Peace be upon you.
My starting position is that I am an Englishman who lived and worked in the Arab world for five years (1967-72), travelled widely in the area and had many good Muslim friends and acquaintances. I came away with a positive view of Islam and Muslims. I am ashamed of Britain's perfidious role in the dispossession of the Palestinians. I deplore the crass US support for Israel which has enabled the Israelis to refuse making an honourable peace with the Palestinians. I am dismayed by the outcome of some of the west's interventions in recent years in the Gulf and Afghanistan. I am appalled by any physical or verbal insults to Muslims in this country. That naturally includes some of the messages on this website, though you are to be commended for permitting this freedom of speech. I think Lady Thatcher missed a good opportunity to keep her mouth shut, while Berlusconi is simply an egregious buffoon and vulgarian. So I am not utterly ignorant of Islam or of the Muslim homelands and I do not have a phobia about Muslims.
However, there are some unpalatable truths which I respectfully ask you to consider because I believe many of you are refusing to face them. I fear this denial will harm British Muslims and, consequently, Britain itself.
It is no longer possible to pretend, as many of you have been pretending, that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were not responsible for the 11 September attacks. You no longer have to take the word of Mr Blair and President Bush. We now have Osama bin Laden's video which was broadcast on 7/8 October by al Jezirah TV and the 9/10 October statement by an al Qaeda spokesman, Suleiman Abu Ghaith. Aren't they evidence enough of al Qaeda's guilt?
The MCB press release of 9 October says: "British Muslims want justice to be done for the horrifying events of September 11th." But it is silent on how this is to be accomplished. That is because the MCB is perfectly aware Osama bin Laden and his confederates cannot be peacefully brought for trial before any court that will command widespread confidence among both Muslims and those countries whose citizens were killed on 11 September. Perhaps there can be no such court. In view of all this, I consider your call for "justice" rather than military action to be hollow sophistry designed to cloak your communal objection to any effective response to 11 September. If you truly want "justice", you must also will the means.
For my own part, I regretfully see no alternative to military action aimed at completely destroying al Qaeda. Failure to act in any meaningful way - which is what you are in reality urging - would excite al Qaeda and its accomplices to new holocausts.
During my years in the Muslim world, I concluded that most Muslims, like most people of other religions or none, are decent people who wish to live in peace. However, it is clear the Islamic resurgence of the past 30 years or so has included a strand of thinking which does not share that outlook towards non-Muslims and towards other Muslims whom it deems to be impure.
I respect and applaud the efforts of Muslim scholars in this country (notably Dr Badawi) to emphasise the peaceful side of Islam. Their interpretation of your religion is patently sincere and grounded in solid erudition. However, one of the unpalatable truths to which I referred above is that theirs is not the only possible interpretation. I have read much of the Qur'an and have been dipping into it again since 11 September. It is undeniable that it contains many passages about warfare and the enemies of God and Islam which can be interpreted, with great ease, to justify attacks such as those on 11 September. The al Qaeda statement of 10 October, cited above, does just that. Furthermore, the likes of al Qaeda are able to exploit the historical fact that the Prophet himself (peace be upon Him) and his followers engaged in actual warfare, largely if not entirely in the name of religion. I am sorry if this last point causes offence, but I think it is a problem which must be faced.
So, if you believe al Qaeda and those of similar mind are presenting a perversion of Islam, you should be speaking out against it less equivocally and more eloquently. I have been following events closely and, as far as I can detect, those British Muslims who deplore 11 September have nevertheless been somewhat mild in their condemnation of the aggressive interpretation of Islam, or have been silent on the matter. You must do more.
In particular, I refer to the advice in your 9 October press release that British Muslims should "voice their protest in peaceful ways through demonstrations and vigils". I am sure your intention is to discourage non-peaceful actions. But I fear it will be taken by many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, as encouraging British Muslims to demonstrate in support of the wrongdoers and in opposition to the great majority of the British people who are supporting the Government. Demonstrations by British Muslims while our servicemen and servicewomen are on active duty could do great harm to community relations. I urge you to reconsider your statement.
I hope you will take these observations in the constructive spirit in which they are offered.
Go with peace.