We should all recall Theresa May’s promotion of The Counter Extremism and Security Act 2015 which re-enforced the definition of extremism as being opposed to ‘British values’. In her plugging of what was then a Bill, she tediously repeated slogans and cheap catchphrases such as “upholding British values”, referring to extremism as promoting hatred, intolerance and division.
It is understandable that we would scoff at May’s words here. Many did. After all, it was May who in her capacity as Home Secretary, extradited two innocent Muslim men, Babar Ahmed and Talha Ahsan, to the US after they were held in a high security prison for several years without charge or trial. That same overt hypocrisy made others rally against her up until this very election.
It would therefore be entirely reasonable for British Muslims to be repelled by May’s endorsement of British values and even feel a desire to be left out of her particular definition of what it means to be British that does not include Muslims.
The question that lies at the heart of this discussion is, how should Muslims respond to the monopolisation of Britishness by Islamophobes?
When I hear the term ‘British values’, I am immediately reminded of the comedian Stewart Lee’s satirical promotion of the IRA. He joked, “The IRA, they were decent British terrorists. They didn’t want to be British – but they were – and as such they couldn’t help but embody some fundamentally decent British Values…” Lee was mocking the typical remember-the-good-old-days-before-political correctness type of person who considers true Britishness to be lost in today’s modern country full of immigrants and mosques.
Their type of thinking stems from an inherent insecurity of one’s own culture and seeks to blame Muslim minorities for the perceived erosion of their national values. Consequently, it would be a great shame if Muslims allowed such people to make them feel uncertain about their own Britishness or sense of belonging in the UK. They want us to feel like that. It makes them stronger.
The self-perception of British Muslims as outsiders is not a modern phenomenon and it can be attributed to post 1947 Indian and Pakistani immigrants to the UK. Historically, this reinforced the soft power upon the mentally defeated. While most immigrants did not adopt a fully colonised mindset, many have been afflicted with varying levels of inferiority complexes.
Furthermore, in some cases this mindset would have inadvertently passed to the next generation, explaining some of the outsider sentiment felt by second and third generation Muslims today. It was only after 9/11 however that anti-Muslim hatred began to reap its ugly head in the UK and the same strand of racist British nationalists began to adopt Islamophobia as part of their hate speech.
This explains why some British Muslims feel hesitant to express any national loyalty – the idea that we may be espousing similar views to the BNP or the EDL is far too off putting even if we do truly love this country.
Unfortunately, there are also some so called Muslim figures who believe in this need to promote Britishness and a sense of national pride. Modernist ‘Muslim’ Taj Hargey is one such example who suggested that we introduce a law to “mix up the population of schools, so that immigrant groups are never predominant in any classroom.” He stated that we should think of the UK “as a prestigious golf club, the kind where membership is keenly sought after.” This bizarre sentiment is often echoed by a small minority of immigrant Muslims who genuinely view the UK with an unnatural level of awe and prestige.
The truth is, such people cannot believe their luck that they have been granted citizenship here. They still feel that sense of insecurity regarding their sense of belonging in this country and, as a result, overcompensate by repeatedly affirming their Britishness and by dismissing other immigrants as less British.
Such individuals pose as Muslims while disregarding basic tenants of Islam in order to be accepted here. This destructive attitude plays neatly into the narrative of British supremacists, who call for a total assimilation – not just integration – of Muslims in the UK. These are people who would like to eliminate any outward expression of Islam, a religion which they regard as a threat to their own sense of supremacy. Islam, being a strong, unwavering and fully operational faith exceeds the boundaries of British supremacists in terms of power and influence, rendering them uncomfortable.
In other words, they are only happy with us as long as we are small in number, ashamed of our faith and we do not seek to attain positions of influence. Clearly, modernist ‘Muslims’ are the ideal Muslims in the mind of Islamophobes.
In contrast, many British Muslims hold conservative Islamic values, some of which may not be in line with mainstream liberal thought. However we should not feel compelled to compromise our principles to better fit into this society. Nor should we buy into the extremist’s view of Britishness or view all expressions of national loyalty with hostility. So, while Theresa May suggests that we as a nation should affirm our dedication to British values, perhaps we should embrace this in a manner that would obliterate her Islamophobic agenda.
So how should we do this?
As Muslims we should popularise the truth: that we are proud Muslims who are confident of our status in this country. We will contribute to this society and practice our faith unwaveringly. Most importantly, we will actively campaign for the necessary changes we wish to see in our country. We will take part in the democratic process by voting tactfully and we do not allow those who hate us to influence our sense of identity. Most of all, we will challenge any national identity that refuses to treat us or anyone else as equal.
Such an attitude would essentially beat the Islamophobes at their own game, successfully uprooting the ‘us and them’ narrative which seeks to make it impossible for Muslims to truly love and feel part of this country. After all, if extremists can hijack Islamic words to make us more isolated from society, why can’t we play the same tactic against them, and through it create a better society for all?