Of the three Muslim-background candidates who put their hat in the ring, Sajid Javid,
the son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants whose father was a bus driver
and his mother a housewife, is the most explicitly and reliably anti-Islamist.
Javid established his anti-Islamist bona fides in 2019 while serving as
Home Secretary, when he blocked the return of Shamima Begum who had
left the UK to join the Islamic State in Syria, marrying a Dutch-born
fighter and giving birth to three children, all of whom sadly died.
Not only did he block Begum’s attempt to return to the UK after the collapse of the caliphate in 2019, he also revoked her citizenship.
His rationale, based on intelligence reports, was that Begum was a
security risk and that revoking her citizenship was conducive to the
public good. Javid received quite a bit of backlash at the time from the left, the right, and the Islamist community. Fortunately, he ignored it.
Javid gave a sense of his attitude toward Islamism in 2015, while he was Business Secretary, when he urged
British Muslims to challenge non-violent extremists who support the
ideology of groups such as the Islamic State. He described Islamism as
an ideology that is “antithetical to our way of life in a Western
liberal democracy, and that has inspired countless attacks against
innocent people.” Those are the words of a committed anti-Islamist
Rehman Chishti, a
Pakistani born immigrant who came to the U.K. in 1984 at the age of six,
can best be characterized as a non-Islamist Muslim who affirms the
principle of religious freedom but seems a bit naïve about Islamism as a
To demonstrate his commitment to religious pluralism, Chishti swore
his oath of allegiance in Parliament using the Qur’an while keeping the
Bible and the Torah with him. He wanted to demonstrate that despite being a Muslim, having respect for all faiths was essential to harmonious coexistence.
Chisti also campaigned
for the release of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother accused of
blasphemy in Pakistan. Chishti has also been an advocate for the rights
of women and minority religious communities in Muslim-majority
countries such as Afghanistan. For example, he wrote in the grassroots Conservative website, Con Home,
that using mainstream Islamic teachings could help hold the Taliban to
account. He also called on Al-Azhar University in Egypt to condemn the
This is where Chisti falls short. In his call for Al-Azhar University to hold the Taliban to account, he describes the school as a “a widely respected and leading institutional authority on moderate Islamic thought.”
It is no such thing.
As Cynthia Farrahat reports,
the school remains an outpost of Islamist opposition to Egyptian
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s attempts to modernize Egypt. Clearly,
Chishti is no Islamist himself, but his reliability as a
counter-Islamist is, for now, a bit questionable.
Of the three Muslim-background candidates, Nadhim Zahawi’s
response to the threat of Islamism has been the most contradictory.
Zahawi, who was born to a Kurdish family in Baghdad that fled Saddam
Hussein’s Iraq in the mid-1970s, offered mixed messages in response to the rise of Islamist movements in the Middle East during the Arab Spring.
On one hand, he expressed concern about the Islamist record of human
rights abuses, support for terrorism and contempt for democracy. But on
the other hand, he lauded Erdoğan’s Turkey as a “case study of an
Islamist government which is sympathetic to our values and with whom we
can do business,” declaring that “The AKP government has shown that
Islam can play a role in public life while remaining respectful of a
secular constitution.” Five years later, Zahawi boasted of having met personally with Erdoğan to speak about trade relations. Erdoğan is no committed secularist, having mobilized Turkey’s expatriate community to disrupt public life in Western democracies.
Closer to home, Zahawi has taken a tougher line against Islamism, chiding London Mayor Khan and then Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn for mainstreaming Islamists
in 2016. “No one wishes to see Hamas being invited to Downing Street,
or anti-Semites visiting City Hall,” Zahawi wrote, “and they have met
with these people, and spoken alongside them on many occasions.”
The following year, however, Zahawi condemned U.S. President Trump for his so-called “Muslim ban,” (which was really a travel ban imposed on countries that posed espionage and terror threats to the United States).
The counter-Islamist credentials of the three Muslim-background
candidates vary, but their willingness to speak openly about the issues
is reassuring. But unless the diverse British Muslim community stands up
with them and other politicians in their opposition to Islamism, the
rest of the British public will be led to believe that either they don’t
care, or that they agree with the Islamists. This is certainly not the
case, but the community’s opposition needs to be shouted both at the top
and at the grassroots after every opportunity.