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:
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?
“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”
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.