"I welcome the statement put out by the Muslim Council." Not only did the Queen of England recently knight Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain, but Prime Minister Tony Blair today, in his first major speech following the four explosions in London, gave the MCB this very high-visibility praise. What did the MCB say to deserve this extraordinary endorsement from the head of government? Its full statement can be found at the Muslim Council of Britain website, but I proffer an abridged version:
Deepest sympathy is expressed … victims of this terrible atrocity … condemned in the strongest possible terms … repudiate the use of such violence. … completely contrary to our teaching and practice … minority who claim falsely to represent us … affirm our common humanity … strengthen our determination … to grow together in mutual understanding … pursuit of peace, justice and respect for difference.
Prime Minister Tony Blair (center) with Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain at the Labour Party Annual Conference. September 29, 2004. Photo by Stefan Rousseau/Empics.
July 14, 2005 update: With the rarest of exceptions, the MCB has for years enjoyed a free pass in the media. In a stunning change, BBC Radio 4's Today programme interviewed John Ware, a critic of the organization, and then put tough questions to MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala. Interestingly, the main topic of the interviews was the MCB's positive attitude toward suicide bombing in Israel.
July 16, 2005 update: The MCB convened yesterday a special meeting of imams and ulama at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Regents Park, London, and they endorsed a declaration. It contains the usual boilerplate ("deeply shocked and saddened … utterly criminal, totally reprehensible, and absolutely un-Islamic … heartfelt sorrow") but, that out of the way, it gets down to business:
The tragedy of 7th July 2005 demands that all of us, both in public life and in civil and religious society, confront together the problems of Islamophobia, racism, unemployment, economic deprivation and social exclusion – factors that may be alienating some of our children and driving them towards the path of anger and desperation. … There is, therefore, a great deal of positive work to be done together with everyone in our own and wider community in order to channel the energy and talent of our youth particularly into constructive avenues, serving God and society for the common good. The youth need understanding, not bashing. … We also urge the media to refrain from character assassinations of our reputable scholars and denigration of the community. …
We also call on the international community to work towards just and lasting peace settlements in the world's areas of conflict and help eliminate the grievances that seem to nurture a spiral of violence.
Summarized, the good imams and ulama are announcing that Muslims in Great Britain (first paragraph) and around the world (second paragraph) are victims and that the implication of 7/7 is that they should be treated better. What a travesty. Worse is that barely anyone in the UK is willing to point this out.
July 19, 2005 update: The Blair government's fawning attachment to the MCB has spurred one good thing, MCB Watch, "an occasional blog, monitoring and commenting on the output of the Muslim Council of Britain. Although the MCB claim to be the voice of moderate Islam in the UK, there are many problems with this and it is our thesis that their moderate credentials are severely questionable." Just what the doctor ordered.
Aug. 6, 2005 update: Beila Rabinowitz of MilitantIslamMonitor.org points out some other interesting facts about the MCB.
- During the height of the controversy over The Satanic Verses in 1989, Iqbal Sacranie announced about its author, Salman Rushdie, that "death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him . . . his mind must be tormented for the rest of his life unless he asks for forgiveness to Almighty Allah." (This statement appeared originally in The Guardian, February 15, 1989; I quote it on p. 183 of The Rushdie Affair.)
- When Omar Bakri Mohammed of Al-Muhajiroun made plans to hold a "Rally for Revival" on Sept. 8, 1996, he invited (among other Islamist terrorist leaders) Osama bin Laden and Muhammad Fadlallah (leader of Hizbullah),as well as (by video) Omar Abdel-Rahman (the blind sheikh). To this news, the Board of Deputies of British Jews requested the Home Secretary not to allow them into Britain. Sacranie responded with a threat: "The Board of Deputies of British Jews should seriously consider what action they take on this matter because of the detrimental effect on community relations which could result. Taking a hostile view towards scholars who wish to come to this country to present their points of view at a conference will not serve good community relations."
- The Department of Trade and Industry, a branch of the British government, awarded the MCB £250,000, apparently in February 2004, to raise
awareness and understanding within the Muslim Community, with employers and advisory organisations about the provisions of the Employment Equality (Religion of Belief) Regulations. This is being done through a variety of means including: briefing of Imams to help spread the message to the Muslim Community through mosques –and during key religious festivals such as Ramadan; good practice guidance for mainstream agencies and large employers on Muslim issues and cultural awareness; enhancement of the MCB website to include employment FAQs; working with advisory organisations so they have a better understanding of the employment equality regulations and the Muslim faith.
