Howard Jacobson: Kafka would have felt at home in this modern world of the demonised Muslim

There is political capital to be made, these days, by exploiting the potential for Muslim grievance
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The Independent Online

The imagination of modern man is saturated with fears of nameless bureaucracy. Even when we don't live in a totalitarian state we construct the machinery of totalitarianism in our minds. If not today, then tomorrow, there will be a knock on our door and we will know they have come for us. "Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without have done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." We don't know who the someone is, we don't know what the wrong is, we don't know who it is who will arrest us, all we can be sure of is that it will happen and that the morning will be fine.

I take the fineness of the morning to be an important component of this dread. A terrible irony pervades our anxiety. At the margins of our terrors the world is lovely, but even its loveliness mocks us, because the Creator of the fine morning is Himself a despot, malign in His inscrutableness. We have been made for no other purpose than to be woken early, arrested, and have our throats cut.

Andreas Pum, the hero of Joseph Roth's great short novel Rebellion, embraces his descent into disillusionment with a sort of rapture. Now that everything has been taken away from him, a new hope wakes in his soul. "He saw the joyful bustle of the great metropolis ... the new sun of the approaching spring. And even though he was a white haired cripple, he didn't give up his defiance. Facing death, he clung to life in order to rebel: against the world, against the authorities, against the Government, against God."

It is not hard to see why the police raid on the home of Mohammed Abdulkayar should play into these apprehensions of senseless state vindictiveness. Any rational citizen of a fraught society must expect to be subjected to rough inconvenience some time; but the number of policemen used to break into the Abdulkayars, the time and violence of their entry, the inexplicable yelling and abuse, the weaponry, the shooting, and all this in a climate already made so volatile by suspicion and fear that even the arresting agents themselves were terrified - here was the dread we had been rehearsing for a hundred years or more made palpable. Whatever Mohammed Abdulkayar felt on his own behalf, he was living our nightmare.

What follows politically from this event depends entirely on what you want to follow from it. If you are Joseph K., you go to your death like a dog. The last emotion you register is a shame in which you take the profoundest satisfaction. If you are Andreas Pum you experience exhilaration. This is what it is to be radicalised. The more injustice that is piled upon you, the clearer grows your understanding of yourself. You are victim, and there is joy in it.

This is the danger of a Kafaesque mindset. We end up seeking what we fear. While around us, feeding on our disquiet, are many who will inflame it if they can. Among the misfortunes of the Abdulkayar raid is to be counted the joyfulness it has brought to such gorgers on human misery as Galloway groupie Yvonne Ridley - she, you remember, who was kidnapped by the Taliban some years ago and returned with scimitars in her eyes. Yvonne Ridley believes that Muslims should now refuse to co-operate with the Metropolitan Police Force. "This goes from asking the community copper for directions to passing the time of day with a beat officer."

You could call this cutting off your nose to spite your face, were it not that cutting off your nose to spite your face is probably a Taliban practice of which Yvonne Ridley approves. But the futile pettiness of the response she advocates - for not giving directions is hardly going to break a community copper's heart - proves the completeness of the breakdown in community relations she seeks. From top to bottom a sort of silent, sullen war, until, in her words, "this terrorisation of the Muslim community is stopped".

I have been impressed, watching the Abdulkayars and their neighbours on television, by how little of this incendiary mumbo-jumbo there has been. It would appear that when the Muslim community speaks for itself it understands the necessity for such raids as the one just bungled, grasps that the society which is under threat from deranged and self-deluded bombers includes them, and has no desire to distort language so violently that those who work (however ineptly) to disrupt terror become the terrorists. They would prefer to be kept in closer touch with police tactics (which might not, of course, always be possible), they would favour better intelligence and a subtler approach to dealing with it, but they do not, on the whole - Kafka or no Kafka - talk of being systematically "terrorised" by the police.

There is political capital to be made, these days, by exploiting the potential for Muslim grievance. Pure wickedness, I call it, for it is as wicked to inflame Muslims against this country as it is to do the opposite. You cannot on the one hand complain of Islamophobia, the stigmatising of people of another faith, and at the same time encourage those people to understand their interests as separate from the rest of the country's. Whatever drives Yvonne Ridley, Muslims should disassociate themselves from it quickly, for it demeans them and damages us all.

Ditto, if on a slightly lower rung of the ladder of pathology, Lyndsey German of Stop the War Coalition who popped up on Newsnight last week to proclaim that a) the West had mistranslated the President of Iran's "destroy Israel completely" speech, what he actually said being something along the lines of "move it somewhere else" - (how is it, by the by, that people who most vociferously express repugnance for the militarism of their own country always have a soft spot for the militarism of another?) - and b) police raids such as that on Mohammed Abdulkayar breed terrorism.

This is bad psychology, bad politics, but also - bearing in mind what an intelligent Muslim must think when he hears it - bad manners. Were I a Muslim I would resent bitterly the implication that I am of a faith so inflexible that I cannot separate miscalculation from malice, a faith so vengeful that I cannot suffer a wrong without wanting to take it out on humanity, a faith so irrational that I think innocent people should pay for whatever has been done to me.

To my Muslim brothers I say, beware false friends. Beware the gifts they bring. Beware their sympathy. And beware Kafka.