Friday, July 22, 2005

Playing Happy Families with the Radicals

One of the issues brought into sharp focus by the London bombing of 7/7 is that there is a problem with radical Islam in Britain. Scattered amongst the overwhelming law-abiding and peaceful Muslim community are radicals who — whether by action or by ideology — represent a threat, not only to the wider community but also to race relations between the Muslim community and society as a whole.

In the aftermath of 7/7, many Muslim organisations, including the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) were quick to condemn the attacks and those who carried them out. Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General of the MCB said:
“We must and will be united in common determination that terror cannot succeed. It is now the duty of all us Britons to be vigilant and actively support efforts to bring those responsible to justice.”
When it emerged, a few days after the attacks, that young British Muslims had been the bombers, the MCB inched further forward:
“We have received today's terrible news from the police with anguish, shock and horror. It appears our youth have been involved in last week's horrific bombings against innocent people.”
And when Prime Minister Tony Blair convened a meeting in Downing Street on 19 July with senior Muslim leaders to discuss radicalism in the Muslim community, the MCB were also there.

But are the MCB really committed to weeding out the radicals amongst the British Muslim community and working to squash radical thinking, ideology and politics? If one examines some of their other statements, the waters begin to look slightly murkier. Here is a statement from a special meeting of Imams and scholars convened by the MCB on 29 September 2001:

“The meeting stressed that it was crucial to do everything to enhance and not undermine the unity of the Muslim community. The use of such terms as 'moderates' and 'extremists' should be avoided as this would create division and polarization

Now this is an altogether different message. Instead of a promise and commitment to root out the radicals, here we see the MCB promoting the idea that the unity of the Muslim community (ummah) takes precedence over ideological labels. But if you can’t even identify the extremists and the moderates, then how can you proceed to actually tackle them?

Whilst this particular stance may explain why the MCB allows those who preach hate to become affiliate members, it doesn’t explain how they can help the government root out Islamic radicalism if even using the terminology is taboo.

The tie that Muslims feel to the one global Muslim community, the ummah, is a powerful one and for many, this communal tie is stronger than any sense of Britishness. This is not a problem in and of itself, as people of all religions have ‘trans-national confessional allegiances’. Where it is a problem is when membership of the ummah clashes directly with the need to root out radicalism.

The MCB need to face this issue and answer the question: is it more important to hold the global Muslim ummah together, moderates and radicals united in one big happy family, or to root out radicalism from British Islam? The choice appears to be to split the ummah or confront the radicals.

The challenge is on the MCB is to choose. After 7/7, sitting on the fence is not an option.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Strange Bedfellows: the MCB and a Racist Affiliate

Among its many roles, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) acts as an umbrella body for a wide range of other Muslim organisations, seeking by the weight of numbers to present a more powerful voice to the media and to government. The MCB are proud of their affiliate programme and the 2005 Secretary General’s Report boasts that “over 400 organisations have affiliated to the MCB so far.” Seeking to pull together the community in this way is a laudable aim but there is a problem, namely that among their affiliates are some organisations with some pretty unpleasant views.

Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith

Consider the example of Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, an educational charity with over 40 branches across the UK. Given their stated purpose of educating Muslim youth, one begins to worry when their aims and objectives speak of calling Muslims back to “the authentic traditions of the past times” and that “Islam is the basis of the civilisation and the politics of the state”. But where things really hot up is when you turn to their magazine, The Straight Path.

Blame the Jews for everything!

The Straight Path is a bi-monthly magazine and older issues can be viewed online; it is the May-June 2004 issue with which we are particularly interested today. (The website was down at the time of writing, but you can download the entire magazine here (3.2mb) or look at just the relevant pages here and here)

The editorial article on page 3 of the May-June 2004 issue of The Straight Path gets straight to the point and opens with a quote from Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, a former president of Malaysia, who says:

‘Today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them …’

Just in case you thought this was just Dr. Mohamed’s view, the editor of The Straight Path goes on to say that this statement “is not far from the truth”. The Jews are blamed for the war against the Taliban, which was apparently designed to weaken Afghanistan and Pakistan so that they would not be a problem when the Jews advance on other Muslim nations. The war in Iraq is also the fault of the Jews and after Saddam fell, apparently a Jewish leader said “We (the Jews) have no worries now in the Middle East”. They are now targeting Saudi Arabia, says the article, which goes on to speak of the “terrorism” the Jews are engaged in.

