Why Sayeeda is wrong about Anjem – even though she’s right!

Baroness Warsi gave an interview to the Guardian today [Nov 2011] in which, among other things, she said that extremists like Anjem Choudry are so far from the principles of Islam that they are not proper Muslims. I’d like to discuss this … but first….

I have some time for Sayeeda Warsi. I disagree with her most of the time, she is Tory after all, but not all the time. I heartily approve of the her view that Muslims can be a part of modern British society without constantly claiming victimhood, and that extremists do not have the right to speak for her or anyone else. On the whole I think a Conservative party with Sayeed Warsi is better than one without her.

On this point however I think she is wrong, dead wrong, and wrong in a specific way in which many religious people are wrong when discussing their own extremists.

This is not a criticism of Sayeeda Warsi, Anjem Choudry, Islam, or Christianity. It is a criticism of a certain mind-set exemplified by this type of argument.

Sayeeda thinks than Anjem cannot support violent murder and be a proper Muslim. Anjem thinks that Sayeed cannot support wars like Afghanistan and be a proper Muslim.

The Pope thinks that women Anglican priests cannot be proper priests. The Archbishop of Canterbury thinks the Pope is not infallible.

In other words “If you are not my kind of <insert religion here> you are not a proper member of <religion>”

My point is that this criticism is directed, not at the wrongness of the behaviour, but at it’s departure from the true path. In essence the argument is not “you are a murderer – that’s wrong” but “You are a heretic – that’s wrong”

If we could create a time machine and go back and ask Mohamed himself, and he said “Anjem’s right – go kill those infidels” Baroness Warsi would be honour bound to join whatever Islam4UK is now called. If she didn’t she wouldn’t be a proper Muslim.

If we could take our time machine back and chat to Jesus and he said “Women Priests? Great idea, and by the way give the gays a break – falling in loves no sin” the Catholic church would be honour bound to make a few changes. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be proper Christians.

People should not be able to justify their behaviour by appealing to any religious authority, because there is no religious authority, or rather, there are many many mutually exclusive religious authorities.

This is EXACTLY why the state must not privelege the religious point of view. If the state gives any privilege to any religion it is immediately open to the “what about my religion?” argument.

It is also why the only way to truly protect Baronness Warsi’s freedom of religion, to protect it from from those who think she is not a proper Muslim  – is the very thing that she seems most afraid of – Secularism.

For more on this theme see

Why calling values British (or Islamic) is dangerous nonsense.

(Added 29/05/2013)

After the murder in Woolich we are again hearing that “It has nothing to do with Islam”.

As an example of what I think is the correct attitude consider this.

In France, the wearing of certain garments in public places is banned. I think this is going too far, I think it IS a problem for secularism to get this (and many other things) right. But most important in this context.

The problem will not be helped if I pretend that the french are not PROPER secularaists. And I won’t.

(Added 22/11/2103)

Exchanged a couple of tweets with @mehdirhasan which had me thinking about this again today. It is not just a religious problem, the attitude of some old communists that “If the party says it’s right – it’s right” is a similar problem. It is possibly worse in religion because the “rightness” claimed is absolute and divine.

(Added 25/06/2015)

Four years later and every word still stands up. Now we have the Imam Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri launching his  ‘Islamic Curriculum on Peace and Counter Terrorism’. He is famous here for his anti-terrorism fatwa, unfortunately he is also famous in Pakistan for his part in authoring their blasphemy law and for advocating ‘killing blasphemers… like dogs’. He is no reformer and, sadly, the curriculum is the same old “they’re not proper Muslims” and it’s nothing to do with real, genuine, proper, pure Islam.

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