Friday, 27 March 2009

Daud Abdullah, the Guardian and Me

Dr Daud Abdullah is the deputy head of the Muslim Council of Britain. Recently, he attended a meeting in Turkey in support of Hamas. It's unlikely he, or his fellow MCB leaders, thought anything strange about this: despite its claim to represent British Muslims in all their diversity, the organisation has, since its inception, been dominated by Islamists. Many of its founder members came to political awareness during the campaign against The Satanic Verses (described on an official MCB document as "profane and abusive"); its general secretary form many years, Iqbal Sacranie, notoriously claimed that death would be "too easy" a fate for Salman Rushdie. The MCB describes itself as an "umbrella organisation" with hundreds of constituent members - among these several of the most prominent and active (such as the Muslim Association of Britain) have longstanding links with Middle Eastern groups including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. An obsession with Middle East politics, to the detriment of issues of more direct relevance to the everyday lives of British Muslims, has long been a feature of the MCB's public discourse.

So it's unlikely that Dr Abdullah thought that his trip would cause him or the MCB any problems, even when he put his name to a statement of Islamist principles that has come to be called the Istanbul Declaration. It has, however, severely annoyed the government - or at least parts of the government - since it calls upon Muslims everywhere to resist international forces (including, potentially, British forces) that might be considered to be operating against the interests of Hamas. In fact the document, signed by Dr Abdullah apparently without reservation, contains considerably more than that. In line with the Hamas Charter, it withholds from Israel even the recognition of its name, preferring to call it the "Jewish Zionist occupying entity". By repeated references to Jews and Zionists, and none whatever to Israel, it implicitly inculpates and threatens all Jews as enemies of "the Islamic Nation". It declares that the Palestinian authority is illegitimate, and that all Arab governments are traitors to Islam. It invokes the blessings of Allah upon global Jihad, which it declares to be a religious duty. And it looks forward to the day when the whole of Palestine is in Muslim hands.

Hazel Blears suspended government links with the MCB until Dr Abdullah saw fit to resign. He apparently has no intention of doing so. In a statement, the MCB declares itself "appalled by the high handed and condescending action" of Blears' Communities Department. In this, it has had the wholehearted support of a Guardian editorial, which accused Blears of "grandstanding", and several of the paper's columnists. One, Seumas Milne, spoke warmly of Islamism as "a political trend as broad as socialism or liberalism". (Why not include fascism? There were, after all, considerable differences of emphasis between Hitler, Mussolini and Franco.)

The new government emphasis - outlined in its new counter-terrorism strategy Contest 2 - on countering "extremist" ideology, even of a non-violent kind was bound to have an impact on the MCB. For years, it has been the state's favoured interlocutor on all matters Islamic, despite its being less a representative body than a pressure group with a politico-religious programme all its own. Indeed, its role as the public face of Islam in Britain was largely bestowed upon it by a government which, true to the old colonialist principle of divide et impera, wanted to deal with Muslims as a block via "community representatives". Rather than as equal citizens. By doing so they empowered the religiously conservative and the politically radical. Now that the government suddenly seems less friendly, the MCB leadership feels seriously aggrieved, as though government validation was something that belonged to them by right.

Of course it's up to the MCB who it elects as its leaders. But it's also up to the government which groups they wish to include in official consultations, which leaders they wish to accord significance, who they wish to fund. If the MCB is nothing without government patronage, that is not the fault of the government - though it does say something about how "representative" it is of wider Muslim opinion. Personally, I'd rather the government didn't fund or bestow influence upon sectarian religious bodies at all. By privileging the Muslim "identity" above the other identities people of Muslim religion may have, the government necessarily empowers religious leaders, and religion generally, in areas of social or foreign policy where religion either has no relevance or (as in the Middle East) serves mainly to make a bad situation worse.

The Guardian's website yesterday featured a statement from Dr Abdullah in which he lambasted Ms Blears' "misguided and ill-advised" intervention and denied "calling for or supporting attacks on British troops anywhere in the world". He did not, however, resile from anything in the document - which is available in a PDF format. He gave the impression that apart from the paragraph the government took exception to, which he claimed was misinterpreted, there was nothing controversial in the declaration at all. No doubt that is his view.

For the benefit of readers who couldn't be bothered looking up a PDF file, I put up the entire text of the Istanbul Declaration over two posts. I neither added to nor omitted anything in the statement, though I did highlight the number of times words such as "Jewish" and "Jihad" occurred in it. The use of "jihad" was, I thought, particularly revealing since it was clearly being used in a military sense rather than that of "spiritual struggle" which we are often assured is its true meaning. But I didn't make the point - I just posted the text.

The CIF moderators saw fit to delete both those posts.

Does this mean that, by the standards applicable at the Guardian, the Istanbul Declaration amounts to hate speech? It certainly amounts to hate speech by my definition - but since the Guardian has seen fit to give Dr Abdullah a platform, that would indicate some inconsistency.

