Self Criticism is for Wimps
This last week has seen the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) come under fire from a number of directions. First, the BBC announced that on Sunday 21 August 2005, their flagship current-affairs programme, Panorama, would feature a special investigation into those organisations claiming to speak for British Muslims, including the MCB and a number of its affiliates. It quickly became apparent that this investigation would be thorough and critical. Shortly after, The Observer newspaper reported on the MCB’s response to the BBC and offered some criticisms of the MCB of its own.
Now “Muslim Council of Britain” and “enlightened self-criticism” are two phrases that one would struggle to shoehorn into the same sentence and the MCB swiftly moved to condemn both the BBC and The Observer. We shall therefore examine the MCB’s approach, as it casts further light upon their methods of dealing both with opponents and with criticism. It also raises more worrying questions about their overall mindset.
The Jews are at it again
In preparation for the Sunday 21 August 2005 programme, BBC Panorama journalists interviewed representatives from a wide range of British Muslim organisations, including many affiliated to the MCB. Iqbal Sacranie himself, Secretary-General of the MCB, was also interviewed by the Panorama team.
Word soon emerged that the BBC’s programme might be critical, rather than another puff-piece, and the MCB swung into action. Inayat Bunglawala, Media Secretary of the MCB, wrote an angry letter to the BBC complaining loudly. (Available on the MCB website in PDF format).
Among Bunglawala’s complaints were that:
[N]early all the questions that were put to Sir Iqbal Sacranie by the Panorama team were directly or indirectly about Israel. These included questions to do with the Holocaust Memorial Day, Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Shaykh Ahmad Yasin (the former leader of Hamas who was assassinated by Israel in 2004) and statements that have been made by the MCB affiliates, the Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, The Islamic Foundation and the Muslim Association of Britain concerning Zionism and the struggle for Palestinian rights.Bunglawala suggested that:
The Panorama team is more interested in furthering a pro-Israeli agenda than assessing the work of Muslim organisations in the UK.And he advised that:
The BBC should not allow itself to be used by the highly placed supporters of Israel in the British media to make political capital out of the July 7th atrocities in London.There are a number of problems with Bunglawala’s approach here. First, there is the laughable suggestion that the BBC has a ‘pro-Israel’ agenda or a Jewish bias. Given the regularity with which Jewish spokespersons accuse the BBC of having a pro-Palestinian agenda, it would seem more likely that the BBC has the balance about right. The MCB are very quick to applaud the BBC when it takes a line with which they agree; it seems that when the spotlight is turned on themselves, the attitude changes remarkably quickly.
Second, the MCB show little willingness — or ability — to recognise that some of the issues raised by the Panorama programme are of critical importance. Since the MCB claim to be the major representatives of mainstream, moderate British Islam, when we find them refusing to unequivocally condemn suicide bombings, accusing Israel of genocide whilst failing to recognise the Armenian or Sudan genocides and so forth, this does look rather damning and the public deserve to be informed.
Third, the MCB have failed to get to grips with radicals among their affiliates. They remain allied with the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), who also refuse to unequivocally condemn suicide bombings and whose main spokesperson, Azzam Tamimi, has expressed his desire to self-detonate in Israel. Likewise, Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, an organisation whose radical credentials MCB Watch first exposed, speaks of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy as well as calling all non-Muslims “sick” and “deviant”. Rather than attack the BBC for highlighting the views of these affiliates, why does the MCB not simply put in place a code of conduct for affiliate organisations and then throw out the bad apples. Or would this look too much like “self-criticism”, a word not found in the MCB’s lexicon?
Fourth, the fact that the BBC has picked up on the attitude of the MCB and its affiliates to the Jews has nothing to do with a ‘pro-Israeli’ bias, but everything to do with the fact that for radical Muslims, all of the problems of the Muslim community (and the world, according to Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith) are down to the Jews. Whatever one’s view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (for the record: I believe in a two-state solution and that heads need knocking together on both sides), this does not excuse calling for the death of innocent civilians or describing Jews (and, indeed, all non-believers) as inherently evil and twisted.
The MCB glide worryingly easily between the terms “Jewish”, “Israeli” and “Zionist”, using especially the latter as a derogatory term to demonise a range of opponents, including those who have no connection to Israel whatsoever. This reflects, as does the whole Panorama incident, their attempt to win arguments by bullying, whining and ad hominem attacks, rather than by engaging with the arguments.
The second attack on the MCB came in The Observer newspaper on Sunday 14 August 2005. Martin Bright wrote an investigation into a number of aspects of the MCB, including its alleged links to the Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami party, founded by Maulana Maududi. It also explored radicalism among MCB affiliates, highlighting the same problems with Jamiat Ahl-e-hadith that Panorama found (again, apparently thanks to our report here).
But of particular interest was a criticism offered made by a Muslim, Abdul-Rehman Malik, contributing editor of Muslim magazine Q-News, who said:
Maududi saw the world in the same way that Sayyid Qutb saw the world: they both divided humanity into true believers or those in a state of ignorance. Many of the affiliates of The Muslim Council of Britain are inspired by Maududi's ideology.Malik went on to say that the MCB’s leaders needed to be much clearer about its position on suicide bombers:
You cannot be equivocal about innocent people. An innocent person in Tel Aviv is the same as an innocent person in Baghdad or London. The MCB has never clarified any of the critical issues and now the chickens are coming home to roost.This critique gave the MCB some problems. Whilst it was able to vilify Martin Bright, the journalist who wrote the piece (not least because in 2001 he had the audacity to question the Qur’an’s divine origin!), they had a little more trouble with Malik and Q-News; given that these were Muslim voices, one would be hard-pressed to find a Jewish conspiracy. So, instead, the MCB decided to paint Q-News as little more than a high-school rag:
… who is doing the accusing? Well, one has to read another sixteen paragraphs to find out. It turns out to be someone called Abdul-Rehman Malik from the tiny circulation and very sporadically published magazine, Q-News.This is decidedly odd, since elsewhere the MCB speaks very positively of Q-News. Speaking of developments in the British Muslim scene in ‘recent times’, the MCB explain that:
The 1990s has seen the emergence of British Muslim community newspapers, represented by the The Muslim News and Q-News.In other words, as long as Q-News or its contributors don’t say anything critical about the MCB, they’re a ‘community newspaper’, whose publication is seen as a positive contribution to the British Muslim life. The moment they step out of line, they’re written off as irrelevant, a seldom read rag that even its publishers can’t be bothered with.
Spot the pattern here?
Yes, it’s the MCB’s favourite modus operandi, the ad hominem attack. Rather than address the point raised by the critic, you attack them personally. Two weeks ago we showed how the MCB’s book The Quest for Sanity derides a wide range of non-Muslim critics, labelling them insane. Now we see that same ploy extended to the MCB's fellow Muslims.
It is important to note that this same approach is favoured by radical Muslim groups; if you’re for us, you’re a true Muslim; if you’re against us, then we’ll demonise you. In all the time we have been monitoring the MCB, we have yet to see them once admit they were wrong, publish a retraction, or offer a public apology. Yet isn’t the ability to engage in enlightened self-criticism a strength? We are reminded of Salman Rushdie’s words in The Times:
Broad-mindedness is related to tolerance; open-mindedness is the sibling of peace. This is how to take up the “profound challenge” of the bombers. Will Sir Iqbal Sacranie and his ilk agree that Islam must be modernised? That would indeed make them part of the solution. Otherwise, they’re just the “traditional” part of the problem.We could not have put it better ourselves.