In a show of liberalism, Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has elected a female secretary general to demonstrate gender equality.
Institutionally and divisively, Muslims are grouped in three key socio-cultural categories – Muslim, moderate Muslim, extremist Muslim – which makes easy to apply the colonial strategy of ‘divide and rule’ primarily through the institutional powers to reward those who collude and penalise those who oppose.
MCB recent move has several possible merits. For example, cultivating MCB’s positive image of ‘moderation’. More and better opportunities for recognition and treatment by the institutions, politicians and media who favour ‘moderate’ Muslims/ Muslim organisations for obvious reasons. Attracting financiers from ‘women lib’, equal opportunity lobbies and divisive institutions.
Therefore, no surprise to find immediate positive comments about the MCB female appointment by BBC or politicians like the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan who is re-standing in the delayed London mayor election this year.
However and realistically, the relevance and effectiveness of an organisation depends on the quality of its ethos, work, expertise, conviction and commitment and not who leads it.
Once the female appointment celebrations come to rest, there are serious searching questions that need answers: (a) how does this female appointment help Muslims in the UK given the institutional perception that MCB ‘represents Britain’s Muslims’ (b) is the MCB a growing bureaucracy within the key race related institutions which seriously limits its ability to help the Muslim victims of hate and discrimination (c) is it a structural mechanism of control – to control Muslim aspirations and their democratic pursuit for social justice and welfare?
Concerns remain that in view of the history of the MCB which is embedded in the different political eras and that some Muslim opportunists use MCB as a stepping stone for recognition or socio-political gains, it is likely that whatever is going to be built on a problematic base is going to be problematic and the female appointment is insignificant in real terms.
The MCB was created in the 1990s, urged on by the then home secretary¸ Michael Howard who was tired of different groups of Muslims approaching him for help and support, to provide the government with a point of contact with the Muslim community, it was reported.
Being rooted in Birmingham, the MCB has its birth origin in the politics in Pakistan but later the Guardian reported: “The Muslim Council of Britain is officially the moderate face of Islam”.
The MCB, ‘a semi-official channel of communication with British Muslims’, was officially founded in November 1997, shortly after Tony Blair came to power.
Such is the nature of the MCB status and its usability that while its formation was subjectively instigated by one Conservative home secretary (Michael Howard), many years later another home secretary Sajid Javid found the Muslim Council of Britain of no use and hit it out: “The Muslim Council of Britain does not represent Muslims in this country. You find me a group of Muslims that thinks that they’re represented by the MCB. I would be very suspicious of anything that they’ve got to say, not least because under the last Labour government and a policy continued by us, we don’t deal with the MCB” he said.
The formation of the MCB, its apparent nature and purpose, how it is picked and when it is ditched, remind of the master colonial strokes, for example, in India.
Retired British officer Allan Octavian Hume founded the Indian National Congress in order to form a platform for civil and political dialogue among educated Indians. British-controlled India, known as the British Raj, worked to try to support and justify its governance of India with the aid of English-educated Indians, who tended to be more familiar with and friendly to British culture and political thinking. Ironically, a few of the reasons that the Congress grew and survived, particularly in the 19th century era of undisputed British dominance or hegemony, was through the patronage of British authorities and the rising class of Indians and Anglo-Indians educated in the English language-based British tradition (in nutshell colluders).
While the MCB has right to exist within the national democratic framework for organisations, they can’t say or taken to be representing the Muslim community in Britain.
The MCB claims to have a number of UK mosques or Muslim schools on their list of affiliates but these places of worship and education are service providers and have no mandate to represent Muslims either. Worshippers go to a mosque for praying and pupils go to the school for education and that is about it.
(For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the running of the mosques in the UK, there is no requirement for the worshipers to register at a mosque and therefore no list of the worshippers is kept – any Muslim can to go to any mosque anywhere.
However, many mosques have a register of a small number of paid members for the purpose of electing a management committee of the mosque to fulfil the Charity Commission requirements. In any case, the mosques within the confine of the Charity Commission rules cannot indulge in any political activities, canvassing for/promoting any organisations or work as a pressure group tackling community issues).
Furthermore, why do 2,706,066 Muslims in the UK (Census 20110) have to form and rely on the Muslim representative bodies and not the mainstream democracy, including elected representatives, to safeguard their interests and welfare?
There is no place in our healthy society to play ‘once an immigrant, always an immigrant’ needing same race/community ‘leaders’ to represent them and in the process systematically denying them direct approach to the decision-making democratic institutions.
It would be professionally sound for the new secretary to understand and appreciate the nature, purpose and limitations of the ‘Muslim Council of Britain’, and more importantly to cut-down the MCB middleman role between Muslims and the British system!