means a love for the natural beauty of this land, then no Muslim could fail to be moved by God’s blessing upon these shores. 3.4.3 However, if Britishness means adopting the values of Britain then one would ask – what exactly are these values? Do we mean those values that once existed in this society, based upon a Christian heritage, which have been progressively eroded and undermined? Or those values which promote individualism, selfishness or unrestricted freedom? Values that are adopted in secular societies. 3.4.4 The fact is that a consensus has not been reached in British society about what Britishness is. Hence developing a sense of pride in a notion currently ill defined is a premature aim. If the aim is to develop a sense of pride in secular values then it would be necessary to convince Muslims of the correctness of these values, something that has not been achieved (and we feel unlikely to be achieved) in the Muslim world despite its history under colonial rule. Indeed years of direct and indirect colonialism today sees the Muslim world rejecting these values and announcing their desire to return to Islam. 3.4.5 We feel we have a contribution to make in the debate about value systems, and their correctness and suitability. However when it comes to our community in Britain, we don’t feel the belief in our values contradicts living within a non-Muslim society and participating in a positive way. Indeed our belief in Islam encourages us to establish harmony in society, beyond what would be expected, in our view, from a citizen who believes in individualism and the pursuit of sensual gratification to the detriment of fellow human beings.
3.5 Pride in a national identity has frequently been a very damaging and negative emotion. 3.5.1 Pride in a national identity is one that is tribal and potentially divisive. Islam teaches us to not take pride in what we view as superficial barriers that divide human beings.
This is why you see, despite years of promoting the nation state theory in the Muslim world, Muslims today are uniting across borders. It is not necessary to list the numerous examples of how this ‘national pride’ backfires into offensive behaviour, jingoism and hostility towards others. It is pride in a national identity that so often leads to hatred of the French and Germans, as well as to those from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia. It is also the source of the shameful behaviour on football terraces and outside the stadium that has led to violence and a debasement of the name of the English football fan. 3.6 National pride, especially in the nation’s history, is difficult when much of the nation’s strength was built upon the colonial exploitation of others. 3.6.1 To have pride in being British, especially towards its national symbols such as the flag, its history and its institutions (e.g. the honours system) is almost impossible for anyone who knows the details of its imperial past, or is aware of its neo-colonialist present. Indeed, there are many people, from many backgrounds, with roots from ‘excolonies’ to roots from ancient Britain, who find discomfort in these elements of national pride, and understandably so.
3.7 Secondly: Eradicating racism and extremism 3.7.1 This point, which is a key area addressed in the document, raises two issues: a) Do Muslims have a way of addressing racism from their own Islamic value system? b) What does the document mean by ‘extremism’? To elaborate further: 3.7.2 Do Muslims have a way of addressing racism from their own Islamic values system? 3.7.3 For the Muslim community, adopting Islamic values is the best way of avoiding racism. Islam abhors racism. There are numerous injunctions against national or tribal
boastfulness and pride. Indeed, it is one of the reasons why pride in Britishness is an unnatural emotion for us. Hence, by a Muslim’s adoption of Islamic values racism would be a non-existent emotion. 3.7.4 What does the document mean by ‘extremism’? The reference to extremism could mean one of several things: i. It could mean a politically expedient and inconsistent definition of extremism ii. It could be a reference to people who have an absolute conviction in their own beliefs and hence give rise to fears that they would be intolerant of others. i. With respect to a politically expedient and inconsistent definition of extremism, we need to understand this further. An intelligent man once wrote ‘‘is a protestor also an activist, and an activist also an extremist, and an extremist also a terrorist?” The point of mentioning this is as follows. Muslims globally live under oppression and occupation. Our lands have been divided, are ruled by despots (often supported by western governments) and in many cases are occupied by foreign occupying forces. It is a universal finding throughout history that people whose lands are occupied resist occupation. Such was the case with Queen Boudicca, whose statue stands in Hyde Park Corner, who resisted a Roman occupation of Britain. Similarly within Europe, especially France, the Gauls resisted the Romans under Vercingetorix and centuries later resisted the Nazis under De Gaulle. Our point here is that the current climate generated as a result of the war on terror seems to label equivalent resistance against occupation in Muslim lands today as terrorism. As such, under the afore-mentioned maxim, those who protest against such occupation and are politically active against it would be labelled as extremists and terrorists. The last three years has seen the adoption of this principle with respect to Muslims in the world. Where occupation is resisted in Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya the resister is labelled a terrorist. Of course, Islam does not allow the targeting of innocent civilians or embassies such as in New York, Madrid, Ossetia, Bali or Jakarta,
but this is not only what has been labelled as terrorism. It is also considered extremist if the view is taken that resisting occupation is justified. This is where we find political expediency and inconsistency. So we may ask the question, how reasonable is this statement, to desire to eradicate extremism, when the one who labels extremism in the modern world does so in a manner that contradicts even European history, never mind the Islamic viewpoint toward occupation.
