At Last

Well it’s about time. Hooray for the Observer. It is about damn time.

The Muslim Council of Britain is officially the moderate face of Islam. Its pronouncements condemning the London bombings have been welcomed by the government as a model response for mainstream Muslims. The MCB’s secretary general, Iqbal Sacranie, has recently been knighted and senior figures within the organisation have the ear of ministers. But an Observer investigation can reveal that, far from being moderate, the Muslim Council of Britain has its origins in the extreme orthodox politics in Pakistan.

Oh yes? Tell us more.

Far from representing the more progressive or spiritual traditions within Islam, the leadership of the Muslim Council of Britain and some of its affiliates sympathise with and have links to conservative Islamist movements in the Muslim world and in particular Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami, a radical party committed to the establishment of an Islamic state in Pakistan ruled by sharia law…The organisation’s founder, Maulana Maududi, was a fierce opponent of feminism who believed that women should be kept in purdah – seclusion from male company. Although the MCB’s leadership distances itself from some of these teachings, it has been criticised for having no women prominently involved in the organisation.

One of the things it’s about time for is the realization and articulation of the possibility that opposition to terrorism is not the only issue, and not the best possible dividing line. It’s the same thing with Hizb ut-Tahrir – we keep being told that it’s non-violent, as if that’s all that needs to be said. Well non-violent is better than violent, to be sure, but there is a lot more to the subject than that. (And then, given the very real coerciveness of Islamism when it has power, coerciveness that involves beatings, acid attacks, and executions, it is not really all that non-violent anyway.) There are issues about attitudes to human rights, women’s rights, ‘apostasy’ and the like.

Last week, Salman Rushdie warned in an article in the Times that Sacranie had been a prominent critic during the Satanic Verses affair and advised that the MCB leader should not be viewed as a moderate. In 1989, Sacranie said ‘death was perhaps too easy’ for the writer. Rushdie also criticised Sacranie for boycotting January’s Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony. ‘If Sir Iqbal Sacranie is the best Mr Blair can offer in the way of a good Muslim, we have a problem,’ said Rushdie. A Panorama documentary to be screened next Sunday will also be highly critical.

Yeah! Take that, World Service and Jane Little! Strident yourself. ‘Hardly a respected figure’ yourself. Yaboosucks.

The origins of the Muslim Council of Britain can be traced to the storm around the publication of the Satanic Verses in 1988. India was the first country to ban the book and many Muslim countries followed suit. Opposition to the book in Britain united people committed to a traditionalist view of Islam, of which the founders of the Muslim Council of Britain was a part.

A worthy origin.

The MCB was officially founded in November 1997, shortly after Tony Blair came to power, and has had a close relationship with the Labour government ever since…It remains particularly influential within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which has a little-known outreach department which works with Britain’s Muslims. The FCO pamphlet Muslims in Britain is essentially an MCB publication and the official ministerial celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid is organised jointly with the MCB.

As Rushdie said – we have a problem.

There is no suggestion that Sacranie and other prominent figures in the Muslim Council of Britain are anything but genuine in their condemnation of the terrorist bombings of the 7 July. But their claims to represent a moderate or progressive tendency in Islam are becoming increasingly difficult to sustain.

Exactly. That’s just it. Merely condemning terrorist bombings is hardly enough to qualify an organization as progressive. Well done, Observer; well done, Panorama. It’s about time.

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