In the aftermath of events like the massacres in Paris, world leaders, religious spokesmen and op-ed columnists dictate the appropriate standard of behaviour: first, Islam and the latest killings must not be mentioned in the same breath; and second, that Muslims should not be asked whether an act of terror deserves condemnation. An all-too-mushy multiculturalism planted the first, and the political left has fertilised the second. Of course every Muslim condemns terrorism! How offensive that mere enquiry!
A serious interrogation of Hizb ut-Tahrir, Australia’s most prominent Islamist movement, can only begin if we break these rules of engagement. Anthony Klan of The Australian noted the group’s uncharacteristic silence in the wake of the incidents in Martin Place and Paris. Don’t think, however, that this means quiet soul-searching and a change of heart. Klan would do well to pay attention to the social media pages of media representative Uthman Badar, best known for his ambiguous views on honour killings, and his more positive ones on the murder of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
Badar has over ten thousand Facebook followers and contributes regularly to newspaper, radio and television outlets. That’s to say, he’s not a marginal figure. How his views cohere with those of the wider Muslim community is a difficult question. He certainly claims to speak to, and on behalf of, that community, and for this reason he must be engaged.
Badar recently issued an eight point Facebook post titled ‘On Charlie Hebdo.’ A good deal of it is babble, as readers who take in the full text of his screed (reproduced at the foot of this page) will note. Take the opening:
“It’s important to judge the provocation and reaction together, separately and in context. Together, because one leads, in part at least, to the other. In context, because neither arise in a vacuum. And separately, in the sense that the justification or otherwise of one does not mean the other is likewise; there is world of understanding and explanation beyond the shallow realm of mere justification or condemnation. Those who stifle discussions of context, by charging those who bring these up with being apologists for terrorism, are in fact themselves the apologists because what they seek to hide exposes a much greater, systematic, persistent terror – the terror of states.”
Now, I am sorry to inflict that upon you, and I trust your eyes glazed over. It is, however, illustrative of both a torturous style and a mask of sophistication, which permits Badar to be taken seriously. You’ll find proof in the way his thoughts and recommendations are digested by the sheep in the Facebook page’s comments section who baa, nod and follow along. The really interesting stuff, however, is laced on the edges of Badar’s invective. He continues:
“All this ‘we stand for free speech’ talk, in this context, actually means ‘we stand for freedom to insult’. This is because the right to civil debate on different ideas and beliefs, any and all, is not disputed by anyone.”
I’m feeling charitable, so I’ll point out that Badar is right on this point. The freedom to insult is a corollary of free speech. A very decent and essential one, I’ll add. If I say that Badar only half-understands this, then I’m still being charitable. Anyhow, he quickly falls over himself. The right to debate is not disputed by anyone? This is nonsense, and Badar proves it is nonsense in later points. He claims that the real source of Muslim ire is “gratuitous insult”, and herein lies the problem: if you point out that Muhammad is an overrated figure, or that he was a mere mammal, like the rest of humanity, or if you pick up a cartoonist’s pencil with such a subject in mind, you can’t avoid the charge and summary conviction of producing a “gratuitous insult.” By the way, all non-Muslims are obliged to think some version of the first two things about Muhammad: that he was both the greatest human ever to draw breathand the most perfect specimen to grace the planet with his presence.
This is all a lengthy introduction before Badar’s Point Four, which actually addresses the murders at Charlie Hebdo, which in his view were “wrong, unwise and counterproductive.”
Counterproductive! To what, exactly? Badar and his co-thinkers at Hizb ut-Tahrir seek the re-establishment of the Caliphate, the theocracy that would rule over Muslims and Muslim lands. Hang tight, Badar says, because when this goal is achieved there will be “legal, diplomatic, economic (and) military” means to deal with insults to the Prophet. It is very difficult to believe “the punishment” he has in mind will be limited to a stern warning. When Badar says that the attacks were “wrong”, a reader’s reasonable interpretation would be that he deems them premature. They won’t be when legally enshrined under the Caliphate. His disapproval doesn’t read like disapproval at all. If you look for the mere suggestion of condemnation, you won’t find it.
Furthermore, Badar warns that a good Muslim can’t settle for “indifferent acceptance of insults to the Prophet,” and those who do should “fear Allah.” He affirms that the punishment for Charlie Hebdo’s style of blasphemy is “capital.”
Well, then. This is interesting.
In the end, Badar expends a lot of energy and too many words to justify the murderers. They are “wrong” in that they hinder the return of the Caliphate. They are right in that the punishment matches Koranic injunction. They are prematurely right in that the return of the Caliphate will settle all this from a legal standpoint.
In Australia, Badar is widely known for the views he was invited to express at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, then dis-invited when organisers were engulfed by criticism for providing a pulpit to a fundamentalist who promised to put “honour killings” in context. An odious topic advanced by an unappealing advocate, it would nevertheless be a mistake, in my view, if the Australian government were to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, as seems a distinct possibility. Rather, I argue that he should be allowed, even encouraged, to air and share his ideas. Do we want to advance the cause of secular and pluralist democracy in Australia? Then we had best listen to the alternative Hizb ut-Tahrir has in mind.
