By Martin Bright (THE GUARDIAN, 15/07/08):
The obvious response to Soumaya Ghannoushi’s piece, Saying Islamic threat over and over doesn’t make it real is: “No Soumaya, what makes it real is the thousands of people who lie dead and mutilated as the result of militants acting in the name of Allah.” The Islamic threat was clearly very real for them and their grieving relatives. As such, the article hardly merits a response.
But there is much in the piece that I agree with. It is absurdly hyperbolic to say that “the much hyped Islamic threat is one of the greatest lies of our time”. But as a military threat, or a threat to the existence of western civilisation it has been vastly overstated. The Arab hordes are not about to sweep through Europe. Ghannoushi is right to be concerned that perceptions of the threat of terrorism from a tiny minority of British Muslims risks stigmatising a whole community.
I was due to appear on a platform with Soumaya Ghannoushi at an event organised by the leftwing thinktank Demos at IslamExpo this weekend. The title was The Islamist Threat: Myth or Reality? As is so often the case in such debates, the answer is both. But the real question being posed here is whether there was something more sinister at work behind the ideological construction of an Islamic threat. Again, I agree that this may be the case – historically, the threat of terrorism has often provided useful cover for repressive legislation. This applies equally to authoritarian governments intent on cracking down on internal subversion and to colonial powers fighting resistance movements. Neither applies in this case.
Ghannoushi agrees about the psychotic nature of al-Qaida inspired terrorism. She would also agree that it is at one and the same time very real and something which has taken in the status of a modern myth. The difficulty for her argument lies in her insistence that newspapers, radio and television are on a daily mission to equate Islam with fascism. This is patently not the case, She herself uses the example of Peter Oborne’s programme for Channel 4’s Dispatches on Islamophobia. Yesterday, Channel 4 began its Islam season with a programme about the Qur’an. This will be followed by programmes on the “wonders of the Islamic world” and a new series of Sharia TV. There are countless other examples of British journalists making genuine attempts to educate people about Islam in all its extraordinary diversity. Some have been authored by me.
I say that I was due to speak at IslamExpo because I withdrew last week after I discovered that the organisers were suing the Harry’s Place blog for identifying their alleged links to Hamas, the Palestinian extremist organisation. Douglas Murray of the Centre for Social Cohesion made a similar decision. I had been aware of these links before I agreed to speak (there is no point in inviting further legal action by going into detail). But I was not prepared to appear knowing that those who were promoting IslamExpo as a genuine forum for dialogue were closing down the very debate they claimed to be fostering. I was later pleased to discover that government ministers Stephen Timms and Shahid Malik also made the decision not appear on a Hamas platform.
It is true that not all Islamists are violent. Nor should al-Qaida be put in the same category as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian parent organisation of Hamas. There are important distinctions to be made here. But the Islamist ideology promoted by the British manifestations of the Brotherhood, such as the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, the British Muslim Initiative, the Muslim Association of Britain and IslamExpo itself brings its own dangers. These do not threaten British democracy but they do have a pernicious effect, especially on young Muslims in this country who fall under their influence. This is where the danger lies and the threat is very real.