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Wednesday 30th September 2009
Paying for Political Islam


This November, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) will be holding its course on political Islam and, like the last one, it is not without its controversial speakers.

I don't have many fans in the SOAS political Islam course; this is mainly because the think tank for which I work was instrumental in preventing the entry into the UK of one of its prominent invitees, Ibrahim el Moussawi.  Moussawi, the head of Hezbollah's propaganda station al Manar TV, was due to address the same course in March of this year until the Home Secretary refused him an entry visa at the last minute.  SOAS, for their part, were more than happy to play host to a man who heads a TV channel which is banned in most of Europe because of its extreme antisemitism and promotion and incitement of violence.

The course, which is priced at just under £2000 per person, is aimed at police and civil servants who wish to learn more about Islamism.  In the coming years, having police and members of the security services who are well versed on the history and ideology of political Islam will be absolutely crucial and the SOAS course is, in principle, a very important programme.  It is a pity therefore, that the course convenors have wasted this opportunity by showcasing and paying a number of speakers who will be unable to provide an objective view on the subject.

Although this year SOAS have not attempted to hire a member of a terrorist group, and there are a number of very good lecturers, such as Joas Wanamakers, there are two speakers who should not be paid to teach government staff.  The first is Kemal Helbawy, the former spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Europe, who has played a pivotal role in establishing the MB network in the UK.  He founded both the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and the Muslim Welfare House (MWH) in the 90s, with both groups seeing substantial success in propagating the MB ideology in the UK.  He is also known for his support for Hamas terrorism and a month after 7/7, when Tony Blair stated that suicide bombing was wrong under any circumstances, including in Israel, Helbawy condemned him: "Well he is wrong. It is as simple as that! He is not a Mufti. He is a British Statesman."  More recently, he told a BBC Arabic interviewer that Israeli children were legitimate targets for terrorist attacks.

Helbawy will be joined this time by Noman Haneef, who is advertised on the SOAS site as undertaking a PHD on Hizb ut Tahrir (HT) and as a lecturer at Birkbeck College and Royal Holloway.  What the synopsis fails to mention is that Haneef is also, at best, an apologist for HT and their ideology.  Formerly involved with the group himself, he is heavily critical of former HT members who have identified the HT ideology as a potential security and societal threat.  On his blog he has also written a number of rambling and long-winded articles explaining that HT represent nothing more than harmless exponents of classical Islam. 

In his paranoid attack on my co blogger Shiraz Maher, Haneef criticises him for writing that "Islamist terrorism does not exist in a vacuum. Like other social phenomena, it operates within a wider infrastructure, designed to achieve specific ends. In this case, that is the political ideology of Islamism, an idea distinct and different from Islam the religion."  Haneef's response to this concise and correct identification of the root of jihadist terror is that "The issue is not terrorism but a concerted attack on the ideas of political Islam and specifically those concerning the Caliphate, Islamic Universalism and jihad."  For him, attempts to re establish the Caliphate and the concept of jihad are completely disconnected from jihadist terrorism; a claim that could only be conjured up by an apologist for a sectarian and supremacist ideology.  What use then, is a man who refuses to accept the ideological underpinnings of Islamist terror?  If anyone attending Haneef's lecture at SOAS thinks they may not be able to make it, here is my synopsis of what I think he will say: "Political Islam, and in particular the perceived duty of re establishing the Caliphate, are the products of pure Islamic teachings and pose no threat to the secular world.  Those who connect the terror threat with the Islamist ideology are Mi5 stooges and Islamophobes ."   

As exponents and supporters of Islamism, Helbawy and Haneef are no doubt in a good position to teach about the subject and I suppose we could learn something from them.  Using tax payer money to pay them for this service, as will be the case with many of the attendees, is absurd, as is the notion that their lectures will be of a balanced and objective nature.

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October 2nd, 2009
7:10 AM
if you think 'neoconservative' is an insult, I don't quite understand why you take YOUR money from a neoconservative think tank run by an islamophobe, and why you write for a neoconservative magazine. Where else are the insults in my last post? These people might have distasteful views (though not all that bad when you think about what some Islamists think) but the proof that you've not really got much grounds for complaint on this particular course is that you imemdiately shift to the BNP/Klan comparisons, which do not work, it's just a modified version of godwin's law at work here. This SOAS course is not about 'the neo-Nazi threat' and it's not about 'the Islamist threat' either, no matter what you might pretend, and immediately shifting to these false definitions underlines the thin ice you're on. The course is about political islam - stick to the facts. The two people invited might have extreme views on Israel/Palestine but one teaches at two separate British universities for God's sake, it's not like he's some sort of David Duke equivalent. Just because you happen to dislike him, and disagree with him, doesn't invalidate his views or make him unworthy of speaking at this event - and as for 'others also know about Islamism', why does Helbawy, who runs a think tank, have any less expertise than I dunno Douglas Murray, who I'm sure would be on your 'list of approved speakers' despite HIS many objectionable views and despite his lack of yer actual credentials on the topic? this is the problem with so many of your blog posts (much less so Maher's) - they're so often written in a 'feel the outrage' style that's at odds with what are quite honestly not especially worrying things, not least this political islam course. I mean, if you were worried about Haneef taking public money then shouldn't you be writing blog posts ad neauseam as to why two well-respected UK universities pay him - DIRECTLY - with public money? But you haven't. This is just your annual 'we hate teh Soas nazis' post; I'm sure there'll be another one next year until the list of speakers is just you and your CSC mates. If you actually beleived in free speech you'd welcome the presence of these people, especially the not-really-extremist-at-all Haneef, at these events. They might well tell delegates that Islamism is the answer, not the problem, but you seem to have a very odd view of the delegates at the course - do you seriously think they'll think everything they hear is true, even when other speakers directly contradict it? A very odd view of what academic debate is. both your blog post and comment are based on this 'idiosyncratic' view of what the SOAS course is, and what academic study is. Those attending aren't unthinking drones - this is not policy being dictated. as usual, the Neoconservative CSC wants to limit debate, not encourage it.

