A leading British Islamic organization has issued a call for vigilance and is asking Muslims to assist the police in dealing with terrorist threats. The statement -- sent to the country's 1,000 mosques -- has largely been welcomed across Britain, and was followed by a similar appeal by Muslim groups in Germany.
London, 6 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A recent message issued by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) to the country's imams, mosques, and Islamic organizations noted that the last few weeks have been "fraught with tragedies and dangers" and urged them "to preserve the peace of the nation."
It said that, despite the MCB's condemnation of the attacks in Madrid last month, some in Britain continue to associate Islam with terrorism. Spanish authorities have blamed the Madrid attacks on Islamic extremists.
The statement urged the United Kingdom's approximately 2 million Muslims "to observe utmost vigilance against any mischievous or criminal elements from infiltrating the community and provoking any unlawful activity." It asked them to cooperate with local police in dealing with any criminal activity.
"The response has been overwhelmingly positive, actually," Inayat Bunglawala of the MCB told RFE/RL. "They are delighted that we have put clear blue water between the mainstream Muslim community and that very vocal -- but also extremely tiny -- group of radical elements who have wasted no opportunity to gloat over the events in Madrid, and even to wish a similar attack on this country."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking in the House of Commons, noted that the United Kingdom and its interests abroad remain targets of terrorism. He thanked the MCB for making clear in its letter that "such activities have nothing to do with the true message of Islam."
Germany's two largest Islamic groups yesterday also issued a rejection of "terror and violence." Germany's Islamic Council and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany issued a joint statement condemning "every form of terrorism" in response to the Madrid bombings, which killed 191 people.
Ali Kizilkaya, chairman of the Islamic Council, told Reuters the joint statement was partly spurred by urgings to do so. German Interior Minister Otto Schily told a German newspaper last month he expects more from Germany's 3 million Muslims. He said "Muslims cannot just be passive onlookers. They must also campaign for peace in society."
The timing of its message was right, according to Bunglawala. He said the British public was angered by the actions of some 20 followers of the extremist Al-Muhajiroun group, who on 2 April held a demonstration in which they burned a British flag and chanted "Bin Laden Is Coming."
"Such actions have really exasperated and disgusted the Muslim community because it has reawakened this feeling of Islam phobia, which is never far from the surface, and it led to a lot of attacks on the Muslim community and their institutions -- even their cemeteries -- in this country," Bunglawala said.
He said this is why the MCB's statement also urged Muslims to engage with the media to refute misconceptions about Islam and to develop contacts with other faith communities. This is exactly the opposite of what the extremists are trying to do, according to Bunglawala.
Paul Wilkinson, head of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said the MCB's statement represents the only possible approach in Britain today.
"I think the Muslim Council's call to Muslims was very wise and statesmanlike, and I hope that it does lead to a very strong response from the entire Muslim community," Wilkinson said. "I think that the groups that staged the anti-British demonstration represent a tiny minority. It is a very noisy minority, but we should not exaggerate their significance within the Muslim population as a whole."
Wilkinson said claims by some that the statement urges Muslims in Britain to spy on one another are "wrong, naïve, and deeply misguided." "I do not think that is a fair representation of what the Muslim Council was calling for," Wilkinson said. "They were really asking for support from the entire Muslim community to oppose terrorism and the extremism that fuels terrorism, and I believe that was a very responsible message to send."
Bunglawala was even more critical of the "spying" comments.
"This allegation that we are urging Muslims to spy on each other is a deliberate distortion of the fact," Bunglawala said. "The call we made is a simple one. It is to obey the law. Just as if we would urge any British citizen to report a potential burglary or a potential murder to the police, similarly, we can try and help prevent atrocities from occurring. So it's not a question of spying -- it is a question of upholding the law and promoting the good -- and forbidding the evil, which is a Koranic imperative."
Bunglawala said he is proud that two of Britain's most extremist Muslim preachers -- Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri -- came out in opposition to the Muslim Council's statement. "That only confirms to us the wisdom of what we did, because if we are opposed by the likes of Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri, it is a position that we want, actually," Bunglawala said. "If they approved of what we were doing, we would be worried."
Bunglawala said the words of the Koran are clear about killing, and he quoted from it: "He who killed any person, unless it be a person guilty of manslaughter, or spreading chaos in the land, should be looked upon as though he had slain all mankind, and he who saved one life should be regarded as though he had saved the lives of all mankind."