The Muslim Council of Britain and terrorism
The Muslim Council of Britain's forceful condemnation of the Paris terror attacks is welcome. But anyone can condemn slaughter, and doing so does not make you "moderate". What is needed is a radical change in key Muslim narratives
On Wednesday, the Muslim Council of Britain published an advert in the Telegraph and Mail Online condemning the ISIL terror attacks in Paris. Their statement, signed by some 300 of the body's affiliates, described Friday's massacres as 'barbaric' and added that they 'had no sanction in Islam'.
They explained that their faith specifically forbade 'terrorism and the targeting of innocents' and reaffirmed their commitment to the 'values of pluralism and tolerance'.
It is tempting to welcome this condemnation by the MCB. The organisation has some prominence within the community and its advert will resonate with most British Muslims who are equally appalled by the Paris attacks. For some indeed, this is proof that they are moderate Muslims.
But therein lies the problem. Opposing the mass murder of innocent people is hardly a hallmark of reasonableness. It is surely what any decent minded, civilised person would say. To declare that you don't advocate the mass slaughter of civilians, the rape of young children, the destruction of ancient monuments or the ethnic cleaning of Christians is no litmus test for moderation.
Any British Muslim who is repulsed by such crimes will not need the MCB's reassurance that it shares their view. By the same token, any extremist who feels sympathy for IS will dismiss the MCB's spokesmen as Islamic 'Uncle Toms', desperate to sell out their community to a racist establishment which is 'at war with Islam'.
If the MCB's aim is to lessen alleged anti-Islamic sentiment, it is equally futile. A strong majority of Britons refuse to tarnish all Muslims as terrorists or to target them, rightly so. Similarly, those reprehensible individuals who attack innocent people will hardly be swayed by this advert.
If the MCB, or any similar body, really wants to influence this debate, and be taken seriously as a force for moderation, they need to say much more than they did in their advert.
Firstly, they can admit that there is a problem deep within Islam, both in Britain and around the world. Instead of declaring that terrorists do not represent their faith, they can accept that some of their co-religionists have abandoned any tolerance for western values and democratic ideals, and that what they long for is an Islamic Caliphate, ruled by Sharia law.
They can admit that these Muslims are animated by a hatred of 'infidels' and have come to believe that their murderous rampages receive divine sanction. They should acknowledge that belief in theocratic fascism is not confined to a tiny fringe who have 'hijacked the faith, and here, they can point to the links between Wahhabi funding, jihadist ideology and violent terror.
They need to admit that a significant number of British Muslims, while not terrorists themselves, express their discomfort at western mores and values, and that they want a sharia based legal system in Britain.
Once they acknowledge that jihadism is a problem within Islam, they must start to argue for an effective counter-narrative. They need to show how holy scripture, history and traditions can be reinterpreted to support messages of tolerance, pluralism and integration. Then they should support those brave Muslim souls who demand a full blown Islamic reformation, one involving an end to literalism and an embrace of modernity.
Next, the MCB should announce their support for at least some of the government's counter extremism measures. These include disruption orders to limit the movements of individuals seeking to radicalise others, the closure of mosques where such activities may be taking place and powers to root out charities which divert funds towards terrorism.
Instead of denouncing the 'McCarthyist undertones' of the government's strategy, they should welcome attempts to blacklist extremists.
Another sign of moderation would be to challenge the poisonous anti-western narrative that is used to recruit Islamists. In other words, the MCB must tell fellow Muslims that the West is not at war with Islam and that not all its interventions around the globe are harmful.
They need to remind people that far more Muslims have died at the hands of their own leaders than by the (sometimes misguided) hand of western power, and that this itself reflects a crisis of leadership within the Islamic world.
A truly moderate MCB might then offer a prescription for the Middle East. This would revolve less around anti-imperialism and more around the need for creating democratic structures and institutions within the region. If they were more daring still, they would question the widespread persecution of Christians and other minorities throughout the Arab world, noting that they receive a safe haven in a non-Arab state (Israel).
For a group like the MCB, well versed in criticising western foreign policy, this would be a particularly tough habit to break.
Given that antisemitism is particularly embedded in sections of the Muslim community, a moderate MCB would have to denounce this particularly lethal prejudice. True, in 2014 the MCB did release a joint statement condemning 'antisemitism and Islamophobia'.
But they need to go much further than this. They can acknowledge that the Muslim world has been particularly susceptible to the plague of antisemitism in the last century and that it remains a powerful force among British Muslims. In the words of Mehdi Hasan, it is the community's 'dirty little secret'.
A great deal of casual racism involves paranoid conspiracy theories about the alleged sinister machinations of Jewish and Zionist groups. Therefore, the MCB could immediately denounce such anti-Zionist theories as palpable nonsense. They could argue, without any prejudice to the Palestinians, that Jews have an unequivocal right to national self determination, based on history, international law and morality.
They should deplore their own past allegations of 'genocide in Palestine' and admit their profound mistake in boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day. Above all, they must acknowledge that terrorism is an execrable crime whether it is committed in London, Paris or Jerusalem. Terrorism is not 'resistance' just because it is carried out by Palestinians.
Finally, the Muslim Council of Britain claims to endorse values of pluralism and tolerance. If so, a truly moderate organisation should always support freedom of expression which is sacrosanct in any secular society.
That means not seeking to clamp down on satirical representations of their faith or other criticisms of Islam that they deem offensive. It means condemning those nations which apply the death penalty for 'apostates' or 'blasphemers' (i.e. those who leave the faith or those who question its tenets).
It must include joining the campaign to release the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for 'insulting Islam'. It must involve tolerance for all sexual minorities, even if homosexuality remains forbidden in the faith.
An MCB that refuses to adopt these positions cannot be considered a moderate force. It cannot play a role in fighting back against Islamist extremism or the jihadis who murder for their faith. Until then, all we can expect is yet more expensive adverts denouncing indiscriminate mass murder.
Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books, Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton
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