14 Aug 2005
In an extraordinary attack today, The Observer (Sunday 14th August 2005) has published a front page article, a two page ‘Investigation’ on pages eight and nine, together with an editorial, all seeking to vilify the Muslim Council of Britain.
Over three years ago, the Home Affairs editor at The Observer, Martin Bright, achieved some notoriety amongst British Muslims when he penned a cover story for the New Statesman (10th December 2001) entitled ‘The Great Koran Con Trick.’ In that piece, Bright tried his hardest and quite miserably failed to disprove the Divine origin of the Holy Qur’an.
So it was surprising to say the least to see that the front page story (‘Muslim Leaders in Feud With BBC’ and ‘Radical Links of UK’s ‘moderate’ Muslim Group’) in The Observer today was authored by the very same Martin Bright. Given Bright’s background we were not exactly anticipating reading a work of meticulous research and even-handedness. And we were proven correct in our assumption straight away.
In the very first paragraph Bright states that the MCB stands ‘accused of failing mainstream Muslim Britain’ due to its stance in upholding Palestinian rights in a Panorama programme that is due to be aired on Sunday 21st August 2005. And who is doing the accusing? Well, one has to read another sixteen paragraphs to find out. It turns out to be someone called Abdul-Rehman Malik from the tiny circulation and very sporadically published magazine, Q-News.
In his second paragraph Bright describes ‘an extraordinary letter obtained by The Observer’ which was sent by the Muslim Council of Britain to the BBC. Now this should not really have been too arduous a task for Martin Bright especially as the letter was openly placed on the MCB’s website on Friday morning.
Interestingly, while Bright mentions that the MCB has complained of a pro-Israel agenda behind the new Panorama documentary about British Muslim organisations, he does not think it appropriate to inform his readers the basis on which the MCB has come to this conclusion even though it was clearly stated in our letter to the BBC. The fact is that nearly all the questions the Panorama team asked of Sir Iqbal Sacranie were directly or indirectly about our views concerning Israel. And this was for a programme supposedly about British Muslims.
In his fourth paragraph, Bright claims to have uncovered the MCB’s ‘roots in the extremist politics of Pakistan.’ What roots though? Bright mentions that senior MCB figures have said that Mawlana Mawdudi the founder of the Jamaat-i-Islami party was an ‘important Islamic thinker’ (and indeed he was) and that they share some of his views while disagreeing with others. The Jamaat-i-Islami party happens to be a perfectly legitimate and democratic party which through an alliance with other parties is actually in power in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan (one of four provinces in Pakistan).
In his other two-page spread on pages eight and nine (‘Radical Links of UK’s ‘moderate’ Muslim group’) Bright makes additional unsubstantiated assertions.
He describes the MCB as a ‘self-appointed organisation’ and says that it has been criticised for ‘having no women prominently involved in the organisation.’ If Martin Bright had undertaken even the most elementary research expected of a serious journalist he would have quickly found out that the MCB’s over 400 affiliates hold elections every two years to elect the central MCB leadership and one of the Assistant Secretary-General’s of the MCB is actually a woman, Unaiza Malik. The MCB’s affiliates include Sunni and Shi’a groups. In fact, in terms of its diversity and elected nature, the MCB is a unique body not just in the UK, but throughout Western Europe and the USA, bringing together Muslims from 56 ethnic and national backgrounds.
Bright derides the Markazi Jamiat Ahl-I-Hadith a national affiliate of the MCB – as an ‘extremist sect’ and yet completely fails to adduce any evidence to show that this is the case. On the contrary, the Jamiat Ahl-i-Hadith are respected amongst British Muslims for their Da’wah (Islamic outreach) programmes and devotion to spreading the message of the Qur’an and the teachings of the Noble Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Perhaps the most telling section of Martin Bright’s two articles in today’s paper is his final two paragraphs on page nine. Bright says that the ‘biggest test for the MCB will be its reaction to the more challenging aspects of the Festival of Muslim Cultures’. When Sir Iqbal sensibly responds that ‘If any activities are seen to contradict the teachings of Islam then we will oppose them’, Bright disapproves.
Martin Bright holds that the depiction in pictorial form of the Prophet Muhammad is only opposed by ‘some strict Muslims.’ This is a complete misrepresentation of the actual position which is that the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world regard any pictorial depiction of the Prophet as forbidden.
Bright’s response reveals all too clearly his own Islamophobic agenda. The MCB believes that the Festival will need to be broad-based, inclusive and mindful of the teachings of Islam if it is to have the support of British Muslims.
Meanwhile, The Observer’s editorial, condemns the MCB’s refusal to attend the Holocaust Memorial Day while notably neglecting to mention the reason why the MCB has taken this stance since the Holocaust Memorial Day was instituted in 2001. The MCB has called for a more inclusive ‘Genocide Memorial Day’ to be commemorated and believes that this would make the ‘Never Again’ subtext of the Day more effective and pertinent to today’s world. By singling out the Holocaust Memorial Day as a central reason to demonise the MCB, The Observer has, unwittingly, thereby served to confirm the MCB’s argument that there is indeed an ‘Israel test’ to which British Muslims are being subjected to.
Fortunately, the MCB derives its mandate from British Muslim organisations and not from pro-Israeli sections of the media.
The BBC has a fairly good record in portraying a balanced view of the faith of Islam and its followers. That makes the mischievous efforts of the Panorama team behind next week’s programme especially in the current climate all the more disappointing and divisive. The Panorama programme can only undermine the solidarity that has been achieved in our country between various communities since the July 7th atrocities.
Paradoxically, the attacks on the MCB have only served to strengthen its position among British Muslims who have recognised that it raises their concerns without fear and does not easily succumb to outside pressures.
Finally, we would urge British Muslims to be vigilant in the face of recent concerted attempts by known hostile elements and their acolytes who wish to see the Muslim community in the UK divided.
For further information tel: 07956 353738 or 0208 432 0585/6, Fax: 0208 432 0587, Email: email@example.com, Website: http://www.mcb.org.uk