Muslim Brotherhood in Britain: Amid Accusations of Terrorism and the Act of Defense to Prevent Terrorism
Mohamed Masharqa & Assad Kanjo
After the upset victory of Brexit supporters and the commencement of a new round of talks in Brussels; it’s clear that there is a local consensus about Britain’s complete exit from the EU. The talks, which shall be finalized by March 2019, aim at rounding out the procedures for leaving Europe. Meanwhile, the majority of people and parliament members agree on the complete separation from the EU. However, there are some points of disagreement regarding the level and terms of the future relationship with Europe.
While such stands mainly focus on taking protective measures against waves of immigration that spread all over Europe, the EU demands burden distribution on all European countries. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem that these measures target more than 3 million Romans and Bulgarians, as well as other Eastern Europe citizens, who compete with British labor in all sectors(1). Prime Minister Theresa May said that Europeans in Britain don’t have to worry about their properties or future in the country, as rights are guaranteed to all Europeans. (2)
Thus, it has become clear that the hysterical fear of foreigners is only directed at Muslims and Middle Easterners in Britain, as they come from a different religious and cultural background. Inciting hostility against foreigners is not confined anymore to the right-wing that doesn’t hide its tendency towards racism. Such tendency can now be witnessed in many other circles inside the British society, including the conservative and liberal political classes.
This increasing tendency towards the right-wing has emerged from the terrorist attacks that have struck Britain and many European cities. While the Muslim community in Britain has become under suspicion; there were increasing demands for monitoring all the social and religious Islamic institutions, and putting them under the microscope. At the same time, there was a rapid increase in the number of centers and writings that started to follow up and dig deeper into the British Islamic movements’ speech. They have called for banning these movements by law, including the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
Muslims in Britain: The beginning of politicization
There isn’t a specific date to document the beginning of Muslims’ migration to Britain. However, it can be said that it has all started in the form of collective immigration waves, following the colonial era. After the British occupation of many Muslim countries at that time, Britain imported Muslim labor to help in the development of different areas and infrastructure, in addition to building bridges and digging tunnels. Official sources estimate the number of Muslims in Britain at 4.1 million people (based on 2016 census) (3). They are distributed across most British cities and regions. Nevertheless, it is estimated that half of the Muslim population live in London, while the rest are basically concentrated in Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff. Neighborhoods with a Muslim majority in Birmingham and Manchester are among the major Neighborhoods there.
Studies on the Islamic existence in Britain show that the politicization and fundamentalism wave has begun after the American war on Iraq. Before that, the activities of the Muslim community were basically focused on charity and the support of major causes in Palestine and Kashmir. The community was also involved in organizing the performance of Islamic rituals and traditions during the feasts and religious events. In that while, Muslim activists became members of Labor unions and anti-colonial left-wing movements supporting the causes of people worldwide.
After 2003, the Islamic organizations became involved in the movements against war in Iraq. A shift was noticed among the Muslim and Arab communities’ tendencies, as they have generally started to oppose the Labor party. This was shown in the elections, as they have either voted for the Liberal Democrats, or have chosen abstention.
The popularity of social media and digital revolution has facilitated the process of broadcasting the atrocities of the American war on Iraq and Afghanistan, massacres against civilians and the destruction of cities. This has participated in the shift that has occurred to younger generations of Muslims in Britain. Radicalism has become a way to express their identity, a sign of superiority and a sense of belonging to the greater Muslim Community. This has occurred as a reflection of the American president’s statements, leading the war to be a religious conflict. George Bush has considered the war to be a new “Crusade”. (4)
In this manner, such call of war seemed to be a war on Islam. In the beginning, moderate Islamic groups, as well as the “Salafi” fundamentalist and Islamic preaching or study groups have made use of that. Before long, these dogmatic codes that incite hostility fell in the hands of the Salafi Jihadist movements, such as Al-Qaeda and other similar organizations with intersecting practices. The years following war on Iraq have witnessed migration of youth who are seeking to learn religious teachings to mosques. These mosques were occupied by violent Jihadists, such as Abu Hamza Al-Masry, Abo Kotada and Omar Bakry Fostok.
Salafi’s terrorist centers: The loudest voices
In the meantime, many extremist groups and Islamic preachers who held violent ideas against the British society became celebrated and rose to notoriety. They regarded Britain as a society of infidelity and wrongdoing. Under Abu Hamza Al-Masry; Finsbury Park Mosque in London became a center for inciting hatred and violence. It has been regarded by the British society and media as an example of extremism that promotes terrorism. The British police broke into the Mosque and announced that they have found weapons and tear gas grenades, in addition to maps that cover major sites in London (6). As a result, Abu Hamza A-Masry was displaced from his position. However, he was allowed to preach just outside the mosque, in implementation of the British law, which guarantees freedom of speech. Later on, he was arrested and delivered to the USA, where he was prosecuted and convicted. He was sent to jail on the American soil, after being accused of terrorism and murder of American citizens. (7)
The same period of time witnessed the increasing influence of “Al-Muhajerun” Islamic group. They were considered to be the European extension of Al-Qaeda organization during the nineties, as they used to supply Jihadists in Afghanistan with men and money.