ii. With respect to a definition of extremists as people who have an absolute conviction in their own beliefs, and hence give rise to fears that they would be intolerant of others. We Muslims have an absolute conviction that all that exists was created by the one and only God, Allah (the Almighty) and that He sent the series of Prophets and Messengers to communicate His message, and that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was His last and final Messenger, to whom the Qur’an was revealed. Hence, God’s laws and values, revealed in this Message govern all aspects of our lives. In this society many people have an absolute conviction that there should be a separation of religious beliefs from public life (secularism). Many people hold this principle as an absolutely unshakable belief, and strongly argue, or are indeed intolerant of the contradictory view. Hence the issue should not be that extremism is the holding of certain ideas as absolute truths, because both the one who holds ‘religious’ views and the one who holds secular views will often hold these with absolute conviction. With respect to intolerance towards the views of others, to disagree with the views of others, to the point of believing they are absolutely wrong, is not intolerance. To discuss your own view, based on principles of cordial but honest debate, is not intolerance. Intolerance is when the door of frank dialogue is closed and communities are forced to accept an alien value system without debate and discussion. This leads, in our view, to alienation and division in our communities.
To illustrate this point further. Our members in Britain work and live with nonMuslims. They hold a different viewpoint about life to secularism. Yet they enjoy good relationships with their colleagues and neighbours without compromising these values. Indeed, they make these values a basis of courteous debate and discussions. 3.8 Thirdly: Tackling inequality 3.8.1 The document mentions this as an issue it hopes to address and mentions the government’s commitment to tackling inequality. 3.8.2 Here we wish to address the following: a) The Muslim community in Britain has been the subject of extreme inequality in recent years. b) There is sadly little evidence that the government has done anything significant to address this. To elaborate further: 3.8.3. The Muslim community in Britain has been the subject of extreme inequality over many years. 3.8.4 This inequality is in terms of education, employment, social and economic opportunity. In addition there is evidence that Muslims make up a disproportionate level of the prison population (Muslims in Britain – a report by Minority Rights Group International by Humayun Ansari 2002). 3.8.5 Furthermore, there are cases such as in Bradford and Oldham, where the punishment received by Muslims who turned themselves in were significantly greater than others from the wider society who committed similar offences. 3.8.6 Stop and search figures with regards to Muslims show a higher than average rate and the ratio of arrests in cases that proceeded to prosecution or conviction in the area of counter terrorism demonstrates a shockingly relaxed manner to the detention of Muslims.
4. Areas not adequately explored by the Consultation Document
4.1 How can Muslims live harmoniously with non-Muslims in non-Muslim societies? 4.1.1 We feel that if being a citizen in the west means abiding by the rules of the state, and paying our dues, such as paying taxes, Muslims do not have any issue with this. The problem arises when Muslims are forced to accept the secular value system of the west, and it being portrayed as the only means by which harmony can exist between Muslims and their fellow non-Muslim citizens. 4.1.2 Indeed, we believe that Muslims adhering to the sublime values of Islam can lead to harmony between Muslims and non-Muslims and the improving of community relations, especially in northern towns characterised by polarised communities. 4.1.3 Muslims living as a minority in a non-Muslim society is not a new phenomenon. Numerous Islamic legal texts have shown the rights and duties that a Muslim community owes. It is based on a duty of care, which Muslims owe to their fellow citizens. The tradition (Hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) states; “The Muslims are bound by their conditions.” Indeed they are obliged to take part and play an active role with the wider society. However this role is guided by the tenets of Islam. 4.1.4 The basis of citizenship is based on the following pillars: • Muslims must maintain the security of property of their fellow citizens. Therefore, it is forbidden to steal, defraud, embezzle or deceive others. To the extent, for example, it is prohibited to travel on public transport without paying for the ticket. • Muslims must not violate the blood of their fellow citizens. It is forbidden to cause them any harm. This includes the prohibition of causing fear and terror.
Muslims must maintain respect and honour in their interactions with non-Muslim women, as is afforded to Muslim women. It is forbidden to harm women directly or indirectly by either words or deeds.
Muslims must maintain the sanctity of the religion of their fellow citizens. It is forbidden to abuse their religion or cause damage to churches and places of worship.
