The fetish of the margins: religious absolutism, anti-racism and postcolonial silence.

Citation metadata

Author: Chetan Bhatt
Date: Autumn 2006
From: New Formations(Issue 59)
Publisher: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 8,966 words

Main content

Article Preview :

Sometime in early 2006, a Powerpoint presentation on 'reformist' Islam produced a couple of years earlier by the Strategic Policy Team of the Home Office and Foreign Office was leaked to the New Statesman. (1) It was one of numerous other such documents describing the government's strategic thinking on dealing with 'Muslim extremism'. One slide was especially striking because under the heading of 'reformist Islam', meaning an Islam that accepts the western, democratic paradigm in full, believes in women's emancipation and other such indicators of 'liberalism' or 'moderation', the document lists only two organisations as representing such a strand: the Jamaati-i-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, they are described as 'liberal' and 'progressive' organisations.

One can forward several plausible reasons for why two international Islamic Right political parties originally from Pakistan and Egypt respectively, each of which has an extensive history of violence and religious hatred, are to be habilitated into multicultural Britain: that the Foreign Office and, especially, the security services have had long established, even if uneven and informal, associations with Islamist parties and personalities abroad; that an independent dynamic related to the long-standing, so-called 'Arabist culture' in the Foreign Office is the cause; that the Home Office (and, even more implausibly, the Foreign Office) are simply ignorant about the nature of these organisations and are blundering along in the way the British state usually does around minority matters; that individuals with particular interests have promoted these organisations within the state; that the Islamic Right is genuinely or expediently seen as the solution to alleged extremism among Muslim youth; that promoting these organisations is a way of managing and keeping an eye on their personnel and activities; that these organisations, or sections of them, have miraculously changed their spots in the face of the rise of other jihadi and irhabi networks of political violence; or that it is in some unspecified 'national (security) interest' that the Islamic Right is actively promoted in Britain.

Consider another example (plucked from many such): one of the most important annual events in Tower Hamlets is the Baisakhi Mela, a huge festival and celebration of the Bangladeshi New Year. The mela, following the characteristic 'social effervescence' of South Asian festivals, is an open, secular event attended in large numbers by the local Bengali and other populations.

The mela is inseparable in much of the local political imagination from the 'war of liberation' against Pakistan in 1971 and the horrific memories of a massive and systematic genocide against Bangladeshis undertaken by the Pakistani Army working in concert with Jamaati-i-Islami influenced militias. Some alleged associates of those militias are currently in Britain and were allegedly involved in war crimes; these individuals are regularly patronised by government, members of the Royal family or local authorities under a broad multiculturalist umbrella. Since the Jamaati-i-Islami influenced East London Mosque has come into existence, the mela has been regularly attacked as contrary to Islam, corrupting, impure (since it incorporates 'Hindu' and secular rituals from Sylhet) and hence to...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Bhatt, Chetan. "The fetish of the margins: religious absolutism, anti-racism and postcolonial silence." New Formations, no. 59, autumn 2006, pp. 98+. Accessed 23 Sept. 2023.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A155919840