Opinion and Editorial from the Policy Exchange team.
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Not a vote has yet been cast in the Scottish Parliament elections, scheduled for May 5th. So confident that a nationalist majority is already in the bag, however, the pro-independence campaign is already planning life after victory.
On 2 February, the Austrian Public Broadcasting service (ÖRF) carried an article reporting criticism of the measures contained in the government’s anti-terror package, which is currently under consultation. The criticism comes from the Association of Judges (Die Richtervereinigung – RV), certain senior lawyers, and the domestic security and intelligence agency (Das Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung – BfVT).
For many watching, the inauguration of Joe Biden was a moving experience. The COVID crisis has been an unsettling reminder of the fragility of humanity. And with the shocking, lawless scenes of rioters storming the Capitol fresh in the memory, when democracy itself seemed in peril, the 46th US President’s theme of unity offered the uplifting prospect of better times just around the corner. “With unity we can do great things” he promised.
Related Content The forthcoming white paper should be cautiously welcomed. While not perfect, these proposals to enhance political accountability are long overdue, writes Robert Ede. On first impression, a government white paper on legislative reform may appear...
The German debate on Islamism continues, as demonstrated by the publication yesterday (Sunday 7 February) by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of an interesting interview with Lorenzo Vidino, the author of The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West and other books and articles about Islamism in Europe and the United States. Vidino is also the Director of the Extremism Programme at George Washington University, and an adviser to the Observatory on Political Islam recently established in Vienna. The interview was conducted by Christian Meier and the main focus was the nature and influence of Islamist groups in western societies – and the challenge these represent.
The Swiss German-language newspaper of record, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, carried an interview on 5 February with Alice Schwarzer, one of the the most prominent feminist activists in Europe over the last 50 years, a former student of Michel Foucault and an associate of Sartre and Beauvoir. The interview concerns the proposed ban on the face covering for women (the niqab or burqa), which will be decided in a referendum on 7 March. The Federal Government has recommended rejecting the proposal. Schwarzer argues passionately that it should be accepted. Her arguments are based on claims about human dignity, the equal worth of women, the way in which the veil in general is a reflection of the subordination of women to men in Islamic jurisprudence, and the use by Islamists of this jurisprudence to promote Islamist-inflected norms within Muslim communities in Switzerland and in Europe more widely.
The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) criticises French government for interfering in Islamic affairs
On 24 January, the London based Al-Quds Al-Arabi published a report about a communiqué issued by the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS). In this communiqué, the IUMS’s Secretary-General Ali Al-Qara Daghi called on the French government to stop interfering in Islamic affairs and to treat Islam like any other religion.
On 14 January 2021, Dominic Grieve published the report of his Independent Commission into Governance and Vetting within Islamic Relief. This body had been set up four months earlier after Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) had been exposed to “reputational damage” because of “the unacceptable comments and views of a small number of trustees and a member of its senior staff”. As described previously on this blog, the controversies surrounding Islamic relief had led a number of governments, including the United States, to reconsider their relations with the group.
The distinguished Algerian novelist, essayist and journalist, Kamel Daoud, has written in Le Monde (29 January 2021) an article under the title, “France has what it takes to shape the future of Islam”. He compares the situation in France favourably with that in Muslim-majority states. The former, he says, has shown a willingness to bring into the open key issues about a Muslim crisis of identity, and the challenges of dealing with domestic terrorism; he sees in Paris a government which is trying to come to terms with its colonial past. By contrast, in many Muslim-majority states he sees only the suppression of freedom of thought and expression. According to Daoud, this opens up the possibility – through a mixture of negotiation and pressure – of creating a specifically French and republican Islam and providing a model for other countries facing the same challenge. He calls on French Muslim leaders to give priority to the human not the divine; to support freedom of conscience; and to show that it is possible to live one’s faith without impinging on the lives, or rights, of others.
On 21 January the French Centrist weekly, L’Express, published a long and trenchant interview with Bernard Rougier, the university professor and Middle East specialist, on the occasion of a new and expanded edition of his 2020 book, Les territoires conquis de l’islamisme (“The Territories Conquered by Islamism”). The interview covers the major themes of the book – notably its claim that Islamists have created in France (and by extension elsewhere) a social space dominated by Islamist ideology which enables them to act as gatekeepers to sometimes widely separated Muslim communities. Rougier argues that they are to some extent facilitated in this endeavour by a State that increasingly seems to model its interaction with such communities on “an Ottoman or Lebanese model” of consociationalism. Rougier believes that this is fundamentally destructive of France’s republican and secular tradition. He also thinks that it enables Islamists to blur the important distinction between Islamism as an ideology and Islam as a faith system, a sociology and a civilisation.