- Melanie Phillips, in an article on a proposed new British law against incitement to religious hatred, recounts her asking Sacranie in January 2005 "whether he thought that any public statements about Islamic terrorism, or any speculation about the number of Muslims in Britain who might support Islamic terrorism, would constitute incitement to religious hatred." To these, he responded: "There is no such thing as an Islamic terrorist. This is deeply offensive. Saying Muslims are terrorists would be covered by this provision." Phillips concludes from this statement: "So now we know what the MCB wants to prosecute under this proposed new law."
Aug. 7, 2005 update:: Salman Rushdie also remembers Sacranie's statement and argues in the Washington Post today against seeing Sacranie as a moderate. "Tony Blair's decision to knight him and treat him as the acceptable face of "moderate," "traditional" Islam is either a sign of his government's penchant for religious appeasement or a demonstration of how limited Blair's options really are."
Aug. 14, 2005 update: Hold on to your chair before you start reading this update, otherwise you might keel over.
The Observer, Sunday version of the Guardian, Great Britain's left-most quality newspaper, has published two critical articles by Martin Bright today on the MCB. "Muslim leaders in feud with the BBC" reports of its nasty row with the BBC; "Radical links of UK's 'moderate' Muslim group" is the Observer's own investigation into the MCB.
The first article was prompted by what the Observer calls "an extraordinary letter," dated August 11, from the Muslim Council of Britain to the BBC's director general Mark Thompson, and posted on the MCB website. In it, the MCB claims that the BBC's "Panorama" program has a "pro-Israel agenda" (now, that's a new thought!) and raises strenuous objections to a feature coming up soon looking at Muslim organizations in Britain, where it sees the Panorama team seemingly intent "on creating mistrust by serving the interests of the pro-Israel lobby and undermining community relations in the UK." The Observer adds that the feature is expected to be "highly critical" of some MCB affiliates for their links to extremist Islamic ideology. The reporter of this segment, John Ware already tipped his hand in a BBC interview last month (see the June 14, 2005 update, above).
A BBC spokeswoman officially responded: "The BBC rejects completely any allegation of institutional or programme bias and is confident the Panorama programme will be fair and impartial." Unofficially, a senior BBC source called the MCB accusation "plain wrong," "insulting," and "frankly preposterous."
As Bright points out, the BBC is hardly known for its pro-Israel orientation. For one, the head of the Israeli government's press office, Danny Seaman, accused it in July 2003, of "demonising and vilifying" the State of Israel.
The second article consists of a look at some of the individuals (Iqbal Sacranie, Inayat Bunglawala, Khurshid Ahmad) and some of the over 400 organizations (Islamic Foundation, Jamiat Ahl-i-Hadith) making up the MCB, showing their intimate links to Pakistan's leading Islamist, Abul A'la Al-Mawdudi, and his Jamaat-i-Islami party. It notes that the MCB originated in the Islamist opposition to The Satanic Verses in 1988 and it came into formal existence in November 1997 . From the first, it has had a close relationship with the Blair government, especially the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its little-known outreach department to British Muslims. The FCO pamphlet Muslims in Britain, writes Bright, "is essentially an MCB publication and the official ministerial celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid is organised jointly with the MCB." The MCB "used its influence in Whitehall" to make sure that the Festival of Muslim Cultures, planned for 2006, funded by the British Council, with Prince Charles as its patron, will be compliant with the Shari'a.
The second article concludes that the MCB's "claims to represent a moderate or progressive tendency in Islam are becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. … far from being moderate, the Muslim Council of Britain has its origins in the extreme orthodox politics in Pakistan. And as its influence increases through Whitehall, many within the Muslim community are growing concerned that this self-appointed organisation is crowding out other, genuinely moderate, voices of Muslim Britain."
Comments: (1) This is precisely the sort of investigation that no mainstream media in the United States has ever done for CAIR, MPAC, ISNA, MAS, or the other local Islamist institutions, even after 9/11. Will it take domestic Muslims killing dozens to precipitate dozens for that to happen? I suspect so – another case of education by murder.
(2) In the meantime, the best Americans can muster was a tepid but informative article yesterday on CAIR in a small-town newspaper.
Aug. 21, 2005 update (1): Alasdair Palmer in the Sunday Telegraph takes the MCB critique a step further at "Top job fighting extremism for Muslim who praised bomber," looking at what Inayat Bunglawala, the organization's media secretary, has been saying over the years. I provide a few of his details in the "Londonistan Follies" entry, under this date.
Aug. 21, 2005 update (2): The BBC showed "A question of Leadership" this evening; it also provided a transcript and some other features. The show does not disappoint; John Ware interviewed the right people, asked the right questions, displayed a suitable persistence, and it made crystal clear that the MCB is an Islamist institution. Now, will the British establishment draw the obvious conclusion, exclude it, and seek a moderate replacement?
