Sayeeda Warsi’s Blinkered View Of Islamism

Maryam Namazie reviews a book by Sayeeda Warsi. It originally featured in the Evening Standard. Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born co-spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and One Law for All.

Sayeeda Warsi’s new book catalogues some of the hypocrisy and double standards of the British Government, the rise of the far-Right and bigotry against Muslims, yet has a glaring blind spot when it comes to Islamism. According to Warsi, Islamist terrorism is the result of everything but Islamist ideology.

Since most of those killed by Islamists are “Muslims” in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, her argument that terrorism is the result of Islamophobia, racism, foreign policy and social exclusion is unconvincing. Also, she fails to see that many aggrieved people end up involved in progressive political and civil rights work rather than inciting violence or murdering women, men and children in schools and marketplaces.

Without any apparent understanding of the context and rise of the contemporary transnational Islamist movement, including Iran’s key role in it, Warsi says “simmering resentment” began when the British Government apparently failed to prosecute Salman Rushdie for blasphemy. “Muslims,” she says, “wanted British laws to protect Islam,” and when it didn’t happen, the Iranians were more than happy to step in with what she characterises as “concern and moral support”. According to her, Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa put Iran in “pole position, ready and willing to come out leading the collective Muslim sentiment”.

Like any good apologist who is more concerned with blasphemy than murder, and who homogenises “Muslim sentiment” to coincide with her own, Warsi doesn’t seem bothered that the act of “concern” was a fatwa against a British citizen, nor that it took place during the bloody Eighties, when thousands of Iranians were executed by the regime. Warsi also seems to conveniently overlook the fact that blasphemy laws continue to persecute freethinkers such as Ayaz Nizami in Pakistan and Sina Dehghan in Iran.

Her apologia for Islamism is shocking. She says, for example, that “Islamist ideology has created a new generation of Muslim democrats” such as the AKP in Turkey (though President Erdogan has arrested tens of thousands, limited freedoms and rights of citizens, and is murdering Kurds).

She approvingly quotes a former US assistant secretary of state saying “’Islamists’ are Muslims with political goals”, which is like saying Pegida are Christians with political goals. She compares the “young men who first went out to help as the Syrian civil war started” with the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War, which is like comparing fascists with anti-fascists.

She says prominent Islamists such as Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood are “democratically engaged both in the UK and overseas” (though in 1971 in Bangladesh, some members of Jamaat-e-Islami were implicated in organising lynchings against people demanding independence, and senior UK-based Muslim Brotherhood leader Kamal Helbawy has praised Osama Bin Laden).

Every Islamist agenda Warsi writes about, such as gender segregation, the veil or Sharia courts, is sanitised and trivialised, while almost every organisation or personality is either misunderstood, misrepresented or merely branded “controversial”.

Zakir Naik, for example, who promotes the death penalty for apostates and ex-Muslims is, according to Warsi, “considered sectarian by some, an intellectual by others, an inciter of hatred by some and an enlightened orator by others”.

Having bought into the Islamist narrative, she falsely conflates criticism of Islam and Islamism with bigotry against Muslims and uses “Islamophobia” to scaremonger people into silence. And while she is critical of identity politics and the homogenisation of “Muslims”, she — wittingly or unwittingly — promotes both.

Warsi’s solution to the situation we are faced with today is more of the same: more religion in the public space and stronger “religious identities”, though it is clearly less religion that we need, not more. And while she considers secularisation a threat, it is in fact the separation of religion from the state, universal values and citizenship rights that will provide minimum guarantees against the intolerance and violence of religion in politics and power.

Sayeeda Warsi,  2017. The Enemy Within: A Tale of Muslim Britain. Publisher: Allen Lane. ISBN-13: 978-0241276020


  1. The signs across Europe and America are that the people understand enough about Islam to want no more accommodation of it. The progressive media bias is so blatant in this respect we can now safely predict its response to any Islamic infraction on civil societies norms, and is one of the reasons these outlets are withering away.(Where was it mentioned Chechnya's Gay concentration camps are founded on Islamic doctrine?) Muslims should be encouraged to walk away from it, not facilitated in imposing it on non-believers.

  2. DaithiD,

    I don't see how we can refuse to accommodate religious sentiment. I think a society that does not is a dangerous one. What we should be doing is not prioritising it or giving it special status. The arguments of Warsi, which I am familiar with from elsewhere, rather than her book, should be vigorously challenged. There are no grounds for allowing it to be imposed on others. I think this is a great piece of writing by Maryam.

  3. AM, a state that wants to wipe out religious expression is not desirable. I mean as in honor Islamic blasphemy laws, this sentiment is sweeping the West at the moment. I also mean not attending meetings that have been gender segregated on a religious basis. These are everyday things we really shouldnt be ceding ground on. I have no intention of reading this book, I have read the source material Warsi wants to obscure to lay people though,Maryam seems to get the broad dangers correct.

  4. DaithiD,

    Islamic blasphemy should me met with blasphemy.

    Same for any blasphemy law.

    There should be no ground ceded on it.

    Multiculturalism is ok but cultural relativism is not ok.

    People's rights should not be relative to their culture but their status as human beings.

    Don't know if you read this here before.

  5. AM, Your position back then is still in the vanguard of today. Id love to be brave and agree with your first point, I can only muster a few quid quarterly to those outlets or peoples doing it publicly,I can see what you guys are up against and I think you are all mad (in the best possible way). I get the concept of diffusing a target, but the satisfaction of being right but beheaded is roughly equivalent to those who suffered hell in the Norths jails for their entire youth and young adulthood and then got a copy of Tighra for their efforts id imagine.
    What a generation I am from, Generation Bastard historians will call it. So un-radical they protest for less freedom, more Blasphemy Laws, and to assist the state in collecting more taxes.At least these pre-Uni kids dont seem to give a fuck about language like mine did/does.