So the penny finally dropped.

In the wake of the London bombings of July 2005, the Government invited the MCB to Downing Street for discussions on how to respond to the growth of extremism among young British Muslims. Public money was channelled to the organisation to help it turn the young away from terror. But it turned out that, despite its name, the MCB was not actually representative of British Muslims…

Well it didn’t really ‘turn out’ that the MCB was not actually representative, or that it was not the ideal organization to ‘respond to’ the growth of ‘extremism’ – unless ‘respond to’ means something other than, say, ‘discourage.’ It didn’t really ‘turn out’ because both of those facts were already well known to anyone who was paying attention. It was no secret, after all, that the MCB was founded ‘in response to’ Salman Rushdie’s naughty novel; or that it was run almost entirely by men; or that the men who ran it could be relied on to say very reactionary things whenever the BBC phoned for a comment. None of this was a new discovery in July 2005.

But at least the Independent seems to get the point now – although it certainly does get into a tangle when it tries to think about the fact that different people have different views.

The problem is that British Muslims are a diverse and fragmented community. Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Somalis, Iraqis and Nigerians living in Britain all have different cultures, outlooks and economic circumstances.

I beg your pardon, but that’s a really stupid pair of sentences. On the one hand they’re all ‘a community’ but on the other hand they’re a ‘diverse and fragmented’ one. They come from all over the place and have different all sorts of things. So why go on calling them a community then? Because they have being Muslim in common. But why is that one commonality enough to make a community when other commonalities are not? Because – er – religion is privileged. Or it’s a habit. Or something. But it doesn’t make for a coherent editorial.

[I]t would be better for the Government to decentralise its approach to dealing with British Muslims, rather than trying to communicate through a single umbrella organisation of doubtful authority such as the MCB.

It would, but the government has been pushing the silly ‘umbrella organisation’ idea all along, thus giving the MCB far more clout and more credibility as the single umbrella organisation than it would have had otherwise. All a bit of a dog’s breakfast, if you ask me.

Brian Whitaker sees the matter completely differently.

The MCB is not a government body and can appoint whoever it wants as its deputy secretary general.

Not really, at least not unless it’s content to have a purely figurehead deputy secretary general. If it appointed for instance a convicted g√©nocidaire to the post, it wouldn’t have a very active or useful deputy secretary general. But more to the point, one, the MCB has been a quasi-government body because Blair’s government stupidly lavished attention and authority on it, and two, the fact that the MCB can appoint almost anyone it wants to as its deputy secretary general does not mean that the government can’t cut ties with the organization.

Whitaker kind of admits that much, but only kind of.

Of course, the government can choose whether or not to talk to the MCB but, by choosing not to, it will seriously undermine its own policy of engaging with the British Muslim community.

Oh? Why? The bits of ‘the British Muslim community’ I know (the liberal secularist feminist liberal human rights fans bits) despise the MCB and have been urging the government to talk to people other than the MCB for years. Is Whitaker assuming that ‘the British Muslim community’ is entirely composed of theocrats and reactionaries? If so, why?

The MCB is an umbrella organisation that claims the support of more than 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and schools. By definition it needs to include as many strands of British Muslim opinion as possible. In the past it has been criticised for not being representative enough, and now Blears seems determined to make it less representative as a condition of being recognised by the government.

But it’s a self-appointed ‘umbrella organisation,’ and always has been, which is one reason so many British Muslims find it so irritating – it always puts itself forward as representing British Muslims in general, but it in fact represents only conservative British Muslims; it repels the other kind by the things it says and the positions it takes. It can’t ‘include as many strands of British Muslim opinion as possible’ because it already does include one strand of opinion which many people want nothing to do with. Suppose there were an organization with ‘women’ in its name – the American Council of Women, say – which began in opposition to feminism and all its works, and carried on that way for twenty years. I wouldn’t join such an organization, and neither would other feminists. Thus such a group could not be an ‘umbrella organization’ nor could it aspire to represent all women or include as many strands of female opinion as possible. It would be too late for that. That’s how it is with the MCB. It isn’t just some general neutral group that represents all Muslims; it’s a particular group with a particular ideology. Whitaker’s whole piece talks about it as if it were another kind of group altogether.

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