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.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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