Last December I spoke to a conference of the religious literacy organisation Lapido Media, on the influence Islamists have developed on the British left. A chunk of my speech was on the direct influence groups like MEND have on the Labour Party, and Andy Burnham in particular.
You can read the speech here (pdf) and below.
For two background papers on the Islamisation of the left in Britain, please go here.
The text of the speech is below, with Burnham covered at the start, and to the end:
The demise of critical thinking: how Islamist organizations corrupt the academy
by Dr Paul Stott
It needs to be stressed though that this is not simply about the far left or even the left of the Labour party. MP and former Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham’s recent opposition to the Government’s Prevent strategy was not rooted, as it could have been, in a consideration of whether it is wise for the Government to be challenging its citizens’ legally held and legally practised political beliefs. Burnham did not seem to be stressing the importance of developing critical thinking in young people, the need to teach people how to think rather than what to think. Instead,at a Labour conference fringe event organized by the Islamist group Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND),he ran with a series of Islamist tropes: that Prevent demonises Muslims; that it stigmatizes the Muslim community; that Prevent has no community support; and that only through working with the community can any problems be addressed.
Those views are now virtually hegemonic in academia, and in trades unions such as the National Union of Teachers (NUT), or the University and College Union (UCU).
A civil liberties critique of Prevent is barely made. The ‘Islamophobia’ argument predominates, even though Home Office figures at 31 December 2015 recorded that of 143 people in jail for terrorist offences in Great Britain, 139 affirmed themselves to be Muslim. Some figure, when Muslims are usually considered to be between five and ten per cent of our population.
There are Islamic organizations trying to shape how we think about terrorism in this country, how we respond to people fighting in Syria, or those who support jihadist groups. And they have been doing this for some time. The Muslim Council of Britain for example were lobbying the Metropolitan Police on this in the late 1990s.
They thrive on error and a lack of knowledge in the population at large. I want to take people back to the 7/7 attacks. They were followed, you may remember, by the publication of a suicide video of Mohammed Siddique Khan, the acknowledged leader of the plot. On 1 September 2005, the BBC placed a transcript of Khan’s video on their website, where it remains. The BBC transcript is headed ‘London bomber: text in full.’ Unfortunately this is not actually the case: Khan’s religious salutations as the video commences are not translated from the original
Arabic – an unsatisfactory omission.
The words the BBC leaves out of its translation are ‘Praise be to Allah, blessings and prayers upon his Prophet’. As you can see, the BBC certainly had some way to go in that period in terms of religious literacy.
Lines 20-34, are perhaps the best known. Here Khan is at his most political: ‘Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world.’ Although they are not mentioned by name, it is clear this is a reference to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
And there for many people, analysis ends. In discussing 7/7, Khan’s condemnation of British foreign policy was to be central to the response of the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, the anti-war movement, the revolutionary left and a series of activists and institutions in British Muslim life. Muslim Weekly; Salma Yaqoob of the Respect Party and Stop the War Coalition (STWC); Moazzam Begg of CAGE all managed to quote Khan’s words in explanations condemning British foreign policy.
From 2008 the Cordoba Foundation, the Muslim Brotherhood’s think tank in Britain, began to take a lead in influencing opinion in this area. A round-robin letter was organized by the Ikhwaan’s Anas Altikriti, in which signatories agreed that the ‘misguided few’ who turn to terrorism do not do so because they are driven by the writings of Sayyid Qutb– the MB’s foremost thinker – or because they are disenfranchized, but because of their anger at Western foreign policy.
The responses I cite ignore the religious ideals also expressed by Khan. This centres not just on the salutations left out by the BBC, but the words preceding his discussion of foreign policy: ‘Our religion is Islam – obedience to the one true God Allah, and following the footsteps of the final Prophet and messenger Muhammad… This is how our ethical stances are dictated.’ He is structuring his actions in terms of his faith.
When I read those words in my lecture at the 2011 Critical Terrorism Studies conference at Strathclyde
University, I looked up to see one well-known Terrorism Studies academic walk out. I am glad to see you all still here.
Since 2010 a series of Islamist organizations, nearly all related to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) have funded research conducted by academics into counter-terrorism and issues pertaining to the Middle East and British Islam. Usually this involves funding those at Spinwatch – a collective of left-leaning researchers based in England and Scotland – with sums of money, and several months later a report written by academics pops up. Some £52,000 has changed hands this way in the past six years. The most recent donation of £12,000 was from MEND. They sponsored the fringe meeting at which Andy Burnham condemned Prevent.
We have also seen Islam Expo as one of the sponsors of a major 2015 conference on terrorism at Bath University: ‘Understanding Conflict: Research, ideas and responses to security threats’, which was jointly funded by the taxpayer through the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Islam Expo and the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath. Perhaps not unusually in these circles, although billed as a conference studying terrorism, more than a quarter of the papers, and nearly half the advertised sessions, were about Islamophobia.
Why is a Muslim Brotherhood-related group such as Islam Expo sponsoring an academic conference attended by socialist academics and the leaders of the Stop the War Coalition? Lorenzo Vidino writes in The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West, that: ‘The Brothers do not advocate isolation from mainstream society. To the contrary, they urge Muslims to actively participate in it, but only in so far as such engagement is necessary to change it in an Islamic fashion (Vidino 2011 p.11).’
These are not the people Louise Casey is worried about, ostracized from society. They want to be at the centre of events, but from an ideology that seeks to rival liberal democracy. The methodology of the Western Brothers is traced to the Islamist ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s 1990 statement, Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase, which envisaged the group’s representatives developing positive relationships with leading tiers in Western societies. From this position the Brothers would seek to play a central role in administering Muslim community life in public bodies, achieving hegemony in those communities, whilst at the same time professing the Islamist position on geopolitical issues.
Some of my fellow academics, perhaps distracted by ready funding, seem unable to grasp this. Labour’s Andy Burnham MP, last seen critiquing the Prevent strategy at a MEND event at the Labour conference, does not understand it either. But those in the media, and indeed all walks of life who seek to develop a degree of religious literacy can and I believe should try much harder to understand.