Convicted in Bangladesh - what it means in the UK

This week one of Britain’s most prominent Muslim leaders was found guilty of war crimes during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin’s pedigree as one of the great and the good of his community is well established: he was one of the founders of the Muslim Council of Britain, a vice-chair of the powerful and controversial East London Mosque and a director of spiritual care provision in the NHS.

But he has now been found guilty in absentia of involvement in the “disappearances” of intellectuals opposed to Bangladeshi independence during his time as a leader of the brutal al-Badr brigade student militia. He and other Islamist members of the Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami sided with the ruling Pakistan government during the conflict.

Mr Mueen-Uddin, who is a British citizen, denies all charges and is unlikely to be extradited as his alleged crimes carry the death penalty in Bangladesh.

I do not know if Mr Mueen-Uddin is guilty or not. But the charges against him are the most serious imaginable and his conviction by the court in Bangladesh may invite questions about the politics of the Muslim Council of Britain and the East London Mosque.

It should also prompt some soul-searching among those who have chosen to do business with these institutions over the years. These include a string of government ministers, Prince Charles, two London Mayors, Citizens UK, the interfaith movement and members of the Jewish community who argue for dialogue with the Islamists who dominate Muslim institutions in the UK.

Prosecutors claim Mr Mueen-Uddin was responsible for the abduction and murder of 18 academics, journalists and scientists at the very end if the independence war. He claims the charges against him are politically motivated. He has said he is happy to answer the allegations against him in an internationally recognised court. Let him do so.

Alternatively, allow this country’s legal system to deal with the allegations against Mr Mueen-Uddin. Scotland Yard investigated the case in the 1990s after a Channel 4 documentary brought the allegations to light and the police should look again at whether there is enough evidence to bring him to trial in the UK.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health needs to explain how it can allow Mr Mueen-Uddin to continue to preside over the spiritual well-being of Muslims cared for by the NHS.

It would be naïve to expect a parliamentary inquiry into Jamaat-i-Islami and its institutions in Britain — too many prominent politicians across the political spectrum are compromised. But their influence stretches back to the Salman Rushdie affair in 1989 and beyond. It is a historic catastrophe that we chose to give power to the offshoots of Jamaat-i-Islami rather than seek out genuine voices of moderation within our Muslim communities.

Last updated: 2:58pm, November 7 2013