Just How Moderate is Iqbal Sacranie?
Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), is a fascinating bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, the recently knighted Sir Iqbal likes to present himself as the moderate, caring, cuddly face of Islam. This version of Iqbal is concerned about peace and tolerance and building good community relations. Sacranie has spoken of the importance of:
… championing justice and promoting tolerance through constructive engagement with society as a whole …Dig a little further into his background, however, and things get more complex.
Back in the pre-MCB days of1989, Iqbal Sacranie was involved with the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs. In response to Salman Rushdie’s controversial book The Satanic Verses, which resulted in a call from Iran for Rushdie’s execution, Sacranie chose to eschew justice, tolerance and construction and said of Rushdie:
Death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him? His mind must be tormented for the rest of his life unless he asks for forgiveness to Almighty Allah.Note in particular the lack of argumentation. Sacranie does not engage, does not explain what is wrong with Rushdie or his arguments — no, Rushdie had insulted the prophet and thus death was too good for him.
The words of a moderate?
This was, to be fair, sixteen years ago. Perhaps this was the impetuosity of youth, maybe now Sacranie has mellowed with age and experience.
Alas, no. This same theme of suppressing any criticism or questioning of Muhammad arose again more recently. On BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze program, on 14 July 2004, Sacranie said that he believed that any defamation of Muhammad’s character should be illegal under the proposed law banning incitement to religious hatred that the MCB have been campaigning for.
This willingness to curse or prosecute those who are perceived to have insulted Muhammad is a reflection of an Islamist mindset; indeed, under shari'a law, such a crime would be punishable by death. It is deeply worrying that Sacranie wants to see UK law go down the same path as, say, Pakistan.
Sacranie’s more radical nature comes out at other moments too, notably in his willingness to defend militant Islamists and to extend to them the freedom and courtesy they would deny to others. For example, in 1996, the radical Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun, led by Omar Bakri Mohammed, was planning a rally in London. As controversy mounted over the event, especially when some of Omar Bakri’s more “colourful” statements made it into the press, the Board of Deputies of British Jews asked the Home Secretary to ban some particular foreign speakers coming to the conference, in particular members of Hamas and Hizbullah. In Muslim News (30 Aug 1996), Sacranie was quoted as saying:
The Board of Deputies of British Jews should seriously consider what action they take on this matter because of the detrimental effect on community relations which could result. Taking a hostile view towards scholars who wish to come to this country to present their points of view at a conference will not serve good community relations.There are two things to note here. First, we can observe how the language of “community relations” has been twisted to support the entry of Islamist radicals into the UK. Second, there is an inherent double-standard; those who criticise Muhammad should be silenced, killed, or worse, whereas those who advocate violence against civilians should be invited to conferences.
One looks in vain for anything approaching a coherent epistemology in Sacranie’s various pronouncements and one wonders if, post 7/7, an older, wiser Sir Iqbal will pick his words more carefully … somehow we doubt it.