Sir Iqbal Sacranie on
Islamophobia and Multiculturalism
Dr. Mozammel Haque
Since British Prime Minister, David Cameron’s Speech at Munich, there have been lots of debates, discussions and deliberations on the subject, whether multiculturalism has failed or not. New Statesman’s Senior Editor (Politics), Mehdi Hassan, disputed the claim that multiculturalism has failed in his write-up, “In defence of multiculturalism” in New Statesman, dated 31st March 2011. I have shown before what the scholars and academicians think about the situation of Multiculturalism and their responses to the British Prime Minister’s speech. Their scholarly observations and comments are of great value and importance. But I was interested to know the feeling of the common people of this country. Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the present Chairman of Muslim Aid, who have been working in the community for 30 years, I thought, would be the most responsible and representative voice of the people. I had the opportunity to interview him on these three most important issues.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie said, “Last few months have seen the curse of Islamophobia on the increase; we had seen a number of nasty and unpleasant incidents happening in the community including mosques being vandalised, desecration of Muslim graves, women being attacked because of wearing Hijab or Nikab and list goes on. With all such attacks happening, the mainstream media is either silent or ignorant at worst of these anti Muslim hate crimes. What one finds amazing instead of showing signs of concerns to good community relations and social cohesion by reporting these incidents, the right wing media continues to pursue its agenda of denigrating Islamic values by concentrating on the un-Islamic acts of the few which have been condemned by mainstream Muslim organisations.”
“This results in further isolation of Muslim community and thereby exarcibating the core problem of marginalising the entire community. Sadly, the role of some of the senior politicians and government officials is much desired. Instead of providing the lead to address the serious issue of Islamophobia and it's ramifications on the wider society, they join the bandwagon by making inflammatory speeches wrongly quoting awful examples of forced marriages has to do with some Islamic practices!!” said Sir Iqbal.
Islamophobia – Baroness Warsi
Sir Iqbal commented, “I think it was a very positive message coming out from the most senior figure of the Conservative Party that Islamophobia should not be tolerated and more importantly measures are needed at the political, media and policy level to confront the ugly face of Islamophobia.”
“What we found rather very saddening is the reaction to the excellent speech from the Conservative Party. There was a deadly silence; instead of acknowledging and supporting the stance taken by Baroness Warsi we found within the section of the Conservative party there was huge attack on her. As though she has uttered what was despicable. I think this did not reflect well on the party or leadership,” said Sir Iqbal and added, “Even some of the mainstream papers were not supportive of her stance. Although one must say that there were few journalists including Peter Oborne and Yasmin Ali Bhai-Brown and the Guardian who of course defended the views of Baroness Warsi. That fact she had mentioned that something needed to be done was a powerful message to the Conservative Party from the only Muslim figure in the Government that strong measures to condemn Islamophobia are essential and to take actions similar to those taken to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. It is about time that those who deny the existence of Islamophobia are confronted with facts and figures rather then just rhetoric.”
Prime Minister on Multiculturalism
Commenting on Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on Multiculturalism, Sir Iqbal said, “I think it was a great disappointment. David Cameron, Prime Minister of a country, brings up an issue relating to Muslim community and Islam at a Security Conference in Munich, Germany. This conference was geared towards discussing issues surrounding international security. Sadly a very high-profile conference was seen as an opportunity for the Prime Minister to have a go at Islam and Muslim community without recognising the tremendous contribution of the vast majority of Muslim community in UK. Nor was there any reference to the scourge of Islamophobia and it's ill effect on the community and the British society. I believe it was a typical blunder to quote forced marriages as somehow related to Islamic practice.”
“Prime Minister’s advisers should have known better that Islam utterly and totally condemns forced marriages. In Islam, forced marriage is no marriage. And yet he uses this example as though it is prevalent widely in the Muslim community. This is a cultural issue; an issue that transcends the sub-continental communities and has no bearing of any of the religions,” said Sir Iqbal and observed, “So for him to condemn multiculturalism by quoting this worst example shows how badly he was briefed. Forced marriages are not a product of Multiculturalism nor does multiculturalism condone forced marriages.”
Sir Iqbal also lamented, “It was rather very sad that he did not have any positive things to say about the Muslim community. There was a negative connotation throughout his speech which alienates the Muslim community from the mainstream. It was quite a disappointing speech. One can certainly criticise the whole concept of multiculturalism but the examples he used could not simply stand to scrutiny.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Multiculturalism
Commenting on Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s speech at Luton, Sir Iqbal observed, “Nick Clegg, I think, brought back or reversed the position of Cameron by bringing the Coalition government’s view to multicultural and multi-faith society, where he acknowledged that there are clear benefits in a society which respects and understands people of faith and no faiths and cultural identities of the communities. I think it brought out a very important point that diversity is a matter of strength for our communities.”
“Multiculturalism enables us to work together; to appreciate and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each other and enables us to work for the common good of the society. We need to look positively and work constructively to strengthen the common values. Clegg did try to balance the very negativity that came from Cameron and somehow acknowledge what Baroness Warsi had to say,” said Sir Iqbal.
Sir Iqbal also said, “I think, one can simply say that those of us who have been working in the community for last 30 years have seen the real benefits accruing to all sections of our societies whether it is recognition of rights and responsibilities of every citizen or addressing lacunas in legislation. The fact is Multiculturalism recognises that every citizen has an important role to play irrespective of ones religious or cultural identity. The recognition of the fact that we are living in a multicultural society and the different communities have a role to play which together builds a national identity of being a proud British citizen. This has brought together and enabled those communities like Muslim community, who has been marginalised for a number of decades, to play its role in the mainstream.”
Sir Iqbal also argued, “If one were to compare the position of the Muslim community today to that of 20/30 years ago you will see a remarkable improvement in every facet of daily life. In the socio-economic front, our community was lingering behind at the bottom of league in education, high unemployment, poor health and high crime rate. Today, the very same Muslim community has moved forward and is more confident. Of course we still have serious concerns in many other areas such as extremism, high numbers in prisons etc but we do see huge improvement in education and in the socio-economic status of our community.”
“If you look at the political front, a community which had no representation in Parliament and public life 10 years ago, today, we have half a dozen MP's and approaching a dozen in the House of Lords. We have few hundred Councillors from different political parties, playing a key role in the national life of our country," mentioned Sir Iqbal and added, “In addition to that, if you look at the professionals and businessmen they come from across the community consisting of doctors, accountants and engineers. There has been a remarkable increase in the numbers of Consultants in the National Health, as well as in private practice. Same applies to leading lawyers and engineers.”
“If you look at the contribution to the economy of the Muslim community in terms of GDP, we may be the three and a half per cent of the population but our contribution is more than 12% of the GDP. These are fruits of multiculturalism. If the community is not given its due recognition, I don’t think, it would have played such an important role in the mainstream. Muslim community is part of the mainstream and will always remain part of the mainstream,” mentioned Sir Iqbal and said, “If the government faces economic crisis, or has problems with it’s foreign policy then the Muslim community should not be used as a scapegoat or an excuse to distract from the real crisis. We can only succeed if we recognise the realty on the ground and work together with all organisations and institutions sharing same objectives of living in harmony and peace and recognising and respecting the differences but at all times working for the Common good."