Madeleine Bunting has an article in the Guardian today about the Muslim Council of Britain’s upcoming elections on Sunday. I think her main point that Mohammed Amin – the only declared candidate to date is not very likely to win on Sunday – and that the winner is likely to be Farooq Murad who she says was secretly nominated by ‘Islamic movement’ organisations some months ago – is an accurate one. To win the MCB elections you need to be able to secure the support of a wide range of groups and not to have upset any powerful groupings by making any statements that they may dislike. Inevitably, this leads to the winning candidate – regardless of actual ability – being one who is generally cautious, steers clear of commenting on controversial issues, and smiles at everyone. It is not a wonderful situation, but it is not necessarily a very bad thing either and hardly applies only to the MCB.
When Bunting says that Amin would like ‘to see the MCB taking a robust stand on inflammatory rhetoric in mosques and tackle Islamophobia by promoting a positive image of the community. These characteristics are precisely why he won’t win’ – she is quite wrong. Mohammed Amin is unlikely to win because if you are going to win then you need to have secured the support of a large section of the voting base.
Her other point about there being another generation who have worked for change but are being held back by ‘entrenched conservatism’ in the mosques is also problematic. There are certainly quite a few characters who like to see themselves as leaders but if they have no followers and if they are unwilling to put in the work required to build up an actual following then their dreams cannot really be expected to materialise very well.
Voluntary work in Muslim communities is often hard and requires long hours. Today we have a Prevent programme – part of the government’s counter-terror CONTEST strategy – which has been throwing millions upon millions at Muslim organisations and individuals and which has inevitably led to increased suspicion in Muslim communities about whose agenda is actually being promoted by Prevent-funded organisations, many of whom have no track record of doing any voluntary work in Muslim communities whatsoever.
Bunting says that ‘Amin’s likely failure prompts increasing anxiety in a generation who have worked for change within Muslim organisations.’ This is a strange statement. If people are unwilling to put in the work required in building up a following within Muslim organisations then they surely cannot blame anyone but themselves for not bringing about the change that they wished to see.
Anyway, for a slightly more thoughtful look at the MCB have a read of this Yahya Birt article from a couple of years ago which still makes some sense today.