The group was established in the mid-eighties through the unification of several Salafi groups in Britain. Then it rose and became well known after the war on Iraq. It was established by the Syrian born Islamic preacher “Omar Bakry Fostok” and Anjem Choudary, and was banned in 2010. Nevertheless, in the last three years, “Al-Muhajerun” has pledged allegiance to ISIS and recognized Abu Bakr Al-Baghdady as their Khalifa (leader) (9).
Due to the strict security measures that were taken against them; “Almuhajerun” group’s supporters have operated undercover, using different titles. One of these alternative titles was “Al-Haja Lel Kahlifa” (The need for Khalifa). It was a group that urged the Umma (Muslim nation) to work for the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate (state), and turn the west into a part of the Muslim Umma. Other branches of “Almuhajerun” were also banned, such as: “Gamiaa Al-Da’wa Al-Islamia, and “Mashroa Al-Shariaa”. Observers say that there are thousands of supporters of these groups, which are considered to be one of the most extreme organizations promoting violence.
Muslim Brotherhood: The most influential group
Although the media and newspapers mainly focus on Salafis due to their controversial activities and statements; but in fact they are a minority within the Muslim community in Britain. Official facts indicate that MB’s various sub-groups are the most organized and financed party among British Muslims (10). Through many sophisticated networks of local centers, organizations and preachers; they predominate in the Islamic community in Britain. Moreover, they run TV channels, online newspapers and human rights organizations that are used on demand. They use them in political campaigns against all MB opponents in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Emirates and the Palestinian Authority. It is mainly their responsibility that Islam was politicized in Europe.
In his book: “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam”; Mark Curtis explains that Islamic movements operated under the wing of Britain and some Arab countries. This has occurred during the time of the Cold War, up to the present time. Ian Johnson, author of: “A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West”, says the same.
Both authors mentioned that since the 1950’s, and through their centers in Germany and Switzerland; MB members were used by circles in the west as a part of the anti-communism activities. Under the umbrella of religion; they were a main source of Inciting Muslims in the Soviet Union to take actions against the communist regime. MB members were also used in wars made against leftist and communist regimes in the Arab and Muslim countries.
By 1979; the West and USA started to mobilize against the Soviet existence in Afghanistan, with the support of their affiliated Arab regimes. At that time MB members in Europe and Britain were involved in the campaign. They recruited youth to immigrate to Afghanistan, in order to fight the Soviets there. This occurred before the Arab spring revolutions, which came later and raised the great expectations of Islamists to reach full power and announce their Caliphate. MB groups in Britain worked on recruitment and gaining ground within Muslim communities. They did that through focusing on greater Islamic causes, such as supporting Hamas that took over power in Gaza strip. Moreover, they also advocated the persecuted Islamists in Arab countries, where MB is banned by law.
After 2001, many MB significant leaders took refuge in Britain, such as Rashid Al-Ghannouchi, head of Al-Nahda Party in Tunisia, and Sadreddine Al-Bayanouni, controller General of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Ibrahim Mounir. Egyptian MB leaders were other examples of those who sought refuge there. Hence, the activity center of the Muslim Brotherhood’s International organization was transferred from Germany to Britain. (11)
A House of Commons of the United Kingdom’s study showed that MB has developed a new strategy to spread through the British society, by the early nineties. The study was made in response to the call of Ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, who has recommended monitoring the MB activities in Britain. It also showed that such strategy enabled MB to take over most of the Islamic centers and organizations, forming a supreme body for each of them. Thus, MB was able to form a network that links various Islamic organizations, unifying them in organized entities that are affiliated to MB itself. (10)
The past three years have witnessed extensive political and academic discussions, after the task of evaluating the MB status was assigned to a special committee. Mainly, there were two opinions in this regard, one supporting ban of the MB, while the other suggests allowing them to operate openly.
The first opinion regards MB as an organization related to terrorism but in an indirect way, as it incites hate speech that should be banned by law. This approach takes notice of another dimension that participates in exporting violence indirectly. It is represented in public politicization of religion through speeches, publications, mosques, religious lessons and seminars. Supporters of this opinion find that MB religious teach-ins play the role of preparatory schools that make Muslim youth ready for the next level. They expose the youth to a culture that is literally imported from Arab and Islamic countries, and then introduce it to them in English language. Such exposure sets a trap for youth, making them fall in the hands of Salafis, who hold a more extreme and violent ideology.
The second opinion regards MB in Britain as a guarantor or a defensive wall that prevents Muslim youth from falling in the hands of terrorists and more extreme organizations (13). Supporters of this approach think that banning such a popular and influential organization as MB; will lead its members to operate secretly, without being subject to any form of monitoring, transparency or legal accountability.
