British Gov’t At Odds With Country’s Largest Islamic Group

By Patrick Goodenough | March 24, 2009 | 5:17 AM EDT

( – The British government has suspended its engagement with the country’s leading Islamic umbrella group, following reports that a senior leader signed a declaration in support of “jihad” against Israel and appeared to condone attacks on British troops.
The rift threatens to deepen over the launch Tuesday of an updated government counter-terror strategy, which the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) says could have the effect of labeling the majority of British Muslims as extremists.
Leaked drafts of the strategy suggest a greater focus on how to deal with citizens who are not necessarily breaking the law but are actively opposed to what are considered to be Britain’s “shared values” such as democracy and tolerance. Advocates of shari’a, those who promote the concept of an Islamic caliphate, and supporters of jihad anywhere in the world could fall within that group.
Islamic civic and religious figures at the weekend held an MDB-convened meeting to discuss the issue, and in a statement released afterwards expressed “alarm that the government may be in danger of adopting misguided notions of extremism.”
“A definition of ‘extremism’ that would classify the overwhelming majority of loyal and law abiding British citizens as extremists would be of no value in our common fight against terrorism,” it said.
One prominent Muslim who would likely fall on the wrong side of such a definition of “extremist” is Dr. Daud Abdullah, the MCB’s deputy director-general.
Abdullah also sits on a government-funded advisory board established to train Islamic clerics and counter the radicalization of Muslims in British mosques.
Last month, however, British media reported that Abdullah was one of 90 Muslim leaders from around the world who had signed a declaration drawn up at a gathering in Istanbul, where participants discussed Israel’s military operation in Gaza.
The document contained a series of obligations for the “Islamic Nation,” including the obligation to “carry on with the jihad and resistance against the occupier until the liberation of all Palestine.”
It also backed Hamas, opposed the Palestinian Authority, and appeared to encourage Muslims to oppose violently the deployment of naval forces to prevent the shipment of weapons to Hamas-controlled Gaza.
“The obligation of the Islamic Nation [is] to regard the sending of foreign warships into Muslim waters, claiming to control the borders and prevent the smuggling of arms to Gaza, as a declaration of war, a new occupation, sinful aggression, and a clear violation of the sovereignty of the Nation,” the Istanbul declaration says. “This must be rejected and fought by all means and ways.”
Britain was among several Western countries to offer naval support to end weapons smuggling into Gaza, at a summit in Sharm el-Sheikh immediately after the fighting ended in mid-January.
Hazel Blears, the British government minister whose portfolio includes such matters as community cohesion and tackling anti-social behavior and extremism, wrote to the MCB early this month, saying she expected the council to ask Abdullah to resign his post if he signed the declaration.
“In light of the MCB’s unequivocal stance on violence, it would seem that Dr. Abdullah’s position as the deputy secretary-general would be incompatible with his recent actions,” Blears wrote in the letter, leaked to a British newspaper and published Sunday.
While the matter remained unresolved, she said, “I feel that it is only appropriate for us to suspend our engagement with the Muslim Council of Britain pending its outcome.”
The MCB responded to Sunday’s media report by issuing a statement saying it was “appalled” by Blears’ “high handed and condescending action.”
The council said it did not support the targeting or killing of British armed forces personnel anywhere in the world.
But it drew a distinction between that stance and its position regarding Israel.
“As an independent community organization, the MCB is committed to faithfully representing the views of all our affiliates. As such we reaffirm the right under international law of the Palestinian people to resist the ongoing illegal and brutal occupation of their land.”
The council, a coalition of around 400 organizations including schools and mosques, claims to be the main representative body for Britain’s two million-strong Muslim community.
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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow