The Islamic State in Britain

Next month, Cambridge will release a study of a terrorist group called “The Emigrants,” whose goal was to create an Islamic state in the United Kingdom. I’ve never heard of this group, myself, but the blurb suggests it was involved in a number of terrorist incidents and eventually supplied fighters for ISIS in the Middle East. The book is The Islamic State in Britain: Radicalization and Resilience in an Activist Network. The author is international affairs scholar Michael Kenney (University of Pittsburgh). Here’s the description from the Cambridge website:

Drawing on extensive field research with activists on the streets of London, Michael Kenney provides the first ethnographic study of a European network implicated in terrorist attacks and sending fighters to the Islamic State. For over twenty years, al-Muhajiroun (Arabic for ‘the Emigrants’) strived to create an Islamic state in Britain through high-risk activism. A number of Emigrants engaged in violence, while others joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Kenney explains why young Britons joined the Emigrants, how they radicalized and adapted their activism, and why many of them eventually left. Through an innovative mix of ethnography and network analysis, Kenney explains the structure and processes behind this outlawed network and explores its remarkable resilience. What emerges is a complex, nuanced portrait that demystifies the Emigrants while challenging conventional wisdom on radicalization and countering violent extremism.

Movsesian on the Ashers Case

Bristol UniversityAt the Liberty Law site today, I have a post discussing the UK Supreme Court’s ruling this month in Lee v. Ashers Bakery, a wedding-vendor case from Belfast. The British case deals with several substantive issues that our own Supreme Court dodged earlier this year in Masterpiece Cakeshop. The British court’s president, Barbara Hale (left), wrote for a unanimous court:

Even though the issues do not line up exactly, Lady Hale’s opinion addresses many of the difficult questions that arise in the American context as well: whether denying services in connection with gay weddings is equivalent to denying services to gay persons; whether one should attribute certain kinds of commercial speech to the vendor or the customer; and whether the state’s interest in ending discrimination in public places overrides the religious convictions of persons who operate small businesses. The fight over these issues is still in its early stages, in Britain and America. This decision may provide guidance for the way forward.

Readers can find my post here.

Around the Web

Here are some important stories involving law and religion from the past few days:

Farrar & Krayem, “Accommodating Muslims under Common Law”

This month, Routledge releases “Accommodating Muslims under Common Law: A Comparative Analysis,” by Salim Farrar (University of Sydney) and Ghena Krayem (University of Sydney).  The publisher’s description follows:

The book explores the relationship between Muslims, the Common Law and Shari’ah post-9/11. The book looks at the accommodation of Shari’ah Law within Western 9780415710466Common Law legal traditions and the role of the judiciary, in particular, in drawing boundaries for secular democratic states with Muslim populations who want resolutions to conflicts that also comply with the dictates of their faith.

Salim Farrar and Ghena Krayem consider the question of recognition of Shari’ah by looking at how the flexibilities that exists in both the Common Law and Shari’ah provide unexplored avenues for navigation and accommodation. The issue is explored in a comparative context across several jurisdictions and case law is examined in the contexts of family law, business and crime from selected jurisdictions with significant Muslim minority populations including: Australia, Canada, England and Wales, and the United States. The book examines how Muslims and the broader community have framed their claims for recognition against a backdrop of terrorism fears, and how Common Law judiciaries have responded within their constitutional and statutory confines and also within the contemporary contexts of demands for equality, neutrality and universal human rights. Acknowledging the inherent pragmatism, flexibility and values of the Common Law, the authors argue that the controversial issue of accommodation of Shari’ah is not necessarily one that requires the establishment of a separate and parallel legal system.

Leave Wins

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Like most Americans, I didn’t pay close attention to the Brexit campaign. It seemed a foregone conclusion. The prediction markets were signaling that a vote to leave the EU was a long shot; the polls indicated that Remain was comfortably ahead; the stock markets were quiet. Besides, anti-EU protests never amount to anything. When national majorities vote against the EU in referenda, the EU always finds a way around them. In politics, elites usually get their way, and Europe’s elites, including Britain’s, are solidly pro-Europe. If nothing else, one would have thought inertia would keep Britain in the union. The EU always manages to chug along, notwithstanding all manner of crises. Why would this time be different?

But it seems it was. A small, but clear majority of Britons voted Leave, and, at this writing, the authorities say they will honor the choice. The skeptic in me suspects a trick, but more experienced observers tell me that a stall-and-vote-again strategy won’t work this time. The vote was definitive and, besides, people are too angry to risk irritating them further. The EU says it wants to move the process along quickly. Sometime in the next several months, Her Majesty’s government will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and start the divorce.

