While it may not be the New Labour frotting partner it used to be, the Muslim Council of Britain still likes to present itself as the Voice of mainstream, moderate Islam in this country. So it was interesting, if a little disconcerting, to take (courtesy of today's Telegraph) a peek inside the brain of its current chairman, Dr Abdul Bari. And what a strange place that turns out to be.
Muslim "community leaders" like Dr Bari are frequently accused of not really getting modern Britain. And indeed some of his responses seem almost laughably out of touch. He suggests, for example, that the government could tackle the problem of binge-drinking by banning alcohol in public places, as it has already done with smoking. I can't imagine even this government legislating for alcohol-free pubs, somehow. He also believes that we should all adopt the Islamic practice of arranged marriages, for the apparent reason that young people are too headstrong and ill-informed to make their own choice of life partner.
Young people are emotional, they want idealism. Older people have gone through all sorts of things and become a bit more experienced. A child will always want to eat chocolate but if he does then he will become fat. He needs to be given things that are good for him too.
It's unclear what he means when he says that young people "want" idealism. Does he mean that they lack it? Or that they desire it, and it is bad for them? Whichever, it's a strange mentality that compares wanting to marry the person you love, instead of some cousin you've never met but who you've been promised to from birth, with a craving for an extra handful of Ferrero Rocher.
Does he get all this from Islam? Or has he been watching too much Trisha? For if there's one thing Dr Bari does seem to have absorbed from his years in Britain, it's a certain fluency in therapy-speak.
Why, for example, do some young people see the need to perpetrate violence in the name of Islam? He blames the usual suspects, of course, Western foreign policy and the alleged targeting of Muslims by recent anti-terror legislation (which was introduced why?). And needless to say, it's nothing to do with Islam. Even to call them Muslim terrorists "stigmatises the whole community." Thus far, thus predictable: the usual leftish analysis as seen recently on Channel 4's Britz, in which an educated female student viewed becoming a suicide bomber as a kind of superior protest-march. But then comes a sideways lurch into psychobabble:
Muslim young people are as vulnerable as any others. Under this climate of fear they will begin to feel victimised...
I deal with emotionally damaged children. Children come to hate when they don't get enough care and love. They are probably bullied, it makes a young person angry and vulnerable.
The extreme case could be suicide bombers, it is all they have … The people who become suicide bombers are really vulnerable....Criminal people have used that as a weapon to encourage young people, those who don't have any anchor in themselves.
So it's Hug a Jihadi, then. After all, as he explains later on,
Children are like plants, if you don't look after them they will grow wild and weeds can come in.
This sentimentalisation of the suicide bomber as alienated teen may have some resonance in the light of the case of the Lyrical Terrorist, whose execrable verses recording her reactions to the beheading videos she watched online landed her (most unfairly, in my view) with a conviction for terrorist-related offences. But it scarcely applies to the 7/7 ringleader Mohammed Siddiq Khan, a 30-year old married man with a career and a young baby; nor to Mohammed Atta and his colleagues who brought down the Twin Towers.
So who is Dr Bari to be pontificating in this way? Among other things, he is chairman of the East London Mosque, which doubles up as the MCB headquarters. The mosque was one of several places of worship exposed in the recent report from Policy Exchange as stocking extremist literature, a fact which Bari glosses over with the practised "not me guv" insouciance of Sir Ian Blair:
The bookshops are independent businesses. We can't just go in and tell them what to sell … I will see what books they keep, if they have one book which looks like it is inciting hatred, do they have counter books on the same shelf?
So that's official, then. It's OK to stock one how-to guides on stoning homosexuals and massacring Jews if it's balanced by other books reminding the faithful that Islam is actually a religion of peace.
If he won't lift a finger to prevent the sale of Islamist rants, he claims to be much more careful about who he allows to preach. "If I hear of a specific preacher who is inciting hatred I will ban him from preaching but I cannot disallow him from praying," he says. Yet in 2004 Bari's mosque played host to Sheikh Abdur-Rahman al-Sudais, a prominent Saudi cleric who in his sermons has described Jews as ‘scum of the earth’ and ‘monkeys and pigs’, Hindus as ‘idol worshippers’ , and Christians as ‘blasphemous worshippers of the cross’.
Challenged by John Ware on Panorama to justify inviting Sudais, Bari disputed the quotes (which are widely available and easily-checked) and commented that it was a "very dangerous thing, that character assassination of Muslim scholars and leaders are getting very widespread."
Dr Bari appears to be a moderate. He is softly-spoken and diplomatic. Yet when gently probed he reveals attitudes at least as reactionary and at odds with most British society as those of his predecessor "Sir" Iqbal Sacranie. (He was the one who said that death was "too easy" for Salman Rushdie.) He tells the Telegraph that The Satanic Verses should have been "pulped", because it "caused a huge amount of distress and discordance". On morality he says that "religion has principles that can help society"
For example, …
Sex before marriage is unacceptable in Islam …
On adultery and living together we should try to go back to the religiously informed style of life that helps society...
Homosexuality is unacceptable from the religious point of view....
You shouldn't be revealing your body so much that it can be tempting to other people.
That last point was addressed to two female journalists, so it might have been intended personally.
Invited to at least condemn stoning to death, he equivocates,
It depends what sort of stoning and what circumstances. When our prophet talked about stoning for adultery he said there should be four [witnesses] - in realistic terms that's impossible. It's a metaphor for disapproval.
A metaphor for disapproval, eh? Tell that to the victims of this barbaric practice in places like Iran.