The real victims of the rhetoric
The real victims of the rhetoric - The Daily Express 17 August 2002
by Inayat Bunglawala
The disgraceful recent antics of Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza al-Masri together with their veiled threats of violence against our country in the event of a war against Iraq have caused widespread dismay and anger amongst ordinary British Muslims.
Every time these two figures open their mouths it seems they are determined to help the cause of the racist British National Party in their goal of portraying Muslims as being disloyal and potential "fifth-columnists". I doubt whether the BNP have two better recruiting sergeants than Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza.
The real victims of their hateful and inflammatory rhetoric have been British Muslims who are left facing a racist backlash. In the wake of September 11 and the shameful response of Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza to that tragedy, the Muslim Council of Britain began to receive report after report of mosques being despoiled; one Bolton mosque was even firebombed while there were still children inside performing their prayers. Even Muslim cemeteries were vandalised and desecrated.
By the end of the week of the Sept 11th, there emerged the first confirmed reports of grievous bodily assaults on Muslims. In Swindon, a nineteen-year-old Muslim woman wearing a headscarf was left hospitalised after being chased and hit hard on the head with a baseball bat. In London, an Afghan cab driver was left paralysed from the neck down after being savagely beaten with a bottle and then punched and kicked repeatedly by three men. From all over the country, from Dover, Birmingham, Oldham, Southend, Glasgow and Edinburgh, the story was the same: ordinary British Muslims, with their persons and their property, were paying the price for a terrorist crime and the irresponsible statements of two publicity-seeking individuals whom they despised.
Just last week, Christopher Williams, 37, was convicted of taking part in an attack on an Exeter mosque which involved dumping eight pigs' heads and fake blood in the Islamic centre.
British Muslims are certainly opposed to a new war against Iraq but this is not because of any illusions about Saddam Hussein. Saddam is a vile dictator who has in the past invaded the two neighbouring countries of Iran and Kuwait killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims. He has also inflicted tremendous suffering on his own people and was responsible for using poison gas to kill the Kurds in the northern Iraqi town of Halabja in 1988. No, British Muslims - in line with the opinions of the wider British society according to recent opinion polls - are opposed to a new war because of the undoubtedly heavy toll it would take on innocent Iraqi civilians and the unpredictable consequences in an already unstable region.
Our opposition to a new war will be expressed only through democratic channels by conveying our concerns to our MPs and engaging in a debate with those who do not agree with us. There is certainly no room for making veiled threats against our country. Indeed, this only betrays a fascist mentality in those that make them and their lack of confidence in the rightness of their cause.
It is important to understand that of the over 800 mosques in the UK, Omar Bakri does not run a single one of them while Abu Hamza has recently been ordered to stop using Finsbury Park mosque in north London by the Charities Commission. When asked about the true extent of his organisation al-Muhajiroun's membership, Bakri seems to become very coy. In fact, it is known to number significantly less than one thousand people. When you compare this to a total Muslim population in the UK of around two million, it becomes very clear that the massive press coverage these individuals have attracted has been unfair and caused enormous damage to the image of mainstream British Muslims. The vast majority of British Muslims have no time for these two characters and their odious comments - it is time the media too adopted the same position.
The dubious motivation behind some of the members of al-Muhajiroun was exposed last December when their ex-spokesman in Pakistan, Hassan Butt, tried to return to the UK to sell his story to a major British Newspaper for a reported �100,000. He was sent packing.
British Muslims stand by their responsibilities as citizens of Britain and respect the law. As citizens, we also have the right to use wise counsel to impress on our government the duty to follow ethical policies both home and abroad. Though there are serious problems of poverty and social exclusion British Muslims have also prospered. Every year, record numbers of British Muslims graduate in our colleges and take up positions in the mainstream of British life. They can now be found in every profession as teachers, doctors, engineers and even politicians.
It was to represent the full range of diversity and talent in our community that we formed the Muslim Council of Britain in November 1997 and invited existing Muslim organisations to affiliate with us and work together for the common good of all British citizens. To date, over 380 Muslim bodies: mosques, educational institutes, charities and research centres have affiliated with us. The MCB is by far the most representative Muslim organisation in the UK.
It is surely time the media stopped giving undue coverage to fringe figures in our community. Both Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza have deliberately courted publicity over the years. Who knows, if the media stops talking about them, they may even perhaps both leave and go live somewhere else.
Mr Inayat Bunglawala
The Muslim Council of Britain