Heroes are difficult to come by these days. But if I had to pick one hero of mine, it would be Maajid Nawaz. The former Hizb-ut-Tahrir Islamist is now a vocal figure in the fight against Islamism, and calls for a ‘Secular Islam’ where there is a separation of mosque and state. A “non-devout” Muslim, who supports human rights above all else, he was a huge part of my transition to progressive secular humanism.
In his memoir, ‘Radical’, Nawaz coined the now-common term ‘regressive left’. These are self-identified liberals, yet tolerate illiberal values because of multiculturalism. This political correctness is similar to the alt-right, whose idea of normal is being politically incorrect. Unlike the alt-right, the regressive left hold positions in establishment politics and media, and can influence a population.
Nawaz’s ultimate goal is to “intellectually terminate Islamism” and reform Islam. To give you an idea of the scale of the challenge Nawaz and others face, they are fighting on a conservative front – the majority of the Muslim population – and a jihadist front. In addition, there is no central figure like the Pope for Catholicism, so finding influential mainstream Muslim voices from around the world is difficult.
In the West, Christianity has been liberalised and reformed, and we discuss the existence of God rather than basic liberal values such as free speech. On the other hand, Islam is challenged by reformers and secularists, because many Muslims take a literal interpretation of the Qu’ran and are socially conservative. Obviously the vast majority of Muslims are not extremists. Nevertheless, there is connecting tissue between liberalism and radicalisation.
I disagree wholeheartedly with the far-right on the notion of all Muslims are at fault, and with the regressive left on the notion that Islam is not at fault.
There has to be another view, where we can acknowledge that there is a problem within the Islamic community, that modern Islam is different from modern Christianity, that Islamism is a threat to the West’s liberal ideals, and that the large majority of Muslims are not extremists. But some do hold beliefs that are deplorable, to say the least.
A Channel 4 survey titled ‘What British Muslims Really Think’ was carried out in 2016 in order to understand the beliefs of Muslims living in a liberal Western country. 52% of British Muslims do not think homosexuality should be legalised, with 38% strongly disagreeing. Remember, this is for being a homosexual and not same-sex marriage.
“As a progressive, calling out Islamic ideology is not racist.”
A third of British Muslims refuse to condemn those mocking the Prophet, and 23% support the introduction of sharia (Islamic) law. While the vast majority feel a strong belonging to Britain, if social conservatism among British Muslims is this widespread, imagine how they are elsewhere.
Sadly, only one side is attempting to lead the way in civil discussion on Islamism and conservative Islam; the right. In 2014, neoconservative Douglas Murray’s debated (later-convicted) Islamist Anjem Choudary on Islamism. Murray’s strong opposition to Islamism is one of few things I agree with him about, and yet he was able to have a conversation with Choudary – someone he clearly despised.
Maybe this proves that the right is at least trying to solve the problem of Islamism. You do not have to be a Muslim to recognise the problem. Nor does it matter where you are on the political spectrum. We all have a part to play in this discussion.
An example of how my fellow liberals are losing the debate is the French ‘burkini’ ban. I do not support the ‘burkini’ or the ban. I support a woman’s right to wear it, but why do women wear it and not men? It did not warrant the worldwide response as it was French local law.
We are all glad it was overturned as it infringes on a woman’s right to choose what and what not to wear, but more people have to take this same mentality and apply it to Islamic theocracies where women are truly marginalised. The regressive left cannot ignore human rights violations in Muslim-majority countries just out of fear of offending Muslims.
“There is no central figure like the Pope for Catholicism, so finding influential mainstream Muslim voices from around the world is difficult.”
Nawaz also coined another term associated with the regressives’ denial; the ‘Voldemort Effect’. As a Potter fan, I tried to understand this and could not make the link. But his explanation is simple and clever: in Rowling’s books, many are too scared to call the antagonist “Voldemort” and many deny he exists. This is similar to the regressives’ denial of Islamism and literalism, or even saying “Islamist extremism”.
Not only does this give power to Islamists, it is a disgrace to secular Muslims, LGBT Muslims and feminist Muslims in the West, and those risking their lives in Muslim-majority countries to reform Islam.
As a progressive, calling out Islamic ideology is not racist. Anyone can freely criticise the politicisation of Islam like communism or Christian theocracy. And on the subject of labelling, the term that gets thrown around too much is ‘Islamophobia’. Nawaz and I both recognise anti-Muslim bigotry is very real and that there are racists who hate Muslims; Nawaz was even beaten as a young man for being a Muslim.
Islamophobia suggests that it is wrong to criticise Islam. It is not ‘Christianophobic’ to criticise Christian doctrine, so why is it different for Islam? Nawaz says: “if it wasn’t for questioning established norms, there would be no progress”. Any idea is open to scrutiny.
The real Islamism debate exists between progressives and regressives, not just between the left and right. I do not wish to ignore regressives’ arguments, but as Brian Clough once said, “If we had a disagreement, we would sit down, discuss and then decide I was right”.
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