On his own blog, preferring to eschew the high profile platform of Comment is Free (I did ask him), Yahya Birt has written a much more substantive, intelligent and considered reply to the NGN manifesto.
It is worth reading in full because he understands many of the points we make. But I’ll concentrate here on his criticisms (which have been condensed – read their full explanations on his site) and provide an answer from my own perspective rather than claiming to speak on behalf of others.
He says, given the ‘war on terror’ and the accompanying assault on our civil liberties, our priority should be focused on that and hence we should temporarily tolerate building alliances with groups that preach intolerance (from the Muslim communities). It’s about strategy.
The problem isn’t that I (or others) are unaware of the issues, the point is how we choose to tackle those issues.
Yahya will notice that none of the groups involved have been able to build broad coalitions with other minority groups to acknowledge that an assault on the civil liberties of a minority group (Muslims in this case) affects us all. Most of these alliances have not only been limited but also focused exclusively on Muslims exclusively without using broader language.
The MCB and its friends have been spectacularly unsuccessful at reaching out to other minority and majority groups for two reasons: firstly Britons generally don’t believe the MCB really cares for them and secondly because it continues to pander to people who insult them (Al-Qaradawi, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, Dr Mohammed Naseem, Hizb ut-Tahrir). Who is willing to believe these people actually believe in freedom of speech/expression and civil liberties? Not many apart going by how pitiful the current crop of these alliances are.
So if the MCB is serious about challenging the assault on Muslim civil liberties it not only needs to build broader bridges than simply hanging around the 1990 Trust, but also show it is serious about challenging intolerance from within its ranks. As things stand it hinders this cause rather than makes it stronger. Only by being completely anti-prejudice can this broad alliance be built.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly the MCB itself gives out confused signals on FoS and makes people believe that Muslims are a bigger threat to FoS than the govt itself. It gets involved in silly controversies and gives the impression legislation will solve everything (it won’t – the RRA hasn’t gotten many convictions over the last 30 years). So while I am committed to the idea that we need to tackle the BNP’s attempts to incited hatred against Muslims: tackling it means getting non-Muslims to accept this a new form of racism and believe that British Muslims absolutely believe in FoS. Except the MCB is clearly not helping here.
Secondly, to deal with the ‘glorification of terror’ bill also means it has to show a committment to isolating intolerant and bigoted people from within its ranks. But it is not doing that and so most Britons will happily accept this legislation because they see it as the only way of clamping down on extremists such as Abu Hamza / Omar Barkri and Hizb ut-Tahrir. You cannot just tackle the problem, you also have to tackle its origins, no?
Yahya’s point here is: some of these groups are intolerant but they also do good work. Maybe we can continue funding them in the hope they can be weaned off that intolerance. I don’t think this applies for a few reasons.
Firstly, to carry that across the board you may end up funding groups such as the VHP (UK) or even far-right groups that want to help alienated white youths. On what ground do we object then?
Secondly, weaning these people off intolerance requires that people from within those communities object when people such as Delwar Hossain Sayeedi and Al-Qaradawi are invited over. But this doesn’t happen because the media (especially the Islam Channel) is rather supportive, as are groups such as the MCB, MPAC, MAB etc. Anyone who dares to criticise within is marginalised and criticised for being an ‘uncle Tom’. So the hope that such groups can be slowly weaned off intolerant ideas rarely happens.
Our point is that taking a firm stand against all prejudice is the only way to get these organisations to reform, and/or encourage more progressive groups to expand and take their place instead. Otherwise we keep perpetuating intolerance.
I don’t believe we are dictating how religious conservatives conduct their policies – only that the government should not fund anything or anyone that is intolerant towards minority (and majority) groups. Would you be happy to see funding go towards right-wing groups such as the BNP?
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Filed in: Civil liberties,Race politics