June 15, 2015 Abdul Haqq

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Emerging government policies and Islamophobic media headlines continue to target and marginalise Muslims – and let us be clear about this – socially conservative, orthodox Muslims in particular. To add even more fuel to the socio-politically (some would argue, socio-religiously) charged environment for Muslims in Britain, prominent Muslim figures are now also seemingly advocating a draconian approach towards tackling extremism.

Scotland Yard Commander, Mak Chisty recently advocated: ‘…a move into the private space’ of Muslims.[1] As if Theresa May’s proposal for a Snooper’s Charter will not be enough of an invasion on society as a whole and Muslims in particular[2], Chisty appears to be urging us to effectively spy on family members and friends from a very, very young age in order to determine whether sudden changes in their outlook are symptomatic of radicalisation. In the recent Guardian article, (24th May 2015) he goes on to elaborate about the need to be …less precious about the private space… without …invading private thoughts.’ A number of questions invariably arise from this. For example, how do you achieve one without the other?

Does Chisty advocate ‘sting’ operations similar to established practices long witnessed in the US, where an undercover agent, informant or – if Chisty’s ideas are to be realised – family member, act covertly to gain sufficient trust from their unsuspecting target (or often, their victim) before coaxing them to share or express radical opinions? What if these opinions or indeed, grievances were strong but legitimate? If, for example the target was vehement in their dislike of the government, would the family member be expected to flag this up to the relevant authorities? If the target went one step further and expressed a desire for the ideal bona fide Islamic Caliphate – not what ISIS is claiming today – but one founded upon the tenets of the first ever prophetic caliphate, would this raise alarm bells that would lead to an arrest and incarceration as a result of a terrorism offence? What if  an 8 year old child who, instead of pretending to be the American GI Joe, impersonated Salahuddin Ayyubi, one of Islam’s greatest warriors (mujahids) and leaders in the annals of Muslim history?[3]  Would his ‘private space’ be restricted or closed down with him being criminalised?

Abstaining from shopping at Marks and Spencer or any other business due to their support – financial or otherwise for a cause considered ‘disagreeable’ by some – should not become a basis for suspicion. In the early to mid-80s, there was almost universal condemnation of the apartheid system imposed on the predominantly black population of South Africa. In protest, sanctions and boycotts at political and societal levels resulted in the crippling of the country’s economy.[4]  Most importantly, this collective action contributed toward the collapse of the government and beginning of a new era in which, coincidentally, a former ‘terrorist’[5] – Nelson Mandela – rose to further prominence as a statesman and first black president of the country.[6]

As a teenager, I made the conscientious decision to do my part and boycott products like Del Monte[7] and Appeltiser[8] yet, despite the Conservative government’s  complicity in its  support for apartheid during that time, there was no fear of being spied on or having my ‘space’ restricted on the premise of being ‘radical.’ Had Chisty’s ideas  been prevalent during that period, a number of British citizens like me would have perhaps been targeted and possibly criminalised for boycotting such products in the school or college canteen.

A question of perspective

Chisty’s positioning in this debate surrounding identity, British values and radicalisation, insofar as it relates to Muslims, is not new; many liberal Muslims and non-Muslims alike would agree with his views, particularly in light of the prevailing challenges posed by the allure of ISIS among our youth. However, it is liberally ‘extreme’ views like these that cause a pendulum swing effect among such youth towards the other end of the spectrum – the violent extreme perspective – as is undeniably  being witnessed today.[9]

Between a rock and a hard place

What about those Muslims who are between the two above-mentioned ‘extremes’ – those whom the pendulum has swung over and effectively ignored – due, in part to the government’s ideologically driven policies?

On the one hand, socially conservative or ‘quietist Salafist’ Muslims (and as has been witnessed recently, a minority of Christians [10]) are being sidelined and accused of being non-violent extremists, opposed to British values, by the more liberal extreme end of the political spectrum due to their not subscribing to particular British values and criticism of Foreign Policy. On the other, violent extreme perspective, they continue to be denigrated as being government informants/agents, sell-outs and apostates due to their staunch opposition to the extremists’ distorted religious understanding and terrorism.


The above positioning of Salafist communities unfortunately places them and other socially conservative ones between a rock and a hard place. However, in actuality – and within a socio-political context – being positioned between these two polarised perspectives arguably illustrates that such communities are better placed to address particular issues affecting youth today.

Syeda Warsi may be considered towards the more liberal end of the spectrum discussed here; however, she is not ‘extreme’ according to the definition provided in this instance. Instead, her poignant observations and contributions toward this overall debate surrounding identity, values and radicalisation are, as can be witnessed in her article in the Guardian on 14th May 2015, a refreshing alternative to Chisty’s polarising views.  Warsi is correct when she highlights the need to …bring people together, not silence and ban them’ if extremism is to be tackled successfully.[11] This type of approach will once again enable the creation of new, safe spaces where young people feel comfortable engaging and speaking with experienced, understanding mentors or peers who are able to empathise with them, as well as challenge narratives or views that are violently radical. The resounding difference between Warsi’s approach and Chisty’s is that her one will not result in young, impressionable individuals being criminalised.


[1] Vikram Dodd: ‘Jihadi threat requires  move ‘into private space’ of UK Muslims says police chief’ The Guardian, 24th May 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/24/jihadi-threat-requires-move-into-private-space-of-uk-muslims-says-police-chief

[2]Adam Withnall: ‘Snoopers Charter: Theresa May’s plans to push ahead with Communications Data Bill sparks online campaign for Internet Freedom’ The Independent, 10th May 2015: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/generalelection/snoopers-charter-theresa-mays-plan-to-push-ahead-with-communications-data-bill-sparks-online-campaign-for-internet-freedom-10239945.html

[3] Professor Dr. Nazeer Ahmed: ‘Salahuddin Ayyubi and the Battle of Hittin’ History of Islam, an encyclopedia of Islamic history: http://historyofislam.com/contents/the-classical-period/salahuddin-ayyubi/

[4] Christabel Gurney: ‘The Origins of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement’ African National Congress: http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=5691

[5] Anthony Bevins and Michael Streeter: ‘Nelson Mandela: From ‘terrorist’ to tea with the Queen’ The Independent, 9th July 1996:  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/from-terrorist-to-tea-with-the-queen-1327902.html

[6] BBC News: ‘On This Day – Nelson Mandela becomes first black president of South Africa’ 10th May 1994: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/may/10/newsid_2661000/2661503.stm

[7] http://www.approvedlocal.co.za/del-monte-fresh-produce-sa-pty-ltd-62053.html

[8] http://appletiser.co.za/za/Home/Main#/aboutUs/journey

[9] Orlando Crowcroft: ‘Why are so many British Muslims joining Islamic State in Iraq and Syria?’ International Business Times, 9th April 2015: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/why-are-so-many-young-british-muslims-joining-islamic-state-iraq-syria-1495471

[10] Emma Glanfield: ‘Christian owned bakery which refused to make ‘Bert and Ernie’ gay marriage cake found GUILTY of discrimination’ Mail Online, 19th May 2015: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3087624/Christian-owned-bakery-refused-make-Bert-Ernie-gay-marriage-cake-GUILTY-discrimination.html

[11]Sayeeda Warsi: ‘If we are to fight extremism we must bring people together, not silence and ban them’ The Guardian, 14th May 2015:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/14/extremism-british-muslims-tolerance-sayeeda-warsi?CMP=share_btn_link

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