Defeating the ideas of Badar and Hizb ut-Tahrir will be difficult, but I think that being Uthman Badar is even more difficult. He fails to conceal his disagreement with the martyrs of Paris. He acknowledges the barbarism of Boko Haram and the Islamic State, and registers an objection, yet these groups are doing exactly what Hizb ut-Tahrir wants: seeking to reestablish the Caliphate. So Badar changes the subject to imperialism, ransacks any atrocity for the hint or suggestion of Western collusion or provocation, and pours buckets of self-pity on himself and his followers. Such is his intellectual incarceration.
Timothy Cootes completed a Master of International Relations at Macquarie University in 2013. He is now teaching in South Korea.
The full text of Badar’s pontifications:
On Charlie Hebdo:
1. It’s important to judge the provocation and reaction together, separately and in context. Together, because one leads, in part at least, to the other. In context, because neither arise in a vacuum. And separately, in the sense that the justification or otherwise of one does not mean the other is likewise; there is world of understanding and explanation beyond the shallow realm of mere justification or condemnation. Those who stifle discussions of context, by charging those who bring these up with being apologists for terrorism, are in fact themselves the apologists because what they seek to hide exposes a much greater, systematic, persistent terror – the terror of states.
2. All this “we stand for free speech” talk, in this context, actually means “we stand for freedom to insult”. This is because the right to civil debate on different ideas and beliefs, any and all, is not disputed by anyone. What is disputed is the right to gratuitous insult, done to ridicule and provoke, the purview of the lowly, those who know not how to respect themselves or others. So enough with hiding behind the “free speech” banner. Liberals should express clearly that what they seek is the freedom to insult. Gather the courage to express their (lowly) values openly.
3. “Free speech” is a liberal position, not some universal neutral, and a tool of power, nothing more. A tool of power wielded selectively. When Muslim sanctities are denigrated, we’re lectured about free speech and how it can’t be qualified. Yet when Muslims and others insult, they are met with the force of law. I elaborate on this in some detail here – http://goo.gl/tzMAZl
4. We should not fall for the provocative and bullying tactics of magazines like Charlie Hebdo and engage in vigilante style attacks. They are wrong, unwise and counterproductive. They fall into the trap of being used to further demonise Islam and justify draconian policies and an unjust foreign policy. The prophetic methodology is that the legitimate political authority – the Khilafah – would enact measures – legal, diplomatic, economic, military – to deal with such insults. The good example of the Ottomans, Allah have mercy on them, in this regard is before us.
5. Indifferent acceptance of insults to the Prophet (saw) has no place in Islam either. We’re not liberals. We’re Muslims. Like all people, we have red lines. For us, this are defined by the revelation, not by our whims and desires. The Prophet (saw) is one of these red lines. Quite simply, insults against the Prophet (saw) are not tolerated, as per Shari’ah rules. The punishment is capital. It is same Shari’ah, however, that dictates how such insults are to be responded to – it is for the legitimate political authority to deal with as a matter of law and with due process.
6. Those activists and scholars who keep selectively and exclusively referencing Makkan examples to try and establish, as a general rule, that insults the Prophet (saw) should be responded to by simply ignoring them should fear Allah. Do you affirm part of the revelation and ignore part? Do not diminish the gheera of the believers for the Messenger of Allah (saw) by imparting a half-truth. You know the hukm of Allah, so announce it clearly. There is a world of difference between informing about the hukm as it is, and explaining, given the currently prevailing anomalous reality, both why it can’t be applied now and what needs to be done to change the reality and apply the hukm…and between giving only half the picture, one the implies something about the hukm that is simply not true.
7. The increasingly repeated notion that the perpetrators behind attacks like this one do more harm to Islam and Muslims than its adversaries is utter nonsense. It is plain that such perpetrators are not just a minority, but a negligible one. So small a portion of a people can never damage the image of the whole, by themselves. Such requires more. It requires the politically motivated and calculated response. The 400% zoom in on their actions, the hyperbole, the media obsession, the disproportionate response. Their actions are made to damage Islam and Muslims by a narrative and agenda of power, by mainstream media, intellectual and political leaders. So when the adversaries themselves take what could be treated as “isolated incidents” and conjure up a false narrative that results in the damage, one cannot hold the actions alone responsible. Further, defining our response by condemnation and the same hyperbole of the mainstream, plays right into that false narrative.
8. The course from here is predictable: the Muslim perpetrators, ‘Islamist violent extremism’, and for many Islam itself will be attacked and de-humanised like no tomorrow. Physical and verbal abuse of Muslim institutions and individuals will increase. The French state will exploit the incident to further intervene in the Muslim community and institute more draconian laws and policies (because freedom is sacred!)…and, importantly, the mainstream will conveniently position itself as the reasonable middle ground between the Muslim and far-right ‘extremes’. Bullocks. The mainstream – media, politics, intelligentsia, corporate – is the main problem, responsible for more violence and oppression than any individual or group. This is where the focus of our commentary and activism must be. Wallahu al-Musta’an.