“New: The @MuslimCouncil have criticised Lord Pearson’s remarks during the debate on Afghanistan in the House of Lords yesterday, saying he has consistently used his privileged position to ‘promote divisive rhetoric directed towards British Muslims’”, tweeted Basit Mahmood, co-editor of ‘Left Foot Forward‘.
“Lord Pearson has made a habit of making Islamophobic statements in debates in @UKHouseofLords. This is the man who hosted Tommy Robinson there for lunch”, replied Baroness Hussein-Ece, LibDem spokesperson for Equalities.
Basit Mahmood continued to quote the Muslim Council of Britain from his article: “He perpetuates Islamophobia not because he criticises Islam, but because he fosters the false idea that British Muslims are alien and, in his words, intent on a ‘takeover’ of our society.”
And so Lord Pearson is cast as an anti-Muslim bigot and an Islamophobe, and the tweets circle the earth.
It is always useful in such a media fray to return to what a person said, rather than to believe reports about what they said, or what people tweet they think they said, not least because a Liberal Democrat peer who leads on Equalities and a Labour-supporting journalist who believes the Conservative Party is “riddled with institutional Islamophobia” may be a little jaundiced in their assessment of a former Conservative peer and Ukip leader. Far easier to perpetuate David Cameron’s assessment of “a bunch of fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists” than to engage with the substance of a reasoned argument you don’t want to entertain.
Here in full is Lord Pearson’s contribution to the Lords debate on Afghanistan, as recorded in Hansard (cols. 549-550):
Lord Pearson of Rannoch (Non-Afl) [V]: My Lords, the Taliban exist within Islam and its sharia law — they are Islamists. This brings us up against the problem of how we describe and distinguish between the vast majority of our own Muslims, who are peaceful and a great credit to our society, and their violent co-religionists. We talk about “political Islam”, “radical Muslims” and “Islamists” when we refer to the violent type and about “Muslims” when we refer to our peaceful friends. This confusion is perhaps most on display in the concept of Islamophobia, which is an unhelpful word because it is not phobic to fear the modern world’s most violent ideology, as pursued by the Islamists et cetera.
The evil in human nature is also active today in China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims and in the Buddhist Burmese treatment of the Rohingya. However, according to thereligionofpeace.com website, in the 30 days before the recent Taliban success there were 182 deadly Islamist attacks in 24 countries, in which 1,084 people were killed, with 1,100 wounded. Since 9/11, there have been 39,849 such attacks worldwide, or roughly four every day. The vast majority of these attacks have been on other Muslims, but by no means all — Charlie Hebdo, the Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Streatham come to mind. In the three years to 2014, more than twice as many British Muslims went to Iraq and Syria to wage Jihad than joined the British Army. Staying at home, the Batley schoolmaster remains in hiding for his life, just because he showed his pupils a picture of Muhammad.
So I submit that it is not phobic to fear Islam, which is responsible for by far the most violence on our planet today. However, if we so much as even try to learn and talk about Islam, we are immediately called Islamophobic by the Muslim Council of Britain, Tell MAMA and other suspect organisations, yet we can say what we like about any of the world’s other religions and nobody turns much of a hair.
However, there is good news, too. The Abraham Accords are holding up, and the Grand Mufti of Egypt has recently issued a fatwa, declaring that the Islamist terrorists are criminals, in which he is supported by over 100 leading muftis worldwide. This is a landmark event. More and more Muslims are coming into the open with interpretations of Koran that put it into a modern context and deny its Islamist interpretation. Some of them are in this country risking a death penalty. The burden of my story today is to ask the Government and our security services to watch over them and so help them to further their purpose. The future of our civilisation may depend on that.
You will note he begins by distinguishing the Taliban extremists – the Islamists – from the vast majority of peace-loving British Muslims. Curiously, Basit Mahmood omits to mention that differentiation in his article, preferring instead to quote an anonymous person from the Muslim Council of Britain who says Lord Pearson “fosters the false idea that British Muslims are alien”. He does no such thing: indeed, he specifically refers to “our own Muslims, who are peaceful and a great credit to our society”, which seems to be a rather curious notion of ‘alien’, not to say a manifestly deficient strategy for inciting anti-Muslim sentiment or stoking religious hate.
