29 June 2015
The Contact me page of my website makes it easy for strangers to contact me, and is often used by journalists. On 19 June, the day of David Cameron's speech in Bratislava which covered extremism amongst other issues, Luis Ventoso, London correspondent of ABC contacted me after seeing that I was the Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. I agreed to give an interview by email.
ABC is a Spanish national daily newspaper published in Spain. It is the third largest general-interest newspaper in Spain, and the oldest newspaper still operating in Madrid. ABC is often referred to as a newspaper of record from Spain, along with El País and El Mundo.
The interview was published on Sunday 28 June. I have never studied Spanish and have to rely upon Google Translate to read the introductory section which was written by Luis Ventoso himself using material from my website. It seems a fair introduction, bearing in mind the limitations of Google Translate. Luis also sent me a PDF of the page. There are minor differences between the paper version of the story and the web version.
Fortunately for non-Spanish speakers, I have the text of the questions Luis emailed me and the text of my reply. They are reproduced below.
The questions and my replies were all done on 19 June 2015 apart from a supplementary question on Friday 26 June after the terrible terrorist incidents in Sousse, Tunisia and in France and Kuwait.
Many young Muslims in Britain suffer from difficulty in deciding their identity. They struggle to balance and integrate their ethnic origin, the culture of their parents, their religion and their British identity. ISIS offers a simplified solution, reducing their identity to one single aspect, extremist Islam, and also offers excitement and a chance to “be relevant” and to “make a difference” in the world. That can be very appealing to impressionable young people seeking to reconcile their multiple identities.
Some may feel a grudge against British society, but most have little to complain about. Many are vulnerable to the extreme interpretation of Islam promoted by ISIS because they lack proper foundations in Islam and have not raised from childhood to think critically.
Many also have a selective consumption of news. If you only see news stories where Muslims are being oppressed, without seeing stories of how other national and religious groups face oppression in different parts of the world, you can easily build up a false view of the world which leads you to hate “the West.”
My children are aged 27-35 and thankfully beyond the danger age. Also, we brought them up well. However if any of them were to become a terrorist, my wife and I would always asking ourselves what we did wrong when raising them.
A child’s parents always have the principal responsibility for how that child is brought up. Accordingly it is not acceptable for the parents to blame other factors. This is not to deny the impact of radicalisation material available on the internet, or the influence of other people who seek to radicalise young people. Instead I simply wish to emphasise the priority of the parents’ role in bringing up their children.
David Cameron is due to make a major speech in Slovakia later today. I intend to obtain and read the full transcript but have not seen it yet. I have seen advance messaging about the speech in the UK newspapers, and broadly agree with what he is expected to say.
I consider it essential for Muslim parents to bring their children up properly so that they are not vulnerable to radicalisation. Such children need to understand why Britain is a very good country to live in, and how it enables people of all religions, including Islam, to live freely, worship freely, and treats all citizens equally.
Muslim community organisations also have an important part to play in spreading and reinforcing this message.
There are about 2,000 mosques in the UK, and it is impossible for me to make a categorical statement about all of them.
I believe there are very few, possibly no, preachers in mosques who explicitly call for British Muslims to go and join ISIS or call upon them to commit acts of terrorism overseas.
A much more serious problem is that too many preachers fail to preach about tolerance for all people, about the merits of democracy, or about the importance of all young Muslims of playing their full part in British society.
These absences and deficiencies in their preaching are very serious and leave young people vulnerable to radicalisation.
It is quite likely that from time to time in my career I may have encountered discrimination for being a Muslim or for being from an ethnic minority background. However I was not aware of it, and can point to only one specific incident (discrimination by a client) in my career when I was already a partner. My fellow partners were shocked by it, and we handled it in a way that was best for the interests of the firm which is what I wanted since the best interests of the firm were also my best interests. Apart from that one incident, I cannot point to any other specific incidents in a career that was about 35 years long.
In my view too many Muslims or ethnic minority individuals fall into the trap of explaining ever failure by discrimination. That causes them to lose objectivity about their strengths and weaknesses.
