Daily Express News Article
20th November 2001
Intolerance Masking as 'Conscientious Secular Liberalism'
"Malicious generalizations about Islam have become the last acceptable form of denigration of foreign culture in the West; what is said about the Muslim mind, or character, or religion, or culture as a whole cannot now be said in mainstream discussion about Africans, Jews, other Orientals, or Asians."
(Professor Edward Said, Covering Islam, xii, 1997)
Since September 11th Islam has been a permanent fixture in the comment pages of almost all newspapers in the UK. In the main, columnists - following our Prime Minister Tony Blair's excellent example - have been careful to distinguish between the actions of a few terrorists (note, not Muslim terrorists or Islamic terrorists, but terrorists pure and simple) and the mainstream Muslim community.
In the UK, we have learned over the years how to distinguish between the actions of an extremist minority like the Real IRA and all Republicans. We would never regard all Republicans as being extremists or hold the Catholic faith to be in any way to blame for the actions of the extremists.
Unfortunately, over the last few weeks there has been a disturbing increase in the number of articles appearing in the press in which some writers have taken the unacceptable actions of a few members of the British Muslim community and used them to try and tar the whole community with the same broad brush. This is both irresponsible and in the current circumstances extremely inflammatory.
Carol Sarler's Daily Express column on November 15th was a particularly vivid example of intolerance masking as a defence for her proclaimed "conscientious, secular liberalism." Below, we examine some of her remarks in more detail.
Sarler starts by sneering at the suggestion that most Muslims are moderates:"Oh really, so where are they then?…you would think that if you were a moderate Muslim, you would be clamouring to have your voice heard…the silence is deafening." Well, as one Muslim critic of former Premier Margaret Thatcher remarked when she bizarrely stated that she had not heard enough criticism of the Sept 11th atrocity from British Muslim leaders: "Maybe it's time to turn up your hearing aid!"
The Muslim Council of Britain issued a press release condemning the attacks of Sept 11th within 3 hours of them occurring and within 48 hours we had organised a well-attended press conference where all the main Muslim leaders from around the UK signed a statement saying that the attacks were morally indefensible and demanded that the perpetrators be brought to justice. The day after the Sept 11th attacks the Prime Minister himself made reference to the MCB's clear position in his press conference.
Some sections of the media, however, instead of giving space to the mainstream Muslim voice, deliberately went to the fringe element within the British Muslim community to allow them to air their unrepresentative anti-Western views. There are over 800 mosques in the UK and only one of them is run by a known radical. Yet this one mosque (Finsbury Park, London) seems to get more coverage than all the rest put together! The situation is akin to taking a member of the racist BNP and saying his views are representative of ordinary Britons.
Sarler then sarcastically asks that if Islam "is a religion of tolerance, peace and love…why every Moslem state in the world today is a cauldron of violence, corruption, oppression and dodgy democracy?" This is about as nonsensical as saying that Judaism is a religion based on murder and the illegal occupation of land because of Israel's 53-year long dispossession and ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.
Many Muslim countries are indeed in a sorry state of backwardness. We certainly do need to encourage the spread of democracy and civil liberties and the rule of law. British Muslims fully support these aims. However, if we take Afghanistan as a timely example, it is important to remember that foreign meddling in its affairs - and the UK too is guilty of this in the past during the Russian invasion - has only served to cripple that country's development.
Sarler calls on her readers to "reject the beaten wives, hate the suppression of women." In its seminal 1997 report the Runnymede Trust said that one characteristic of Islamophobia was the taking of the particular instance and applying the generalization to the whole Muslim community. You will see that Sarler does not use any qualifying phrases. It is as if she actually wants us to believe that all Muslims beat their wives and engage in suppressing women, perhaps as a cultural pastime.
The blessed Prophet Muhammad taught Muslims "the best among you are those who behave best towards their wives." (Mishkat al-Masabih). We do not deny that there are indeed instances of disgraceful treatment of women by Muslims but this is an all too common human failing not exclusively the preserve of some Muslims. All of us in the human family constantly need to behave better towards each other.
Sarler then complains that while listening to Radio 5 Live she had to put up with "tedious quotations from the Koran" which she regards as "a bloodthirsty little book." It is telling that instead of engaging in proper criticism of the Qur'an which Muslims can then try and answer Sarler resorts to lazy insults of the Holy Book which all Muslims revere as the very words of God. Is this an example of "conscientious, secular liberalism?"
British Muslims are more than prepared to debate about their faith in a rational manner. What we will not do is engage in insults. The Qur'an advises Muslims: "when you hear the signs of God held in defiance and ridicule, you are not to sit with them unless they turn to a different theme: if you did, you would be like them." (Qur'an 4:140)
Sarler then approaches the end of her nasty article by actually inciting religious hatred against British Muslims. "It is this tolerance that, I fear, is going to bite us. It is the same tolerance that allows an indigenous population to host another that hates us and says so, in loud, haranguing, roving gangs that terrorise our inner cities in the name of Allah."
Note again, the total absence of any qualifying phrases. Also, Sarler seems oblivious to the fact that most British Muslims have actually been born in the UK. They are indigenous British citizens. There is no question of them being 'hosted' in any way.
There are, of course, criminal elements within the Muslim community as there are in all communities. Some problems are related to unemployment and the lack of opportunities. However, we will make no excuse for their illegal behaviour. We abhor their actions and they must be dealt with according to the law just like all other British citizens.
Similarly, British Muslims made clear that we did not in any way condone any of our number going to Afghanistan to fight against British troops. Indeed, there is an obligation under Islamic law to fulfil the social contract implied in the holding of a British passport. Those that went to fight in Afghanistan were evidently miniscule in number and the law must take its course with respect to them. They should not be used as a stick to beat all Muslims with.
British Muslims certainly do not "hate" this - their - country as Sarler would have us believe. Indeed, we have rights here that are only dreamt of by those in many other Muslim countries. Islam is a faith that is prospering in the UK unlike any other. The Islamic call of willing surrender to the One God and the inevitable accountability for our actions on the Day of Judgement is proving to be a very receptive one in these isles.
British-born Muslims are going through our universities and entering the professions in ever-larger numbers every year. And they are also now, for the first time, beginning to engage actively in political debate. We wonder whether this is the real reason why Carol Sarler seems so annoyed.
The Muslim Council of Britain