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Tariq Ramadan, Islam and FGM

Tariq Ramadan’s response to Imam Shaker Elsayed’s controversial pronouncements on FGM, circulated via a ten minute Facebook video, has already attracted considerable criticism. Here are just a few further thoughts on the issue.

The opening of the video is a little elliptical. I’ve put the relevant sections in bold:

“My position as a Muslim scholar, my position: it’s wrong that we should not promote this because I think that first, it’s not in the Koran and second, it’s part of the Sunnah that we have, and it’s something that is done in African countries, among the Christians and the Muslims and it’s not religious. Having said that, I cannot deny the fact that some scholars at the highest levels of their institutional position are supporting the fact that this is possible that you can go for excision, not to go up to the mutilation and infibulation as it is known in African countries, but we have this in our tradition and it’s part of the internal discussion that we need to have.

I don’t think this article, which offers a useful transcript of the video, is quite correct in saying Ramadan thinks FGM ‘is therefore worthy of being “promoted”’. The build up of clauses makes the first sentence difficult to parse, but it might be clarified by inserting a dash between ‘it’s wrong’ and ‘that we should not promote this’. In other words he does condemn the practice.The fact that the next sentence begins ‘Having said that’ implies a contrast, and backs up this interpretation.

However that doesn’t let Ramadan off the hook.

It’s quite unusual for someone on Ramadan’s place on the Islam spectrum to assert that FGM has some connection to Islam. This view is more normally aired by Haitham al Haddad types on the one hand, and those hostile to Islam on the other. Even the comparatively Islamosceptic may be happy enough to agree that FGM is a cultural problem, not an Islamic one. If Ramadan were unequivocally and without caveats condemning FGM then there would be no problem in him facing up to the fact some Islamic teachings/traditions condone the practice. However, as with stoning, he seems to feel that the issue needs to be dealt with by Muslims alone – ‘it’s part of the internal discussion that we need to have’, he opines blandly, as though he was talking about the most recondite theological point, not this vile practice.

Ramadan seems more exercised by the merest hint that Muslims might be deferring to non-Muslim concerns than by FGM itself.

So to please people who are attacking Islam by saying ‘Oh no, no, no, this is not Islamic. It’s illegal,’ it’s not even faithful to our tradition. We need to have an internal discussion.

He continues in the same vein, shooting the messenger rather than tackling the abuse. It’s interesting that Ramadan, so often presented as a voice of moderation, should demonstrate such disdain for any kind of weakening of the collective front of the Ummah. This, for him, is the real problem. Given that a great many Muslims really do think FGM unislamic, and want to combat it, it seems strange to hamper efforts to amplify this position – even though it seems likely both to help potential victims and promote a better understanding between communities.

These are Islamophobes, and you react to them by just exposing one of your leaders, a shaykh that has been serving the community for more than 30 years and you ask for him to be fired so quickly just to be on the safe side of the political discussion in the United States of America by saying ‘Oh, we have nothing to do with this’ while your tradition is there and it’s discussed within your tradition and whoever is attacking you at least you have to be cautious with the people who are using this and are putting you in a situation which is yes, problematic, but you have to stand for your rights to have opinions, and at least to have internal discussion and not to react so quickly to these issues…

There seems to be little space in Ramadan’s world for non-Muslims to be concerned about FGM but not be motivated by bigotry. It’s more important to guard against even a suspicion of bigotry, to protect other Muslims from criticism even if they hold despicable beliefs, than it is to oppose the mutilation of girls. Moreover this continuing emphasis on internal discussion cannot easily be squared with an absolute certainty as to the eventual, the correct, outcome of the debate.

It is for us to decide, not for Islamophobes, not for racists, not for people who have political agendas that are now deciding for us… The way you have to be dignified as a Muslim is to rely on him [points upward] to be consistent with yourself and to respect your brothers, not to expose them, not to expose your sisters, even though you disagree, even though you don’t agree.