The tendency of Islamists to blame the Jews for all the woes of Muslims, be they political, social, or religious is well documented. Its roots lie in the rejection of Muhammad by the Jewish tribes in Medina and can be traced from the Qur’an down through Muslim history. Indeed, The Straight Path magazine supports its anti-Jewish slant by helpfully quoting (on page 13) a saying of Muhammad in the hadith: “May Allah curse the Jews and the Christians …” (a tradition reported in the collections of both Bukhari and Muslim).

What if you’re not a Jew?

Now at this point those readers who are not Jewish may be breathing a sigh of relief and thinking to themselves “this is very nasty, I'm glad I’m not Jewish!” Alas, Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith’s resentment of all people who are not Muslim does not end there. If you move from their magazine to the articles section of their website, you will find an essay by Dr. Muhammad al-Jibaly entitled “Eid Celebrations - Differing from the Disbelievers” in which he sets out a number of reasons why it is important that Muslims make themselves distinct from disbelieving, non-Muslims. In particular he notes that:
The disbelievers are misguided, and their ways are based on sick or deviant views concerning their societies, the universe, and their very existence. Their actions frequently reflect their deviant opinions. Why then would anyone ever think of imitating them?
(Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith pulled this article from their website after the BBC Panorama programme also drew attention to it on Sunday 21 August 2005. But thankfully you can still read it by visiting Google's cached version.)

Now this is pretty strong stuff. But the key question is this: given the undeniably unpleasant views of Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, why have the MCB allowed them to become (or remain) an affiliate?

The need to screen affiliates

Nowhere on the Affiliation Form on the MCB website is there any mention of a code of best practice to which affiliates are expected to subscribe, which means that the MCB either has a blind-spot when it comes to this issue, or simply does not care about the stance of the organisations it is in bed with.

This same issue came up recently when another affiliate organisation of the MCB openly declared support for suicide bombings against civilians in Israel. In a BBC Radio 4 interview, Inayat Bunglawala of the MCB was asked why the MCB could not simply cut off the organisation in question. Mr. Bunglawala consistently ducked the question, which would suggest that the MCB knows it has a problem with its affiliates, but is either unwilling or not brave enough to draw up a code of conduct.

Drawing up such a code would surely not be difficult. One could, for example, state that any affiliate found to be promoting hatred, violence or division would have their affiliation cancelled. Can it really be that hard? Is the real issue the MCB’s failure to grasp the nettle of Islamic radicalism? Or, most worryingly, do the MCB actually share the views of Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith?

The sorry fact is that Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith are not the only Islamist organisation affiliated to the MCB and their views are not uncommon. Amongst the MCB’s affiliates are organisations that espouse racist, radical, and terrorist views. Over the next few weeks, we will expose more of them.

If you want to take further action on this matter, please consider emailing Barclays Bank, with whom Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith have an account (account details here). You could ask them why they allow an organisation with such unpleasant views to hold an account with them and point out they have closed the accounts of racist organisations in the past. You might also consider writing to the Charity Commision for England and Wales and asking them to consider revoking Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith’s charitable status. (Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith are charity number 272001).

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Welcome to MCB Watch!

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was founded in 1997 and since then has grown to be the largest and arguably the most influential Muslim lobby group in the UK. Representing some 300 affiliate organisations, the MCB seeks to lobby parliament and represent Muslims on a wide range of issues. It also claims to be the voice of moderate, reasonable Islam, “working hard for a representative Britain”.

Since its inception, the MCB has also been actively courted by the British Government, who had previously struggled to engage with the Muslim community due to the lack of figureheads or organisations with whom to dialogue. The MCB is proud of its links with government and, post 9/11 and 7/7, these channels of influence are likely to open all the wider.

However, there are also grave problems with the MCB and it is our considered opinion that the time has come for the organisation to be seriously and robustly challenged on a whole range of points. This we will seek to do over the coming weeks and months, drawing on the whole pool of statements, opinions and articles that the MCB has published since its inception eight years ago.

Problem 1

The MCB present themselves as the moderate face of British Islam, yet many of the ideas and doctrines they put forward are actually not that far removed from the radicals. For example, The Quest for Sanity, a book published by the MCB in the aftermath of 9/11, argues in several places for the restoration of the caliphate (= global Muslim state), a similar aim espoused by many radicals. This reduces the MCB’s effectiveness, since it cannot challenge the radicals on ideology or theology, only on methodology.

Problem 2

The MCB consistently engages in sitting on the fence as far as possible when it comes to actually condemning the theology and ideology of the radicals. This not only makes their criticism of the radicals’ methodology look a little hollow, but also results in them appearing to be guilty of double-standards. The most recent example was their failure to actually state that all suicide bombings are un-Islamic, no matter where or when they were carried out.

Problem 3

Within the 300 or so Muslim organisations affiliated to the MCB are many organisations that espouse radical views. The MCB apparently makes no attempt to actually set standards for its affiliates and when challenged on this in the past, has simply ducked the issue. In the next few weeks, we shall shine the light on several examples, including affiliates with extreme Islamist and anti-Semitic leanings. The MCB cannot claim to be moderate whilst lying in bed with radicals.

Problem 4

The MCB consistently refuses to engage in any serious self-critique of Islamic practice or history and this manifests itself in a failure to deal with the theology that drives the radicals. This lack of self-critique also leads to further double-standards. For example, the MCB regularly accuses the West (and especially America) of “colonialist” tendencies in its foreign policy, yet the Muslim world engaged in its own colonial expansion in the seventh and eighth centuries. Furthermore, as David Cook has argued, in the best of the recent scholarly books on jihad, you cannot really hope to challenge the ideology of the radicals properly if you are not prepared to condemn the Islamic conquests with the same force as the Christian churches have repudiated the Crusades.

Problem 5

The MCB’s failure to engage in self-critique spills over into a tendency to engage in ad hominem attacks and its typical methodology is to slander anybody who criticises it or Islam with labels like “Zionist” or “Colonialist” and so forth. Rather than face up to the fact that some critics might have a point and engage in rational debate and argument with them, the MCB regularly takes the path of cheap point scoring. This also extends to its treatment of radical Muslims, whom the MCB often accuse of not being "true Muslims” rather than actually confronting their arguments.

We have other problems and concerns with the MCB, but these will do for now. Over the weeks and months to come we will cast more light into all these areas, quoting from the MCB’s published materials to demonstrate our case at each point. Stick with us and keep reading MCB Watch.

Monday, July 18, 2005

FAQ

Why write MCB Watch?

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) claim to be the major representative voice of "moderate", "mainstream" Islam in the UK. They have a high profile in the media and have been courted by government. However, it is my thesis that they are much more radical and extremist than they at first appear. This is demonstrated by multiple lines of evidence, including (a) radical organisations among their affiliates; (b) some of their connections to extremist political movements; (c) their inability to enage in any form of constructive self-criticism; (d) their demonisation of opponents — including Muslim opponents.

Aren't you just trying to destroy the MCB?

No, I believe the concept of the MCB — an umbrella body and a voice for moderate Muslims — is laudable, achievable, and needed. It is simply that the MCB is not it.

You're just a right-wing, pro-Zionist, Islamophobe!

Ad hominem attacks just make those who use them look infantile.

"Right wing"? Well, at the last general election I voted Lib Dem. I was previously a Labour Party member but the Iraq war caused me to quit my membership. So if we must use labels, I'm a left-of-centre-optimist.

"Pro-Zionist"? Actually I believe in a two-state solution, probably enforced by some kind of international body such as the UN. This is, in my view, the only way a solution that is fair and equitable to both sides can be reached and maintained. Is that achievable? Well, I did say I'm an optimist. This position also results in diatribe from the extremes on both sides in the debate.

"Islamophobe"? I'm doing a PhD, part-time, in Islamics and couldn't personally see the point in spending six years researching something you hate. There are far better things to do. I do however think some Muslims need to reform and modernise their interpretation of Islam.

Do you have a hidden agenda?

I'd have thought the agenda of MCB Watch is pretty transparent.

Can I use your material?

Yes, take whatever's helpful. I'd prefer it if you could cite MCB Watch, as I'd like more readers, but I'm more concerned about getting our material out there.

What's your name?

Andy.

What's your full name?

Having had one death threat too many in the past, I'm keeping a degree of privacy.