04 April 2004

Barbara Amiel has a piece in the Telegraph on the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain.
To begin with, it's not very easy to know what any "community" thinks. By default, one goes to those organisations that are designated "community leaders". The two groups that head the list are the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). They are quite different. The MCB is an umbrella for about 400 affiliated Muslim groups, including the MAB. Sheltering under that umbrella are the good, the bad and the ugly, which means that the MCB is pulled in many directions.

The MAB is quite a separate matter. It pulls firmly in one direction. Though its leaders are routinely used as spokesmen by media and politicians, this group has associations with the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother of all Islamist groups, founded in Egypt in 1928. The Brotherhood's ideal scenario is to reinstate the Islamic caliphate and have Muslims live in Islamic states under sharia. In pursuit of this goal, its members have been implicated in various assassinations in the Arab world, including that of Anwar Sadat. They have spawned terrorist groups in Pakistan and the Middle East, the best-known being Hamas.

The MAB also extols the virtues of Sayyid Qutb and Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Qutb, one-time leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, a prolific writer and ideologist, was executed by the Egyptians for his attempted assassination of Nasser. ... Among Qutb's thoughts: "The real struggle is between Islam on the one hand and Russia and America on the other."...

Sheikh al-Qaradawi, another MAB favourite, heads the European Council on Fatwa and Research, the ruling ideological body of Islamic life. ... Al-Qaradawi has condemned "suicide" but gives the green light to "martyrdom" - suicide on behalf of Shahadah (faith).

Last week, the other Muslim organisation - the MCB - wrote a letter distributed to the thousand mosques in Britain. The letter quotes a passage from the Koran that forbids killing "unless it be a person guilty of manslaughter or of spreading chaos in the land" (a rather elastic definition in my view) and calls on Muslims to give "the fullest co-operation" to the police in the fight against criminal activity, including terrorism.

The quick endorsement of these views by the MAB is an illustration of the letter's limitations. As a means of tackling Islamist terrorism or taking a stand, it is all but worthless. A meaningful letter needs to speak in the vocabulary of Islam. Among other things, the condemnation of "terrorism" and "criminal activity" would be replaced by an open condemnation of all acts of martyrdom as Shahadah.

Amiel points out that the letter's wording was vague enough to allow extremist Muslims to support it in principle without changing their behavior, and the empty gesture was welcomed because modern Western societies seek to avoid confrontation and want to believe that people of good will can work things out.

However, what should have happened is a condemnation of the non-specificity of the letter and a demand for the MCB to do better.