Dervla Murphy & Islamic Fundamentalism in 1980's Britain
OP - January 08, 2014, 12:46 PM
Dervla Murphy is an Irish writer who has published over twenty books chronicling her travels around the world. In 1987, two years before The Satanic Verses affair erupted in Bradford, she published a book called ‘Tales from Two Cities’ detailing her experience of life in Bradford and Birmingham, reflecting on the issues of multi-ethnic urban Britain, the problems or racism and integration.
There is a passage in the book that is very prescient about how Islamic fundamentalism was being proselytized in Britain. In 1989 when protests against Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses broke out, this form of Islamic identity politics asserted itself into the consciousness of mainstream Britain. To many people it seemed to have arisen out of nowhere. In actual fact this aggressive religious identity politics had been cultivated for years.
The growth of Islamism in Britain the 1990’s onwards is now well understood. The aggressive activism against secularism and liberalism by Islamists and other religious identity-politics in the UK, and the narrative they propound has its roots in this confluence of religious literalism and identity politics. We can also see how many of the ideas of Islamic separate identity-politics have constantly co-opted the rhetoric of the multicultural ‘idea’.
Murphy also points to the dangers of Wahaabi Islam in Britain being financed from oil rich Gulf states, a reality that is now very much part of our social landscape. And she highlights the warnings of moderate Muslims with regards to the dangers posed by religious fundamentalism, something that still needs to be heeded today.
In this section of her book, Dervla Murphy describes why there is a need for integrated, multi-cultural schools in Bradford:
"In areas of many Muslims, there is a further argument for multi-cultural education. Without it, the tiny minority of Islamic fundamentalist Muslims who agitate at intervals for separate Islamic schools may gain support. At present few take them seriously. Yet they are not confined, as many suppose, to the older generation; I met several young men who were even less flexible and much more belligerent than their fundamentalist seniors......"
She then quotes at length from a tract published in Small Heath, Birmingham, that is full of vilification for the British school system, and asserts the need for Muslim children to be educated separately from non Muslims, so that they are not contaminated by godlessness and non believers. She continues;
"The victories of Islamic fundamentalism elsewhere, and the oil-money that could be made available to spread the contagion among Britain’s Muslim communities, make ‘pure English’ schooling seem not only inadequate but hazardous. An upsurge of Islamic fundamentalism would do nothing for race relations in Britain. And some responsible moderate Muslims consider it not as remote a possibility as it may seem to outsiders."
Two years after this book was published The Satanic Verses was burnt on the streets of Bradford.
The issues she was sensitive too are still alive. We can admire Dervla Murphy’s prescience on the faultlines and issues that were forming in parts of our society.