BY ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS
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.
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.
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