• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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MAB Invokes Fate of Rushdie against Telegraph

On several occasions, this blog has taken aim against Islamophobia – the absurd decision to ban Tariq Ramadan from the USA on the word of Daniel Pipes; the inflammatory and racist rhetoric to be found at Little Green Footballs and JihadWatch; the way newspapers ask nutty fringe Islamist groups for their opinions and then present these as “the Muslim view”.  I have also defended Palestinian rights and, while I was living in London, I was involved with anti-war activism.

But the heart sinks when I read this, on the website of the Muslim Association of Britain (emphasis added):

In one of the most repulsive and disgusting attacks on Islam and Muslims, Charles Moore wrote in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph in defence of those who wish to suggest that the Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings be upon him, was a paedophile.

…Anas Altikriti, speaking on behalf of MAB, commented early this morning: “…Almost 15 years on from the infamous Salman Rushdie affair, one would have thought that the likes of the Daily Telegraph and its editors would have known better than to allow such filth and drivel to adorn their pages. Unfortunately not. “More than a billion people around the world will be shocked and horrified by this attack, and every single Muslim in Britain and beyond will feel deeply offended by the remarks made by Moore”.

There are two issues here. Firstly, Moore’s article is seriously misrepresented in the MAB piece. Moore is discussing the proposed law against incitement to religious hatred in the UK, and uses the example of Muhammad’s marriage to the nine-year-old Aisha:

To me, it seems anachronistic to describe Mohammed as a child-molester. The marriage rules of his age and society were much more tribal and dynastic than our own, and women were treated more as property and less as autonomous beings. Aisha was the daughter of Mohammed’s right-hand man, and eventual successor (caliph), Abu Bakr. No doubt he and his family were very proud of the match. I raise the question, though, because it seems to me that people are perfectly entitled – rude and mistaken though they may be – to say that Mohammed was a paedophile, but if David Blunkett [the British Home Secretary] gets his way, they may not be able to…Incitement to violence, after all, is already an offence, and so it should be.

Moore follows this up with a survey of the treatment of non-Muslims in various Muslim countries, which, although polemical, is not inaccurate.

But more alarming is the reference to Salman Rushdie. Altikriti appears to be saying that because Rushdie was forced into hiding for daring to criticise Islam and offending so many people, the Telegraph should have known better than to risk the same fate. This is shocking not just because it is totalitarian, but because Altikriti is a fairly well-known Muslim spokesperson in the UK. He is a former chair of MAB, and he has written articles for the Guardian. He has also stood as a European Parliamentary candidate for Respect, a recently-formed anti-war political party that is supposed to be broadly socialist (George Galloway is perhaps its most famous representative). Respect sees the MAB as efficient at mobilising British Muslims, and has been allied with them for some time. There have been complaints in the past that this has meant overlooking unpalatable aspects of MAB, such as homophobia, but the general view seems to have been that of you are going to have an anti-war coalition involving immigrants, you have to deal with religious people who have a few unfortunate views from a progressive perspective. OK – but just how much of a platform can you give to a demagogue and bully-boy before he undermines everything you stand for?

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