As Sayeeda Warsi prepares to take on Nick Griffin on BBC's Question Time next week, she and others in the mainstream of British politics would do well to read the Quilliam Foundation's excellent new report, In Defence of British Muslims: A response to BNP racist propaganda. The report provides a sharp, concise, coherent and well-argued rebuttal of the far-right's hatred towards Muslims, and a profound rejection of the BNP's claim to represent 'Britishness'.
Written by Lucy James, the publication draws clear distinctions between Islamism, Wahhabi literalist interpretations of Islam, and other forms of Islam, and demonstrates clearly what any sensible person knows: that Nick Griffin's sweeping generalisations about the Muslim community are as ridiculous as they are dangerous. As the author notes, "when the Wahhabi literalist mindset combines with Islamism, this can lead to the creation of jihadist readings of scripture that can result in militant Islamism." However, this is a very narrow, distinct brand within Islam, and is not representative of the vast majority of law-abiding, peace-loving, decent, hospitable Muslims. "The BNP appear to have not only adopted Wahhabi literalism alongside Islamist principles of an Islamic state, but to have generalised them as representative of Islam as a whole," writes James.
In the following powerful passage, James sums up the heart of the issue - that the BNP and the Islamists, James argues, feed off each other:
Extremism needs - indeed breeds - extremism. Islamists bolster the message of organisations like the BNP; the BNP bolster the message of the Islamists. The BNP and Islamists do actually share many commonalities in terms of tactics and the ways in which they operate. They both, for example, share the same binary and divisive world views, denigrating cultures that they feel are opposed to their own: the Muslims versus the 'kufr' ('unbelievers', often the West) and the indigenous White-British versus immigrant invaders. Along with such a worldview necessarily comes a reliance on generalisations and a deliberate dismissal of nuance: for Islamists all non-Muslims are in a conspiracy against Muslims, and for the BNP all Muslims are in a conspiracy against the White-British."
Although they have vastly differing ideological origins and different ultimate destinations, both thrive on manipulating fears, jumping on grievances, and stoking the fires of discontent, scapegoating and hatred.
James and the Quilliam Foundation, established by ex-Islamists Ed Husain and Maajid Nawaz, have done a superb job in countering, point by point, many of Nick Griffin and the BNP's most outrageous accusations against Muslims. These point by point rebuttals are well worth reading. The paper concludes with the observation that the BNP "repeatedly portray Islamists as representing all Muslims, but consistently fail to provide adequate evidence for their claims". The BNP "sensationalise unacceptable practices within Islam" and seek to demonise all Muslims by tarring them with the same brush.
As James rightly concludes, "it is now imperative that the British electorate reclaim the 'British' from the British National Party, just as we have asked Muslims to reclaim 'Islam' from the Islamists." For, as she notes earlier in the report:
"it is not race or religion that matters, but what type of person someone is; individual qualities rather than to what 'faith' or 'ethnic' category they belong. In the final analysis, it is only those who uphold - rather than seek to destroy - the British values of liberty, freedom, equality and democracy that should be considered part of the British mainstream."