Martin Bright on 30 Minutes

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Martin Bright’s documentary on British Foreign Office dealings with “radical Islam” finally aired on Channel 4’s 30 Minutes slot last night, and did not really contain any surprises for me. Martin Bright’s position is that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), in its dealings with the Muslim community, has largely restricted itself to dealing with groups led by the Muslim Brotherhood and Jama’at-e-Islami, to the exclusion of ordinary, moderate “Sufi” Muslims. The Muslim Council of Britain, according to Bright a JI front, called the documentary “the latest in a series of rather desperate attempts that have been made in recent months to try and divide British Muslims on sectarian grounds”; Bright has posted a reply at Comment is Free which dismisses the MCB’s response as a “stock response” of the sort which “is becoming as tiresome as Zionist cries of anti-Semitism when the state of Israel is put under any kind of scrutiny”.

The notion that the MCB is not representative of Muslims, or is a JI front, is not new - I can recall such opinions appearing in Q-News in the 1990s. The problem I have is the reasons why Bright considers them less than moderate: the fact that, for example, an Arab, Muslim scholar like al-Qaradawi regards it as acceptable that foreigners occupying a Muslim Arab land be attacked and killed. That those involved may well be extremists just as given to killing their own as to killing the occupier is neither here nor there: do we really imagine that Bright’s position would be any different if the “insurgency” was actually representative of the local population?

Bright also takes issue with the FCO’s decision to provide funding for a recent conference in Istanbul, at which al-Qaradawi was in attendance. He presumably means the Muslims of Europe conference, at which Abdullah bin Bayyah, Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, Suhaib Webb and Abdul-Hakim Murad, among many others, were present. So it was an extremely broad conference which included British participants and many who have no connection with the Muslim Brotherhood at all.

Bright suggests that the vast majority of British Muslims are “Sufis” whose Islam is supposedly apolitical. He interviewed two people to make this point, Haras Rafiq (the owner of Bridges TV UK) and Khurshid Ahmed of the British Muslim Forum. (I presume this is not the same Khurshid Ahmed who was associated with the Islamic Foundation, who was a JI activist.) I strongly object to this mangling of Islamic terminology, which traditionally is not a sectarian label; it’s only used as such by modern opponents of Sufism. It traditionally meant someone who was very accomplished on the Sufi Path, not just someone who took part in some Sufi practices or merely approved of them. It’s also not true, either here or in the Muslim world, to suggest that Sufis are not political. The founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna, was associated with Sufism, as has every major scholar of the Deobandi school which was a major influence on the Taliban, who were themselves “Sufis”. Several of the attendees at the Istanbul conference mentioned above were also “Sufis”, something Bright’s response at CIF does not address.

I don’t dispute that, when the government seeks to deal with a religious community, it should deal with people who represent all of it and not a small section, but al-Qaradawi is a fairly popular figure among Arabic-speaking Muslims in central parts of London if not among Urdu and Bengali-speaking ones (and their English-speaking offspring) in the inner cities and suburbs, and some of his books have been translated into English. As I’ve written here before, a lot of the youth seek out religious knowledge from Arabic-speaking sources because they are tired of the imported cultural hang-ups and sectarian animosities which affect some of the “Sufis” Bright proposes the government deal with in place of the MCB and MAB. They seek a more authentic Islam, not the culture of the back-home some of them have never visited.

(I should add that the fame of shaikhs like al-Qaradawi obviously increases when protests about his presence in this country from the Jewish community put him in the news. The criticisms of him are often connected to positions he holds which numerous other Muslim scholars hold, and when they concern his condoning of attacks on Israeli civilians, they are often from people more than willing to condone Israeli bombings of Arab targets in Palestine and Lebanon which kill civilians. It has never been suggested that people be barred from this country for approving of such tactics (pointless anyway, since there are already enough people here who approve of them). If, for example, the shaikh comes to this country to address a conference which is nothing to do with that situation and a storm of protest is raised by well-connected supporters of the other, better-armed, faction, who provide excuses for their own friends’ murderous attacks, the nauseous hypocrisy becomes obvious and people support the shaikh who otherwise would not.)

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