In emphasising the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims, flattening the sharp differences between Muslims, Ramadan ironically aligns himself with anti-Muslim bigots.  Other people prefer to draw the line between secularists (both Muslim and non-Muslim) and the rest.


Among the New Left of the 1960s, there was a phenomenon called anti-anti-Communism.

That is, many leftists of the era has no particular illusions about the “progressive” nature of the Soviet Union or the eastern European satellite nations (although some still romanticized Mao’s China and Castro’s Cuba). But they were more critical of those on the Left who denounced Communist regimes than they were of the repressive and undemocratic regimes themselves.

Writing last month in The New York Times, Charles Sykes– a conservative former radio talk-show host in Wisconsin–identified a similar phenomenon among those on the Right: anti-anti-Trumpism.

As Sykes notes, many conservatives freely concede that in a lot of respects, President Donald Trump is not one of them. So:

Rather than defend President Trump’s specific actions, his conservative champions change the subject to (1) the biased “fake news” media, (2) over-the-top liberals, (3) hypocrites on the left, (4) anyone else victimizing Mr. Trump or his supporters and (5) whataboutism, as in “What about Obama?” “What about Clinton?”

For the anti-anti-Trump pundit, whatever the allegation against Mr. Trump, whatever his blunders or foibles, the other side is always worse.

But the real heart of anti-anti-Trumpism is the delight in the frustration and anger of his opponents. Mr. Trump’s base is unlikely to hold him either to promises or tangible achievements, because conservative politics is now less about ideas or accomplishments than it is about making the right enemies cry out in anguish.

This perhaps explains why so much of the nominal support for Trump consists of baiting liberals.

For many in the conservative movement, this sort of anti-anti-Trumpism is the solution to the painful conundrum posed by the Trump presidency. With a vast majority of conservative voters and listeners solidly behind Mr. Trump, conservative critics of the president find themselves isolated and under siege. But, as Damon Linker noted, anti-anti-Trumpism “allows the right to indulge its hatred of liberals and liberalism while sidestepping the need for a reckoning with the disaster of the Trump administration itself.”
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of airtime on conservative media is not taken up by issues or explanations of conservative approaches to markets or need to balance liberty with order. Why bother with such stuff, when there were personalities to be mocked and left-wing moonbats to be ridiculed?

Of course there’s always another leftwing moonbat to ridicule or condemn. That’s much more satisfying than trying to explain why, for example, the Senate Republicans’ version of Obamacare “repeal and replace” will do anything other than deprive millions of Americans of health insurance while providing a tax-cut bonanza to the very rich.

As Sykes writes:

In many ways anti-anti-Trumpism mirrors Donald Trump himself, because at its core there are no fixed values, no respect for constitutional government or ideas of personal character, only a free-floating nihilism cloaked in insult, mockery and bombast.

Needless to say, this is not a form of conservatism that Edmund Burke, or even Barry Goldwater, would have recognized.

And, like many other short-term political tactics, this will work (to an extent) until it doesn’t.

Some thoughts on Al Quds Day, Sadiq Khan, antisemitism and anti-Muslim prejudice

This is a guest post by James Mendelsohn

No decent person could fail to be appalled by last Sunday’s “Al Quds Day” march through the streets of London. The prospect of Hezbollah flags being paraded through the capital, so soon after the recent terror attacks, was always horrifying.

In these circumstances, it is entirely understandable that many called for the march to be banned; or, at least, for a ban on the parading of Hezbollah flags. (In the event, the flags seemed arguably mild in comparison with some of the chilling rhetoric from the front.)

It concerns me, however, that many have singled out Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, for failing to prevent the march from taking place, in spite of pleas for him to do so. As pointed out by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (“CAA”), and as acknowledged by Khan himself, the Mayor does not have the power to ban the march. Indeed, CAA explicitly notes that

“despite various calls from within the Jewish community for the Mayor of London to take action against this procession, he has no statutory power to do so and criticism of him for failing to exercise a power he does not possess is misplaced. Both the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime have been very helpful in facilitating contact with the right people within the Metropolitan Police Service, and we are grateful to them for their efforts.”