Aug. 28, 2005 update: In a sharp critique, "A Muslim at bay," appearing in (of all places) the Observer, Andrew Anthony dismantles the MCB brick by brick:
"We do not believe in double standards," said Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, with one of his two faces. If affiliates of the MCB, like Markazi Jamiat Ahl-i-Hadith, want to say that the ways of Jews and Christians are "based on sick or deviant views," then, as far as Sir Iqbal is concerned, it's merely part of the "diversity that exists in the community." Perhaps we should at least be thankful that he did not prefix diversity with that mindless adjective: "rich."
This is the man who has been campaigning, with no little success, for the government to imprison people for seven years for inciting religious hatred. Yet at a time when Islamist fanatics are blowing up commuters, he's not bothered by his own members holding people of other faiths in moral contempt. This is the man who thought that death was 'too easy' for Salman Rushdie. This is the man who still contends that The Satanic Verses should be banned – "We respect the freedom of expression but we expect freedom of expression to be exercised with responsibility," (unless, it seems, the freedom is exercised by one of the MCB's affiliates).
This is the man who praised Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin, the architect of the suicide-bomb campaign in Israel, as a "renowned Islamic scholar." And this is one of the men, in a development beyond satire, whom the government has charged with rooting out Islamic extremists. (Another is Inayat Bunglawala, MCB media secretary, who only months before 11 September 2001 was a propagandist for Osama bin Laden.)
Anthony then discusses the BBC show:
Naturally, the MCB has accused the BBC of Islamophobia in screening John Ware's sharp and timely Panorama investigation into the ideology of so-called moderate community leaders. The last time I checked my dictionary, "phobia" meant "fear" and it would seem entirely rational, if I were a Jew or a Christian, to fear anyone who called me sick or deviant.
No doubt, by Sir Iqbal's reckoning, such logic is Islamophobic rather than, say, an example of the diversity that exists in the community. But then the MCB's standard response to any form of criticism is to shout "Islamophobia" at the top of its voice.
It's to Ware's and the BBC's credit that they were not deterred by such shameless victim posturing. Sacranie has been at the forefront of many political campaigns of late and Ware gave him the kind of grilling that politicians routinely receive on Newsnight. He responded with all the incoherence and evasion of a man who has grown used to an easy ride from the media.
One outraged liberal critic has since accused Ware of McCarthyism. However, there's a much better word to describe what Ware did in Panorama. It refers to the dogged process of finding out facts, scrutinising inconsistencies and asking difficult questions. It's called journalism.
May 10, 2006 update: Perhaps one reason that the Blair government coddles the MCB is that it helps pay for it. According to materials released through a Freedom of Information Act request (and released by the FOIA Centre under the title "Home office funds muslim council of Britain"), letters exchanged in February 2005 between the Home Office and the MDB reveal the government gave it a grant of at least £148,160 for the year ending March 2006.
This was less than a third of the £500,000 the MCB had requested in January 2005 to fund a proposal titled, "British Muslims: From Alienation to Engagement." The proposal included the following passages:
There is now a growing body of evidence that British Muslim communities suffer some of the sharpest forms of both race and religious discrimination and disadvantage. They are, however, inadequately protected from either. …
It is suggested that this defining experience of Muslims, of discrimination and disadvantage, often leads to detachment and alienation from the mainstream of British society. This alienation has been further fuelled more recently – in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 – by a backlash of increased levels of Islamophobia in all sections of society, the over-zealous use by law enforcement agencies of new draconian anti-terrorism provisions resulting in a disproportionate impact on Muslims, the intense focus of the media on Muslims as the "enemy within," the gains of the far right across Europe and Britain's role in the "war on terrorism" in Muslim countries. The level of alienation is in some cases so high that it results in not just "parallel lives" but such high levels of disaffection as to threaten the kind of disorder experienced in some northern cities in 2001. It also helps the recruitment of young men by extremist tendencies. …
Much is already underway on different fronts to address the British Muslim experience and what may be brewing just below the surface as a result. The government's new strategy on race, faith and community cohesion will not only add to these activities but also provide a more coherent framework for them. The purpose of the initiatives proposed in this bid is to complement those activities from within the Muslim community.
The government grant was announced by the Cohesion and Faiths Unit in a letter to Akber Mohamedali, the MCB's treasurer. The money funded five projects proposed by the MCB:
- MCB Leadership Development Programme;
- MCB Leadership Mentoring Programme;
- MCB Direct, a web portal for information on Islam and Muslims;
- British Citizenship Programme; and
- British Muslim equality programme.
