By Imam Abdassamad Clarke
Ihsan Mosque, Norwich
If one, even if only for a moment, refuses to see the patternings that media and its pundits tell us are there, one begins to see others, and when one sees them, one can never again not see them.
It was while watching demonstrations – three in all – outside Downing Street, that it hit me. The young fiercely bearded Islamists, calling for shari’ah law – for heaven’s sake! – calling for shari’ah law outside Downing Street. The image was clear: mostly dark complexioned, with wonderful black beards, very full. The eyes and faces passionate, lit with, with more than excitement.
Across the street, there was a counter-demonstration of young alienated English youth. Shaven heads, shaven faces, full of fury, resplendent with fury. Gesticulating, shouting. Utterly focussed on the young men from the Midlands, Yorkshire and London, whose genes are from Peshawar, Swat and Lahore, and before that from who-knows-where.
Then there was a third group, whose name now escapes me, somehow hoping to claim some middle ground of civil and human rights.
Then it hit me: they are all young people, and they have all been betrayed, so they have nothing better to do than fight each other. This society does not know how to deal with young people, never has and never will. Previously – and people will still say this to you with all seriousness – there used to be the draft, compulsory recruitment into the army, which put some backbone in them, or perhaps sent them home in a coffin, but perhaps not even then before they had sent some other mothers’ sons home in coffins in some far and distant land. And this was our way of teaching some discipline to our young people.
So when we receive all of that awful middle-aged and middle-class talk about ‘Islamists’ or ‘extremists’ in the Muslim community, these are code words for ‘the boys’ or young men. As George Bernard Shaw remarked, in my paraphrase, “If you are not a radical when you are twenty, you have no heart. But if you are not a conservative when you are forty, you have no head.”
So, this applies equally to the poor fellows of the EDL as it does to our young ‘Islamists’ and extremists, they are doing precisely what they have been created to do: they are feeling with great passion the wrongness of the way things are, and are intent on doing something about it. Yes, the EDL see that something is dreadfully wrong, and they passionately believe that something has to be done about it. Something called ‘England’ is being swept away.
And they are right. I have seen it in my lifetime. To an extent that I can hardly credit. Although in my case, it is Ireland that has been swept away. In my wife’s case, it is Denmark that has all but vanished. For these other young men, poor disadvantaged and uneducated young men, it is people with brown skins who just happen to be Muslims who have caused everything to go wrong. And since they are unlikely to have thought this explanation through themselves, we can see that the Sun and the Daily Express may have had more than a small part in articulating this analysis for them. Certainly they have rarely read anything more complicated than them.
However, as I have lived through that transformation of our society myself and as I can say that it set me off on the search that brought me into Islam, then I cannot say with any conviction that it is the arrival of lots of immigrants and refugees that has altered my society so. What brought the immigrants here was, in the first place, high level inter-governmental protocols that saw the need for a labour force in Europe’s increasingly work-shy future. I am not being unsympathetic to the work-shy, since the process that created the need for the work-force, and the type of thinking that sees the world in terms of things such as ‘labour-markets’ has bled all joy out of life and out of work itself and left us with survival, and barely that, and laborious repetitiveness rewarded by an insulting salary.
So for various reasons, this high oligarchic élite saw that its wealth-pursuit could be threatened by Europe’s work-shy population and considerably enhanced by very specific millions of industrious people from the then ‘Third World’, which just happened to be the Muslim world too. So there were these high-level inter-governmental protocols that brought those first generations of immigrants to our shores, and their arrival exacerbated that work-shy trend in the natives. So a symptom then and not a cause.
And the cause? A view of life that sees people as a ‘labour-market’? That is only the tip of the iceberg. But suffice it to say, it is an eye that does not look with any more kindness on young EDL thugs than it does on ‘Islamists’ or ‘extremists’.
But let us take another tack. These passionate young men who believe utterly in something. There is something wrong with us that we cannot resonate with that. Young men, with passion, conviction and belief, are a resource for a society like no other. In other contexts, we have been known to praise gold and disparage paper money. But such young men are worth more than any gold and cannot be bought with any gold. Europe found that out during the First World War, when it sent uncountable millions off to die. Europe never recovered from that. D. H. Lawrence likened them to the ‘growing tip’ of a tree, but in that case it was the entire tree of European culture and knowledge. All lost. And we have never recovered.
Now, although often that passion can be directed against us, as it is today, what a resource that is when it is in harmony with the goals of the society and it puts its shoulders to the wheel. Indeed, this drive is actually looking just for that wheel to put its shoulders to, but it cannot find it. That is the real crime of the age. Everyone is busy making money, and there is nothing for that burning bright idealism and sense of justice and injustice. But of the latter there is plenty though and this is where we have lost these young people. There is plenty of injustice.
We have our armies abroad on imperial adventures for geo-political gains, and these young men have relatives on the wrong end of our other young men’s guns. They know of people who were in innocent wedding parties which were bombed out of existence by other scared, paranoid young men, who had ended up through poverty and hope of advancement serving in foreign countries they didn’t understand, and fighting for causes they just didn’t have the slightest clue about. And so somewhere in South East Asia, families were obliterated, ‘tragically’ as apologetic military spokesmen said, unaware of what a Greek tragedy is and what the real nature of the tragedy is that has just been enacted. And that family has friends and relatives in Birmingham and Keighley who hurt at those deaths, and who hurt that the families got a $1000 for their loss, and who hurt simply because they have not lost the faculty of sympathy which means that injustice to anyone else hurts.
And these young men have not yet been so utterly corrupted by the view of reality that says ‘everyone and everything has his price’ and that finding out the price is what life is about, and the higher your price, the higher your worth. They haven’t discovered this arcane secret yet, but rather they believe in old concepts such as ‘truth’, ‘honesty’ and ‘justice’. And in that they are closer to the old England that has been swept away, whose loss the other young men are railing against. And both these sets of young men are victims of a society that has no values any more but just has a price.