The only person with the ultimate power to stop the march would have been the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd. This has not prevented some from blaming Khan for failing to exercise a power he does not possess; and, in some cases, specifically linking this to fact that he is a Muslim. Here are just a few examples (typos etc in the originals):

Appalling but not surprising. We have a Muslim mayor, so God help us.

Well fancy that! And as the London Mayor IS a Muslim – well surprise surprise!

Khan is Muslim And he is using his job as a hobby horse which there must be rules against folks should ask for him to be investigated to see if he is using his post to influence people to his religion . If so that should be a sackable offence Split illegencies he should only have illegence to the crown while in a Job like this leave Islam at the door

A number of other examples are documented here.

To my mind, such comments are virtually indistinguishable from the traditional antisemitic libel that diaspora Jews cannot be trusted because they supposedly owe greater allegiance to Israel/Judaism/the worldwide Zionist conspiracy than they do to the UK/US/wherever. This libel has been expressed or echoed by various individuals/publications in recent years, including Oliver Miles, Paul Flynn, the New Statesman and the Daily Mail.

If it is unacceptable to make such comments about British Jews, it should be equally unacceptable to make such comments about British Muslims. And no, I am not unaware of the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of Khan’s past relationship with Islamism; nor do I deny that his strong words on antisemitic hate crime will only be as meaningful as any actions that follow. One could say the same, however, about numerous other political leaders. To single out Khan for failing to exercise a power he does not have, and to link this to his Muslim faith, is as objectionable as (say) suggesting that “ardent Zionists” in public roles work against the interests of the UK or US.

Many who are (rightly) concerned about antisemitism fail to spot the similarities with some forms of anti-Muslim prejudice. This needs to stop.

PS these thoughts were originally expressed on Twitter, before the news of the horrific Finsbury Park terror attack. Following the attack, I tweeted some further thoughts here.

Fathom VIDEO | Constructive ambiguity has not worked. Peace needs constructive specificity. By Einat Wilf

Einat Wilf is one of the most creative Israeli thinkers on the peace process. In this talk to a Fathom Forum in London on 15 June 2017 she argued that it is time to drop the dogma that ‘constructive ambiguity’ helps advance the peace process. In its place, Israelis and Palestinians need to adopt a new strategy of ‘constructive specificity’ regarding what is required from each side if the process is to result in a realistic peace. An edited transcript and video of Wilf’s speech can be found here.

Responding to Grenfell

The unbearable horror of Grenfell united all but the most callous in sympathy and distress.  However it’s also something of a Rorschach test, in that the precise nature and focus of individual responses have tended to reflect people’s prejudices and politics.  The context for the fire is complex and contested, taking in technical issues concerning building regulations and materials, as well as much broader debates about inequality. Although accusations of politicising the tragedy may be well founded, sometimes they too seem overly ‘political’.

Many have given practical help to the residents, either in money or time.  Here are just three initiatives (there are many more) which seem particularly welcome, in that they are offering free specialist advice to people dealing with serious practical problems (for example missing documents) as well as with the trauma of the fire.

The first is the Grenfell Rights Project; this brings together caseworkers and welfare rights advisers to help residents:

What help we can give: We can help anyone who needs it, on any issue you need help with, from problems with temporary housing, linking older people and people with disabilities with care at home, helping to replace documents, helping to access compensation, dealing with government and council departments, utilities companies and more.

Contact us: If you need help or know someone who does, please ask them to contact us at [email protected]

Venues: We are working on setting up advice services in the community over the next days and weeks. In the meantime, our caseworkers are very happy to visit you where you are.

The second is a law firm offering free housing advice

The third is the North Kensington Law Centre, an established charity based near the tower, which is now focusing its efforts on helping those affected by the disaster.

