A battle imposed cannot but be fought

A battle imposed cannot but be fought
by Dr. Azzam Tamimi (The Muslim Association of Britain)

Observers have pursued different lines of analysis in a bid to explain the storm that accompanied Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi’s recent visit to the United Kingdom. The Zionist lobby in Britain, which is usually spoken for among others by the Jewish Board of Deputies and Louise Ellman MP), mounted a most virulent attack on the Sheikh seeking to hit several birds with one stone. Pro-Israel lobbyists do not particularly like the Muslim Association of Britain, which sought to have former Israeli Chief of Staff (current Defence Minister) incarcerated and prosecuted for war crimes during a visit he made to the UK last year and which came to the fore of British politics as a result of its alliance with the anti-war coalition. Nor do they like the fact that Israel has been exposed more than ever before as the last remaining bastion of racism and fascism on the face of the earth thanks to the efforts of peace and justice loving people in the UK and across the world. My own analysis is that the primary target has the Mayor of London, Mr. Ken Livingston, a man of great integrity and a history of solidarity with and support for just and good causes including the Palestinian one.

Sheikh Yusuf had been to Britain several times in the past. Never was a visit by him met with such a furor before. The difference this time is that he arrived in London upon the joint invitation of the Muslim Association of Britain and the Mayor of London. To prove my theory, I would draw attention to the fact that the Sheikh visit the UK in February 2003 on his way to, and back from, Dublin where he chaired a session of the European Council of Fatwa and Research. The Muslim Association of Britain, who invited him to the UK had arranged for him to meet the press. At a highly successful press conference, the Sheikh answered questions put to him by the media on a variety of issues. Channel Four News aired an exclusive interview with him while the Mirror, for reasons unknown to me, failed to publish its own exclusive and lengthy interview with him. The opinions of the Sheikh on the issues raised by the pro-Israel lobby during the recent visit had been in the public domain for many years and he could have been questioned about them during his last visit. However, that did not happen. Furthermore, during his earlier visit the Sheikh addressed thousands of Muslim men and women, young and old, at the Central Mosque and then at East London Mosque in White Chapel advising them to strike a wise and fair balance between maintaining their identities as Muslim and living in their country, Britain, as law-abiding citizens.

The success of that visit prompted the Muslim Association to approach the Sheikh several months later inviting him for another tour. However, the Sheikh was discouraged by world events, particularly the invasion of Iraq, and decided not to accept the invitation at a time when the US-led war on terrorism had claimed many innocent victims. The concern expressed by the Sheikh was not hypothetical; several incidents had already been reported where prominent figures from the Muslim world were turned back from airports, arrested and harassed or subjected to humiliating blackmail so as to collaborate with the authorities. Although most of these cases had happened in the United States of America, European governments had clearly been succumbing to pressure from their NATO master.

By chance, the Muslim Association of Britain communicated the Sheikh’s concerns to officers from a unit set up by Scotland Yard’s special branch. The officers, whose main task is to improve relations between the police and the Muslim community in the aftermath of the eleventh of September, assured the Muslim Association that not only would the Sheikh be permitted to enter the country but that he would be most welcome as well. They expressed readiness to provide the Sheikh with a VIP reception at the airport and protection throughout his visit should he decide to come back to Britain in the future. The reason, from their own perspective, was attributed to the fact that “he is one of the most authoritative scholars in the Sunni world of Islam today whose moderating influence on the Muslim youth of Britain is highly appreciated.”

It was in light of these assurances that the Muslim Association of Britain, as part of its cooperation with the Mayor of London, brought to the attention of the Mayor’s office the fact that the annual meeting of the European Council of Fatwa and Research was going to be due in July and that it would be a good PR job for the LGA to invite the Council to convene in London. It was explained too that although the Council was founded in London it has not met again in the British capital. Over the years it met in Paris, Dublin, Stockholm and several other European cities but not in London.

Having looked into the matter and assessed the role played by the Council in guiding European Muslims to be pro-active, law-abiding and fully involved citizens, the Mayor extended his invitation for the Council’s members to come to London and hold their meetings in it. Two other ideas immediately sprang as a result: the Muslim Association decided to hold its own one-day conference and benefit from the presence of such a long list of esteemed jurists and thinkers; Jamiiatul Ummah decided to hold their police-sponsored “Our Children, Our Future” during the visit to Sheikh Qaradawi to have the honour of his participation as a guest speaker; and Sheikh Qaradawi himself decided to seize the opportunity by inviting around two hundred Muslim jurists from around the world to form the International Union of Islamic Scholars. And it turned to be quite an eventful week.

It may be the case that the Jewish Board of Deputies and Louise Ellman have regretted stirring this storm in the first place. Their venomous attack turned achieved the exact opposite of what they were seeking. Initially part of the press, especially the Sun, the Mail and the Telegraph, fell into their trap and sank in the mud. The more respectable media, including the BBC (both radio and TV), the Guardian, the Independent, Channel Four News and Sky News, saw the smear campaign as an attempt not to discredit the Sheikh but to erode what has remained of the democratic values of Britain. They decided to move in favor of the right to free speech, which the Zionist lobby would like to see us all lose. Following a BBC2 TV News Night programme a couple of nights into the campaign, the tide shifted and the arrows of malice and contempt turned back at those that threw them in the first place. The image of the Sheikh suddenly changed from the Sun’s “The Evil has Landed” into an array of the best attributes ever given to Al-Qaradawi by a non-Muslim media acknowledging him as a moderate, authoritative, renowned, and learned. Not only that, the charge that Al-Qaradawi supported suicide bombings against Israelis in Palestine turned into a debate about the legitimacy of these operations with many commentators concluding that the Palestinians, after all, have been left with no other option. What is truly amazing is that neither Al-Qaradawi nor the Muslim Association of Britain had intended to raise this issue or turn it into a subject of debate. All the Sheikh had come to Britain to stress on the Muslims was integration and living as good law-abiding citizens of the country of which they’ve chosen to become nationals. The Zionist lobby insisted on imposing a different agenda and they must now be biting their fingers for having done so. TV and radio programmes, including phone-ins and chat shows, for many hours and many days debated the issues of suicide bombings and the right to freedom of speech.

Some Muslims, including individuals involved with the preparations for some of the events Al-Qaradawi came for, had indeed been intimidated and expressed the opinion that the Muslims in Britain, even in Europe, were not a match to the Zionist lobby and could not afford to enter into battles with it. Some thought that certain concessions might throw water on the fire and save the Sheikh and his guests the embarrassment of the vicious campaign. It took only a day and a night to prove them wrong. A battle imposed cannot but be fought. It was the Zionist lobby that started the war and the Muslim Association of Britain had to resist and fight back. The Association, with the support of freedom lovers across the country, won the battle and the Zionist lobby lost in disgrace.