Why question the loyalty of British Muslims?
By: Suzanne Moore
Source: The Guardian
How loyal are you to this country? How proud are you of it? Answer exactly. Explain yourself to me. Tell me how safe you feel. Tell me what you think other people think of you. Let me then declare the truth about you, your family, your faith. You are a Muslim and I am British, you see, so I can ask these things. My loyalty is taken for granted, though it shouldn’t be. Yours is always suspect. Though it shouldn’t be. Thus I can read that a BBC survey this morning found that “95% of Muslims feel a loyalty to Britain”, but that there are“no similar measurements for the general public.” Making it meaningless. And 95% does not count for much when run alongside other aspects of the survey, which showed: “One in four (27%) said that they had some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks in Paris on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.”
What does any of this mean? Are a quarter of our Muslim population going to behead us in our beds? Is the man in the Turkish shop who gives my children sweets secretly cheering on the death cult? This poll just drives the us-and-them mentality. There is a “them”, of course. But “they” are killing out in Syria and Iraq and they are killing mostly other Muslims. There is a “them” in Saudi Arabia, whom we are asked to think of as an “us”, where Prince Charles gets his sword dance on with the right kind of beheaders.
This sense that any stat or poll can identify some generic Muslim identity is a mistake that is made repeatedly. Islamophobia and Islamofascism are two sides of the same coin. Both envisage Muslims as a kind of homogenous block. There is no nuance, no difference, no accounting for lived experience or the generational divide. To read about the three teenagers who ran away to jihad has been to see children, yes, children – who need protection and who will pay the heaviest possible price for their stupidity – spoken about not as our children but somehow theirs. “Should we actually be worried about the Syria-bound schoolgirls?” asked the ever-fragrant Rod Liddle. The clue is in the headline: schoolgirls. When I was young, a boy I knew ran off to join the IRA. We lived in Suffolk! He knew what they did and he was going to fight for freedom. Jihadis don’t just sell themselves as rock stars; they sell certainty in an uncertain world.
And it is this uncertainty, this fluidity, which this survey has not captured at all. The conflation of a Muslim identity with fundamentalism is wrong. The idea that all Muslims are observant is wrong. Post Hebdo, the lumping together of young men of Algerian descent with those of Pakistani descent has hardly helped. Karim Miské, the author of Arab Jazz, has written at length about how secular much of the Muslim population of France is. But we don’t hear it. Yes, some young people are using Islam as a political identity, sometimes as a protest against the foreign policy of the west, sometimes against their own parents, sometimes to signal their cultural and economic isolation. This is a combustible and complex mix. When the going gets tough, it is easier to simplify, to ask of Muslims what we don’t ask of ourselves.
I love Stonehenge, fish and chips and sarcasm. But I am also a republican who would scrap the royal family, hates the flag and wants the church out of parliament. I failed the Life in the UK test that those applying for British passports have to take. Sample questions: What did the 1689 Bill of Rights confirm? Where are the Laurence Olivier awards hosted? Is saving energy a key part of being British? My score indicates that I should probably have my passport taken away.
Yet because I am not a Muslim, no one is going to test my loyalty. Because I am not the editor of this paper breaking the NSA story, I am not going to be asked by a parliamentary committee if I love this country. Because I don’t live in the United States, I don’t pledge allegiance to “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.
Because in Britain we are divisible and unbelieving. Let’s be clear about the divisions. Those that have sympathy with those that murdered in Paris offend me, even if I understand their offence. Some of us think the same as some of them. Some don’t. Some of us are them. Some parents are horrified by what their children do. Some of us will not back down on the free speech issue, others are prepared to accept that we should not offend those of faith.
What is ultimately disloyal to this country is not to acknowledge the actual diversity, the range of opinion, belief and dissent that intertwines all of us into a nation. A nation that allows me to say what I have just said.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of MuslimVillage.com.