Or does it mean that the powers that be would rather people didn't know precisely what it was Dr Abdullah signed up to, and which he has in no way dissociated himself from?

Either way, it's quite remarkable. And I said so. And the post in which I mentioned the removal of the my earlier posts was also deleted. In fact, it was "disappeared"; in true Stalinist fashion, even the record of its deletion has been removed.

If you haven't read the Istanbul Declaration, I've posted it in the Dungeon, with some passages highlighted. It's certainly an eye-opener.


david cameron's forehead said...

Your posts were banned from Comment is Futile because the moderators are a bunch of tossers, basically. Partly because they are just the sort of offence-takers that would hate to be confronted by reality, partly because they just censor comments more or less at random based on what sort of mood they're in.

I never go to that site as, given the utter dross they publish & their ridiculous moderation regime, I see no reason to spend time & lend it any form of support.

found causes said...

I'm fond of the debates on CiF, but they play far too safe. Maybe they were worried about copyright of the full text? Who knows. They should definitely change the name though. "Comment is free within the bounds an editorially approved ideology?"

Edwin Moore said...

I didn't go near that blog or thread, many thanks for posting the Declaration - and for making that excellent point about fascism.

I used to have a batch of left-wing mags, New Statesmans and the like (got at a Morning Star Xmas Fayre!) and Milne's stuff reminds me of the post-Hitler/Stalin treaty CPGB line - we can get on with Nazis, the bourgeois are our real enemy blah blah - the Seamus Milne view of Islamism as a spectrum is actually a slimy trope from the 1940s.

Oh and maybe the Cif overlords don't want your posts, but the great majority of Cif haunters do - Wheatie got 497 recommends for posting this on the last Whittaker blog -

'. . . It is when British Governments started to "engage" with these self-appointed identity-politics wallahs that the problems began.

There is absolutely no need, requirement or utility for the Government to "engage" with the "Muslim Council of Britain", nor the "Board of Deputies of British Jews", nor the "Council of Concerned Scientologists" nor even the "British Association of Uncle Tom Cobbleighs & All".

If "the Muslim Community" (whatever that is) wishes "its" voice to be heard, let them turn up at their MP's surgery like everybody else.'

Indeed, indeed, indeed.

The Heresiarch said...

The Nazi-Soviet pact is an excellent analogy, Ed.

Edwin Moore said...

Wish I'd kept the stuff from the post-treaty era. it was extraordinary.

Of course (as so finely described in Persepolis), the Iranian left also thought they could bargain and deal with the Islamists, an illusion that ended with massacre on an industrial scale.

Andrew said...

Well, I edit the belief section at CiF, (and for that matter posted on the MCB row). I know something about the difficulties of moderation there, and at an ill-informed guess would think that posting large chunks of text will get you in trouble, whereas just sticking in a link would have been OK.

But this is a guess. I know that the moderation is less based on mood than time available. Your comment policy is -- alas -- one we are unable to adopt.

was waht I thought

The Heresiarch said...

Andrew, your piece on the MCB row was the best thing I read about it anywhere. I expect that's why it only got six comments...

Sarka said...

If the posts were removed because of some length rule, Andrew, then in the circumstances I think that it would have been wise of the moderators to indicate that the step was technical not a matter of abuse or hate speech criteria.

For me the interest of the document was its conception of the "Islamic nation" as a supranational entity with explicit ambitions to use the language of a state... (obligations of subjects, even territorial "waters"). It's like a claim that the Caliphate already exists...This is very much a parallel to the late 19th/early 20th-century development of pan-Germanism, and for a minority leaders in a sovereign state like the UK to adhere to such a doctrine is actually far more of a problem than for minority leaders to express sympathies for some specific nation state with which they have ethnic links (e.g. British people of Greek descent being fans of Greece, or indeed British Jews supporting Israel, or - even British Palestinians supporting Hamas or the Palestinian authority...)

Andrew said...

Sarka, that's a very good point about the document. I wish someone had made it on Cif.

Moderation has problems, for partly technical reasons: at any given time there are something like 13,000 comments live on CiF; partly because it was for a long time organisationally divorced from the editorial work above the line.

In any case, it is rare for moderators to indicate why they have removed stuff, and when threads get heated they (and sometimes there is only one on duty) sit there with their mice jittering as if they were sitting at an FPS.

What this means is that -- to give a practical example -- it has taken me about six months to establish that "sky fairy" and variations thereof will get booted for trolling, and I am still working on the references to Pope Benedict as a Nazi.

It would be nice to move towards a more explicit moderation policy, by which I mean I would like to have a practice of saying not just "This comment has been removed" but "This comment has been removed for xxx reason". But it's hard. On my own blog I have no hesitation in removing people just for being stupid or trollish but, whatever the formal policy says, this isn't allowed to the Cif moderators. Apart from anything else, I imagine lawyers would have conniptions if we were to post "This comment removed for stupidity". Certainly the stupider readers would.

Edwin Moore said...

'Editing belief' is a fab job description!

Fascinating contributions Andrew many thanks.