Muslims can learn from this new Jewish group, says Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Yasmin Alibhai-BrownYasmin Alibhai-Brown – one of the initiators of the much-hyped but evidently stillborn New Generation Network – argues that the recently-launched Independent Jewish Voices is a model for organisation within Muslim communities:

“In key ways, this breakout faction is no different from the many Muslim challengers emerging to halt the influence of the monolithic, regressive, self-serving, presumptuous, overweening Muslim Council of Britain, funded for years by the Government without any regard for the hundreds of thousands of British Muslims who have never accepted this informal jurisdiction over our lives and thoughts….

“Rebellious British Muslims have felt the same suffocation experienced by IJV as unelected community and religious leaders found subtle, sometimes rough, ways to discredit opposing views. Religion and race were used – if you voice any disagreements with the ‘official’ line, or point out oppression within, you are charged with betraying the faith and faithful, bringing on the BNP and encouraging Islamophobia. And thus are we blackballed, decent Muslims who are concerned about the crisis we find ourselves in globally.”

Independent, 12 February 2007

There are a number of problems with this argument, it seems to me. The liberal secularists who dominate IJV represent a minority view even within the Jewish community. Within the Muslim community, people like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown – who joined in the anti-niqab media hysteria by denouncing the veil as a “shroud” – scarcely represent anyone at all.

Also, as Yusuf Smith has pointed out, on their record so far Muslim opponents of mainstream Muslim organisations and culture generally act as accomplices of the prevailing Islamophobic discourse in British society. He writes:

“People attract the hostility of the Muslim community when they publically attack its values and claim that ‘real Muslims’ do not wear hijab, do not care about halaal meat, are happy to shake hands with the opposite sex and do not care how foreign policy impacts on our brothers and sisters – by blood and by faith – overseas. These are the Uncle Toms, and minorities through the ages have had to deal with them.”

Indigo Jo Blogs, 12 February 2007

Thus, as an alternative to the MCB, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown offers “our new organisation, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, to be formally launched this year”. Muslims for Secular Democracy was in fact recommended as one of the “Muslim organisations which seek to find points of connection with the non-Muslim majority” in the report Living Apart Together prepared by the Tory-aligned think-tank Policy Exchange. One of the BMSD’s leading spokespersons, Shaaz Mahboob, reciprocated by writing a letter to the Evening Standard earlier this month applauding David Cameron for drawing a parallel between the MCB and the fascist BNP.