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Thanks, but no thanks - a response to Uthman Badar

By Timothy Cootes - posted Wednesday, 12 June 2013

It is still the case that in the aftermath of Islam inspired acts of terror there is a rush to inform potential critics that the words Muslim, violence and Koran should not be uttered in the same breath. In his On Line Opinion article of June 3, Uthman Badar doesn't spend much time telling us why this should be, but he only needs three sentences before switching to a more comfortable subject: Western violence. Among other things, Badar argues that the violence inflicted by Western states and leaders in the wars, interventions and foreign policies of the last few decades vastly overshadows anything committed by Muslims. He finds the reason for this in the extremism of secular liberalism, a depraved ideology consisting of "irrational values that belong in medieval Europe." It makes sense, then, that he offers some advice: given that the Western world is in need of "housekeeping", citizens of Western states should "aggressively root out" the leaders who make possible and perpetuate this violence.

Badar's argument doesn't quite rise to the level of casuistry - for this, at the very least, it would need to sound clever. But nor can what he has to say be easily dismissed as the ravings of a pissed off Muslim, who, I am convinced, does not represent the values of the wider Muslim community in Australia. To put it mildly, the accusations, blame and advice he offers are, I think, somewhat askew, and this warrants a response.

On the question of Western violence towards Muslims via the wars and interventions since the end of the Cold War, Badar misdirects his rage. I'm not sure what he thinks of some of the odious regimes recently ousted, but I can assume that in his mind they couldn't possibly be as bad as the West. I'll accept, even defend, the charge of Western violence when it's directed at thugs in the Balkans and Afghanistan and the totalitarians of the Baath party and al Qaeda. You'll notice, too, I hope, that the United States and other Western powers have consistently been on the side of Muslims who don't want the outcomes their tyrants have in mind: elimination of the Bosnian Muslims, an illiterate and broken Afghan society, and enslavement of the beaten down Iraqis.


Why is it that those who stand with the oppressed, for the liberation of people we don't know, seem to have all of the explaining to do? I can't dissociate the word 'tragedy' from these parts of the world, but to find sympathy with Badar's argument is to subscribe to the wrong and stupid notion that such tragedy has somehow been desired by Western powers. You'll find that some actors actively did want it, however, and they got it. Consistently, these have been Islam's most pious adherents: the militants and jihadists of al Qaeda, who must find great satisfaction in the wreckage of civil society across the Arab and Muslim world. If there is to be rage, and I think there should be, let it be directed at the individuals who most deserve it.

I don't have much time for Badar's argument, and you will understand, then, why I reject his advice, too. The word choice in the recommendation to "aggressively root out" our leaders I found a touch alarming. There are good reasons to vote against Julia Gillard this September, but no sensible voter would wish any aggressionupon her. Like most readers, I scrolled down to the bottom of Badar's article to read the 'About the Author' section and very quickly, the word choice came to make perfect sense, and more than a touch alarming.

Uthman Badar is the media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation whose goal is the re-establishment of the lost Islamic Caliphate through political and intellectual means. I think 'intellectual' there is perhaps a little generous, but I became curious and directed my browser to the organisation's website. Hizb ut-Tahrir advocates the wholesale transformation of society, where things secular and corrupt become Islamic. This is something of a process. First, thoughts must become Islamic thoughts. Then emotions must become Islamic emotions. This is followed by . . well, you get the idea. Most troubling, however, is the eventual Islamification of societal relationships and political and legal systems until the Caliphate is returned in Muslim countries, and then, quite possibly, encompasses the entire world.

Australia is not a place where ideas like those of Hizb ut-Tahrir find easy accommodation. We should be quite pleased about this. But we have seen other places where such ideas find violent expression: al Qaeda always brings up talk of the Caliphate when its operations move to failed states. We saw this in Iraq, and we are witnessing it again in Syria. We also saw a very nearly successful attempt at theocratic gangsterism in Mali, where the tolerant and peaceful Malians were subjected to amputation and stoning for the crime of gender interaction.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest an exact equivalence between the agents of al Qaeda and Hizb ut-Tahrir. I merely point out that they share an aspiration, and the former's attempts at its realisation have been rejected every single time, and most vocally by Muslims themselves. We know, then, what the struggle for theocracy looks like, and it never works out well. Again, to put it mildly, Hizb ut-Tahrir's thinking bothers me, and it should bother any Australian citizen who values even slightly our secular democracy and elected leaders, lamentable though they often are. I have a problem with Islamism in the Sahel and in Sydney, so thanks, but no thanks, Mr Badar. I don't want your advice on political "housekeeping", especially now that I know what you have in mind and that it is derived entirely from a single, mediocre book.

How wonderful to be able to say such things! To live in a secular society which enables free expression. Badar, of course, must loathe all of this, but the irony here is entirely at his expense: the values he hates are the same ones allowing him to make known his nonsense views in an Australian e-journal.


I can't resist, finally, an opportunity to offer Badar and his co-thinkers at Hizb ut-Tahrir some advice of my own: Don't stop. Keep writing and expounding your views. Whether it's the illusory Caliphate or a boycott of Anzac Day, nothing could advance the cause of secular democracy more effectively than hearing the alternatives you have to offer. This is the case, too, for the many Australian Muslims who don't want the Caliphate, either, and for whom Hizb ut-Tahrir is a source of embarrassment rather than intellectual guidance. I extend, then, your right to free expression. I'm an infidel, so I'm sure I wouldn't be afforded the same opportunity in the Islamic Caliphate. But seeing as you're stuck with democracy for the time being, you're also stuck with a few of my complaints and criticisms.


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About the Author

Timothy Cootes is a freelance writer and postgraduate student at Macquarie University who is completing a Master of International Relations. He can be contacted at

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