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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.