Muslims must maintain good relations with their fellow citizens and treat them well. They must congratulate them on their joys and share in their sadness as long as it does not involve transgressing the rules of Islam.
4.1.5 These are just some of the obligations that Islam has given as a basis in dealing with fellow citizens who are living in the west.
4.2 How can they achieve this whilst retaining their high Islamic morals and values? 4.2.1 We feel that maintaining the Islamic identity for Muslims in the west is the correct way to achieve a harmonious relationship with the wider society. By adhering to the sublime values of Islam, this will ensure that the Muslim community plays an active part in her civic duties. These values stem from the belief of the Muslims, which include the duties owed to neighbours, work colleagues, fellow citizens, whoever they may be, Muslim or non-Muslim. 4.2.2 Our work with the Muslim community will ensure that if she abides by her duty of care, then Muslims will play a positive part in society yet still keep their Islamic identity. 4.2.3 For example, the obligations to one’s neighbours include; calling on them when they are ill, showing them sympathy in times of distress, being sorry in times of sorrow, being happy in their time of happiness, pardoning and covering their faults, not invading their privacy, trying to remove any distress as soon as possible, taking care of their homes in their absence, the avoidance of gossiping and being affectionate with their children.
4.2.4 The Muslim community exhibiting these attributes can be a model community for the wider society.
4.3 How can society reconcile a Muslim’s view of their relationship with the global Muslim community and the relationship with the State? 4.3.1 It is an integral part of the belief of the Muslims, that they are part of the global Muslim community (the Ummah). This is reflected in the fact that our community will support causes abroad such as the plight of the Palestinian, Kashmiri, Iraqi and Chechen brethren. 4.3.2 However, the Muslim community feels that despite the clear injustices the Ummah has been facing, many from the British establishment see our community as a future fifth column. This is a wrong assumption since other communities in the west support causes abroad and in doing so sometimes contradict British policy. For example, it was mentioned in the Jewish Chronicle (3rd May 2002) that 150 British Passport holders travelled to Israel as reservists in the Israeli Army in order to partake in military activities despite the fact that atrocities are routinely committed against the Muslims of Palestine. Despite these close links of the Jewish community here in the UK with Israel, they are not accused of disloyalty. Then we ask why should Muslims be accused of treachery when they lend moral and political support to Muslims who are supporting an illegal and immoral occupation? 4.3.3 An excellent example of where a test of ultimate loyalty does not impinge on participating in British life is the columnist Melanie Phillips. Through her column in the Daily Mail she has become what many think is a valuable social commentator within British society. However, she narrates in one article an experience on BBC Question Time when questioned about her ‘ultimate loyalty’ between Britain and Israel. She answered in this manner: “But if the inconceivable were ever to happen, this would represent such a turning against Jews that some of us British Jews might feel we had no alternative but to live in Israel.” (http://www.fpp.co.uk/online/01/12/Israel_shtty_WSJ.html)
4.3.4 The document mentions the report by the Life in the United Kingdom Advisory Group which gives its view on what it is to be British, saying: ‘To be British seems to us to mean that we respect the laws, the democratic political structures, and give our allegiance to the state (as commonly symbolised in the Crown) in return for its protection. To be British is to respect those overarching specific institutions, values and beliefs that bind us all’. 4.3.5 Islam builds a concept of loyalty to God above all else. In addition there is a bond of brotherhood with the global Muslim community. 4.3.6 These, however, should not be seen as problematic and threatening by the wider society. Britain has a tradition of respecting those whose loyalty is to God ultimately. 4.3.7 Thomas More is a man whose life is taught in English history lessons as an example of a man of principle. Yet he was a man who refused, even on pain of death, to renounce his loyalty to God over King. Whilst the dispute may have been specific to a certain situation his refusal to change his ultimate loyalty in no way suggested that he had become a danger to the stability of the society. 4.3.8 Similarly, Irish, Italian and Jewish communities have lived in Britain whilst retaining a strong (indeed often ultimate) loyalty to another state. It would not be unusual to find a British citizen of Irish origin supporting the Irish football or rugby team, or indeed viewing the Nationalist or Republican cause in Ulster with a critical understanding of British government policy.
This response to the government’s consultation programme is an attempt to present some of our ideas about this most important subject. We believe in a vision where our community plays a positive role in society without compromising our ideals and identity. Through this response we have put forward our case that Muslims can live in a nonMuslim society without being characterised as a ‘fifth-column’. Views on this response are appreciated and can be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our final words are, we thank Allah and praise Him.