BY ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS
In a Parliamentary committee room last week, I witnessed the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Mohammed Abdul Bari, present evidence at a Communities and Local Government (CLG) hearing about the effectiveness of the Prevent agenda. As well as being reminded of just how little this man and his organisation had to offer to such a complex debate, I was also struck that CLG still sought their opinion. Three days after the hearing, Martin Bright gave us yet more evidence about the unpleasant nature of the MCB.
What should have been the final nail in the coffin of the MCB/CLG relationship was the role that the MCB deputy secretary general, Daud Abdullah, played in the formation of the Istanbul Statement. Covered in the May issue of Standpoint, this statement was not only in support of violent jihad against Israel, but specifically against any peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hazel Blears, the then Communities secretary, pledged to sever all ties with the MCB until Adbullah either denounced the statement or resigned. Neither happened, and the MCB found itself out in the cold.
Since then, they have shown an amazing resilience, and have managed to not only politically outlive Blears, but also position themselves back in the favour of the government. At the forefront of this repositioning has been their spokesman, Inayat Bunglawala, who, since the appointment of John Denham as Blears’ replacement, has written a number of articles which supposedly indicate the both his and the MCB’s new found moderation. In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, Denham was careful to condemn the Istanbul statement, but also gave strong suggestions that the door was nonetheless still open for the MCB. Denham’s deputy, Shahid Malik, swiftly backed this up in the Guardian. Writing in support of Prevent, he quoted Bunglawala favourably, presenting him as a possibly eligible benefactor of government funding.
Among the examples which are cited as evidence of Bunglawala’s moderation is an article he wrote on the 5th of October for the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog, in which he called for the MCB to take the lead in teaching tolerance and acceptance of gay Muslims, telling us that “discrimination based on sexuality is wrong.” Indeed, I was well aware that homosexuals deserved equal rights when I was a schoolchild and Bunglawala was still writing in support of Osama bin Laden (a position he has since recanted). I also find it mildly insulting that I or most readers of the Guardian should be preached to about gay rights by a man who still supports a preacher (Yusuf al-Qaradawi) who would have all homosexuals killed if he was given half a chance. It is no coincidence that Bunglawala decided to write such fluff pieces at a time when he and his organisation are at their weakest: he has realised that they lost round one and is now trying to win favour with the government again on the back of disingenuous liberal comments.
Strangely overlooked at the time was an article he published the same day on the Muslim Brotherhood’s media portal IslamOnline , entitled ‘British Jews’ Influence on UK Policy’. As well as referencing Marsheimer and Walt’s widely discredited ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy’, Bunglawala refutes the very concept of Islamism, claiming instead that it is a term used to denigrate “all politically engaged and active Muslims”.
In late October, Bunglawala saw a chance to position the MCB as the voice of Muslims against extremism when the maniacal and overtly extremist al-Muhajiroun announced their ‘March for Sharia’: a procession through central London calling for the immediate implementation of Sharia law in the UK. Bunglawala announced that he was organising a counter protest, Muslims4UK, which was to meet the procession as it passed through Piccadilly Circus. Unbeknownst to him, such a Muslim counter-protest was already being organised by a group called British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD). One of its leaders, Shaaz Mahboob, wrote the next day that he would welcome joining forces with Bunglawala in order to show a united Muslim voice against the madness of al-Muhajiroun. He received no response, and three days later, rather than accepting the BMSD olive branch, Martin Bright has now revealed that Bunglawala moved to discredit the commendable BMSD initiative – likely seeing it as a threat to his self appointed role as spokesman for the UK’s Muslims. In an email sent to his supporters three days after the BMSD offer, Bunglawala sought to call into question their ‘Islamic credentials’:
I have received some emails from people concerned that British Muslims for Secular Democracy (whose chair opposes the wearing of the hijab, openly admits to drinking alcohol etc) are also demonstrating. Muslims4UK will be completely separate from them and will have our own area and banners and placards, insha’ Allah.
The ‘chair’ he is referring to is presumably the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who has spoken out against prepubescent girls being forced to wear hijab. The sectarian and divisive language he uses belies suggestions that either he or the MCB have become moderate. Not content with just words, Bunglawala also moved to create a physical division between the two groups, requesting that his protest be given a separate pen to that of the BMSD. On the 30th of October, he sent out a further email, again attacking the BMSD for not fitting his Islamic criteria:
The BMSD – whose leading members advocate that Muslim schoolgirls should be forbidden from wearing the hijab and believe there is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in Islam – have naturally attracted the support of Zionists like Mel P, Harry’s Place and Spittoon blog
[…] Muslims4UK have spoiled that little plan of theirs, alhamdulillah!
Upon discovering Bunglawala’s strikingly nasty campaign against a harmless group of budding Muslim secularists, one cannot but ask the question: why would the spokesman for the supposedly liberal MCB not only reject the advances of BMSD, but seek to smear and discredit them? The short answer to this is simple: this is how the MCB have gotten where they are. Through undermining and attacking other Muslims, they have succeeded in clearing the ground for themselves. For years the MCB have been allowed to drown out the voices of the truly secular, liberal Muslims that this country desperately needs.
Although Bunglawala may write exactly what readers of the Guardian and sections of the government would like to hear, it is clear that when he addresses his own crowd things turn ugly. The CLG are now on the verge of bringing the MCB back in from the cold, and before the final decision is made they should seriously consider the long term consequences of legitimising such a voice.