Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on ‘political Islam’

The report recommends that the FCO should publish a clear set of standards for the political philosophies that the UK is committed to engaging with, and suggests three criteria:

i) Participation in, and preservation of, democracy. Support for democratic culture, including a commitment to give up power after an election defeat.

ii) An interpretation of faith that protects the rights, freedoms, and social policies that are broadly congruent with UK values.

iii) Non-violence, as a fundamental and unambiguous commitment.

The inquiry that has led to this report was announced in March 2016, and described as being “into ‘political Islam’, its characteristics, and how well the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has understood and engaged with ‘political-Islamist’ groups.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief submitted written evidence to the inquiry in April 2016.

It indicated that “Promoting and emphasising ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’ as ‘British’ and thus ‘Western’ values, as opposed to universal values, when engaging in bilateral relationships with States or movements espousing ‘political Islam’ will not necessarily help such relationships… such values as human rights, equality before the law, democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of religion are principles that, regardless of culture or geography, should be universal.”

“Perceiving all those who espouse what might be defined as a ‘political Islamic’ view as having views inherently stemming from a ‘draconian tradition exhibiting little compassion for humans’ which presents a threat to ‘modern’, ‘liberal’ values, will not aid engagement either.”

“As there is no monolithic ‘political Islamic’ entity, there is also no single set of principles that should guide the FCO in its policy response to the future development of ‘political Islam’. A wide set of policies and tools should be utilised, including private and/or public diplomacy. This can politically incentivise individuals representing States and movements to abstain from violating international systems and universal norms such as international human rights law (including Freedom of Religion or Belief) and the rule of law.”

Read full APPG submission

The select committee report recommendations include “The FCO should encourage political-Islamist groups to accept an interpretation of faith that protects the rights, freedoms, and social policies that are congruent with UK values, with the EnNahda party in Tunisia being a prime example of one that has moved in this direction. The FCO is also right to look for indications that political Islamists may act to undermine these values. But it should also hold all governments—in the Middle East and North Africa, and around the world—to the same standards, regardless of their ideology.”

“We assess that exposure to free and fair elections, the need to appeal to a broad range of the electorate in order to win elections, and the need to work with other political perspectives in order to govern effectively, will serve to encourage political-Islamist groups to adopt a more pragmatic ideology, and an increasingly flexible interpretation of their Islamic references. Moves by them towards embracing certain universal human rights may be slower, and more tentative. The FCO should do all it can to hasten this process, in keeping with its global commitment to defending human rights.”

Read select committee report in full