From the vaults. Farukh Dhondy on the growth of political Islam in Britain
I was digging around the web, trying to put together an article on Islamic fifth columns in Western societies when I found this gem of a piece of writing from the author Farukh Dhondy. Now Mr Dhondy is a novelist for both adults and children and has written TV scripts and was active in the Indian Workers Association. He took part in the work of various anti-racist organisations and he illustrates how Islamic separatism has grown. Although a man of the Left, he doesn’t appear to be as dogmatic as some on the Left.
This piece although from Autumn 2001 still has resonance and relevance today.
“My first name gives rise to confusion. It’s a common Muslim name, so people I meet, or who read my byline, assume that I am of the faith.
Most recently, in response to a column I write for an Indian paper, in which I confessed to having met a few terrorists in my time and attempted to analyze their limited grasp of the world, I received a lot of hate mail. Some of the e-mailers clearly thought I was a Muslim apostate and reminded me that the penalty for that sin was death. One, who signed himself Zahir Pathan, was more strident. He graphically said I was a Muslim sin cojones, as Hemingway would have put it, because I failed to face up to what had to be done. He went on to say, presumably as part of what needed doing, that preparations were under way for the bombing and destruction of Bombay. His tone was swaggering, his e-mail rage directed against one who had, he thought, reneged on Islam.
I haven’t. I was born a Zoroastrian, in India, a descendant of refugees from the Muslim conquest of Iran by Arab armies in the seventh century. The India of my childhood was full of superstition, of faith in myriad manifestations of the unseen, but even then one knew that Islam and its followers were distinctive. From the Shia mosque in Poona, where I grew up, there emerged every Moharrum night, the end of Ramzaan, a procession of chanting Muslims in black shirts, cutting themselves with chains and little daggers strung together, in frenzied and bloody penance through the night—a demonstration of a belief beyond the threshold of pain. They believed that theirs was the only creed, that their book was dictated by God, that Hindus were idolators and the worshipers of trees and monkeys, that Zoroastrians were fire-worshiping infidels, and that Christians were an ancient military enemy. Their faith seemed to me even at the time to exclude what it had not invented.
In the searching years of adolescence, when we all tried to come to terms with the great ideas of democracy, liberalism, the possibilities of life embodied in literature, only the pious Muslims among us seemed impervious to taking part in the passionate arguments. They seemed to have an inbuilt view of the world and of history, formed and sanctioned by the Quran. Even then I wondered: if they would not assimilate the world, how would the world assimilate them?
I arrived in Britain at 20, just when the Muslim migration there, principally from India and Pakistan, was under way. The immigrants were leaving circumstances of grinding poverty and little hope to better themselves materially. They took it for granted that they would be afforded the right to work and live within the cultural and religious freedom that Britain’s liberal civilization guaranteed.
During my years in England, I acquainted myself with various groups from the subcontinent who were part of this migration. Most were from peasant backgrounds. The Bangladeshis came to London’s East End and found work in the garment industry. The Mirpuris, who came from the part of Kashmir that Pakistan occupied, went to work in the old cotton and woolen mills of Yorkshire, Lancashire, and the Midlands. They cohered around the mosque, the central symbol of discipline in their lives, and around the small shops that sold the spices, the lentils, the halal meat that made these towns feel like home. The first generation that arrived imagined making some money quickly and, some time in the future, returning home. That future never arrived. Their children and grandchildren have now grown up as Lancastrians and Yorkshiremen—Muslim Lancastrians and Yorkshiremen.
These antiquated mills went out of business in the 1980s. The population—white, brown, and black—had no jobs. The general depression of the mill-and-mosque towns reflected itself in run-down, restless schools, without ambition or excellence. The activists and ambulance chasers of the Left demanded more multiculturalism in these schools—which gave cover to the ex-peasant community’s demands for the Islamization of the schools’ ethos and curriculum. They demanded—successfully, in some cases—that girls and boys be taught separately, that girl pupils cover their heads and limbs, that the schools serve halal meat, that Arabic and the Quran be taught, that British history classes depict Britain primarily as an exploitative, demonic nation. Principals who resisted these demands were branded racists.
In 1989 came the most significant divide in the multicultural history of Britain: the Rushdie affair, which uncovered a multicultural fifth column, whose literary criticism entailed book burning and death threats. The British Muslim community echoed the call of the Ayatollah Khomeini to hunt down and kill the writer. There were denunciations of Rushdie in every mosque by mullahs and crowds who had only handled a copy of the book to burn it. Not one mullah—not one—raised a voice in support of the principle of freedom of creativity; no mullah ventured the opinion that the fatwa was wrong or against Islamic teaching. Though the supposedly liberal Muslim commentators whom the British press retains were not in favor of the death sentence, none would extend himself to a defense of the book. In Bradford, an ugly book-burning rally was led by one Kalim Siddiqui, who was forced to admit to an investigating press that he and his operation were financed by the government of Iran. He subsequently set up a “Muslim Parliament of Britain,” which professed to dispense laws and promulgate rules for the Muslims of Britain.
