Secular Asians for Secular Democracy
Last week an outfit calling itself “British Muslims for Secular Democracy” had their big launch party, attended by Baroness Kishwer Falkner and “former Islamist Ed Husain”. This is after the group, and its rather shoddy website (text which gets bigger when you move the mouse over it, blue bars in the middle of the text), have been active for months, if not well over a year. Its chair is Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and its trustees include the infamous Taj Hargey, senior NHS manager Dr Shaaz Mahboob, a bloke called Imran Ahmad who wrote a book called Unimagined and has some sort of career in Information Systems in which he travels round the world, and Ghayasuddin Siddiqui (and that’s only the people whose profile says other than that they are BMSD trustees). This list, while it may be said to be diverse, is hardly representative of the large body of Muslims that the existing Muslim organisations already represent.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown came out with this astonishing gaffe during her speech, which was reproduced by the Guardian:
“The government has found a way of placating Muslims in a way that will only damage us in the long term, Muslims wanting separate schools or different measures. There must be one law for all.
“This differential accommodation leads to us being pushed to the edges. How is it that the Sikhs and Hindus can live in democracy but not Muslims?”
It is a fact that Sikh men have one of the best-known legal opt-outs: they are allowed to wear their turbans in place of motorcycle helmets. This is typical of what Muslims have been demanding - the right to wear common religiously-mandated dress and yet have the same opportunities as everyone else - only there is a real safety issue at hand, not just social conformity. The level of accommodation to Muslims is overstated, in any case, particularly where funding is concerned; one only has to look at the profusion of Catholic schools and compare it to the handful of state-funded Muslim schools. Her sweeping accusation that “Sikhs and Hindus can live in democracy but not Muslims” is bunk; while the majority of Muslims (including religious ones) actually can live in democracy, one remembers that a mob of Sikhs managed to stop a play they found offensive from being performed a few years ago (Muslims have had much less success). It is also a fact that Sikhs resorted to terrorism to get their own state in India, including bombing passenger planes out of the air, and the antics of Hindu fundamentalists in a democratic state - India - are also well-known.
Still, in an organisation ostensibly of British Muslims for anything, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Taj Hargey really are completely out of place as they are not Muslims. Alibhai-Brown is an Ismaili, a sect rejected (for centuries, I might add) by the mainstream of Islam, while Taj Hargey is part of one of the hadeeth-rejecting cults as several of his MECO press releases demonstrate. Of course, I do not dispute their right to live their own lives and practise their own religions in a free country, but for them to promote themselves to the media as Muslims, and as more representative than the established organisations representing real Muslims, is dishonest. Both are well-known for using a spurious “Muslim” identity to promote ideas damaging to real Muslims, namely that the customs and strictures of the observantly religious are actually not Islamic, even though the consensus of Islamic scholarly opinion is that they very much are. Some of Alibhai-Brown’s writings on race issues and discrimination are valuable, but she takes an extreme position against accommodating religious practice and has, in this line, slandered religious Muslim women by accusing “sanctimonious British niqabis” of siding with Muslim wife-beaters rather than their victims.
The nearest thing the BMSD have to a mainstream religious Muslim on their board is Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, who is well-known for being one of the leading lights in the so-called Muslim Parliament, a highly undemocratic institution which acted as a spearhead for Iranian influence over the Muslim community in England and which was foremost in championing Khomeini’s fatwa. Now that their star has well and truly waned, their spokesmen are always looking for more excuses to get publicity and influence. He boasts of his work on human rights at Guantanamo and in the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, but if he was serious about Muslims’ rights, he would not associate with the likes of Taj Hargey.
BMSD is, therefore, a ragbag of dishonest, inveterate sectarian spoilers and a few wealthy secular Muslims (or secular British Pakistanis). Their claim to be a “silent majority” is laughable, since Hargey and Alibhai-Brown have been very noisy indeed. What makes these people think they are more representative of British Muslims than the observant are? In fact, probably more typical of less-observant Muslims than these wealthy Asian secularists are the Asian yobs who are known of in some of the ghettos of northern England. If there was great discontent about the failings of the MCB, it would be much discussed on the Internet and in the Muslim media, but clearly there is less now than when the MCB was set up, and organisations primarily reflecting the observant are a great necessity, because if religious observance faces petty obstructions at every turn, then theoretical religious freedom means nothing. Really, as far as I can see, religious Muslims do not seek to stand in the way of the success of our less observant co-religionists, so let them enjoy their success without standing in our way by slandering us or those who stand for us.
Possibly Related Posts:
- Flather’s attack on Muslims is not brave
- The Humanist dream school
- Faith schools are no menace
- Review of “Does God Hate Women?”
- Religion and cruelty