So the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is back in with government. It was not all that long ago that the Department for Communities and Local Government cut ties with the group after its Deputy Secretary General, Daud Abdullah, signed the Istanbul declaration which you can read in full here.
Framed as a ‘statement’ addressed to ‘all rulers and peoples concerning events in Gaza’, it condemns those who have ‘given up the choice of jihad in the way of Allah as an effective means in defeating the occupation’.
The document did not stop there. It also issued a number of ‘legal judgements’ which include:
The obligation of the Islamic nation to regard the sending of foreign warships into Muslim waters, claiming to control the borders and prevent the smuggling of arms to Gaza, as a declaration of war, a new occupation, sinful aggression, and a clear violation of the sovereignty of the nation. This must be rejected and fought by all means and ways.
Hazel Blears, then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, interpreted this as a veiled threat against the Royal Navy after Gordon Brown had offered to deploy British warships off the Gaza coast to stop Hamas from smuggling weapons.
Abdullah dismissed this by saying:
All the assertions made by the [sic] secretary of state (Mrs Blears) are based on conjecture and totally hypothetical scenarios.
Now, it seems, all is forgiven and the MCB are suitable partners for government again. Following a report by Martin Bright in the Jewish Chronicle which highlighted ongoing concerns by some members of staff at DCLG, Daud Abdullah has written an open letter to John Denham who replaced Blears as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Daud Abdullah has constantly tried to explain away the Istanbul declaration with maudlin tears while failing to take the honourable option of either retracting his support for it or resigning his position. In his defence, he insists the declaration is ‘vague’ and ‘ambiguous’.
Yet, to my mind, Abdullah’s letter raises more questions than it answers. It is riddled with ambiguity. Here are some selected highlights from it:
I am absolutely opposed to any attack or violence directed against innocent persons of any faith or no faith anywhere in the world.
This is a seemingly welcome statement from Abdullah. However, what he leaves unclear is his definition of the word ‘innocent’. Many Islamists do not regard any Israeli as ‘innocent’, classing them all as ‘occupiers’ and – because of Israel’s policy of national service – as potential soldiers too.
That is certainly the view of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, arguably the most important Islamist theologian today. When he was barred from entering the UK in 2008 the MCB protested vociferously. Here’s what he has to say on the issue:
How can the head of Al-Azhar incriminate mujahideen [fighters] who fight against aggressors? How can he consider these aggressors as innocent civilians?
Has fighting [sic] colonizers become a criminal and terrorist act for some sheikhs? Israeli society was completely military in its make-up and did not include any civilians. [In Israel] men and women are soldiers. They are all occupying soldiers.
He repeated similar views during an interview with Newsnight:
An Israeli woman is not like women in our societies, because she is a soldier. I consider this type of martyrdom operation as an evidence of God’s justice. Allah Almighty is just; through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak a weapon the strong do not have and that is their ability to turn their bodies into bombs as Palestinians do.
Given Qaradawi’s openly stated views – and the MCB’s admiration for him – it is wholly appropriate to seek clarification over Daud Abdullah’s understanding of the word ‘innocent’ in the context he uses it. Things get even more confusing later on when he states:
The Palestinians have the right to resist Israel’s illegal occupation, a right supported by international law and the Charter of the UN. In the same way as it is a common British value to respect international law and support justice and freedom of oppressed people, I, along with the Muslim community and large sections of the wider British society, support the rights of the Palestinians.
If Abdullah wants to be taken seriously then he must explain exactly what he means by ‘resisting occupation’? What is his understanding of ‘legitimate resistance’? Hamas? Suicide bombings?
These are among some of the most important questions to which John Denham should have sought assurances before allowing the MCB back into the corridors of power.
Of course, Daud Abdullah could have just disavowed the Istanbul declaration altogether. Why won’t he do that?