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Arkush is right: Muslims must speak out

Faith Matters founder defends Board president against open letter criticism

    In a piece for the JC yesterday, Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies stated that mosques and as many Muslims as possible should stand up and speak out against the extremist nihilistic death cult of Jihadi terrorism which has been murdering our citizens since 7/7.

    His article was sensitive and thought through - and carried with it a deep sense of empathy and care for Muslim communities.

    Furthermore, in his belief that there is much that binds Muslims and Jews, Mr Arkush has travelled the length and breadth of this country meeting Muslim congregations in mosques and reaching out to them.

    Hardly, in other words, the kind of person who finger-points at Muslims - which is the accusation made in an open letter by some British Jewish community members.

    The open letter to Mr Arkush states: “As a senior representative of our community, you have a responsibility to display Jewish values of compassion, healing, and community in response to these horrible events ‒ not contribute to the atmosphere of anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK. It is not the time to be fanning the flames of inter-community hatred.”

    It goes on to say: “It is deeply troubling to see a leader of the British Jewish community calling for the universal scrutiny of a religious group based on the actions of a tiny minority. We particularly reject the assertion that members of a religious or ethnic group must quickly and publicly denounce any members of that group who act repugnantly.”

    The problem with such letter, well-meaning as it is, is that it comes from a place of ‘kumbaya’ politics and sentiment, with little or no regard to the work that Mr Arkush has been doing with Muslim communities.

    The letter explicitly argues that the President of the Board of Deputies is contributing to the atmosphere of anti-Muslim sentiment - without having a clue what anti-Muslim hatred really looks like.

    I know, because I was at the frontline of it for 6 years, having set up a national project supporting victims of anti-Muslim hatred. For my work, I was also targeted, and continue to be targeted, by anti-Muslim haters who truly want to see Muslims forced out of our country.

    It is simply wrong to suggest that Mr Arkush is promoting anti-Muslim sentiment, when what he is trying to do is talk about how Muslims may show the peaceful nature of their faith, and the strength within it to overcome Jihadi extremism and terrorism.

    That is hardly fanning anti-Muslim sentiment.

    The overwhelming majority of Muslims feel the pain of the murder of their fellow citizens in the name of Islam and they also feel the deep anguish that their faith has been hijacked. Many want to speak out -and also need support to speak out. That is a fact, and I have heard this time and time again from community members, mosques and Islamic institutions.

    Muslims want to speak out - and instead of berating those who care about Muslim and Jewish relations, like Mr Arkush, we should be supporting those people and institutions who want to speak out from within Muslim communities.

    Additionally, we need more voices speaking about Islamist extremism, and not just terrorist attacks. For far too long, Islamist extremism and its narratives of superiority, separationism, hatred of minorities within Islam and antisemitism, has gone unchallenged.

    As a Muslim who has worked within Muslim communities for many years, I believe there is also an element of naivety in the position taken in the open letter.

    Muslims are increasingly working with security agencies to highlight real threats to the public and to their own communities - and rightly so. We have to get real about the scale of terrorist threats.

    I have been working on such issues since 7/7, after which the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, first called over 100 Muslims to Windsor to tackle Islamist terrorism. Then, terrorist plots were lower in frequency. Today, they are far, far higher. This, rightly or wrongly, places an onus on as many Muslims to speak out against a cancer that needs to excised from a very small part of Muslim communities, but which is feeding and infecting other parts.

    If Muslims do not speak out, there is an industry of malevolent anti-Muslim haters who use social media very effectively to suggest that they are somehow complicit. If they don’t speak out, they are blamed for being apologists. I know from my work that hate crime spikes sharply after terrorist events. Speaking up is morally right and helps to reduce these toxic perceptions that Muslims are somehow ‘complicit’ - and also humanises Muslims and binds them to others.

    Muslims are truly caught between a rock and a hard place. In such a position, the only decision available is to speak out. A failure to do so may well be counter-productive.

    Fiyaz Mughal OBE is the Founder and Director of Faith Matters