I’ve been trying to think of something to say about the second and final instalment of Owen Bennett-Jones’s programme about the Deobandis.
While the first episode focused on their isolationist attitude and suggested that their religious ideas were less moderate as we had been led to believe, the broadcast aired yesterday on radio 4 was concerned with ... well, I’ll paste in the blurb:
“In part two of The Deobandis, the BBC's former Pakistan correspondent Owen Bennett Jones reveals a secret history of Jihadist propagation in Britain.
This follows the BBC's discovery of an archive of Pakistani Jihadist publications, which report in detail the links some British Deobandi scholars have with militant organisations in Pakistan. Among the revelations are details of a lecture tour of Britain by Masood Azhar - a prominent Pakistani militant operating in Kashmir. He toured the UK in the early 1990s, spreading the word of Jihad to recruit fighters, raise funds and build links which would aid young Britons going abroad to fight Jihad decades later.
The programme also explores intra-Muslim sectarianism in Britain, and discovers how some senior Deobandi leaders have links to the proscribed organisation Sipah-e-Sahaba, a militant anti-Shia political party formed in Pakistan in the 1980s.
But how widespread and representative is this sympathy with militancy?
The programme explores the current battle for control in some British mosques, speaking to British Deobandi Muslims pushing back against the infiltration of Pakistani religious politics in British life.
As one campaigner says, this is 'the battle for the soul of Islam' and the 'silent majority' must speak out - but can moderate Muslims build the institutional power they need to really enforce change?”
More details are available here on Harry’s Place, entitled ‘Toaha Qureshi meets Auntie’.
The trustee of the mosque in Stockwell, Toaha Qureshi, squirmed when Owen Bennett-Jones asked him about the mosque’s links to the anti-Ahmadi group Khatm-e-Nubuwwat and a lecture tour on the ‘duty of Jihad’by Masood Azhar .
Qureshi’s comical protests that he was on holiday during the Khatm-e-Nubuwwat conference, and that the Ahmadis themselves (possibly in cahoots with the BBC) had planted those notorious “kill the Ahmadi” leaflets were almost gratifyingly revealing and self-incriminating. Almost, but not completely.
But, and it’s a big but, as someone probably said to Diane Abbott, the whole premise of Owen Bennett-Jones' exposé seemed to be that Deobandi mosques are disseminating far more conservative Islamic values (that’s ‘extremist’ to you and me) than had previously been believed to be the case.
As the Deobandis are thought represent the largest number of UK Muslims, this was concerning, particularly because of the movement’s association with a murderous campaign against the Ahmadis, whom they regard as non-Muslims. (But that doesn’t quite explain why they need to be killed)
It was suggested that this feud amounted to importing tribal hatreds from Pakistan, recently demonstrated by the murder of Asad Shah in Glasgow. That senseless killing was brought to our attention by the BBC, where it was initially reported as ‘religiously prejudiced’ and the suspect Tanveer Ahmed's religion was not revealed till later.
It seems that excessive caution is still being exercised by the BBC in case criticising what, to some, are mainstream Islamic matters is seen as racist. This principle holds good up to the point when violence is openly and specifically advocated.
I’m not sure what Owen Bennett-Jones set out to do when he conceived these programmes, but alongside some of the other revelations that are making their way into the public’s consciousness, it’s got to be a move in the right direction.