Monday, 21 May 2007

Polls opinions apart


Opinion polls are very popular with politicians and the public alike. Properly administered they can provide a good gauge of public opinion, enable political parties to determine the popularity of policies between elections and often indicate where those elections are heading. They can also be cleverly used to frame or justify a particular viewpoint. Today Muslim opinion has never been more important. In the battlefield for ideas where is the Muslim barometer heading. Radicalisation, extremism, Islamism is the new watchwords by which Muslims are measured. The new front of this battle covers not opposition to violent terrorism but to Shariah itself - the Islamic law.The Policy Exchange a right wing think tank who in February produced a report entitled “Living Apart Together” made extensive use of a survey they commissioned within the Muslim community to back several key assumptions of their thesis. Arguing that there is a growing problem in Britain with an increasingly “radicalised” Muslim youth. This radicalisation is blamed at the door of “Political Islam” in their view adherents of which: “advocate concepts of political justice and a social order which are not compatible with modern western ideas of individual freedom, the equality of men and women, fundamental human rights and democratic government under the rule of law.” Much media attention surrounding the report focused upon one key finding of the survey they commissioned in which they claimed “37% of 16 to 24 year olds prefer Shariah law to British Law”. Predictably the media had a field day warning of “demands for Shariah”, playing on middle Englander fears of public lashings in town squares, or the banning of alcohol. Yet the question which was carefully framed with the words “If I could choose, I would prefer to live in Britain under shariah law…”The narrative being developed is to marginalise anyone that holds the Shariah dear for solutions to political problems. The Policy Exchange report singled out "Islamism", describing it as "not only a security problem, but also a cultural problem". Rather bizarrely Muslim adherence to Islam and support for Shariah is attributed to self-loathing and confusion – “Islamism is only one expression of a wider cultural problem of self-loathing and confusion in the West”. As if engendering support for British foreign policy is only a matter of clearing up a few misconceptions. As if Islam, with its hundreds of years of experience and success in guiding diverse peoples in one polity could only be considered of as knee-jerk or reactionary.There is of course an alternative version of poll fed reality, and it is conveniently glossed over in western circles, yet is becoming harder to ignore. This perception stems from a sea change which is developing in the Muslim world which stems more from the realisation that the problems of occupation, the tyranny of authoritarian dictatorships and decades of colonial inspired mismanagement all require an alternative political vision. That Islam provides alternatives to the real economic, social and political problems faced is no surprise to students of Islamic history. The Caliphate enabled stability and progress throughout Muslim lands, and only declined in effectiveness through weakness in the application of Muslims to its principles rather than any problem in Islam.The reality that cannot be ignored is that recent political polls in Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq have all pointed to the leadership of Islamic political parties and the desire of Muslims to be ruled by Shariah rather than secular law. This reality is backed by poll after poll, and survey after survey. The centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan in a survey across the Arab world entitled “Revisiting the Arab Street” found that two thirds of respondents in Jordan, Egypt and Palestine stated that the Shariah should be the only source of legislation, with the remaining third believing it should be a source. In Lebanon and Syria the proportions were reversed. It was also instructive to note that Arabs believed their societal values as more appropriate for today, associating Western societies with high levels of social problems, with their own (Islamic) religious, social and family values providing greater tranquillity. There was also virtually unanimous condemnation for the US/UK invasion of Iraq.The Pew Global attitudes survey of July 2005 also highlighted the greater involvement of Islam in the politics of Muslim countries:“The balance of opinion in predominantly Muslim countries is that Islam is playing a greater role in politics – and most welcome that development. Turkey is a clear exception; the public there is divided about whether a greater role for Islam in the political life of that country is desirable”. Perhaps the most explicit recent indication of support for Muslims taking the Islamic political steps forward, comes in the Project of the Program on International Policy Attitudes from the University of Maryland published by in April of this year.Their findings expressed strong support for the re-establishment of the Islamic state (Caliphate/Khilafah): “Large majorities in most countries support the goals of requiring a strict application of shariah, keeping out Western values, and even unifying all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state”. But contrary to those that seek to classify Islamic political revival as merely a pre-cursor to violence and instability the survey respondents from Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan and Indonesia also expressed: “Majorities or pluralities also reject the idea that violent conflict between Muslim and Western culture is inevitable and say that it is possible to find common ground.” With increasing interconnection of the world through trade and communication seen as a positive. And perhaps the strongest contradiction of the notion that Caliphate is only sought by those that want to wage a war against civilians in the west, there was overwhelming opposition to violence against civilians.That many Muslims in the UK share the aim of their brothers seeking political change in the Muslim world should hardly be surprising, many hail from the Muslim world, and most Muslims are acutely aware of the problems of Iraq, Palestine and other troubled corners of the Ummah. But that aim is very much directed to the Muslim world, and not Britain, which has little history of support or even a basic understanding of Islam. Perhaps the best parallel for the non-Muslims to understand this relationship is when several of the early companions of the Prophet (saw) emigrated to Abyssinia and sought refuge under the Negus (King). Despite the unwarranted attentions of Quraysh who attempted to sway the Negus into turning his visitors over for more torture, they were given leave to stay. Records indicate that as a community those Muslims living in Abyssinia were respectful of their hosts, model citizens and not involved in the political struggle that was being waged throughout the Arab peninsula which eventually led to the first Islamic state in those lands.It seems the real battle for ideas in Britain today is over whether the hearts and minds of those stirring issues between different faith groups can accept the inevitability of peaceful political change which is coming in the Muslim world, whilst accepting that Muslims too can live peacefully in their midst.

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