Response to the BBC Radio 4’s documentary on the Deobandi movement aired on the 5th and 12th April 2016

Owen Bennett-Jones, concludes his second episode with the words, “Rational debate can only work if it’s on the basis of discussing what is actually going on and that’s why we made these programmes on the Deobandis”

It was everything but a rational debate, nor did it accurately explain what is actually going on. Rather it was a selective look at history brushing over the historical context and juxtaposing events post 911 to craft a narrative to justify the way the British establishment views Islam and Muslims. The Soviet era editors of Pravda will have tears of nostalgia in their eyes listening to this latest BBC propaganda passed off as investigative journalism.

Below are key some of the key points that highlight the programme’s hypocrisy and anti-Islam language and undertone:

  1. The programme claimed that “Masood Azhar, the Man that brought Jihad to Britain” spoke at various Deobandi mosques in the UK in 1993.

However, the British government knew Masood Azhar was from Jaish-E-Muhammad and that he had served a term in prison in India for his jihad in Kashmir, yet the government granted him a visa! They knew exactly who he was but clearly did not view him as a threat permitting his entry into the country to give various talks.

Jaish-E-Muhammed was not a proscribed organisation in 1993; therefore Masood Azhar had not broken any laws in the UK. Neither had the Mosques that invited him to give a talk, so it is rather disingenuous for the media to bring this out 23 years after his visit! If anyone has questions to answer it is the government for issuing a visa, however they clearly knew that his presence wasn’t a threat to national security.

  1. Taliban

Owen Bennett-Jones glosses over the fact, that not only did the west give support and political legitimacy to the Taliban when it was fighting the Russians, but even before the British government issued a visa to Masoud Azhar in 1993 to tour the UK, the Mi6 brought not just a speaker, but active Taliban militants to train in the Scottish Highlands to hone their skills at using US supplied surface to air Stinger missiles that were so effectively used by the Taliban to pick Russian helicopters out of the sky.

Mi6 covertly brought Afghan militants (without the need for visa) and trained them at a British “Jihadi” camp off the islands of Scotland. “SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) also arranged for Mujahideen fighters to be trained in heavy weapons on islands off Western Scotland by the SAS Revolutionary Warfare Wing (RWW). The Mujahideen soldiers were shuttled between Scotland and Pakistan by a C-130 operated by the RAF S&D flight, a small cadre of RAF special forces pilots that support SIS/Increment operations.”

The British public were kept up to date on the progress of the secretly trained British Mujahideen (as they were called then) by special reports from on the ground by ITN’s Sandy Gall on Friday nights.

The US were very supportive of the Taliban, not only while they were fighting the Russians, but after they formed a government, which the American supported states (Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) were quick to recognise and provide legitimacy. They even invited a Taliban delegation to Texas. During this time it was not a proscribed organisation. They only lost favour with America, when they refused to sign an oil pipeline deal with UNACOL. It’s only then when things turned sour and a “stray” US missile landed in Afghanistan and that was before the “official” invasion post 911.

Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the Taliban, if some Muslims had sympathies for the Taliban, they were not the only ones. It maybe claimed this support was in the past and only in relation to fighting the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. However this demonstrates the selective application of when resistance to occupation is considered acceptable to Western states. In an almost Orwellian way previously lauded groups are demonised and support for for them is considered illegal as soon as this goes against British or Western interests.

  1.  Deoband was founded by Maulana Qasim Nanotvi who fought against the British in 1857.

Historically speaking, large parts of India was ruled by Muslims for about 1,000 years from the Delhi Sultanate to the Mughal Empire, until the occupation of India by the British empire. The British murdered and slaughtered their way into occupying India and making it a part of its colonial empire. To fight foreign and illegal occupation is an honourable deed in Islam. The charge that he “fought the British” empires’ occupation of India is not something to be ashamed of and it follows other indigenous groups who also resisted against their suffering from under the British empire. The BBC programme is attempting to create a politically motivated narrative of history, those who resisted occupation of the British empire should be demonised as though the British were a just and benign force, whereas those who resisted this are worthy of condemnation.

  1. Maulana Motala is a “secretive figure” – the implication being that there is something sinister about him.

In reality, the Maulana is first and foremost a teacher of Islamic studies. He is not a politician, a leader or a public figure, and does not have to answer or justify to the BBC what he does.

  1. Regarding Ahmadis

It is well known that Ahmadis are a religious minority in Pakistan and that they have a fundamental creedal difference with Islam. They have unjustified claims like for example Jesus (AS) is buried in Kashmir! However, there is a unanimity across all orthodox Muslim schools of thought (and not just the Deobandis) that they are not considered Muslims due to their contradiction of the finality of the Prophet Muhammad (saw).

As for the slur by Bennett-Jones that Muslims want to kill Ahmadis, anyone that takes the law into their own hands to murder people, then they should face justice. To use that as a brush to tarnish all Muslims is a disgraceful slur and only goes to increase the demonization of Muslims. Indeed believing that certain people haven’t met the minimum threshold of being considered Muslim doesn’t necessitate that violence would be perpetrated against them. These are two separate issues and shouldn’t be conflated into one.

Indeed not only do minorities face persecution in Pakistan but large swathes of the population have been failed by a post colonial political system. The majority Muslims are being persecuted by their own governments in their own lands. Therefore, the blame should not be placed against the Muslims nor their views on the Ahmedis for the breakdown in the rule of law, but the secular system that is a remnant from the time of the British empire.

  1. The unsaid narrative of the programme was staunch adherence to Islam is a danger to Britain.

This has been the ideological argument for successive British governments on what causes violence and terrorism since 9/11 and 7/7. However, numerous academic researches, crime statistics and security experts have stated that this is far from the case. Every single evidence based study into this “conveyor-belt theory” has disproved this. Take for example John Horgan, a terrorism expert, who said that “The idea that radicalization causes terrorism is perhaps the greatest myth alive today in terrorism research … [First], the overwhelming majority of people who hold radical beliefs do not engage in violence. And second, there is increasing evidence that people who engage in terrorism don’t necessarily hold radical beliefs.”

Violence is caused by an array of factors, which include the many injustices in the Muslim world – the West’s foreign policy has a great deal to answer for in relation to this- domestic policies that results in Muslims feeling isolated and vulnerable, together with the accusations of being an “extremist” whenever British policies are criticised or an alternative is provided to Western hegemony in the Muslim world.

Maybe it’s not because of Islam, but because of illegal wars, occupation, western support of brutal dictators and the demonisation of Islam that a tiny minority may engage in illegal acts of violence. This isn’t a justification for their criminal acts but it is an explanation as to what may cause a tiny number of isolated Muslims to engage in violence. Rationally speaking, how does it harm Britain if Muslim women wear the niqab, or men grow beards, and don’t party or drink alcohol? How does that harm Britain and why is that a problem?

Unless the problem is Islam itself?

Mazhar Khan

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