Many factors influenced the vote. Economics had a role. The Leave side argued that membership in the EU was holding down British growth, and that the UK could strike better trade deals on its own, notwithstanding President Obama’s warning that, without the EU, Britain would go to “the back of the queue.” But nationalism and cultural issues were more important: irritation at a loss of sovereignty to Brussels; worries about the effects of mass immigration; resentment of a cosmopolitan elite that demeans local ways; a sense of creeping social disorder, epitomized by recent satires like Martin Amis’s 2012 novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England. A fascinating survey I saw on Twitter reveals that Britons who see “multiculturalism” as a “force for ill” voted 81% in favor of leaving the EU.

It’s striking how powerful nationalism remains in Europe. Although elites have been trying to suppress it for decades, the affection national populations have for their own communities and traditions remains strong. Whenever I go to Europe, I ask people whether they identify with Europe or their native cultures– “What are you?” With the exception of one or two academics, I have yet to meet anyone who responds, “European.” They are British, or French, or Dutch, or Czech. And what is the contemporary “European” identity, anyway? Managerial government, neoliberal economics, and progressive human rights—not the stuff to inspire deep loyalty.

By contrast, national identities do inspire deep loyalty. That’s why they persist, more so in some countries than others, of course, but everywhere in Europe. Thursday’s vote shows that a strong sense of national identity continues in Britain. Even Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU, which one might first see as a rejection of nationalism, can be explained in nationalist terms. The Scots are using EU membership as their own mark of national identity, a way of distinguishing themselves from their neighbors to the south.

Of course, not all Britons are enthusiastic about national identity or dubious about multiculturalism. The vote reveals a deeply divided country. The Remain side reacted to Thursday’s vote with fury and despair. Young Britons, in particular, are decrying the lost opportunities for travel, work, study, even love, which they say will result from Britain’s leaving the EU. (I’m not sure how realistic these worries are, especially the last). Older, backward Britons betrayed their country’s future! But Thursday’s vote reveals that commitment to multiculturalism and European integration isn’t a majority sentiment in Britain, at least not yet, and that the nation isn’t so ready to give up on its own, particular past.

Dehanas, “London Youth, Religion, and Politics”

In August, Oxford University Press will release “London Youth, Religion, and Politics: Engagement and Activism from Brixton to Brick Lane,” by Daniel Nilsson DeHanas (King’s College London). The publisher’s description follows:

For more than a decade the “Muslim question” on integration and alleged extremism has vexed Europe, revealing cracks in long-held certainties about the role of religion 9780198743675in public life. Secular assumptions are being tested not only by the growing presence of Muslims but also by other fervent new arrivals such as Pentecostal Christians. London Youth, Religion, and Politics focuses on young adults of immigrant parents in two inner-city London areas: the East End and Brixton. It paints vivid portraits of dozens of young men and women met at local cafes, on park benches, and in council estate stairwells, and provides reason for a measured hope.

In East End streets like Brick Lane, revivalist Islam has been generating more civic integration although this comes at a price that includes generational conflict and cultural amnesia. In Brixton, while the influence of Pentecostal and traditional churches can be limited to family and individual renewal, there are signs that this may be changing. This groundbreaking work offers insight into the lives of urban Muslim, Christian, and non-religious youth. In times when the politics of immigration and diversity are in flux, it offers a candid appraisal of multiculturalism in practice.

Cesarani, “Disraeli”

This month, the Yale University Press will release “Disraeli: The Novel Politician,” by David Cesarani (Royal Holloway, University of London).  The publisher’s description follows:

Lauded as a “great Jew,” excoriated by antisemites, and one of Britain’s most renowned prime ministers, Benjamin Disraeli has been widely celebrated for his role 45eea7288533ef9fcae4ba0676f7a9c2in Jewish history. But is the perception of him as a Jewish hero accurate? In what ways did he contribute to Jewish causes? In this groundbreaking, lucid investigation of Disraeli’s life and accomplishments, David Cesarani draws a new portrait of one of Europe’s leading nineteenth-century statesmen, a complicated, driven, opportunistic man.