At this point, the Law Centre can help them understand their situation and their rights and help them plan ahead. It can then help them access support they are entitled to, like getting a new home, benefits support and social care if they are sick, disabled or injured.

The Law Centre will also be working with residents to address the bigger access to justice issues arising from the disaster.

The legal assistance is confidential and independent – Law Centres work for their clients and community, not the council. The Law Centre can also connect people to other support services (legal and non-legal) in a coordinated way.

It’s a measure of the complexity, as well as the horror, of this incident that there is considerable disagreement as to how best to secure answers – and justice.  Theresa May has proposed a public enquiry; some believe an inquest would be preferable.

Labour and the PLP – will it be total surrender or a fight back?

This is a cross-post from More Media Nonsense

Jeremy Corbyn is still going around as if he won the election and his popularity seems to be on the way up. What are sensible Labour MPs going to do about it ?

Now although Labour won 30 extra seats it is nowhere near enough to be able to form a government. All the Ulster Unionist MPs are against him and I would imagine that the Liberals in reality would want nothing to do with Corbyn and his fantasy manifesto if the offer to go into government with him was on the table.

As for that manifesto its clear the moderates just let Corbyn and co hatch up whatever they wanted and boy did they go for it. Bribes for students and other giveaways with a semblance of a funding plan arranged (although it was still dodgy) and wow the electorate went for it. Then there was the cost of renationalisations which would just be magicked up. Of course the Tory campaign was dire and inexplicably failed to hold Labour to account on any of this but I doubt that will happen again.

Presumably now all this stuff will be party policy. Will all the party come in behind it ? ATM the craven behaviour of the likes of Harriet Harman (see here) and others seems to say they will but surely once the Tories get back on track they will be holding Labour to account for their lavish promises.

The other big issue in Labour is Brexit, it is clear now that Corbyn and McDonnell are for hard Brexit, unfortunately some of the Remainer electorate don’t seem to realise it, or don’t care as they are lost in Corbyn worship. One of the reasons Corbyn and McDonnell may want hard Brexit is that then they won’t be constrained by EU laws which might stop them renationalising companies (see here), which is a big part of their vision. Again once this becomes apparent lets hope things change in Labour (and indeed we see Keir Starmer being more flexible over Brexit here). Or perhaps none of them care and they will all just swallow their doubts as they might get back in power. If so what a bunch of disgraceful turncoats.

I still think Labour will never win from the Left and hope this is Corbyn’s high point but if it isn’t and we somehow get the nightmare of a Corbyn government then it will very much be the Labour moderates who are to blame.

Al Quds Day – Let’s Help Some Confused Khomeinists

The Khomeinists of the self-styled Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) appear to be confused. Ahead of their annual “Al Quds Day” Israel hatred march, scheduled for this Sunday in London, they have issued this statement:

Flags: participants are welcome to bring flags that show solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Flags of proscribed (illegal) organisations will not be allowed. For example, you can bring a Hizbullah flag to show support for the political wing of Hizbullah. This is because the political wing of Hizbullah is not a proscribed organisation.

Let’s help the poor dears with this silly “wings” fiction of European diplomacy. This line should bring them hurtling back to the truth here on earth:

Everyone is aware of the fact that Hezbollah is one body and one entity. Its military and political wings are unified.

That’s Hezbollah political affairs official Ammar Moussawi speaking.

This could be of assistance as well:

However, jokingly I will say – though I disagree on such separation or division – that I suggest that our ministers in the upcoming Lebanese government be from the military wing of Hezbollah!

That’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah rubbishing the “wings” nonsense.

Now Hezbollah is very busy slaughtering Syrians these days. So if the lines above aren’t enough we can’t expect them to intervene in a London dispute as they get on with their crucial mission for Assad’s regime.

So how about someone closer to home? Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, for example, who is due to speak at the rally this Sunday.