October 1st, 2009
5:10 PM
There is no such thing as 'Islamism' except in the minds and agenda of those who don't want to face the fact that Islam is the problem and the threat: Book of Jihad, p 580,Maktba Dar-us-Salam, publishers of Sahih al-Bukhari: "Jihad is holy fighting in Allah's Cause with full force of weaponry. It is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its Pillars. By Jihad Islam is established, Allah is made superior and He becomes the only God who may be worshiped. By Jihad, Islam is propagated and made superior. By abandoning Jihad (may Allah protect us from that), Islam is destroyed and Muslims fall into an inferior position. Their honor is lost, their lands are stolen, and Muslim rule and authority vanish. Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim. He who tries to escape this duty dies as a hypocrite." Muhammad Sa'id Ramadan al-Buti, a contemporary Al-Azhar University scholar, wrote that "the verse (9:5 the Ayt al-Sayf, the Sword Verse: "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war")does not leave any room in the mind to conjecture about what is called defensive war. This verse asserts that holy war, which is demanded in Islamic law, is not a defensive war because it could legitimately be an offensive war. That is the apex and most honorable of all holy wars. Its goal is the exaltation of the word of God, the construction of Islamic society, and the establishment of God's kingdom on earth regardless of the means. It is legal to carry on an offensive holy war." Source: Muhammad Sa'id Ramadan al-Buti, Jurisprudence in Muhammad's Biography (Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 2001) pp 323-4 Peace or Jihad? Abrogation in Islam

Alexander Melea...
October 1st, 2009
2:10 PM
Steve, you seem to spend a lot of your time and energy commenting on my blog while at the same time insulting me. I suggest you stop reading it if you dont like it, I think I'll survive. As far as your argument goes, I think you need to consider the following: - 'slightly dodgy views' - I'm sorry, is being a proponent of infanticide,as Helbawy has confirmed he is, not such a big deal then? - Would you then be ok with a seminar on neo Nazism and white supremacism which show cased David Duke of the KKK or Andrew Brons of the BNP? - If so, would you also be ok with the fact that this course was aimed at teaching government staff about the neo-Nazi threat? And that this £2000 a head course was being paid for with your money? - Dont you think there are people out there who know as much about political Islam who are not themselves Islamists who can do just as good a job as Helbawy and co? Why, then is SOAS so keen on hiring these guys every year? - What Helbawy and co will say to those who really do need to learn about Islamism is that Islamism is part of the solution, not the problem. This will get us NOWHERE

October 1st, 2009
9:10 AM
Inviting people who support some suicide bombings (to speak - NOT to teach, people who attend are free to disagree don't you know) might look distasteful, but surely they are voices which need to be listened to by those who are interested in the subject. Put simply, these people can offer something to the course. They might have opinions you disagree with, and these might look distasteful, but they should neither be banned from speaking nor be un-invited because a neoconservative, Alex Hitchens, happens to dislike their views. Again, as well, you are mistaken in thinking that these people are 'teaching' - they are there to be listened to, not to have their opinions blindly assimilated as the gospel truth. In fact everything about this post is pretty lightweight. They might be being paid a small amount to speak, but the 'taxpayers' money' thing is really a very minor obstacle isn't it? Are people from the govt meant to withdraw from this week-long event because a couple of the speakers have slightly dodgy views? won't that mean that the govt employees are less informed, not more? I don't quite understand the point of this blog post. The speakers don't pretend to be objective, you can read that in their biogs - and if, say, Alex Hitchens was speaking, he wouldn't be objective either, since he works for a neoconservative think-tank run by an islamophobe. I think you are misrepresenting both the event and the speakers at it.

September 30th, 2009
4:09 PM
I assume then that you would agree with the rest of Quilliam Foundation in inviting Wilders to the UK as well?

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About Focus on Islamism

Focus on Islamism is a blog dedicated to analysing and exposing the modern ideological phenomenon known as Islamism.

Shiraz Maher is a writer and broadcaster.

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens is a PhD student at King's College, London.  He has contributed to various online and printed publications including, The Daily Telegraph, Lebanon's Daily Star, Standpoint and NOWLebanon. 

To contact the authors, click here

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