In the first week of the fatwa against Rushdie and his book, I appeared on a television panel. Among the Muslim panelists, all of whom favored condemning the book, were two zealots: the same Kalim Siddiqui; and Yusuf Islam, the Muslim convert pop singer of Greek Cypriot origin formerly known as Cat Stevens. The moderator asked if, in my role as a commissioning editor of Channel 4 UK, I would contemplate turning The Satanic Verses into a film. I said that I would judge the cinematic merits of the script, and that no other consideration would rule it out. Kalim Siddiqui and Yusuf Islam snarled, warning that the sentence of death on Rushdie would extend to all those who forwarded his book in any way.
We had all come from London to Manchester to record the “discussion.” The producer had a word with me when it was over: would I feel more comfortable if he changed my hotel, away from the threateners and their entourage?
Before the fatwa and the Muslim solidarity it generated, the race industry that arrogates to itself the leadership of immigrant opinion had assumed that, with a few concessions, and with some exotic and welcome additions to British cuisine, the new immigrant communities would be assimilated into British life with hiccups but not convulsions. The fatwa affair—when the entire Islamic community united behind the condemnation—should have put an end to the idea. This was one bridge that Muslim immigrants were not willing to cross.
In fact, after the Rushdie affair, Muslim spokesmen and their supporters demanded that the law of blasphemy, which still existed in Britain, be extended to apply to Islam. The Muslim clerics would then determine what was blasphemous. Thankfully, nothing came of it. The book burners and novelist killers, recognizing only one book as the fount of truth, cannot countenance a literary tradition, established through centuries of struggle against censorship and obscurantism, that allows the sacred to be prodded critically, even to be profaned. The liberal, democratic freedom to think and speak that the West enjoys has been won in part through this prodding and provocation. That freedom allows people to vilify a writer, to demonstrate their antagonism to his fiction, even to burn a few books. But it does not bestow the freedom to call for the execution of anyone.
The affair of the Verses demonstrated that successive generations of Muslim immigrants to Britain, despite their broad Midland accents and their (admittedly rather curtailed) education in the Western intellectual tradition, identified themselves primarily as Muslims. They declared their allegiance not to the traditions that allowed them to settle, to worship, to have the Prince of Wales visit their mosques and proclaim himself their protector, but rather to a religious philosophy that emanates from a different place and different age.
It was in the early eighties that this identity with a freshly militant universal Islam emerged as a politically distinct force in Britain. While the earlier generation of Muslim immigrants had gone their way without bothering to adopt Western dress, their children grew up wearing Air Jordan sneakers, baggy trousers, and Hilfiger tops, in imitation of American blacks. The great cliché of their generation, enshrined in endless articles and now in facile novels, is that they were caught between two cultures. Some of these second- and third-generation Muslim Britons resolved this tension by adopting the politics, philosophy, and culture of fundamentalist Islam. On college campuses, some students began to dress in what they imagined was a fashion decreed by an Islamic identity. They reformed their lives, their speech, their friendships. They assumed a mission and characterized the evolution of civil liberties—the gains of feminism for instance—as immorality. Their puritan disgust for the West’s popular culture and sexual license, their support for laws that decree the stoning to death of adulteresses and the beheading of apostates, became the profession of an allegiance alienated from the Britain that allows them the freedom to assume and argue these positions.
All these new zealots were brought up in a traditional Muslim way by parents whose religious views were generally orthodox but not extremist. But in the 1980s, a new Muslim leadership of mullahs inspired and paid for by various Islamic powers around the world was entering the country and setting up bases in Britain, thanks to an immigration-law loophole that allows religious personnel open-ended permission to stay. Iranian money, Saudi money from worldwide foundations for the promotion of Islam, was establishing mosques and setting up madrasas, schools that purvey primitive religious instruction and teach the Quran by rote. Adolescents attracted to this new radical preaching, young people whose childhood religious observances had already set them apart from their British contemporaries, came under the domination of a stricter observance with the allure of an ideology. The new mullahs were offering a single-minded, luminously simple explanation of the cosmos and promising membership in an organization that would dominate the world. “We carry Islam as a political belief, a complete system,” says Omar Bakri Muhammad, a poisonous cleric who runs a London Muslim organization. “We don’t carry Islam as a religion. It’s an ideology.”
If you prostrate yourself to an all-powerful and unfathomable being five times a day, if you are constantly told that you live in the world of Satan, if those around you are ignorant of and impervious to literature, art, historical debate, and all that nurtures the values of Western civilization, your mind becomes susceptible to fanaticism. Your mind rots.W
Read the rest via the link below:
Wiki on the life of Farukh Dhondy