Crude and brutal ideologies can be promoted through sophisticated, subtle means. This is hardly surprising. The less obvious the worth of a particular cause the more its advocates might grow reliant on cognitive and emotional manipulation. Such is the case with the Islamic Education & Research Academy, iERA, who I’ve touched on several times and meant to explore properly. Their vision is one of cruel religious supremacy but as shocking and archaic as this sounds the means by which they advance it are modern and ingenious. These are not the medieval theocrats of Western imaginings. They offer Dawah 2.0.
The Islamic Education & Research Academy was founded by Abdur Raheem Green, an Old Amplethorpian who converted to Islam in 1988. He’s an enthusiastic theocrat who promotes the rule of Islam worldwide and opposes “diseases” like democracy and nationalism. The Islamified idyll that he conceives of would, according to his previous statements, be one where “the Jew and the Christian know that they are inferior and subjugated to Islam”; where adulterers and gays face “slow, painful death by stoning”; where “free mixing between sexes is avoided” and where “light beating” of wives is allowed. iERA promotes him as a speaker on such topics as “Shariah law-barbaric or misunderstood?”. You decide.
In establishing iERA Green has relied on the help of fellow theocrats. The Academy’s advisers have included Haitham al-Haddad, Hakim Quick, Hussein Yee and Bilal Phillips, who are all notorious for their international promotion of such things as anti-semitism, homophobia, patriarchal oppression and religious supremacism and, thus, have been prohibited from entering various countries and institutions. Their names have been removed from the iERA website but as its members continue to preach alongside them we can assume this wasn’t due to a principled reassessment.
Green has surrounded himself with young Muslims who work to provide intellectual ballast for his proselytising. These include Hamza Tzortzis, an ambitious, articulate speaker whose talks and debates feature his rejection of liberty and promotion of orders of sharia law and hudud punishments. Adnan Rashid, meanwhile, is the in-house historian. He wrote a paper which tries to make the case that “peace and justice emanat[ed] from the Islamic system”. Green is a fire and brimstone kind of preacher (in one speech he screams “this is madness” and the audience shame themselves by failing to reply with “THIS IS SPARTA”) but these guys have an appreciation of the subtler approaches to evangelism. Taking in their superficially objective and somewhat analytical commentaries one could almost forget the implications of their views.
Their rhetoric taps into popular discontent with the alienation and conflict that has at least to some extent been the result of economic and social liberalism. They’re quite the curmedgeons. A critic of Tzortzis observed that his pronouncements reminded him of the Daily Mail. Against this they promote the supposed cohesiveness and peace of Islamic societies. Well, I’m all for conservative critiques of modernity but, still, it’s worth observing that the countries that approximate the systems they idealise tend to be rife with corruption and intellectually sterile yet those furthest from it can be the most peaceful and creative. (I know there are other factors that influence this but if a deity was involved you’d think that he could override them.) Moreover, those countries manage it without anyone being killed for their lifestyle choices or having their limbs chopped off.
The folks at iERA also put a lot of work into packaging their rhetoric. Their materials are neat, bright and colourful and they’re enthusiastic about multimedia: branching out onto Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. They’ve also grasped the value of shameless attention-seeking: issuing press releases; picking fights with big-name bloggers and even hanging around the sodding Olympics. Their stylish presentation and appearance of reasonableness has gained them attention in mainstream outlets as well as helping them to avoid controversy while they proselytise. They offer retreats; evangelise at public events and even set up “webinars” (that’s a horrible word). They’ve energetically targeted the young: touring the Islamic societies of British universities and even cropping up in schools. The pupils of Leyton Sixth Form College were treated to Adnan Rashid on the question, “Sharia Law – Curse or Cure?”. I have a suspicion that he wasn’t all that balanced.
British commentators have been wise to the modernisation of racial supremacists yet popular images of their religious equivalents are still of wild-eyed demagogues in old-style suits or flowing robes; preaching eternal damnation from upturned boxes on street corners. This should change, because while influential people might not have been paying attention a lot of people, a lot of young people, have been listening and soon they’ll be talking and acting themselves.