British Islam at a Crossroads

Jan. 31 2022

The man who held four worshippers hostage in the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas was not a member of America’s large and diverse Muslim population, but a British subject who came to the U.S. to carry out an attack. And as Ed Husain notes, radical and violent understandings of Islam have a great deal of influence in the United Kingdom. Looking back through Islamic history, from Mohammad himself to the 17th-century Muslim emperor who built the Taj Mahal, Husain draws a contrast between a legacy of tolerance, respect for learning, and cultivation of the arts and what is preached in many British mosques today:

Britain’s first purpose-built mosque, erected in 1899 in [the London suburb of] Woking, was spearheaded and commissioned by Dr. Gottlieb Leitner, a Hungarian Jew. The female ruler of the Indian state of Bhopal, Shah Jahan Begum, after whom the mosque was later named, began financing the project in 1880. William Isaac Chambers, an English Christian gentleman, designed the mosque with the architectural flamboyance of earlier Mughal buildings in Delhi. Still standing in Surrey, the mosque was a gathering place for Muslims, and often their Jewish and Christian friends, for decades.

[Today], radical Islamist activists have a grip on more than 30 madrasas across the country. Each madrasa produces hundreds of imams for future leadership positions. I visited such institutions in Blackburn, [the hometown of the Colleyville hostage-taker], London, Bury, and Dewsbury. . . . [Their] radical, puritanical clericalism is on the rise across Great Britain.

What is more, these cleric-heavy ghettos, dominated by activists, are developing a loyalty to their increasingly radicalized community that is in opposition to any loyalty towards the country in which they live. They imagine “the Muslim community” and seek to represent it as a single, confrontational political bloc. For this reason, they find it hard to condemn causes of terrorism; . . . Palestine matters more than Preston or Peterborough. Loyalty to the nation-state is heresy. The hardline clerics and activists are busy bullying and silencing the individual Muslim citizen who aspires to healthy and patriotic civil participation.

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Read more at European Conservative

More about: European Islam, Radical Islam, United Kingdom

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy