British Policy and Politics – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 19 Nov 2020 03:22:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How the concentration of property rights within corporations has led to a rejection of democracy and a rise in inequality Thu, 19 Nov 2020 05:01:21 +0000 By Jean-Philippe Robé | –

Jean-Philippe Robé discusses how multinational enterprises morphed into political organisations with global reach and power, but without the corresponding responsibilities. He argues that the concentration of property rights within corporations has led to the rejection of democracy as an ineffective system of government and to the rise in inequality.

( LSE British Politics and Policy) – Globalisation is affecting our lives, our institutions and our natural environment. Global firms play a key role in this historical change. In an open, globalized economy, large business firms take a world view about the opportunities which present themselves. Some states offer a legal environment which is pollution friendly. Others offer the services of their workforce at a discount. Others specialize in the offering of tax schemes making it possible to substantially reduce tax bills. The UK and the City of London have been particularly efficient at creating on-shore what is being perceived as off-shore finance. All this is of course at the expense of the effectiveness of the political institutions trying to protect their populations and natural environment. Their ability to adopt protective local rules is reduced and their financial means are being eroded via a global game of tax base and profit shifting.

This evolution is not a consequence of ‘market’ forces. To start with, according to an UNCTAD 2018 report, 80% of cross border-trade is in fact intra-firm trade. What appears as being international exchange is in fact exchange internal to firms, to organizations. International trade is mostly organized trade – trade organized by large firms. The decisions leading to the present state of affairs are therefore not made via the anonymous choices of market actors. They are made within business organizations, within firms optimizing their operations, from their own perspectives, using the worldwide menu of state-offered legal dishes.

There is a general sentiment that the present-day economic, financial and political systems are out of control. But a clear view as to the origin of these issues and what can be done about them is lacking. What I propose is a new method of analysing the co-development of economic and political institutions which offers pathways out of the dire straits in which we are.

The notion of property is a central concept in this new analysis. Contrary to common sense, property is not a direct relationship between a person and a thing. Property is not a ‘state of nature’ reality; it is a highly sophisticated mode of social relationships. What property really means is that in connection with any object of property, the owner has a right of decision-making as a matter of principle in connection with the object of property. Laws come only as limitations, as a matter of exception, to the autonomy of the owner.

This modern notion of property was progressively intellectually developed up to its institutionalization at the end of the eighteenth century. The political purpose behind this notion was to make of the individual owner a small-scale sovereign, with full autonomy to make decisions about the use of their property. For some, the issue was one of efficiency: property allows making decisions in connection with the use of things without palaver. And the owner bears the consequences, positive or negative, of his or her actions in connection with the object of property. For others, what was at stake was the autonomy of the individual and the provision of the means to enable owners to develop their own oneness. These are in a sense the two roots of the liberal system, with individual owners as primary decision-makers, and the rules of society, mostly via law, coming as exceptional derogations to this autonomy.

In this system of allocation of prerogatives in connection with the use of property rights, owners are legally placed in a more favourable position than non-owners. Irrespective of the widely shared belief that there is equality among individuals in a liberal legal system, the reality is that owners can hire and fire in connection with the use of their objects of property and that they can organize producing activities. Owners order and non-owners obey. Of course, this is window-dressed by contracts, such as employment contracts. But the inequality in property rights translates into an inequality in day-to-day life for most of us. The autonomy of some is the heteronomy of the many.

A key to the understanding of the evolution of our societies over the last 150 years or so is the perception of the importance of the corporate revolution. In purely liberal legal systems, business corporations are viewed with much suspicion and are clearly understood as potentially very powerful organizations which can prevent the normal operation of a liberal society. The sources of worry are numerous. In particular, shareholders have limited liability, which is an issue in a society in which one is deemed to be responsible for his own acts; managers are going to make decisions in connection with objects of property they do not own, which translates into complex rules of allocation of duties and responsibilities; there is no limit such a death to the accumulation and concentration of objects of property within corporations; they may end up being very powerful organizations challenging the authority of the state. And so on. Treating legal fictions as real-life individuals was perceived as inherently problematic.

Our forebears were very much aware of these issues. But two different forces combined to lead to a worldwide spreading of what can be termed the corporate system. First, the financial needs arising as a consequence of the industrial revolution, be it in infrastructure, industrial production, large-scale distribution, insurance and so on. And second, the international competition among states to provide the legal tools requested by local industrialists. This race-to-the-bottom (or towards efficiency for some) is well known in the US context. In a federal free market, businesses had the liberty to incorporate in the state of their choice. This led to a frenzy competition among the various states to provide businesses with the freedom to incorporate. What used to be a privilege, a derogation to the normal rules of operation of the economic/legal system, soon became a right. A similar process took place in Europe, with England as a first mover, followed by continental states such as France in the wake of the extension of free trade treaties.

Today, in many jurisdictions of the world, incorporation requires just a few pounds and, in a few seconds, a new legal person is created. What is the issue? Large organizations, large business firms, organize themselves legally by using hundreds of subsidiaries in the various jurisdictions of the world to optimize the allocation of their resources, the accounting of their performance and the allocation of wealth creation. Large groups of corporations, each one of them being a separate legal person with the same rights as individuals made of flesh and blood, make it possible to legally structure large organizations which do not have any legal existence as such, as a unity, as a single organization. The consequence is a worldwide disconnect between the use of prerogatives, the rights of decision-making, the property rights, and the allocation of responsibilities and liabilities.

There are many clear examples of what can be done by tweaking the corporate organization of a large firm. Jobs, pollution or profits can be easily relocated. So much so that depending on its corporate structure, the same economic organization producing the same number of widgets over a period of time can lead to widely different outcomes in terms of environmental and social impact, and in terms of profit measurement.

This discrepancy between the corporate structure of groups of companies, made of hundreds of legal persons, and the unity of operations of the firms existing as a consequence has consequences across the board. Large firms have concentrated via their corporate structure the rights of decisions-making as a matter of principle over productive assets. They have concentrated rights of autonomy, sovereign rights, initially designed for individuals. Concentrated within organizations, these rights take on a brand-new dimension. They give firms sovereign powers which need to be tamed via improved governance systems and a more inclusive accounting of their activities. The governance of our society is deeply impacted, with a dramatic erosion of the Westphalian state system.

There are several potential means of action to adapt to this new reality. One of them is an improvement of the accounting system which, today, can evidence the existence of profits while firms destroy environmental and social capital. Beyond the accounting of the operations of the firms in terms of financial capital creation or destruction, the forms of capital included into the accounting of the operations must now include social and environmental capital. The development of proper accounting systems suited to the needs of a globalized society is particularly required given the seriousness of global climate disruption and the quasi-impossibility to address it via the institutions which are the legacy of the fading state system.


Note: the above summarises some of the arguments in the author’s new book
Property, Power and Politics Why We Need to Rethink the World Power System
(Bristol University Press, 2020).

About the Author

Jean-Philippe Robé is a member of the Paris and New York Bars. He teaches law at the Sciences Po Law School in Paris and is an equity partner in one of the largest US law firms.

Via LSE British Politics and Policy

Is 2020 the Year Britain Breaks up or can Boris Johnson hold the United Kingdom Together? Wed, 01 Jan 2020 05:01:06 +0000 Michael Kenny and Jack Sheldon discuss how Boris Johnson should approach intergovernmental matters in relation to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

( British Politics and Policy) – Boris Johnson used his [post-election] victory speech to restate his intention to lead a ‘one nation’ government. But, rather notably, he made no direct reference to either Scotland or Northern Ireland, the two parts of the UK where the ‘one nation’ idea is under most obvious threat. Both present major, difficult dilemmas for his new government, and will provide significant tests for the unionist sentiment which he likes to espouse.

In Scotland, the SNP has now won a clear majority of seats at three consecutive general elections since the independence referendum in 2014. The Conservatives had high hopes that they could retain most of the 13 seats they won in 2017 and stall the SNP’s momentum. But they ended up holding only six, losing badly in constituencies such as East Renfrewshire and Stirling that had particularly strong Remain votes in 2016. This outcome leaves the Scottish and UK governments on a collision course, with the SNP able to claim a strong mandate for seeking a section 30 order for a second referendum, while Johnson has committed to refusing this request while he is Prime Minister.

Tensions on this issue are likely to burgeon quickly in the weeks and months to come. Many supporters of independence consider that the time is right to press this demand, although some in the SNP leadership may be prepared to wait until after the May 2021 Holyrood elections, when they would hope to have secured a mandate that would be even more difficult to deny. If the UK government continues to refuse to engage, the possibility that the Scottish government will test the legality of organising a referendum unilaterally is likely to be discussed more openly. There is a very real danger of drifting towards a major crisis over the issue, which would inevitably invite comparisons to the situation in Spain where the Spanish government has refused to allow a referendum on Catalan independence despite pro-referendum majorities in the Catalan legislature.

Boris Johnson’s government would be advised to consider a wider range of options than just saying ‘No’, loudly and repeatedly, a stance that could well inflame some of those voters not currently enthused by the prospect of another referendum as well as the SNP’s core supporters. Equally, it needs to give serious thought to a broader policy agenda in relation to Scotland, perhaps contemplating a further extension of devolution in areas such as immigration. That could enable the UK government to counter the call for a referendum with an offer that would enable the Scottish Government to pursue its own path in areas where Scottish public opinion is evidently different from that in England.

The UK government also needs to ensure that negotiations start in earnest about the ‘common frameworks’ that will be needed in areas like agriculture and fisheries, once key powers come back from Brussels. It should do all it can to make these negotiations meaningful, and take seriously the perspectives of the devolved governments on these issues. Some progress has already been made on this front, but with the post-Brexit transition period due to last only until December 2020 there is now a need to accelerate this process and involve ministers, not just officials. The long-running review of intergovernmental relations, involving the UK, Scottish, and Welsh governments, and the attempt to set these on a more transparent and systematic footing, is of particular importance and should be seen as a priority by incoming ministers.

North-south dynamics aside, the result in Northern Ireland makes clear the vulnerability of the east-west Union, with unionist representation in the Commons reduced to eight of Northern Ireland’s 18 seats compared to 11 in the last parliament. It should be stressed that both the DUP and Sinn Fèin fell back significantly in terms of vote share, with Alliance and the SDLP the main beneficiaries – so it is an exaggeration to see the results as a vote for Irish unity. Nevertheless, the results will do little to quell the growing discussion in the North about the prospect of unification in the medium-term. Already some voices are insisting that the conditions for a new border poll have been met, and this could well be tested in the courts at some point during the course of the new parliament.

Ireland’s government, and the two newly-elected SDLP MPs, will tread very cautiously in this area. There are many unresolved questions about a border poll and unity itself, and would inevitably be major constitutional and economic implications for the existing Irish state. A good deal of political opinion in the Republic, and among nationalists in the North, favours extensive deliberation and cross-community engagement before any such vote is embarked upon. But there is no doubt that the Scottish referendum demand will reverberate powerfully in some communities in Northern Ireland.

British governmental thinking on this issue is far from being fully formed. But once the Withdrawal Agreement Bill passes through the Commons, there could well be a powerful response from Northern Ireland – where all 11 MPs that take their seats are set to vote against, but seem set to be marginalised now the UK government no longer needs the DUP. To counter this, Johnson’s government will need to develop a multi-stranded strategy which reflects a genuine commitment to engage with opinion from all communities in the North, and to work much more closely with the Irish government, seeking to repair a relationship that has been badly damaged by the political conflicts of the last three years. Committing to working actively to restore the power-sharing arrangements suspended in 2017 (which there are some early positive signs of) is a key, but insufficient, part of the approach that will be required. The new government, and its Prime Minister, may well have to return to the kind of in-person statecraft, and direct engagement, which was so important to the Major and Blair governments’ hard-won achievements in relation to Northern Ireland.

The only alternative to engaging seriously with the constitutional challenges in Scotland and Northern Ireland is to tacitly accept the direction of travel towards the possible break-up of the Union, possibly within the timeframe of Boris Johnson’s premiership which now looks set to continue for many years to come.


About the Authors

Michael Kenny is Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. He is a co-investigator on the ESRC-funded research project, ‘Between Two Unions: The Constitutional Future of the UK and Ireland after Brexit’, and is a Fellow at the Centre on Constitutional Change.

Jack Sheldon is a Research Assistant and PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. He works on the ESRC-funded research project, ‘Between Two Unions: The Constitutional Future of the UK and Ireland after Brexit’, and is a Fellow at the Centre on Constitutional Change.

Via British Politics and Policy

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

This work by British Politics and Policy at LSE is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.


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Will Boris Johnson’s calls for unity end in the breakup of the UK? | DW News

Brexit: After PM Boris Johnson’s Coup, what’s left of the British constitution? Sat, 31 Aug 2019 04:05:14 +0000

The contemptuous ease with which the Johnson-Cummings regime has attempted to cripple parliamentary consideration of alternatives to a no-deal Brexit by proroguing Parliament raises further serious issues about the remaining value of the UK’s ‘unfixed constitution’. This controversy comes after a prolonged period in which the executive under May used every micro-institutional weapon to blackmail MPs into accepting its deal. Patrick Dunleavy argues that the UK has slipped into having a failed constitution, where core democratic institutions are contaminated by rigged micro-institutions. The control of power has become dominated by a bunch of executive tricks, and an uncodified ‘constitution’ no longer provides any predictable or worthwhile constraints on government action. Yet it may be only a small step from creating a failed constitution to becoming some version of a failed state.

How do we recognise government attempts to deform a liberal democracy so as to get their way? As Putin, Erdogan and a host of others have demonstrated, there must be 50 ways to lose your constitution as any kind of constraint on incumbents exercising raw power as they wish. Perhaps the majority party calls the legislature to consider new laws at 5.30am (without informing the opposition). Or perhaps the opposition is notified but opposing MPs are intimidated by an induced deadline crisis and media blackguarding in every lobby. Perhaps a president suspends the legislature for a lengthy period and governs alone using decree powers supposedly reserved for an emergency, as many a Latin American banana republic did before the transition from authoritarian rule.

The constitutional thinkers of the Conservative party used to regard the prospects of any such developments in the UK as both anathema to the gradual evolution of the UK’s constitution on which they laid such stress, and almost impossible to happen here, except through socialist assaults. Ian Gilmour wrote in 1977 (Inside Right, p. 226):

In my view, a two-party system and an unfixed constitution is the highest form of political development yet seen. Unfortunately owing to the current political infantilism of the Labour Party it seems at present too high for Britain. It depends upon informal checks and balance and the self-restraint of politicians.

All the ‘British constitution’ texts have long reiterated the same message. The lack of codification of the UK’s constitution presented no substantial dangers, but instead gifted the country with a set of legal and constitutional arrangements that could easily flex and adapt for changing times and situations. The UK would have none of the irresolvable legacy problems of written constitutions gone obsolescent, such as the USA’s current enduring problems over the Second Amendment on the carrying of firearms. A great deal of faith was also placed in British elites’ developed respect for Parliament, for public opinion and for legality. A range of constitutional conventions were ascribed central importance. Sometimes they were presented as ‘tripwires’ effective enough to block executive malfeasance. Alternatively, perhaps they were only constitutional ‘rumble strips’ that could be driven over, but not without the executive noticing and experiencing discomfort – and with voters standing as the ultimate arbiters of acceptable conduct.

Precious little now remains of such glib and overly-optimistic voices – and ironically the coup de grace has come from both ‘moderate’ Conservatives and the warped Euroscepticism of right-wing ideologues who never recovered from the ‘stab in the back’ that brought down Thatcher in 1990. Theresa May’s government demonstrated not an elite responsiveness to MPs after 2017, but instead an increasingly frenzied exploitation of a host of parliamentary micro-institutions to bulldoze the May-Whitehall compromise Brexit deal through a reluctant Commons where government policies had no majority. This was the curtain raiser for the Johnson government’s more grand-scale effort to unilaterally rework the UK constitution so as to give the PM ‘governance by decree’ powers.

The corrosive role of micro institutions

Micro-institutions’ are small-scale rules, regulations, minor organisational norms and cultural practices, scattered across a range of institutional settings and often pretty obscure. They none the less can frequently govern how macro-institutions work out in practice. Some of them may switch on or off the effects of macro-institutions, and others can modify them in fundamental ways. Arguably, one of the key factors that separates core democracies from semi-democracies like Putin’s Russia is that in liberal democracies micro-institutions work to support democratic macro-institutions, while in semi-democracies they are subverted (subtly or flagrantly) so as to privilege incumbents.

In Theresa May’s repeated efforts to push her government’s negotiated Brexit deal through the Commons from late 2018 to May 2019 there were already multiple warning signs of micro-institutions being used in ways that were corrosive of any genuine responsiveness to Parliament. An obscure set of micro-institutions playing a key role were ‘business motions accessible only to the Crown’, on which was founded the executive’s capacity to ‘run down the clock’ on the supposedly fixed exit deadline of 29 March 2019. A key Commons vote was planned for mid-December 2018, but then cancelled at the last minute when it looked likely to be lost. Postponed for another month (of the three supposedly remaining, it was eventually held and lost two to one).

The government then returned to the Commons with a very lightly altered set of proposals for essentially the same deal, overturning the convention that Parliament does not re-vote on the same rejected law. Only when the Speaker finally rejected another effort to re-vote did the government admit defeat. May also kept in play a ‘no deal’ Brexit (and even a limited amount of ‘hostage-taking’ of EU citizens’ rights and livelihoods) as a reversionary option to try and compel her dissident MPs to still back her deal, despite the Commons repeatedly voting to show its rejection of any no deal outcome.

In the same line the Johnson government (advised by Cummings who is openly contemptuous of parliamentary government) has now sculpted from the equally obscure prerogative powers surrounding the prorogation of Parliament a superficially bland but deeply toxic disabling of the Commons for 35 of the 61 days remaining to avoid a no-deal Brexit. The timings involved are clearly tailored to frustrate any efforts of a fragmented opposition to concert an effective counter-action before September 10 or after 14 October, while yet bringing a Commons tied hand and foot back in time to witness but almost certainly unable to prevent a ‘no deal’ outcome on the 31st. That the Queen and her constitutional advisors accepted this proposal at its face value is yet another nail in the coffin of the old constitution, with the monarch’s vestigial capacity even to ‘advise and warn’ now obliterated and shown up as a fiction, for the meanest of partisan exigencies.

Above all the ruthless exploitation of micro-institutions by the incumbent regime in the grossest manner, at whatever cost to the public values previously binding the British polity together, has culminated in the creation of a constitutional status quo that is bafflingly complicated and indeterminate. Instead of great decisions resting on the clearly expressed will of Parliament, or the consultation of voters via a second referendum or a general election, a minority government and a PM that no one has elected are apparently set on achieving their will by converting to their purposes a swarm of micro-institutions of which almost all voters, and most constitutional ‘experts’ have little or no knowledge. The unfixed constitution has been exploited until it has failed to have any credibility as a guarantor of democratically responsive government or constraint on the executive’s power whatsoever.


It remains just possible still that Parliamentary control of the Brexit process may be reasserted, by one (or even two) of the four mechanisms set out by David Howarth. Perhaps there may even be a more striking (if temporary) change away from previous partisan practices at Westminster, leading to a general election, as sketched by Jonathan Boston. The Brexit story has already had more unlikely twists in the last three years. But it seemed unlikely back in July, and even more so now.

An alternative narrative may also develop where in response to one or more counter-actions in the Commons the Johnson government can represent itself as forced to hold an election. In such a poll the PM might be able to rely on voters’ anxiety to get shot of Brexit and to talk about something else at long last, using issue fatigue to smooth over whatever Machiavellian manoeuvres preceded the electorate’s involvement. There is a bleak precedent here, from Australia in 1973 when a partisan governor-general, Sir John Kerr (representing the Queen) abruptly terminated the Gough Whitlam government, and installed a Liberal PM. The new premier called a general election and won – thereby burying under the weight of a popular endorsement the skullduggery that had preceded it. The equivalent outcome here could yet see a Johnson victory (perhaps even a landslide) against a still hopeless fragmented ‘remainer’ opposition.

A third and final possibility, though, is that the government lives on, Brexit happens, but the current constitutional failure deepens further into the UK becoming a ‘failed state’ in multiple dimensions, as even some liberal conservative voices have suggested. The management of a liberal democratic state is a delicate business. Coming after prolonged austerity Brexit has already wrought significant damage to the UK governing apparatus, with policy inertia exerting a pall for more than three years. We’ve known since the London and city riots in August 2011 that the UK state is in a fragile and not resilient condition. It is more than ever reliant on the quasi-voluntary compliance of almost all its citizens to carry on working. Johnson’s manoeuvre must cause a further delegitimization of government, risking a spectrum of severely adverse developments that might include significant civil disobedience, some public order turmoil, a weakening of ‘tax discipline’ (‘no taxation without representation’), and in short order the break-up of the UK.

Patrick Dunleavy is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the London School of Economics, and Centenary Professor at the University of Canberra. He is the lead editor of The UK’S Changing Democracy (LSE Press, 2018), published free and open access.

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

This work by British Politics and Policy at LSE is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.


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Channel 4 News: “Brexit: Former Prime Ministers attack parliament suspension”

British Muslims: New Directions in Islamic Thought, Creativity and Activism Wed, 21 Aug 2019 04:03:32 +0000 In British Muslims: New Directions in Islamic Thought, Creativity and Activism, Philip Lewis and Sadek Hamid demonstrate how new generations are remaking Islamic institutional infrastructures in Britain. In so doing, the book challenges scholars and policy practitioners to revise their representations of Muslim institutions in the UK and to argue for an different, updated understanding of what British Islam really looks like, writes Stephen H. Jones.

British Muslims: New Directions in Islamic Thought, Creativity and Activism. Philip Lewis and Sadek Hamid. Edinburgh University Press. 2018.

Find this book: Here.

A little over ten years ago, as Britain was trying to make sense of how four people born and raised in the UK could carry out suicide attacks on its capital, a narrative took hold about the figure of the young British Muslim. Bhikhu Parekh articulated it well in 2008 when he noted that for ‘second generation’ Muslims, Islam is:

not woven into a taken-for-granted aspect of their lives as it is for their parents, but a self-consciously adopted badge of identity needing constantly to be asserted, an ideology providing them with a clear programme of action. Since it is a matter of conscious commitment, it is shadowed by a deep fear that the commitment might weaken or become diluted. They therefore become rigid and uncompromising in their religiosity, both to guard themselves against the fear that they might slacken, and to ask others to pull them up if they should do so.

At the time, this narrative contrasting an inward-looking older generation of Muslim migrants with their restless, alienated offspring had a reasonable basis in evidence. Multiple surveys revealed that, whatever their levels of religious practice, younger Muslims were more likely than their parents to support utopian Islamist goals, while various scholarly analyses pointed to a British Islamic institutional infrastructure that, under its present leadership, was struggling to appeal to or represent young Muslims’ interests.

As it has travelled through the years, however, this narrative has appeared increasingly worn out, and one of the reasons Philip Lewis and Sadek Hamid’s book British Muslims represents such a milestone is that it shows just how tired it has become. Those who were young and idealistic in the early years of the new millennium – between the 2001 disturbances in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford and the 7/7 attacks in 2005 – are now firmly in middle age. What British Muslims does is show that this maturing generation is now remaking the British Islamic institutional infrastructures that previously were castigated for only expressing the perspectives of conservative, invariably male community elders. Likewise, it shows how the Islamist-inspired movements that appealed to young people in the 1990s are now, precisely because of those young recruits, being transformed.

By doing this, the book challenges scholars and policy practitioners to revise their representations of Muslim institutions in the UK. For one of the problems with policy and public debates about Islam and its position in British society that British Muslims puts in stark relief is how damagingly outdated they are. From the Islamic Society of Britain to the Islamic Foundation, from the East London Mosque to the Muslim Association of Britain, it is hard to point to a longstanding Muslim organisation that hasn’t shifted ethos significantly, in the majority of cases away from conservative insularity and countercultural, utopian Islamism. These changes are, though, given virtually zero public recognition; or, as the authors themselves put it, ‘Too often critics of Islamic movements make no allowances for […] debate and evolution’ within those movements (106).

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is perhaps the most obvious illustration of this. The present government treats the MCB’s spokespersons as personae non gratae on the basis of a disagreement with ministers in 2009, or worse, on the basis of statements made by its founders around 30 years ago. This is despite the fact that the organisation has altered in myriad ways that are readily apparent to any external observer. Contrast the MCB’s objections to Theresa May’s refusal to offer the persecuted Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi asylum in Britain, for example, with its founders’ aggressive response to Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses. Or look at the way the organisation has recently placed upcoming young artists, activists and academics at the centre of their recent activities. The idea that the MCB represents only the interests of conservative elders or Islamist movements was always overstated, but now it is a fiction maintained by a loose alliance of unscrupulous journalists and politicians, who have reimagined what is basically, in Lewis and Hamid’s words, a ‘noisy public contestation [between competing Muslim groups] for representational power, government patronage and access to resources’ (165) as a battle between extremists and liberals for the very soul of British Islam.

I would go so far as to say that this refusal of institutional and religious change having occurred within British Islam is one of the ways in which Islamophobia manifests itself in British public discourse. One of the reasons I remain ambivalent about the recent efforts by Runnymede and the APPG on British Muslims to define Islamophobia as racism is that a vocabulary of race and anti-racism is not especially well placed to recognise or address obsolete stereotypes of, say, Deobandis as insular and ‘anti-British’ or, to quote a former prime minister, that the Cordoba Foundation is a ‘front for the Muslim Brotherhood’. British Muslims is a book that begins the work of building a more sophisticated vocabulary; it speaks to a need for those who study Muslim Britain to argue more clearly – and more politically – for a revised and updated understanding of what British Islam really looks like.

It is not, however, a faultless book, and there are in fact insights that can be gleaned from looking at its weaknesses. British Muslims seeks, in its own words, to challenge the ‘binary of apolitical “good Muslim […] and politicised “bad Muslim”’ (133). Yet there are points where the book reproduces this split in its mapping of Muslim institutions and in its conceptual framing. This is particularly the case in a chapter on Islamic educational institutions. This presents a contrast between ‘reformist’ institutions and ‘traditional’ conservative dar al-ulums which doesn’t do full justice to the structural pressures being put on, and reforms taking place in, the latter (changes brought to light in recent years by scholars like Ron Geaves, Sophie Gilliat-Ray and Haroon Sidat). This is a shame because recognising how an emerging generation of younger Deobandis are facilitating change would actually bolster the argument that the authors develop.

This contrast also illustrates an occasional tendency across the book to talk in terms of a divide between the traditional and modern in which the latter is usually on the right side. The book speaks positively about Muslims’ study of Western philosophy and culture and of ‘world religions’, as well as a broader ethos of ‘independent-mindedness’, while ritual and tradition are depicted as challenges to be overcome (62). It praises Muslim activism calling for better rights and representation within a liberal framework, but leaves the reader wondering what positive contribution to British democratic life the Islamic tradition qua tradition might make – if it can make one.

In this limitation, I think, lies another challenge, although this time to academic scholars of Islamic Britain. After all, it is clearly not the case that the authors – one of whom is himself a committed Muslim activist – believe the Islamic tradition, in its various manifestations, has nothing distinctive to offer. Rather, there is something about the academic idiom, and social scientific forms of writing in particular, that encourages what Maleiha Malik has called a ‘hollow’ form of respect in which we recognise that a religious tradition is valued by people, but can say little or nothing about why it is valued. Social scientists of Muslim Britain – being honest, myself included – struggle to write past the secular norms our institutions normalise and reward. To describe a religious tradition as a wisdom tradition, or as containing beauty as well as trials and tribulations, feels taboo, even though such a description of Islam should really be entirely uncontroversial. What this results in, in this book and elsewhere, is a tendency to implicitly position Islam in the West as successful only when it conforms to another (liberal) tradition’s norms. Fully recognising new directions in Islamic thought, then, might mean developing an evaluative vocabulary that the academy itself may not always be comfortable with.


Note: The above was first published on LSE Review of Books.

Stephen H. Jones is a sociologist of religion whose research focuses on the intersections between belief, politics and public policy. His primary areas of expertise are in Islam and Muslims in the UK and religious and non-religious publics’ perceptions of science. He is General Secretary of the Muslims in Britain Research Network (MBRN), and a Lecturer in the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham. He tweets at @StphnHwrdJns.

Via British Politics and Policy

This work by British Politics and Policy at LSE is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported


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TRT World “British Muslims on identity and finding their voice | Focal Point”

Sensationalist Media coverage of Radical Muslim Terrorism makes Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes Spike Sat, 11 May 2019 04:51:22 +0000

Ria Ivandic,Tom Kirchmaier, and Stephen Machin study the empirical connections between local anti-Muslim hate crimes and international jihadi terror attacks. They find that local Muslim populations face a media-magnified likelihood of hate crime victimization in the days following such incidents.

(British Policy and Politics) – In recent years, the frequency of jihadi terrorist attacks around the world has risen. Various commentators argue that this rise – alongside the resulting media coverage, successive waves of migration and drops in real living standards – has contributed to increased Islamophobia, general anti-Muslim sentiments, and a surge in populist politics in the west. Our research shows that in the UK, minority Muslim communities now face surges in hate crime that are especially evident after terrorist attacks far from where they live.

Recent CEP research offers new, large-scale quantitative evidence on the local impact on Islamophobic hate crime and incident occurrence following ten international jihadi terror attacks. It uses rich, high frequency administrative data from Greater Manchester Police in the period from 2008 to 2018. The unique nature of the data, and the unpredictability of terror attacks, provide a quasi-experimental setting allowing reliable conclusions to be drawn on the temporal impact of jihadi terror attacks on local Islamophobic hate crimes and incidents, the direction of causality between media and hate crime, and on the characteristics of hate crime perpetrators and their victims.

Using a difference-in-differences empirical research design with weekly variation across Islamophobic hate crime (treated) and other types of hate crimes as controls, there is evidence of a sizable effect of jihadi terrorist attacks on Islamophobic hate crime. The immediate spike up is shown in Figure 1. This is followed by higher post-attack levels for three weeks, with a decay as one moves further in time away from the attack week. An important empirical confirmation of the reliability of the results is that there is no evidence of differential pre-trends in the three weeks before the attack.

In these weeks after attacks occurred, Islamophobic hate crime incidence is higher than before, so that cumulatively Islamophobic hate crime ends up at a higher level. Considering that the estimates show the average across the ten attacks that occurred, therefore at least partially a consequence of the attacks, by 2018 the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes and incidents stands at a considerably higher level than before the attacks occurred. In fact, by 2018 there are around four times more such hate crimes and incidents than there were at the start of the data coverage time period ten years before in 2008.

Islamophobic hate crimes and incidents are highly concentrated in less densely populated suburban areas with a higher share of Arab and Muslim populations (and lower British and White populations).

Having access to offender data allows for a novel study of the characteristics of perpetrators of Islamophobic hate crime. Such offenders are older and more likely to be white as compared to other offenders. Interestingly, on average they commit crimes in slightly larger groups than other types of crimes. Whilst 60% of offenders live within 2km of the location of the committed hate crime, they tend not to live in the neighbourhoods of their victims, but in the neighbouring places.

In terms of mechanisms at play, the main argument is that attitudes and behaviour (including criminality) towards particular groups like Muslims have scope to be altered by actual attacks and that they can be triggered or magnified by media coverage of attacks. The way in which the media report on terrorism, and whether that affects individual behaviour, is both highly sensitive and controversial. Recent research has found that terrorist attacks by a Muslim perpetrator attract on average about 4.5 times more media coverage, controlling for a number of characteristics. They find that U.S. media outlets disproportionately emphasise the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims – leading them to argue Americans have an exaggerated sense of jihadi terrorism threat. Thus, ‘attitudinal shocks’ may cause individuals (maybe with a prior inclination being tipped over a threshold by the media activity) to become perpetrators of hate crime.

Figure 2a shows an example of an inaccurate and sensationalist front page in a UK newspaper that followed the Paris attacks in November 2016 while Figure 2b shows the most common words in UK newspaper articles reporting on jihadi terrorist attacks (note how ‘hate’ itself is one of the most frequent words mentioned). It is perhaps not surprising that such inflammatory reporting has scope to magnify hate crime. Indeed, study of daily data reveals real-time media to be a causal mechanism underpinning the surge in local hate crimes and incidents that occur following an attack.

This is also visually shown in Figure 3a for the case of the Paris attacks in November 2016 where it is observed that hate crime peaks follow after the peak in newspaper reporting. Replicating the difference-in-differences analysis on daily data, we find that a peak in hate crime occurs on the second and third day following the attack as shown in Figure 3b. This provides support that Islamophobia is not only an immediate response to the attack, but is additionally incited by the information on perpetrators and victims presented by the media over the days following the attack.

Figure 3a Daily Time series around the Paris attacks

Figure 3b Daily difference-in-differences

The kinds of hate crimes studied in this research have significant economic and social costs for individual victims and their communities. There is a serious danger (for example, as shown in research for the US) that the result will be fragmentation and alienation of minority communities. This is not good for inequality, nor for economic and social cohesion.

Finally, it is clearly worrying that hate crime is magnified by the way media coverage is structured and presented. This presents pressing issues for wider society about how the media go about their business of reporting on terror attacks and other sensitive events. A big challenge which should be prioritised for policymakers and regulators is the extent to which sensationalist, exaggerated and downright inaccurate reporting needs to be more carefully monitored and where necessary regulated. This applies to conventional modes of media coverage and more broadly to online and social media coverage.


Via British Policy and Politics, London School of Economics.

Note: the above draws on the authors’ CEP Discussion Paper.

About the Authors

Ria Ivandic is a Postdoctoral Research Economist at the LSE Centre for Economic Performance.

Tom Kirchmaier is Visiting Senior Fellow at the LSE Centre for Economic Performance.

Stephen Machin is Professor of Economics at LSE and Director of the Centre for Economic Performance.

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay/Public Domain.

