“Islamism, So What?”

BY SHIRAZ MAHER 

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is advertising Hizb ut Tahrir’s (HT) annual conference on the ‘events’ section of its website. The conference will tell British Muslims they:

…need to be at the forefront of the struggle that counters [western] policies; carrying the real message of Islam, showing its beauty, and how the future [Caliphate] will stand with the oppressed people of the world against the exploitation of global capitalism.

Held at the Troxy, a 1930s art deco building in East London, it is a far cry from the days when HT could fill the London Docklands arena with 10,000 delegates in 2002. It tells us everything we need to know about the group: that its influence is waning, its membership diminished and its punctilious public image exposed.

In itself, none of this is very significant. What matters is that the MCB has chosen to promote and advertise this event on its website. Four years ago, something like this would have been inconceivable.

Back then, the MCB enjoyed a veneer of respectability. It was seen as the sole spokesman of the Muslim community in Britain and some of its members were even invited to Downing Street to advise the Prime Minister on extremism after the 7/7 terrorist attacks.

How times change. Last March the then Communities Secretary Hazel Blears suspended all contact with the MCB after one of its leaders, Daud Abdullah, signed a statement implicitly calling for attacks on Royal Navy servicemen and insisting on perpetual war against Israel.

Of course, the MCB has not changed its position on any of these matters – it has simply become more brazen in what it is prepared to say publicly. A friend once described this as the ‘so what’ moment. Take a look at this fascinating exchange between John Ware and Azzam Tamimi on Panorama back in 2005:

John Ware: No, I’m sorry, just answer the question. You said all you do is explain [terrorist activity], you don’t glorify it, and I’m saying that what you’ve said goes further than that, I think it does glorify.

Dr Azzam Tamimi: So what?

In essence, Tamimi accepts the mask has slipped and that he has nowhere left to run. I’ve been thinking about what this ‘so what’ moment means in the context of the MCB and, more broadly, what we can expect to see with other Islamist groups in the UK too.

There are a number of drawbacks once the ‘so what’ line is crossed. Yes, it becomes easier to identify unsavoury groups and expose them to a wider audience. But what it also means is that groups that were once disparate are now increasingly willing to unite, come together and fight for their common cause – in this case, Islamism.

In that sense, things may yet get worse before they get better.

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