As someone who has lived in the UK since the early 1950’s, I am clear that racial discrimination in British society is far less than it was then. Anti-Muslim hostility did not exist until Muslims started behaving badly with the protests against Salman Rushdie’s book “Satanic Verses” and then later with acts of terrorism such as 7 July 2005 and acts of attempted terrorism.
Muslims in Britain overwhelmingly vote Labour. The reasons are primarily historic, and I have written about them in detail on my website. Very briefly, the Conservative Party used to be much less sympathetic to ethnic minorities than the Labour Party. That has changed over the years, especially since David Cameron became Conservative Party leader in 2005, but there is a lag in voters’ perceptions.
In 2010 about 15% of British Muslims voted Conservative, but by 2015 that had risen to about 25%. My goal is to dramatically increase that percentage by 2020.
Women who wear burka do so because someone has convinced them that they are religiously obliged to wear it. I disagree with that religious analysis, but support the freedom to dress as one wishes except when there are security implications, for example in a bank. Accordingly I oppose bans, and believe France made a fundamental mistake with its burka ban, which has harmed community relations and achieved nothing positive.
I personally dislike women wearing a burka and wish they would not do it, while defending their freedom to do so.
I cannot comment on any specific case where young Muslims have gone to support ISIS.
However I do believe that there will be some Muslim parents who are bringing up their children badly, who teach them to hate non-Muslims and to hate British society. I hope there are not too many.
More important is the large number of Muslim parents who fail to teach their children positively about the importance of tolerance, democracy and the positive features of British society. This is not something where simple neutrality is appropriate.
I never talk about a War of Civilisation; terrorist such as Al Qaeda or ISIS speak for themselves but do not speak for Muslims generally.
Whenever any incident occurs, one needs to analyse it to determine the motivations of the perpetrator. Only then can one decide if it was terrorism or something else.
I do believe that the US media apply a kind of double standard, whereby acts of terrorism can only be committed by Muslims. I do not believe that the British media applies the same double standard.
This is a big problem which requires more than one solution; many actions and policies are needed.
I am a patron of a project called Curriculum for Cohesion. We believe that a proper teaching of History, to both Muslims and non-Muslims can create a better understanding of how humans have co-operated in the past, and how modern civilisation has been constructed out of the contribution of many religious and ethnic groups.
Muslim religious leaders need to promote a much more positive vision of what it means to live as a Muslim in Western Europe, and the benefits democracy and equality in countries like Spain and Britain offer to all citizens, regardless of religion. They need to do this as well as demolishing any claims by ISIS to Islamic authenticity.
Political leaders need to emphasise how much they value their Muslim citizens, and to ensure that national laws are not discriminatory. In that regard, I think the UK performs very well, whereas France is seen as seeking to impose a single anti-religious world view, for example in its burka ban.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) preached respect for all people and Muslims have for most, though sadly not all, of their history have followed his teachings. For example when Spain expelled its Jewish population in 1492, about 80% of them went to live in the Ottoman Empire and were welcomed. The actions of ISIS are diametrically opposite to the example of Muhammad (pbuh) and I believe he would condemn ISIS categorically as completely failing to understand Islam.
I was very saddened when I learned of the attack in Tunisia. I have been to Tunisia once to speak at an Islamic finance conference, and that trip included a special visit to the Bardo Museum which was the site of a terrible massacre in March 2015. This new attack in Sousse is another attempt by religious extremists to damage Tunisia’s tourism industry and to bring down the democratically elected Tunisian government which is a beacon of hope in the Arab world.
It is less clear what has happened with the attack on the Air Products factory near Lyon. Again I was very saddened by the news but not surprised as the terror threat is so high.
The most fundamental issue is the lamentable religious understanding of those who commit these crimes. They have been indoctrinated into believing that their actions will be seen by God as being virtuous and meriting reward, which is completely contrary to a correct understanding of what Islam has been saying for 1400 years.
Since the ABC newspaper is in Spanish and will have negligible circulation in the UK, my giving the interview will have almost no impact in the UK.
However while writing this page I thought about Spain's Muslim population which is estimated at around 1.6 million. It is important for ABC's Muslim (and non-Muslim) readers to hear the perspective of a well educated and well integrated British Muslim, with the picture of David Cameron attending a Conservative Muslim Forum event, as shown in the article.