Lord Pearson even refers to Taliban sharia law, which is certainly helpful in understanding the Sunni-Hanafi-Deobandi-Wahhabi theological fons et origo of their particular strand of Islam, but neither Basit Mahmood nor Baroness Hussein-Ece credit him with that level of knowledge or understanding. Far easier to deflect and quote the former director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies Faiza Shaheen: “Sure, let’s use the West’s failure to create more Islamophobia.”
Which sounds rather like the stoking of a little anti-Western sentiment.
She adds: “Also, the number of people who seem to equate the Taliban with all Muslims and Islam as a whole shows an outstanding level of ignorance. Who do you think is clinging to the planes to escape the Taliban?”
But Lord Pearson didn’t equate the Taliban with all Muslims and Islam as a whole, so why smear him with the theo-political ignorance of the multitude, which simply gets tweeted and re-tweeted thousands of times as the authentically ignorant view of Lord Pearson himself? He made it perfectly clear that there is some distance between “the violent type” (Islamists) and “our peaceful friends” (Muslims), but why let the nuance get in the way of a determined character assassination?
Nor did Lord Pearson refer only to extremist Muslims: he juxtaposed their particular evil with that of China’s Communists toward the Uyghurs and the Burmese Buddhists against the Rohingya. All religions have their fundamentalist extremist strands, but the context of this debate was Afghanistan, so talking about the Branch Davidians would have been a little discursive.
By talking about ‘political Islam’ Lord Pearson evidences awareness of the difference between the religion of spirituality and what is defined as “the doctrine and/or movement which contends that Islam possesses a theory of politics and the state” (Aybubi, 1991). Muslims may cavil about the nature of that theory and the extent to which it is antagonistic toward modernity and liberal democracy, but rather than stifling any examination of the development of Islamic political thought with cries of ‘Islamophobia’, doesn’t Lord Pearson’s comment instead offer an opportunity for widening understanding from terrorism and extremism to the place of Islam in contemporary society?
Doesn’t his raising of the subject of confusion around ‘Islamophobia’ offer influential Muslims in journalism and politics an opportunity to foster greater understanding of the impact of Western imperialism on modern Muslims, and how their views of justice have developed through centuries of revolts and reforms in the quest for liberation from oppression? Why simply hurl ‘Islamophobe’, as though to examine the origins of Islamic notions of liberation, equality and the alleviation of poverty in the context of “political Islam” as pursued by “radical Muslims” and “Islamists” finds no origin in or derivation from the message of Mohammed in AD 610?
Is it ‘Islamophobic’ to discern Islamist echoes in the political manoeuvres of Mohammed’s migration – hijra – from oppression? Is it ‘Islamophobic’ to refer to Mohammed’s tactics for taking and keeping political power as those of “radical Muslims”? Is it ‘Islamophobic’ to observe that some minorities who lived under the Islamic polity of the constitution of Medina found it somewhat oppressive? Is it ‘Islamophobic’ to raise the fact that Mohammed’s neighbours found his struggle – jihad – and war-mongering for supremacy as brutal and thuggish as living under the Taliban? Is it ‘Islamophobic’ to ask these questions?
Is it ‘Islamophobic’ to point out that it is not phobic to fear Islamist ideology which, to many millions of Muslims, is simply ‘true’ and ‘authentic’ political Islam in pursuit of a consolidated caliphate?
You may hold the view that all true Muslims seek a caliphate based on consultation and consent, but that raises the question of the place of force in the practices and traditions of Mohammed – Hadith – which are adduced in the exposition of Quranic political values. Is it not preferable to build on the understanding which Lord Pearson is exploring with the learning of jurists, theologians, philosophers, ethicists and historians rather than just hurling ‘Islamophobe’?
Is it not better to use the opportunity of a debate in the House of Lords to explore Islamic jurisprudence – fiqh – in the Sunni-Hanafi-Deobandi-Wahhabi tradition, and explain how this errs in its socio-political ideas of justice and liberation, rather than pluck sentences out of the Peer’s speech, strip them of their context, misrepresent their meaning, and hold them up as examples of anti-Muslim bigotry and ‘Islamophobia’?
Lord Pearson observed: “..if we so much as even try to learn and talk about Islam, we are immediately called Islamophobic by the Muslim Council of Britain, Tell MAMA and other suspect organisations.”