Here he is at Al Quds Day in 2012, fancying his movement as some sort of Hezbollah UK. He calls on people to take on the fearsome target of the Israeli dance group Batsheva. “Drive Batsheva out of London while Hezbollah drove them out of Lebanon and while the Arab resistance drives them out of Israel”. No “wings” nuance there! Or perhaps the “political wing” hurled some harsh words at Israeli forces in Lebanon and that’s why they left?

Sure enough, thugs did disrupt that Batsheva tour. Takbir!

Or perhaps Mr Corbyn could help? After all, he is a friend of Hezbollah and likes to “make the case for Iran”. He is also very fond of the IHRC and has addressed Al Quds Day crowds himself, alongside Mr Napier.

I like the way it works, I like the sense of values surrounding it, and I’ve found them extremely helpful in bringing cases to my attention of individual abuses of human rights that they’re concerned about. But also general issues concerning the rights of people in the Middle East. The situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I’ve found them generally extremely helpful, extremely positive, and help to challenge the notion that human rights is somehow or other something based on Romano-Christian law and based on Europe rather than the rest of the world.

I like the concept that Islamic Human Rights Commission represents all that’s best in Islam concerning the rights of individuals to free expression, to peaceful assembly, and the rights of individuals within a society.

This Al Quds Day lot seem rather frank so perhaps they could help too. Hezbollah is not enough. No, add “marg bar Mousavi” (death to Mousavi) as you abuse a small group of Iranian opponents of the regime in Tehran.

I do trust the IHRC will see clearly before Sunday and abandon their imaginary one-winged bird. They wouldn’t want to be seen as ignorant. Let alone a pack of hopeless liars. Would they?

Tarek Fatah confuses Shi’a Ashura parade with ‘March for Sharia’

Yesterday Tarek Fatah informed his followers that this was a  ’March for Sharia’ in London.

There have been plenty of seriously unwelcome demonstrations in London, including genuine marches for Sharia, as well as the  Al Quds Day march, due to be held this Sunday.

However the clip Fatah linked to in his tweet was in fact an Ashura march, marking the death of Husayn Ibn Ali.

It’s a pity that, although several people have pointed this out to him, he hasn’t issued a correction, and hasn’t engaged fairly with those raising the issue.

There are, obviously, plenty of absolutely valid criticisms to be made of Islamism – Fateh has recently tweeted this good piece by Sara Khan – muddying the waters in this way increases distrust and undermines the credibility of those working against extremism.

The Irrelevance of Antisemitism

Whereas other forms of racism tend to demean people because of their race, ethnicity or sexuality the Jews are hated because they are considered omnipotent therefore responsible for all the evils of the world.

But the antisemitism expressed by members of the British Labour Party didn’t stop the electorate voting for them in their millions. Even on election day a woman was filmed at a polling booth in a Jewish area calling on people to vote Labour “to get the Jews out.”

And in the end the Jews were powerless to help themselves. In the end the leader who brought all this antisemitic controversy with him to the fore was returned with more seats than his ethnically Jewish predecessor. I suppose it’s testament to the faith British Jewry has in the British people that they assumed the reporting of incidents of antisemitism would disgust their fellow citizens enough to put them off Corbyn. Instead we’ve seen many come to believe that the reports of antisemitism are a “plot” to “smear” the exalted leader Corbyn to hold him back.

All this reminds me of a statement made by a demonstrator attempting to prevent Hen Mazzig from speaking at UCL in Central London. While standing in a crowd of screaming demonstrators who were just appalled that a small group of Jews might want to hear a talk by an Israeli officer in the IDF she said “in the 21st century we don’t need no Jewish majority state”. Of course this whole sordid affair demonstrated perfectly why, even in the twenty first century, we do.

