Videos showing young British Muslims, who go by the name "Muslim Patrol," harassing members of the public for what they deem as immoral behavior have been removed from the video hosting site YouTube, citing a violation of its harassment policy. But its efforts might be futile as the videos are being re-posted on the site by other YouTube subscribers that are outraged by the group's actions.
The hoodie-wearing men are seen in one three-minute video titled “The Truth About Saturday Night,” in which they force a man on a London street near a mosque to empty his beer on the ground and later tell a woman they are “vigilantes implementing Islam upon your own necks.” Another shows them burning an advertisement by Swedish retailer H&M that shows a photo of an underwear model; the footage, shot with a mobile phone, is set against a soundtrack of Islamic chanting and machine gun fire.
The clips have been pounced on by the media's usual anti-Muslim suspects, who see actions like this as evidence of a growing Islamic threat in Britain.
However, the Muslim Council of Britain responded quickly to the news and condemned the men's actions.
“These hateful and inciteful views that have been expressed by a number of people on that video are not views that are held by the vast majority of British Muslims,” Ibrahim Mogra, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, told Truthloader.
So, what is this whole Muslim Patrol thing anyway?
It comes from a tradition in Islam characterized by the Arabic term “mutawwa,” which translates as “volunteer.” A mutawwa is a Muslim who adopts all of Islam’s orthodoxies -- including some non-compulsory ones, like growing a beard to a certain length and wearing raised trouser or robe hemlines to avoid clothes touching the ground. The term lends itself to steep differences in interpretation, with many Muslims simply viewing “volunteers” as particularly pious individuals, while non-Muslims associate the practice with extremism.
The reason for this discord can be summed by two words: Saudi Arabia.
The mutawween (the plural form of the word, “volunteers”) are given state authority in that country to patrol the streets and arrest people for violating Islamic rules. Saudi mutawween are organized under the officially sanctioned Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. They typically bust prostitution and illegal distillery rings, and they have a lot of support among the public, but they also publicly berate women for not covering their hair or faces, force people to attend prayer and arrest young couples for dating.
Less formally, mutawween are found pretty much anywhere state authority is diminished or non-existent in the Muslim world, such as Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. Somalia’s militant Al-Shebab (which translates as “The Youth”) are essentially self-proclaimed mutaween. In 2010, the group threatened to flog or even behead anyone caught watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
While Islam seems to have the largest share of (and biggest problem with) so-called religious or morality police, they can also be found in other faiths. In Israel, some ultra-orthodox Haredim zealots have been known to harass women and destroy electronics stores, much to the chagrin of the general Israeli public. And in India, radical Hindus have been known to take it upon themselves to attack anyone perceived to be violating moral codes. Last year, for example, orthodox Hindus attacked a rave party in Mangalore, leading to a public outcry.