Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s article at The Indepedent, “Why Muslims will not fight for freedom”, on the absence of Muslims at the recent convention on modern liberty in London was a disconcerting sign. A sign many would read, and not Alibhai-Brown alone, as complete apathy for the greater good:
I suspect the key reason so few showed up is that the word “Muslim” was not held up, a flag to call the brethren out. They ignore campaigns that want redress and progress for a greater good for all because to do otherwise would be to accept that non-Muslims are equals and part of God’s design. Fanatic Wahabi women probably kept away because men – Allah! Allah! – would share the same rooms with them and their seats were previously occupied by male bums. Muslim men who claim to have all knowledge of divine intent would have thought such a “Western” call for action was haram, sinful by definition.
I surmise that it’s brown faces in hijab and skull caps she expected to see at the convention. And if that’s the case then she can be accused of generalising the face of Islam in Britain. There is, however, a grain of truth in her observation: by and large, Muslims care a great deal about Muslim issues.
At the heart of the convention was the debate on personal freedoms – which many Muslims the world over suffer the lack of. The debate has a unique flavour in Britain though; in the form of introduction of ID cards for foreign nationals and other forms of unwarranted surveillance.
There is much to debate about liberty, its meaning and limits too. Take these two examples: libertarianism, the most extreme position claimed by some hardline liberals, can be a terrifying threat for others. Many Muslims believe too much freedom has led to a promiscuous society and the high levels of teenage parenthood. Those debates were incomplete without the presence of British Muslims at this convention. They should ask themselves what good their failure to participate does them or the country.
The article has its heart in the right place, but I’m not sure whether categorising Muslims in Britain as paranoid and completely self-centred is entirely spot on. Broadly speaking, ghettoisation and disenfranchisement are the main reasons why individuals and communities feel alienated. Also, lack of education and economic deprivation can deter anyone from purchasing a 35 pound entry fee at such a high-brow conference.