You Call That a Campaign?

Pat Robertson is a funny guy, but Madeleine Bunting is just silly. (I know, that’s grossly unfair. PR is funny because the stuff he says is so loony. He’s not funny at all, really, since a great many people listen to him and think he makes sense. But look, living in the US these days, you have to laugh at people like Patto if you don’t want to go plain nuts.)

A campaign is being orchestrated through the media to destroy the credibility of many of the most important Muslim institutions in Britain, including the Muslim Council of Britain.

Yeah, a campaign – she cites all of two features, one in the Observer and one on Panorama. That’s a campaign? And, that’s a campaign compared to all the cuddly fond admiring references to the MCB in the media? Why doesn’t she fret about the considerably larger ‘campaign’ being ‘orchestrated’ through the media to inflate the credibility of the MCB, and to portray it as far more benign than it is? What about that then eh?

The impact of this campaign – in the Observer and particularly in John Ware’s Panorama documentary last night – will be a powerful boost for the increasingly widespread view that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim: underneath, “they” are all extremists who are racist, contemptuous of the west, and intent on a political agenda.

Well that’s just stupid. Shockingly stupid. Part of the point of that Panorama was precisely that there is such a thing as a moderate (not anti-secular, not misogynist, not Kaafir-hating) Muslim, and that they are ignored while the MCB gets all the attention. Part of the point was precisely that ‘they’ are not all extremists who are anti-secular misogynist Kaafir-haters, and that’s exactly why the MCB should not be treated as representative or average or ‘moderate.’

First on the charge sheet were examples of the former: the “conviction that Islam is a superior faith and culture which Christians and Jews in the west are conspiring to undermine”, and a “distaste for western secular culture”. This is ridiculous; I’ve yet to meet a member of any faith who doesn’t believe in the superiority of their beliefs, while fear of being undermined is similarly common. Since when has “distaste” become a cause for suspicion?

Oh, please. If you met some Christians who routinely referred to all non-Christians by an epithet – infidel, say – wouldn’t you feel uneasy? I would! I have in fact met one or two Christians like that, and they damn well do make me feel uneasy. I think journalists should point out that habit of mind.

What is deeply troubling is how exacting British society is becoming of its Muslims. A new set of “cricket tests” are being imposed on British Muslims – they are expected to sign up enthusiastically to every aspect of western secular society and to jettison any part of their intellectual heritage that is critical of the west. They are expected to keep their faith entirely out of politics (yet faith plays a crucial role in US politics).

Every aspect of western secular society? Are they? Not that I’ve seen. But women’s rights and gay rights – yes, critics generally do think Muslims should accept those as a part of western secular society that the people who live in it do not want to abrogate. I don’t think that is troubling. What’s troubling is to refuse to expect that, and to shrug and turn a blind eye to, say, ‘honour’ killings or forced marriage of children. And as for the role ‘faith’ plays in US politics – what of that? Has Bunting never seen a single article in the Guardian or the Observer or program on the BBC that criticizes the role ‘faith’ plays in US politics? I wonder what she would find if she typed ‘faith US politics’ into the Guardian’s search box. More than one article, I bet.

Alexandra Simonon has a good reply on the Letters page.

It’s a shame there are still people, like Madeleine Bunting, who believe some ideologies are extremist in one culture, but normal, or moderate in another. We should not accept the idea of “their world” and “ours”, as having totally different sets of values. The Muslims who fight bigotry and terror are not less authentic – and they are not “westernised” either.

And Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society has another.

Why are the official, government-recognised spokesmen for the “Muslim community” all theocrats? Why is there this unquestioned assumption that all Muslims are mosque-going, Qur’an-reading religionists, to whom only their faith matters? I know from experience there are plenty of Muslims who aren’t particularly religious, who don’t want to wear hijabs, who want to go down the local for a pint with their mates from work, who enjoy watching EastEnders and reading Harry Potter. Why don’t we ever hear their voices on official committees and on TV debates? Why is it only imams and “scholars” of religion? When Mr Blair opens his new Muslims schools, the preachers will be able to tighten their grip even further.

Why indeed. Why don’t we hear from Maryam Namazie or Azam Kamguian or Ibn Warraq as often as we hear from Iqbal Sacranie? Who ‘orchestrated’ that arrangment, Madeleine Bunting? Write an article about that, why don’t you.

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