A muddled view of extremism

Gordon Brown’s lack of an effective policy will be exposed by his honouring a leading Muslim official


I do hope that the rumours circulating around Whitehall are true, and that Gordon Brown is indeed preparing to announce the conferment of a life peerage on Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. I hope it is true for three reasons.

First, there can be little doubt that the peerage recently bestowed upon Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has not gone down well in all parts of the Muslim world.

It has been perceived — rightly or wrongly — as a sign of the present government’s love for the Jewish people in general and for British Jewry in particular. Muslims — some Muslims — are feeling distinctly out of sorts. Since we are now barely six months away from a general election, this negativity must clearly be addressed, and quickly.

Second is the even more negative fallout from an extraordinary decision taken by Mr Brown’s government earlier this year to suspend all contact and interaction with the MCB, ostensibly on account of the activities of the MCB’s deputy general secretary, Dr Daud Abdullah.

Handing out this peerage would show just how myopic and blinkered the government is

On March 13, the then communities minister Hazel Blears wrote to the MCB to the effect that the British government’s “engagement” with it was being suspended, pending the outcome of an investigation that the MCB had been prevailed upon to launch into the activities of the said Dr Abdullah.

This gentleman had attended what was billed as a “Global Anti-Aggression Conference” in Istanbul. At the end of that conference, the participants (including Dr Abdullah) had put their names to a long-winded “declaration” that, in the course of proclaiming a Muslim “victory” in Gaza, reserved some harsh words (understandably) for “the absence of any official and effective Arab and Islamic stance” in relation to the plight of Gaza and its inhabitants.

The declaration then proceeded to articulate a comprehensive rejection of the Saudi-sponsored peace plan that would involve the recognition of Israel within the armistice lines of 1949.

But what really annoyed Hazel Blears was none of this, nor even the undisguised anti-Jewish tone with which the entire declaration was infused.

In the view of Ms Blears, the really disgraceful aspect of this declaration was that it purported to condone violence against British troops. To be precise, the declaration offered an Islamic justification for action against the British military should it play any part in an international peace-keeping force that might have been or might still be instituted to prevent the smuggling of arms into Gaza.

Such action against the British military was something up with which Ms Blears was determined not to put. And so she made it clear to the MCB that, until it took action against Dr Abdullah, all contact between it and Her Majesty’s government was at an end.

This ultimatum amounted to an unprecedented intrusion by the government into the internal affairs of a legally representative group. (Imagine, for a moment, the fuss that we would have kicked up had the government announced that it would break off all contact with the Jewish Leadership Council and the Deputies unless and until they purged themselves of office holders who supported the right of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.) The MCB was quite correct, therefore, to have stood firm against political blackmail of this sort. So I am glad to report that Dr Abdullah is still in post — glad not least because I have debated with him twice and it is a pleasure to spar with such an ill-informed shlemiel.

But I have a third reason for welcoming the rumour that Dr Abdullah’s boss, Dr Bari, could be in line for a life peerage. The MCB is indeed a representative group but not a very representative group. In this regard, I can do no better than refer you to a withering indictment of the MCB that appeared in the New Statesman in 2007 and which was written by none other than Martin Bright, now the JC’s political editor. Martin quite rightly damned the MCB for being anything but non-sectarian and non-factional.

In his view — which I share and commend to you — the MCB is “undemocratic, divisive and unrepresentative of the full diversity of Muslim Britain.”

So, in handing out a peerage now to its general secretary, the present government will have demonstrated just how myopic and blinkered is its view of the reality of Muslim extremism in this country.

    Last updated: 4:17pm, December 10 2009

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