Why Muslims must speak out against terrorism

I’m afraid we have to be at the forefront of “Not in our name” campaigns, whether we like it or not.

In 2007, the American Muslim writer and activist Ali Eteraz wrote, on the Huffington Post site:

The amount of disinformation about Muslims is disconcerting. One popular smear is that Muslims are in an alliance with the left to take over the west; it is an allegation that the far right loves to use.

The other, equally popular and equally absurd, idea is that Muslims do not condemn terrorism. This too makes its way into culture from the right (though judging by comments to my last post, it's diffused to some members of the left). Though it is subtler, and argues from insinuation, it is no less pernicious. The implication is that every Muslim in the world who doesn't engage in terrorism is nevertheless a latent supporter, or enabler, of terrorism because he doesn't make loud proclamations against it.

He's right, of course. It is nonsensical and offensive to pretend that Muslims who are silent about terrorist atrocities carried out by other Muslims are somehow implicated in those acts or approve of them. In such cases, silence does not equal consent.

But, in recent years, I have come to the view that Muslims need to speak out much more than we already do against terrorism and violence committed in the name of Islam. Not because "non-Muslims" or "the west" or "the government" expect us to, but because we should be outraged, indignant, frustrated and angry at the level to which some of our fellow Muslims -- a tiny minority, I hasten to add! -- have stooped, and the manner in which they have tarnished the good name of Islam, the Quran and the Prophet.

I used to argue, like Eteraz and others, that we shouldn't have to speak out or condemn Muslim terrrorism because of the blatant double standard: why weren't Hindus asked to condemn the behaviour of the RSS in India? Why weren't Catholics asked to condemn the actions of the IRA? Why the singling out of Muslims?

But the double standard argument is, I believe, now irrelevant. We're not in the playground. Who cares what others have to do, are expected to do or are asked to do? Let's just focus on what we should be doing -- and I believe Muslims should be speaking out and protesting against Muslim atrocities with as much zeal and passion and anger as we do against, say, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank or the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.

In the past few weeks, Muslims across the world have been outraged by the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the botched raid on the Turkish aid flotilla, which killed nine activists. In contrast, we have been largely silent about the horrific violence in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan -- which, let's face it, is neither Islamic nor a republic -- where 93 people were killed in gun and grenade attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore and where, on Friday, 42 people were killed in a terroist attack on one of the country's best-known Sufi shrines (also in Lahore).

What does that say about our priorities?

I am not arguing that Israeli atrocities or US war crimes should be ignored or forgotten. Not at all. But I am saying that brutal, cold-blooded attacks on religious shrines, which kill dozens of innocent people in the middle of prayer, in a nation that describes itself as "Islamic", should disgust and dismay every single believing Muslim.

If we care about our faith -- its purity, its identity, its reputation -- we have to speak out and condemn acts of terror committed by fellow Muslims in the name of Islam. We have to declare, as we did as British citizens over the Iraq war in 2003, "Not in our name."

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Birmingham Labour members were almost disenfranchised, until Corbyn intervened

Newer members were to be denied a say in selecting candidates.

For decades, Labour members in Birmingham have had to wait for a year after joining the party to vote to select local candidates – unlike the six-month national rule. New ward boundaries for Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in Europe, will be contested for the first time next year during an all-out election – and a reduction from 120 to 101 members means every Labour candidate, including sitting councillors, must be selected.

However, Labour’s Birmingham Board decided that to vote in the upcoming selection meetings, members must have been in the party for a year prior to their call for candidate applications in 2016. As a result, if you wanted to have a say, the cut-off date for being a party member was July 2015: two years ago.

It took the intervention of Jeremy Corbyn turning up at an obscure local meeting in order to vote for this two-year cut-off date to be replaced by a six-month minimum period. This has enfranchised the vast majority of Labour members, many of whom were increasingly annoyed with the original decisions taken by the Birmingham Board.

One of those who would have been disenfranchised if the board had had its way is Birmingham councillor Liz Clements, who re-joined the party as soon as Corbyn was first elected leader in 2015. Twenty years ago, she was an Oxfordshire County Councillor, and, in 1999, a European parliamentary candidate. While studying at at Oxford, in the same year as Yvette Cooper, she chaired the university Labour Club for a term in 1989. This year she was selected to contest the marginal Hall Green ward in a by-election, and, had the original rules been in place, she would have been unable to vote for herself (or anyone else) to be selected for council elections next year.

She says: “For me it was simply a matter of fairness and democracy. I couldn’t understand why the national rule wasn’t being applied. I found it very odd that I could seek selection as a councillor and get elected before I’d be eligible to vote in a selection meeting myself.”

She feels the two-year cut-off would have sent a message to new joiners and re-joiners alike that they were “second-class members”.

"During the general election we succeeded in firing up our membership with enthusiasm for the Labour manifesto and for our Labour candidates – people came out to campaign in large numbers. The proposed freeze date was divisive and would have discouraged newer members from campaigning in next year’s council elections.”

Before the Birmingham Board met, a large number of branch and constituency-level Labour groups passed motions calling for the freeze date to be scrapped. Councillor Clements was not at the Board’s meeting, so can’t comment on why they chose to ignore the members. From speaking with other party members, it's clear there was a widespread belief that this was done deliberately so unpopular councillors could cling to power.

With every ward holding selection meetings, there is am opportunity to clear out the dead weight and for fresh talent to revitalise the council, which is currently struggling to keep up with the austerity cuts imposed by central government. Some sitting councillors are retiring or facing scrutiny of their records, and may not even be shortlisted for selection. The Birmingham Board, after all, can veto any candidate before selection, including current councillors with poor attendance and casework records.

It therefore isn’t surprising that Councillor Clements doesn’t believe these rule changes will actually result in different candidates being selected. For her, it was about Labour values. “Corbyn listened to members and asserted the importance of democracy, fairness and inclusion”.

One reason it is arguable the selected candidates would remain the same is that Birmingham is struggling to attract enough people to stand for selection in the first place. There is, particularly, a shortage of women putting themselves forward. Liam Byrne MP is understood to have suggested relaxing the Labour Party rule demanding that at least one woman in selected in multi-member seats. It would be an extremely unpopular decision with many members, but there aren’t currently enough women candidates for the 32 two-member wards.

Councillor Clements says we should stick to the party’s rules as they are, but we need more women and BAME candidates. There are other options being suggested; re-opening nominations if no women have declared an interest in time, allow some wards to select two men if a neighbouring single-member ward selects a woman, relax the rule entirely, demand local parties re-advertise the space and find women candidates, or something else entirely.

Selections are underway, but most will take place in September, as many wards now need to find larger venues to hold the meetings. This will give candidates eight months to campaign before the Birmingham City Council elections next May.

Its current (and likely future) leader, John Clancy will almost certainly remain in post. Results from the general election showed many areas, previously thought to be unwinnable or marginal for Labour, have become either safe or eminently winnable. If Labour can keep itself above 40 per cent in the polls, we may well see a huge influx of new councillors representing people across Birmingham. The difference now Corbyn has stepped in, is that there is a real chance most candidates and councillors will be united by a belief in Corbyn, and his manifesto.

David Barker is a writer and journalist based in Birmingham, and press officer for Bournville Labour Party