Muslims in Britain are on the receiving of the intense gaze and scrutiny of media and political institutions more than ever. No more is this the case than in relation to Sadiq Khan. Labour Party candidate for London Mayor, and arguably leading the race in the polls, in the last two weeks he has experienced wave after wave of attack, innuendo and insinuations in the press. In the recent past, Salma Yaqoob has also suffered this fate.
Routinely presented as one of the ‘bad’ Muslims and a threat to democracy and liberty because of his apparent associations with extremists or those in the past he may have shared a platform with now deemed unworthy, Mr Khan, could not be a safer pair of hands to officiate over London. Given its diversity, a city home to a multitude of ethnicities, religions and classed groups, and having met with him on a number of occasions over the years, his community-orientated politics is precisely what London needs and wants.
However, the media would have him painted as a ‘bad’ Muslim. So who are the ‘good’ Muslims? ‘Good’ here is not the worldly, spiritual or conservative (with a small c). Rather, elite institutions would have us believe that these are possibly ‘bad’ Muslims. They would prefer us to regard ‘good’ Muslims as various actors involved with think tanks and non-government organisations who espouse the need to do away with Islamism (without carefully defining what the concept means in reality). They would argue the need to eliminate the problems of extremism because they reside in the heart of Islam itself, in the very nature of its being, in the essence of its soul. Indeed, the only kind of ‘good Muslim’ is an ex-Muslim, a former extremist or a revolutionary reformer whose aims are to depart radically from their once ‘bad’ positions. All the while playing host to the theory that any kind of political Islam is a problem. Moreover, every Muslim who is a firm believer is a risk because they believe in a set of norms and values that potentially makes them dangerous to society as a whole. Of course, this is complete hogwash. It is so because of these so-called ‘good’ Muslims or ex-Muslims, now dubbed as experts, will speak openly against Islam or Muslims. Media and political institutions support and fete them in their efforts to demonise, homogenise and essentialise a vast, multi-layered and rich religion while wholly negating its evolution and contribution over the millennia.
It is quite clear who the ‘ugly’ Muslims are. These individuals might be characterised as violent extremists, with the reality that they have radicalised politics not radicalised Islam. Often, these young Muslims are disaffected and disillusioned, seeking some explanation for the malaise and alienation that they cannot endure further. A narrow interpretation of selected verses and perspectives on reactionary Islam clutches at new levels of essentialism. It leads to an expression of violence by men that is almost entirely borne out of hyper-masculinity, high testosterone levels and the need for a leader to show them direction, as attested in the recent book by Joe Herbert of the University of Cambridge. It is apparent that most of us will probably share whom we might think of as ‘ugly’ Muslims. However, it is quite clear that ‘good’ Muslims are labelled as ‘bad’ and ‘bad’ Muslims are labelled as ‘good’ because it serves the interests of the dominant hegemonic elite whose aims are to placate foreign policy and the failures of domestic policy with regards to accepting and valuing differences in society.
This association is further thought through mathematics, namely Cartesian three-dimensional coordinates.
Muslims at 0 at those who are indifferent but neutral with regards to politics and culture. They are average taxpaying law-abiding citizens whose aims are to integrate and participate in society as would be expected of the population as a whole. This is the position that most Muslims are in.
On the X-axis, we have bad Muslims, in reality working with or for a dominant hegemony that seeks to mollify, moderate and manoeuvre Muslims. Attempts to ‘reform’ Islam are usually espoused by these individuals and groups.
On the Z-axis, we have good Muslims, pro-quality, anti-discrimination, believing and perhaps even pious. Forward-looking, with creative ideas for social, cultural and economic engagement and participation.
On the Y-axis, we have the ugly Muslims, radicalised to the extent of engaging in violent extremism and terrorism.
The good can turn ugly if the bad pushes them to it and the good cannot rein them in. The ugly can turn good with more good. The bad were once ugly but no longer do they find wisdom in good, rather profit in bad.
Bad Muslims have the ear of government ministers and think tank donors, rather than the good.
For reasons that are sometimes understandable, good Muslims have difficulty in trusting the government, whereas government prefers to hear bad Muslims, as they are perfect figures on strings.
The ugly, lost to us all, seek solutions elsewhere, rejected and denied by everyone else.
The good are labelled as both bad and ugly because it suits the interests of the bad and the ugly, who gain most from this formula but have least to offer in terms of solutions.
This is a highly charged arrangement compounded by asymmetric power relations. This is exactly what the powers want to achieve through their policies of divide and rule. The whole system inverts the reality.