Questions about identity and loyalty among the Muslims who have chosen to live in the West have been recurring themes since 9/11. As the number of suicide bombings and attempted attacks has mounted, so too has suspicion about the large and growing population of immigrants from the Muslim world. Especially among the working class and right-wing sections of the population, Muslims living in their midst are now seen as a fifth column, ready to wreak mayhem at the slightest pretext.
As the only Muslim many of my English friends know socially, I often find myself being addressed as a sort of spokesman for the Islamic world, a role I do not exactly relish. This happens more often late in the evening when several drinks have dissolved notions of political correctness. “Why,” I am asked earnestly. “Do Muslims come here if they hate our laws and lifestyle? Why do the ones living here not return to where they came from if they are not willing to make any attempt to get along with the rest of us? And why do they all stick together all the time?”Patiently, I explain that immigrants, whether Muslim or not, are forced to leave their homes due to political or economic conditions, so it is often not really a matter of choice. Many of them are from a conservative background, and are shocked by the easygoing attitudes and personal choices that have evolved in the West. As to Muslims who have been born and brought up in Europe, they find themselves caught between two cultures: exposed to a traditional home environment, they are expected to conform to a Western lifestyle at school and at work. This produces an identity crisis that leads some of them to choose extremism to resolve and simplify these dilemmas. In short, I mouth a bunch of clichés without being sure how many of them are really valid.
These conversations usually take place after some terrorist outrage, or an unusually bizarre utterance from an extremist. Just the other day, a survey among Muslim university students in Britain caused a stir among the media. Conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Centre for Social Cohesion, ‘Islam on Campus’ has thrown up some results that have startled observers. As Patrick Sawer writes in the Daily Telegraph of on July 28: “The findings will concern police chiefs, the security services and ministers who are struggling with radicalisation among Muslim communities.”
Among these findings is the figure of 40 per cent of those surveyed who support the introduction of Shariah into UK laws for Muslims; 30 per cent said that killings in the name of religion is justified; 40 per cent did not think it was all right for Muslim men and women to meet freely; 25 per cent were of the view that men and women were not equal in God’s eyes; 25 per cent had little or no respect for gays; 30 per cent supported a worldwide Islamic caliphate; over 50 per cent supported the creation of an Islamic party to represent Muslims in the British Parliament; and a third didn’t know or think that Islam was compatible with Western democracy.”
The authors of the survey, conducted on 12 British campuses, were of the view that many of these extreme views had been planted by Hizb ut-Tahrir, the militant organisation that seeks a global Islamic government. In their opinion, this kind of thinking made it easy for extremists to recruit radicalised young Muslims from university campuses. Although some student bodies have denounced this study as being too narrow, and for having polled only some 600 students, it is especially disturbing as it focuses on university students, a group that had earlier been assumed to be less prone to extremism. Now observers are asking: what about the less educated Muslims?
Thus far, the received wisdom had been that secular education was the antidote to religious extremism. But as we have seen elsewhere, highly educated Muslims have been at the forefront of the global jihad. Many of the 9/11 suicide bombers had degrees from Western universities. Time and again, those providing the intellectual and moral justification for terrorism have been intelligent, educated people adept at distorting the scriptures to justify killing innocent people.
Before the publication of this survey, the Lord Chief Justice had caused a controversy by suggesting that elements of the Shariah relating to personal and financial affairs of Muslims could be incorporated into British law. A firestorm of protest followed. A flavour of the response is captured in this letter to the editor of the Daily Telegraph from E.J. Zuiderwijk of Cambridge:
“Shariah, which originated in medieval, desert societies, is a system invented by men, controlled by men, and executed by men. Centuries of conditioning may have made Shariah acceptable to some, but it is the last thing one would knowingly want to inflict on any woman in Britain. I suggest that the depressingly naïve remarks by the Lord Chief Justice and, earlier, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, can be explained by the fact those positions are not occupied by women.”
And in response to a remark by Shahid Malik, a Labour MP, that British Muslims now felt like “aliens in their own country”, Dominic Kirkham writes to the editor of The Independent from Manchester: “…Just a couple of recent personal examples. When I was handing round a plate of cakes at an introductory session of an adult learning programme to a mixed ethnic and gender group, all were grateful except the Muslims, who, instead of accepting like everybody else, questioned what the cakes were made of as it might be against their religion to accept. In another mixed group learning how to handle and use tools, the informal instruction was challenged by a Muslim woman who warned that it was against her religion for a man to touch a woman.
“And so it goes on. In seemingly every area of cultural contact, however open and welcoming, Muslims choose to distance themselves from the generality on the basis of ‘their religion’. Unless they themselves are prepared to question the arcane prejudices that lie at the root of ‘their religion’ they will continue to feel like aliens in normal society by their own choice.”
Clearly, many Muslims who have chosen to live in the West are not doing themselves any favours by their stand-offish behaviour and their bizarre views.