Peter Tatchell has a letter in the latest issue of Tribune, replying to Kirsten Hearn’s criticism of OutRage!’s call for Unite Against Fascism to exclude the Muslim Council of Britain and its general secretary Sir Iqbal Sacranie from the platform of February’s UAF conference. Tatchell says that Hearn’s article “symbolises the political dishonesty and opportunism of the pro-Islamist left”.
Kirsten Hearn wrote, in opposition to OutRage!’s position on the UAF conference: “To suggest we jettison the Muslim community from the anti-fascist movement at a time when the fascists are advancing by attacking Muslims is obscene…. Specifically, the MCB is an umbrella and mainstream body representing more than 450 Muslim organisations and therefore must be central to anti-fascist unity in this country.”
In reply, Tatchell claims that he merely criticised UAF for inviting Sacranie as an individual, on the grounds that he had made homophobic comments: “My objection was to Sir Iqbal Sacranie. I suggested replacing him with a liberal, progressive Muslim speaker. To me, that does not sound like ‘jettisoning’ the Muslim community.”
But the Outrage! press release called for a ban not just on Sacranie but on the MCB as a whole. OutRage! urged UAF to “withdraw your invitation to Sir Iqbal and the MCB”, on the basis that “the MCB is not a liberal, progressive organisation. It represents only conservative, reactionary opinion. It is not a suitable partner organisation for the movement against fascism”. Tatchell cannot claim that he is unaware of the representative character of the MCB. He himself has described the MCB as “a mainstream organisation … which is the umbrella organisation of all Muslim groups in this country”. Yet this was the organisation that he wanted excluded from the UAF conference platform, to be replaced by one of several suggested individuals none of whom represents any significant force at all among Muslims in Britain. What does that amount to, other than “jettisoning the Muslim community”?
Tatchell also justifies OutRage’s use of the term “Islamo-fascism”: “We only use the term to describe the most extreme and violent fundamentalists, such as the Taliban and the Iranian clerical dictatorship.” Really? Here is Tatchell writing in Labour Left Briefing, November 2004, attacking the influential Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whose visit to London earlier that year was of course supported by the MCB and other representative Muslim organisations:
“Organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain are actively homophobic. They lobbied MPs to oppose the repeal of Section 28 and to support the discriminatory gay age of consent of 18. This push for political influence by rightwing Islamists in Britain is only the beginning. Muslim feminists and socialists warn of the global threat of ‘Islamo-fascism’. They denounce fundamentalist Islam as the religious equivalent of the BNP – but more dangerous. The BNP is an insignificant fringe party, whereas the Islamists already rule many countries. Everywhere that fundamentalist Islam has state power, democracy and human rights are crushed, there’s no free elections or free press, religious minorities are persecuted, and socialists, trade unionists, journalists, students and feminists are detained without trial, tortured and sometimes executed. Qaradawi’s projected return visit to London is part of a grand plan to promote fundamentalist Islam in Britain. The Islamists want to undermine liberal humanitarian values, which they see as corrupt and decadent.”
Here the terms “Islamo-fascism”, “fundamentalist Islam” and “Islamism” are used interchangeably – and in connection with the MCB. For Tatchell, the most representative body of British Muslims is part of “the global threat of Islamo-fascism”!
Tatchell delivers his usual indignant tirade in response to Kirsten Hearn’s accusation that OutRage! disproportionately singles out Muslim homophobia for attack. “We have also targeted Popes, Chief Rabbis and Archbishops of Canterbury”, he declares. “The idea that we single out Muslim leaders is just plain wrong.”
Oh yeah? If you look at the “Religion” section of Tatchell’s website you’ll see that, of the 13 articles covering the 2004-6 period, ten are about Islam, two about Catholicism and one about Anglicanism – from which one would be entitled to conclude that over the recent period Tatchell has developed an obsession with denouncing Islam and Muslims. This conclusion is confirmed by his contributions to the recently launched “Comment is Free” section of the Guardian website. Of the seven pieces he has posted so far, five are about Islam – the most recent of them being devoted to yet another attack on Iqbal Sacranie. (Although, to be fair, Tatchell does have a bit of an obsession with homophobia among black Africans as well.)