While acknowledging that Disraeli never denied his Jewish lineage, boasted of Jewish achievements, and argued for Jewish civil rights while serving as MP, Cesarani challenges the assumption that Disraeli truly cared about Jewish issues. Instead, his driving personal ambition required him to confront his Jewishness at the same time as he acted opportunistically. By creating a myth of aristocratic Jewish origins for himself, and by arguing that Jews were a superior race, Disraeli boosted his own career but also contributed to the consolidation of some of the most fundamental stereotypes of modern antisemitism.

Walker, “The Labour Party in Scotland”

This month, Palgrave Macmillan releases “The Labour Party in Scotland: Religion, the Union, and the Irish Dimension,” by Graham Walker (Queen’s University).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book makes a timely contribution to our understanding of the dramatic political changes that have recently affected Scotland and thrown into doubt the Unknowncountry’s future position within the United Kingdom. Its focus is on the Labour Party and the loss of its traditional electoral support base. This theme is related to religion and its relevance to Scotland’s identity politics. The author examines how Labour was able to appeal across the ethno-religious divide in Scotland for many decades, before considering the impact of the new political context of devolution in the 21st century and the greater scrutiny given to the question of sectarianism in Scottish life. Walker demonstrates the role played by the sectarianism controversy in Labour’s loss of political control and its eclipse by the Scottish National Party (SNP). This book is also the first to assess the significance of the Irish dimension in Scotland’s political development, in particular the impact of the conflict in nearby Northern Ireland.  It will appeal to students and scholars of Scottish and Irish politics, political science and political/electoral history, as well as the interested wider reader.

 

Stewart, “Rethinking the Scottish Revolution”

This month, the Oxford University Press releases “Rethinking the Scottish Revolution: Covenanted Scotland, 1637-51,” by Laura A.M. Stewart (University of London).  The publisher’s description follows:

The English revolution is one of the most intensely-debated events in history; parallel events in Scotland have never attracted the same degree of interest. Rethinking the 9780198718444Scottish Revolution argues for a new interpretation of the seventeenth-century Scottish revolution that goes beyond questions about its radicalism, and reconsiders its place within an overarching ‘British’ narrative.

In this volume, Laura Stewart analyses how interactions between print and manuscript polemic, crowds, and political performances enabled protestors against a Prayer Book to destroy Charles I’s Scottish government. Particular attention is given to the way in which debate in Scotland was affected by the emergence of London as a major publishing centre. The subscription of the 1638 National Covenant occurred within this context and further politicized subordinate social groups that included women. Unlike in England, however, public debate was contained. A remodelled constitution revivified the institutions of civil and ecclesiastical governance, enabling Covenanted Scotland to pursue interventionist policies in Ireland and England – albeit at terrible cost to the Scottish people.

War transformed the nature of state power in Scotland, but this achievement was contentious and fragile. A key weakness lay in the separation of ecclesiastical and civil authority, which justified for some a strictly conditional understanding of obedience to temporal authority. Rethinking the Scottish Revolution explores challenges to legitimacy of the Covenanted constitution, but qualifies the idea that Scotland was set on a course to destruction as a result. Covenanted government was overthrown by the new model army in 1651, but its ideals persisted. In Scotland as well as England, the language of liberty, true religion, and the public interest had justified resistance to Charles I. The Scottish revolution embedded a distinctive and durable political culture that ultimately proved resistant to assimilation into the nascent British state.

Bowen, “On British Islam”

In March, the Princeton University Press will release “On British Islam: Religion, Law, and Everyday Practice in Shari’a Councils,” by John R. Bowen (Washington University in St. Louis).  The publisher’s description follows:

On British Islam examines the history and everyday workings of Islamic institutions in Britain, with a focus on shari’a councils. These councils185px-princeton_university_press_logo-svg
concern themselves with religious matters, especially divorce. They have a higher profile in Britain than in other Western nations. Why? Taking a historical and ethnographic look at British Islam, John Bowen examines how Muslims have created distinctive religious institutions in Britain and how shari’a councils interpret and apply Islamic law in a secular British context.

Bowen focuses on three specific shari’a councils: the oldest and most developed, in London; a Midlands community led by a Sufi saint and barrister; and a Birmingham-based council in which women play a leading role. Bowen shows that each of these councils represents a prolonged, unique experiment in meeting Muslims’ needs in a Western country. He also discusses how the councils have become a flash point in British public debates even as they adapt to the English legal environment.

On British Islam highlights British Muslims’ efforts to create institutions that make sense in both Islamic and British terms. This balancing act is rarely acknowledged in Britain—or elsewhere—but it is urgent that we understand it if we are to build new ways of living together.

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