27 February 2007
Your leader comment, 'Different voice for a Muslim generation',(Birmingham Post, 27 February 2007), naturally raised much interest and surprise in the MCB.
Your remarks, whilst trying to inform your readership of the wide distance between the average, law abiding Muslim and his criminally inclined compatriot; often obscured by the wider ignorance of Muslims in British society, repeats many of the generalisations and false beliefs held of Muslims in your references to the MCB.
It is of some surprise that your comment piece should neglect to mention that it was the MCB that drew attention to the much good work done by mosques and community centres in its report, 'Voices from the Minarets', and its consultation response to the government challenging its proposals to enforce closure of those centres accused of peddling uncivil discourse. The consultation itself was borne of an exercise in information gathering from mosques and centres around the UK.
The MCB's affiliate, the Islamic Society of Britain, has for many years now run an Islam Awareness Week in November of each year to offer non Muslim Britons, of whatever religious affiliation, the opportunity to learn of what goes on in mosques and how religion informs daily Muslim life. The MCB itself organised a seminar,** ****with another of its national affiliates, Islamic Forum Europe**, entitled, ‘A Day with the Prophet’, in the aftermath of the caricature crisis to enable uninformed others to understand why irreverence of the Prophet is deeply offensive to Muslims.
The challenge to explain Islam to the British public is a challenge the MCB has faced head on and never shirked. I wonder whom then you refer to when you speak of ‘high-profile Muslims’ that have failed to meet that challenge?
You argue that the MCB in referring to the consequences of our failed war in Iraq, and of erroneous British foreign policy in other areas, appears to excuse violence whilst condemning it in the same breath. The MCB's arguments of the heightened insecurities we all face as a result of our adventure in Iraq is not without support from academic and intelligence circles. I refer you to just a few recent publications: The US government’s National Intelligence Estimate on Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States, which states that "the Iraq war has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists ... and is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives." It is a fear earlier iterated in the Chatham House report 'Security, Terrorism and the UK', published in July 2005, and reiterated in the most recent publication on the same theme by the Centre for Law and Security at NYU.
It seems New Labour has adopted a quaint idea. Just as in the nineteenth century, when local councils helped nurture civic values through the development of parks, libraries and museums, so today should our local authorities do something about community cohesion, engagement and shared citizenship! Of course everyone and every institution have a role to play, but we would have put our money on strengthening independent bodies in civil society rather than enlarge the bureaucracy and the scope of its diktat.
The MCB is wholly committed to the government’s battle against extremism and to partner with it in this endeavour. But it will not allow its relationship with the government to prevent it from speaking the obvious or from counselling against bad policy in return for preferential treatment. It is the duty of every responsible organisation to speak truth to power, whatever the consequences.
It is the exercise of responsible and clear sighted leadership that offers the ‘fresh hope in efforts both to stamp out extremism and to improve community relations’, that you speak of. In this, the MCB has no equal.
The Muslim Council of Britain
PO Box 57330,
London E15 1NT