Many people lecture Jews about what they’re allowed to believe, what they’re allowed to be offended by, what they’re allowed to be concerned by, what does and does not constitute antisemitism against them and few are listening to what Jews are saying about it. Furthermore many people are shocked and appalled, not by the antisemitism, but by the attempts by Jews to defend against it. “Smear” they shout, “plot” they scream. motivated by their own twisted morality they go to great lengths to scream from the rooftops that there’s no antisemitism, that it just doesn’t exist, it’s a conspiracy don’t you know!

Now the Labour Party has surged. It did not win the general election but it did gain a significant number of seats and force a hung Parliament. It gained momentum and swept through constituencies it hasn’t previously held for years.

And the antisemitism? Forgotten, irrelevant. Along with the victims of it.

Now instances of antisemitism will clash with the prevailing wind. Young people filled with hope for a left wing future voted for Jeremy Corbyn in droves. From now on it will be against their voices that young Jews will be shouting. Now the Jews will be the spoilers, the ones ruining everyone else’s good time when they talk about their antisemitism problems. It was bad enough before, now it will be impossible to point them out without being shouted down.

In the wake of Al Jazeera’s documentary “The Lobby” one Member of Parliament wrote to Theresa May concerned that there was a plot against British democracy. His name was Jeremy Corbyn. His concern for British democracy wasn’t so evident when he was accepting money from the Islamic Regime in Tehran to work for their mouthpiece Press TV. The timing couldn’t have been worse, he was appearing for them while the thugs of the regime were murdering pro-democracy Iranians on Tehran’s streets. But I suppose the young hopeful British voters don’t care about that either.

This dilemma is hardly one Jews are unfamiliar with. Time and again Jews have been forced to choose between remaining and fleeing from the countries they were born in. Time and again Jews have remained in the land of their birth only to understand too late what a terrible mistake that was. A million Russians waited impatiently for the Iron Curtain to fall before clamoring into Israel. French Jews are leaving in droves, not just for Israel but for the UK too. I hope they haven’t made a mistake. I hope British voters haven’t made a mistake. But I know that they have.

When it comes to whether to vote for promises to shore up an ailing health system, invest more in infrastructure and scrap tuition fees, Britons sold their votes cheaply for Corbyn’s empty promises. The concerns of the Jews complaining about antisemitism were ignored. And now we get to sit and wait, far from omnipotent. Jews raised their concerns and were ignored because, you know, their concerns were irrelevant.

The morning after the morning after

A few years ago I found it dispiriting that so many people in the UK seemed bored or even completely alienated by politics.  Then Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn came along – be careful what you wish for.

But whatever you thought of the result, it’s healthy for people – perhaps particularly young people – to witness so much unpredicatability and realize that voting can make a difference.

Often it seems that you can look at the results from a few bellwether seats and know the entire outcome, more or less. Isaac Asimov took this idea to extremes in his short story ‘Franchise’.

But on Friday morning the results were all over the place.  Early news from the North East suggested the exit polls were wrong, that there was a big swing to the Conservatives – but that was because people weren’t factoring in the particular local effects of UKIP’s collapse.

Labour victories in places like Canterbury, number 104 on their target list, seemed to indicate a landslide.  But once again this was down to local circumstances – in particular a high student population – and there were surprises in the other direction too, such as Mansfield.

Safe seat shocks, tense recounts and incredibly marginal outcomes would have made first time voters see that their participation, and collective action, can make a difference. And on the topic of young voters – I think this is an important point.

Yesterday some were claiming that Theresa May would have been beaten outright by a different Labour leader.  Maybe, given how dire Theresa May’s campaign was, they were right.  However although some voters, and perhaps those in more crucial seats, might have preferred a Labour moderate, quite a few others probably wouldn’t have voted at all, or would have voted for a Green or independent candidate, if it wasn’t for Corbyn.

Of course not everyone was galvanised by Jeremy Corbyn.  Just a few more Labour votes, in line with London-wide trends, in Hendon, Chipping Barnet and Finchley and Golders Green could have made a crucial difference to the overall result.