The most dangerous kind of extremism today isn’t religious extremism nor is it the zealot plotting the destruction of the great skyscrapers of London; it is the extremist working and living within the great skyscraper. The most dangerous extremist today is the capitalist extremist.
Capitalism has damaged the British people more than Islamic extremism ever could. But too often the chance for a debate on capitalism is lost. The right-wing focus much of their attention on what they consider to be alien aspects of British society – immigrants, Muslims, and so on. These ‘strange’ components of British culture are targeted as threats to the well-being of the public and they are regarded with disdain and contempt.
In the meantime, the bankers and businesses sit unscathed. Their greedy pursuits of profit go largely unmentioned. It was they who nearly brought about an economic collapse in 2008 yet it is somehow the fault of the Romanian immigrant who has moved in next door. Large corporations have cost the country hundreds of millions of pounds, yet somehow a tiny minority apparently plundering the welfare system is to blame with the entire working-class also liable as part of the problem.
Amazon reported a turnover of £207m in 2011 yet paid only a ‘tax expense’ of £1.8m. Starbucks made sales of £413m in Britain in 2012 yet paid no tax. Meanwhile, Google’s British division paid a meagre £6m into the Treasury on a turnover of £395m. The tax-avoidance scheme of these large companies have become so astonishing that there have been calls to boycott them.
Money fraud costs Britain a loss of £73 billion every year. Of that, the Crown Prosecution Service believes that nearly £2 billion is lost to benefit fraud while more is lost to benefit error. Tax fraud, however, is believed to be at £32 billion according to the HMRC, though many tax campaigners believe the tax gap to be far worse than this. This means that whilst society is led to believe that benefit fraud costs the country a lot of money, it is merely a drop in the ocean compared to the effects of tax fraud.
The added effect of globalisation means that massive businesses pay minimal wage and negligible tax because they can simply divert their business elsewhere if the government wishes to tax them heavily. Unless there is a worldwide coalition of governments willing to tackle corporate tax avoidance, the huge amount of money lost on these barely-whispered frauds have to be challenged in some other way. Globalisation means businesses dictate their own taxes and workers’ wages; it also means they decide how much they want to invest into the economy. The end result is that if the government cannot get the money to cover the taxes from those at the top, the ones at the bottom will suffer; the fact that the working-class and immigrants are consistently vilified is an indicator of being part of a deeply flawed and broken system.
Many Muslims affectionately refer to Islam as a ‘way of life’. If they hold true to that then surely there would be an opposition to extreme capitalism? When poverty wages, corporate tax avoidance, high prices, market monopolies and zero-hour contracts are common features of a capitalist society, surely there would be some form of dissent amongst the Muslim community? If defending Muslims from drone strikes and bullets are important (which they are), then surely defending them from a system that deepens their poverty and misery is equally important?
The result is that whilst employers earn massive wages from profits, a lot of their Muslim employees, amongst others, are enslaved by poverty. The right-wing often ignore the overworked state of the destitute in favour of demonising the jobless as heavily dependent on state provisions. The reality is that many members of society are not being paid a living wage; they are on zero-hour contracts and being charged high rents. They are not plundering the welfare system; they are using it to stay barely afloat.
What is strange is that the right-wing tabloid newspapers do not simply make their pleas to the middle class, but also to the working-class. It is a classic act of divide and conquer -pitting the poor against each other rather than fighting together against the common enemy. Instead of pointing their fingers at bankers and businesses, the working-class and immigrants point their fingers at each other. The outcome of such a division is UKIP – profiteers of public paranoia, prejudice and irrational fears, who present themselves as the everyman’s party when in reality they are so far to the right that even the Conservatives wince.
This is an issue that we as British Muslims have to face. As a collective, there has been little discussion on the effects of capitalism today; the discourse doesn’t extend beyond talking about Islam protecting the rights of the vulnerable. However, Britain has seen glimmers of a debate moulding shape on the widening economic disparity and the corruption of capitalism. Pressure groups such as UKUNCUT have emerged to battle against the big businesses. It is a debate that Muslims desperately need to join. Islam isn’t a Marxist religion but it is an egalitarian religion; this means creating a fair and just society.
Ensuring that there are living wages, a much higher top-rate tax, nationalised utilities and rent control would be some of the ways in which such a society could be established. It’s astounding that even living essentials, such as food, water and energy have such a high price tag attached to them. In the debate between privatisation and nationalisation circulating in the country, one of the many rising criticisms is the toxic effect of privatisation in the utility industry. The impact of a privately-owned energy market is that a monopoly is created where the prices are abnormally high to create abnormally high profits. The impact is that many have suffered terribly in extremely cold winters and have almost literally been faced with a horrific dilemma – either feeding their families or keeping their homes warm. This is the natural crisis that shadows capitalism, where intense competition in supply and demand will always come at the detriment of society.
One of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad states the roots of a welfare society in Islam,
“Three things cannot be denied anyone: water, pasture and fire.”
It is the capitalist, not the jihadist, who truly threatens the fabrics of society. And it is the free market, more than the drone strikes that need to be discussed between British Muslims.
 narrated by Ibn Maajah, 2473