This work by British Politics and Policy at LSE is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

UK MP Yasmin Qureshi On How Mainstream Media Fuels Islamophobia

How Hard will a Hard Brexit be on Britain and US? Very Hard Thu, 17 Jan 2019 05:10:39 +0000 By Craig Berry | –

British Policy and Politics (LSE Blog)When Theresa May proclaimed ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, she was talking primarily about the long-term UK-EU relationship, not the initial divorce. Craig Berry explains how, through a combination of opportunism and incompetence, Britain crashing out of the EU has become a very real possibility.

. . . ‘No deal’ has become a very real possibility. How did we get here? The possibility of a no-deal Brexit only really entered the lexicon of mainstream politics after Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech in January 2017, in which she argued that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. We immediately misunderstood what she meant by this, in part because the speech was a quite deliberate attempt to confuse.

The ‘no deal’ confronting Britain now means ‘crashing out’ of the EU without a withdrawal agreement, which means no transitional period, limited reciprocal arrangements for EU citizens living in Britain and vice versa, and the immediate imposition of trade barriers. The ‘no deal’ of May’s speech, however, referred to the prospect of a future trade arrangement – not the initial divorce. Inheriting a premiership without a plan, May was keen to instigate simultaneous talks on withdrawal and free trade, in the hope of settling Brexit quickly. In threatening to turn Britain into a giant tax haven, the Lancaster House speech was a futile attempt to frighten the EU into negotiating both deals at the same time.

The suggestion was quickly consigned to irrelevance. The EU did not blink, instead pointing out that withdrawal had to be agreed before trade talks could begin. There is the legal impossibility of the UK signing a trade deal with current EU members, and the political imperative to ensure that dissenting members understand the consequences of leaving the EU before they start imagining the possible benefits of doing so.

The political bind for May was clear. The EU insisted on an orderly withdrawal before trade talks (which would then ensue during a transitional period). To avoid damaging the Irish economy and jeopardising the Northern Ireland peace process, something like the ‘backstop’ – in case a two-year transition was not long enough – was always going to be necessary.

But May knew this meant she would struggle to get a withdrawal deal through parliament unless she could also offer the sunny uplands of the post-Brexit trade relationship at the same time. Although the leading Brexiters in the Conservative Party are now seemingly content to leave the EU without a withdrawal deal, the irony of Britain’s present predicament is that the Leave campaign’s offer in the 2016 referendum was not ‘no deal’ at all, but rather a very comprehensive free trade deal as an alternative to EU membership.

May is not nearly as committed to free trade with the EU after Brexit. Her opposition to free movement of labour within Europe means the trade deal she would ultimately have signed with the EU, given the chance, would have been significantly less soft than anything most of her Brexiter critics, with few concerns about immigration, would have advocated. May is much more concerned about the short-term consequences of crashing out, and as such quite prepared to propose a modern take on beggar-thy-neighbour trade policy in order to get a withdrawal deal that stood a chance of gaining the consent of parliament.

The very soft (and somewhat fantastical) Brexit offered by the Leave campaign was, in reality, an accelerated version of the journey Britain and the EU were already on, together, with a renewed zeal for trade liberalisation, and the political integration of Eurozone countries allowing Britain a refreshed status as the leading member of the single market’s outer ring.

Boris Johnson, for instance, chose to campaign for Leave – offering the Eurosceptic perspective a veneer of centrist respectability – only because it served his career ambitions. Subsequently outmanoeuvred by May in the post-Brexit Conservative leadership election, he was caught out again after Lancaster House and David Davis’ mishandling of the initial negotiations. His instruction to the EU in July 2017, as Foreign Secretary, to ‘go whistle’ for budget contributions, was one of the low points of Britain’s recent political history (admittedly, it is a competitive field). Yet it was purely a consequence of being forced to take a hard line on the divorce deal – a process most Conservatives Brexiters had failed to register as decisive – after it had become inadvertently politicised.

From that point on, few Brexiters have had the courage to challenge the conflation of the withdrawal agreement and subsequent trade arrangements in the public consciousness, in fear of being associated with May’s doomed leadership. This is despite the fact they had consistently argued that a UK-EU free trade deal would be ‘one of the easiest in human history’, and that Britain ‘holds most of the cards’.

And now they essentially find themselves campaigning against a withdrawal deal of any nature, and by extension any free trade deal between Britain and the EU. It is a quite incredible reversal. By dangling the prospect of a quick ‘give and take’ deal with the EU, May has ensured that any outcome which looks more like ‘give’, with the ‘take’ only coming later, is seen as a betrayal of the referendum result.

The parliamentary arithmetic suggests that a no-deal Brexit remains unlikely. But we can say the same about every other outcome, including the successful passage of the existing withdrawal agreement, or a second referendum. Where we end up is genuinely unpredictable. The fact that Britain is contemplating leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement – denying ourselves even the opportunity of a new trade deal – is a painful demonstration of how perverse our politics has become.


About the Author

Craig Berry is Reader in Political Economy at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Via British Policy and Politics (LSE Blog)


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CBS This Morning with Roxana Saberi: “Why the landslide defeat of Theresa May’s Brexit deal matters to the U.S.”

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