Apart from the British and Westerner approach to dealing with the MB phenomenon; several Muslim reformist intellectuals have started to question and criticize the MB speech in Europe (14). They disagree with the literal interpretation of religious texts that is used in Islamic religious speech. They also refuse applying these texts literally on Muslim communities in the west, without taking actuality and the laws that organize life in different societies into consideration. Over-simplification and mental laziness lead to the introduction of Qur’anic verses and Prophetic Hadith while overlooking its historical context and the occasions or circumstances of revelation. MB’s religious lessons and teach-ins pass over the other Islamic schools of thought. They regard them as nonconformists who don’t follow the teachings of religion, and who use mental logic that might lead them to infidelity. The Sunni, Salafi, Wahabi or MB’s speech regard those “other” Islamic schools as Shiaa or unbelievers.
However, Islamic movements in Europe faced a dilemma. They weren’t able to deal with their own ideology of accusing the “other” of unbelief, within the European context. They even regard “other” Muslims as unbelievers. However, the cultural and legal framework and context in European countries contradicts such ideology. This helped the ideologies that are against the society, regarding it as “a home for idol and disbelief, become widespread. Holders of these ideologies believe that the Muslims’ holly mission is proselytizing of Islam, and reinforcing emigrants’ communities to face the Westerner values and culture. The Salafi Jihadists interpreted such ideologies into practicing terrorism and hostility against the infidel state and its laws. This has occurred despite all the positive privileges ensured by the British law for followers of the Abrahamic (heavenly) religions. Freedom of belief and religion is guaranteed. Believers are allowed to practice their rituals and express their own religious and cultural identities and symbols, unlike the situation in some other European countries.
Deep-rooted racial values rearing their head
However, the actual status of tolerance is not that ideal.Deep-rooted discriminatory racial values can be noticed on the other side, although they are forbidden by law. A study was made in 2014, showing that Muslims in Britain face the worse discrimination in the job market, compared to any other minority. The study revealed that the British Muslims’ chance to get a job is 76% less than British white Christians, who share the same age and qualifications. (15)
A report issued by “Demoz” Center indicated that British Muslims are apparently not present in the country’s most significant jobs. (16) More than that, a survey conducted by the BBC revealed that 46% of Muslims believe that it is difficult to be a Muslim in Britain, due to the religious discrimination that they face. This is reflected in the parliamentary representation, where there are 13 Muslims, constituting 2% of the parliament members. It is relatively a large number compared with the past. Nevertheless, this number doesn’t reflect the actual number of Muslims in the country, as they constitute 6 to 6.7% of the population. (17)
Another survey conducted by the Muslim Council of Britain showed that the majority of Muslims live in areas that lack development and support. These are neglected towns or neighborhoods in the cities where Muslims live. They have poor services, compared to other areas in Britain. (18)
While American president Trump has banned citizens from six Islamic countries to enter USA (19), there is an increasing wave of hostility against foreigners and immigration. This is not limited to the extremist right wing parties anymore. The wave is moving from the intellectual and political marginal entities, to reach the center in the parliaments and governments of France, Austria and Hungary. Furthermore, public statements against Muslims were made by Presidents and Ministers in Hungary and Poland (20). All these together clearly refer to an existing tendency to accuse all Muslims of terrorism. Another reflection of this trend is the New-Trumpism, which was manifested in the American National Security Strategy” published on Dec 18, 2017” (21)
Such facts indicate the beginning of a new phase in dealing with migrating minorities, and a new reality that Muslims in Europe shall face. This requires reconsidering all the mechanisms and tools used in the Islamic work in the West. It also requires having deeper understanding through research about societal issues like integration, identity and relationship with society with all its components. Islamic groups, especially the MB, in addition to intellectuals and Islamic media should now be involved in the review and research process. It’s not acceptable anymore to import the Islamic speech and literature from our societies that we have left behind. We try to implement them in Western societies, although some of them belong to the middle Ages, and to a totally different historical context.
The MB slogan depicts “two swords embracing Quran”, so how could that be interpreted, given that it was originally designed to symbolize resistance against the British occupation in Egypt. The slogan includes the phrase: “And prepare against them”, so how is it possible to explain this phrase for European and British Muslims, while it is quoted from a qur’anic verse that can be translated as follows: “And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy” 8:60.
Once more, this raises questions about MB goals, and the ideas that it works on spreading among its followers within European Muslims’ communities. Besides, MB should explain its interpretation for “the enemies of Allah that should be fought”, and “the law of Allah” that it aims at implementing. What did all MB leaders and institutions do in response to Fatwas that regard society as “disbeliever”, thinking that its money, souls, and women are entitled to “believers”? What did they do to clarify the British Muslims’ duties towards their society?
Regression and late response to these critical questions about communities that are deeply rooted in this country, will only lead to separation, fear and worry about the future of younger generations of Muslims. The Islamic groups must urgently make every effort to build a culture promoting the ethical and tolerant values embedded in Islam. They must seek the common human backgrounds that they share with all components of the society. This includes the labor and needy classes that suffer by the hands of liberal capitalism. Such suffering comes as a result of budget reduction of all basic services relating to health, education, housing, elderly and those of special needs. It also covers other basic issues like climate, environment, Women’s rights for equal pay, in addition to nuclear reactors and food spoilage.
Educating Muslim communities about these common issues will help them get out of their isolation. They will start regarding themselves as a minority group of deep rooted citizens, and not temporary citizens who are on a holy mission.