The Muslim Public Affairs Committee is an organisation with a long history of odd behaviour- they have over the last few days excelled themselves. They published last week a call for the names of the researchers for Policy Exchange's recent report to be given to them- they wanted Muslim activists to ring up their offices and tell them who these eight researchers were. MPAC accused these researchers- and the whole Sufi community in the UK- of being fifth columnists for a zionist neo con cabal who were intent on destroying Islam and then the world...... fill in the blanks. They suggested that these Quislings should be reported to them so that MPAC could "dig deeper and expose every last detail of the Sufis who tried to destroy their own community." Having been called up on this language, MPAC are now asserting that their interest was purely in the researchers' credibility as researchers- given that they advertise this operation as being "A Hunt for 8 Sufi Zio Con Frauds"- I'm not entirely sure that their interest is in research methodology.
That's particularly true given the rest of the content on their website. They have published articles which argue that Sufi scholars collaborate with the Pharoah of our time George Bush and that Sufism is a trend in Islam that promotes a passivity desired by the zio con forces of evil. They have also published articles defending Sufism but it definitely seems to me that MPAC beleives that this is a legitimate debate- its strange that they don't have any articles saying that any other strands of Islam aren't Islamic! Furthermore their official statement, 'The Hunt' supports the anti-Sufi case- they state there that the Sufis have been used throughout history as a weapon in the arms of Russian and British and now American imperialism. The slurs on Sufism are absolutely and completely ridiculous. Anyone who knows an iota of the history of Islam- obviously noone involved in MPAC can be listed in that category, knows that Sufism is an old and established trend in Islamic theology.
For the benefit of MPAC, it might be worth rehearsing some of the contributions of Sufism- and others can add to this- in stimulating Islamic theology and political thought. Plenty of sources see Sufic communities going back right to the beggining of Islam- into the eighth century. Muzaffar Allam in his study of Indian Islamic political thought argues that Sufis have been present in India since the 11th or 12th centuries. As Richard Eaton demonstrates in his studies of the growth of Islam in India- Sufi movements provided many of the missionaries that spread throughout India to convert communities to Islam. Indeed David Cook shows in his studies of martyrdom and Islam that Sufi movements were also central to the growth of Islam in Indonesia and in many other places around the world. Great Sufi poetry and art has animated Islam: think of the Persian/Turkish poet Rumi whose work provides inspiration for art in the middle East right up until today, where its often quoted in the novels of Orhan Pamuk. The thesis that Sufis have never done anything for Islam- implied by MPAC- is just plain wrong and perhaps the organisation would like to withdraw its slurs.
Quite frankly though this goes further than just that. Because MPAC in reality are saying something else. They are saying that they have the right to define what Muslims ought to do or be- Muslims can't support say the invasion of Iraq. What utter nonsense! It is not for MPAC to define the essence of Islam. Muslims have been throughout history a group with a wide variety of beliefs just like Christians and Jews and Hindus and all other faiths. MPAC demands the names of these researchers because ultimately it wants to publish them and expose them- it doesn't want to argue or discuss (afterall they are Zio Con quislings) it wants to condemn. It doesn't want to examine why some Muslims might decide to help Policy Exchange- that they do convicts them and means they are irrelevant- they don't need to be talked to, they just need to be condemned. That stance fits into a general pattern- whereby their rhetoric is violent and conspiratorial- they don't seek to understand, they don't take on other arguments, they just want the luxury of an easy assertion that everyone else is evil. Their rhetoric avoids unhelpful facts- how can the war against Islam be a verifiable fact when Tony Blair bombed the Serbs out of Kosovo. How can it be a verifiable fact when the West repeatedly attempts to do things for Darfur and when westerners put their hands in their own pockets to help victims of the Tsunami? Has MPAC ever looked at the amount of aid that the EU gives to Palestine? Have they ever considered the support that America has always given to Pakistan?
MPAC want to define Islam and define certain people out of Islam. They seem to want Islam defined politically. Their politics is bizarre, conspiratorial and has a tangential relation to reality. But it goes further than that- in reality their conception of Islam excludes many Muslims from its definition. They basically argue that Sufis are quislings- they basically say that they would junk the entire tradition of Sufism because of the closeness of some present Sufis to politicians that they don't like. They are apocalyptic in their language. They are aggressive in their abusive calls for the silencing of those that disagree with them. If there is one thing likely to make me sympathetic to Policy Exchange in this whole debate, its the attitude of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee. I still feel that there are legitimate questions about the reporting in Policy Exchange's work and I have no problem with critiques of it: but as Liberals we should stand, as our enlightenment predecessors did, against religious bigotry. And religious bigotry is what MPAC peddles against Muslims who don't back their political line and against plenty of others as well.
Crossposted at the Liberal Conspiracy