The Home Office imposed several terms and conditions for the grant:
MCB will contribute to policy development work by attending meetings, submitting ideas, debating issues, etc, which may need to be on a strictly confidential basis.
MCB will be prepared to work in partnership with CFU on the development and implementation of policy initiatives.
MCB will act as a source of expertise and experience to government on issues relevant to the work of the organisation.
The Home Office-MCB correspondence also shows that, after the £148,160 grant was made, the MCB sought further funding. An e-mail from Mohamedali to the Home Office in August 2005 asks for £35,000, which includes £9,300 for an "incident monitoring service" and £5,000 for the MCB's revamped website to be "technically tested and go live on the web."
Comments: (1) One can hardly be surprised at this late date that the British taxpayer is subsidizing an Islamist organization, but one can still be outraged. (2) Government funding for the MCB proposal implicitly endorses the MCB's contention that Muslim has been fuelled "by a backlash of increased levels of Islamophobia in all sections of society, the over-zealous use by law enforcement agencies of new draconian anti-terrorism provisions … and Britain's role in the 'war on terrorism' in Muslim countries." (3) Note the Home Office condition that some of the MCB's work "may need to be on a strictly confidential basis"; one cannot help but wonder what that might involve.
Muhammad Abdul Bari
Muhammad Abdul Bari
Arranged marriages are a good idea. These are not forced on children but it is a way of parents helping to guide their children to make the right choices. In youth, you are very emotional; you just go on instinct. Elders can look at compatibility, background, intentions. It is a wonderful system. I had an arranged marriage. My daughter is 22 and we will help her to choose a man. But it will be a choice made by all of us. It would be a good thing for British society to take on board. Traditionally, you had far more of this; now, it is all done on impulse. …
There are so many broken marriages here, so much divorce, and it causes terrible social issues. I work with children with behavioural difficulties, with one-parent families, broken families. If only parents had helped to guide their children to choose partners they could spend their whole lives with. Pre-marital sex is wrong, cohabitation is wrong; by the time you get married, you are bored. There is no mystery. Muslim marriages tend to be more successful, more of a partnership.
And gambling is terrible here. All physical and mental effort should go into earning money, working for it. I think that Muslims can help the British here.
Britain would definitely be better off without [alcohol]. Alcohol addiction is worse than drugs - it destroys families."
July 12, 2006 update: "This pamphlet is dedicated to a Foreign Office whistleblower whose courageous actions have allowed me to expose Whitehall's love affair with Islamism." Thus reads the dedication of Martin Bright's pamphlet, published by the London think tank, Policy Exchange, When Progressives Treat with Reactionaries: The British State's flirtation with radical Islamism. Using leaked documents, Bright exposes how, Tony Blair's focus on radical Islam notwithstanding, his government continues to deal with Islamists as both legitimate and the representatives of British Islam.
Dec. 1, 2006 update: John Ware documents how the British government has dropped its "special relationship" with the Muslim Council of Britain in "MCB in the dock."
Jan. 31, 2007 update: David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has endorsed a serious new party report, Uniting the Country, that blasts the MCB for allowing "hardline members ... to dominate policy and crowd out more moderate voices." The Tory leader said the government must not bow to the "loudest voices" in the Muslim community. Muhammad Abdul Bari, the MCB secretary-general, responded by saying Cameron has surrounded himself with "rabid" and "ill-informed" advisers. Comment: Should the Tories win the next election, the MCB could well find itself excluded from 10 Downing Street, just as CAIR is from the White House.
Feb. 10, 2007 update: Shahid Malik, Labour MP for Dewsbury, "sends a message to the Muslim Council of Britain" in an article today, "Stop whingeing and show leadership." In it, he criticizes the MCB's "flawed moral leadership" and compares it to Nick Griffin, the British Nationial Party leader.
Daud Abdullah, MCB's deputy leader.
Mar. 23, 2009 update: The MCB has gone from problem to problem over the past two years, culminating now in a suspension of ties by the government with the organization, on account of its deputy secretary-general, Daud Abdullah, signing a declaration in February calling for violence against Israel and condoning attacks on British troops.
Mar. 30, 2009 update: The MCB's fall continues. News from today's Times (London) story, "Government moves to isolate Muslim Council of Britain with cash for mosques."
"Mosques and local Muslim community groups are to be given money and direct access to government ministers under a radical plan to isolate" the MCB.
"The Government is planning to deny the organisation's representatives ministerial briefings across all departments in a move designed to undermine its standing among British Muslims."
"It is understood that even some of the MCB's supporters within Government, including David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, and Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, have now turned their backs on the organisation."