On January 27, citizens of the world observed Holocaust Remembrance. In Britain, an official commemoration took place in London’s Westminster Hall, bringing together religious and political leaders from around the country. Prime Minister Tony Blair attended, along with Queen Elizabeth. The only hitch was an inflammatory political statement issued by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the UK’s largest Muslim organization.
MCB Secretary General Iqbal Sacranie boycotted the Westminster event, which he accused of neglecting the “ongoing genocide and human rights abuses around the world and in the occupied territories of Palestine.” Sacranie’s statement was swiftly condemned by the British press and its political community. Khalid Mahmood, a Muslim Labour MP, termed the boycott as “a mistake.” To avert a public-relations disaster, Sacranie backtracked and called reports of the MCB’s boycott “misleading and distorted.”.
Sacranie’s decision to boycott the Holocaust memorial tainted his character -- but it was not the first indication of the MCB leader’s unsavory politics. Sacranie has links to Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, an alleged war criminal and MCB associate.
Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin is believed to have been instrumental in plotting the assassinations of intellectuals, journalists and students during the 1971 Liberation War in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). A documentary aired in the UK ten years ago highlighted Mueen-Uddin’s alleged role in the murder of Dr. M.H Choudhaury, a professor at the University of Dhaka, and Najmul Huq, a journalist. The program, The War Crimes File, includes eyewitness accounts linking Mueen-Uddin to the deaths of these men. Assisting in the assassinations was the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), a fundamentalist group which is prominent in South Asia.
The JI is allied with both Saudi Wahhabism and Pakistan’s fundamentalist Deobandi sect. During the 1971 Liberation War, the JI helped to form death squads with the Pakistani Army to execute those who opposed Islamist rule. Human rights groups in Bangladesh are still trying to bring the accused murderers to trial.
More direct than Mueen-Uddin’s ties to JI is his relationship with the Islamic Foundation. He is deputy director of the Leicester, UK-based group, which acts as the UK headquarters of the Pakistani JI. In fact, the Foundation’s first Director General was Khurshid Ahmed, who had been a leader in the JI. In Pakistan, JI leaders government of aiding the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on America, was captured in the home of a JI leader.
Sacranie’s connection to Islamist radicals raises serious questions about the MCB leader’s legitimacy as a spokesman for British Muslims. As the largest Muslim organization in the UK, the MCB acts as an umbrella for smaller groups. The MCB today presents itself as a credible source for human rights work; politicians consult with the group to formulate or review British government policy. To truly improve the lot of British Muslims, however, the organization must demonstrate its willingness to work with other religious and political groups. Iqbal Sacranie must be replaced with a moderate Secretary General, or the MCB will be forever tarnished as an appeaser of terrorism and genocide.