Dr. Abdul Bari, new leader of the Muslim Council of Britain gave a speech to Congress on Monday afternoon, and the General Council presented us with a joint statement with the Muslim Council of Britain. There was no opportunity to propose amendments to it, just a take-it-or-leave-it vote, and little time to explain or organise around what was wrong with the statement.
But there were big problems with it. The statement opens with the words “'The MCB and the TUC have a shared belief in justice, equality and opposition to prejudice”. So how does that square with the MCB’s stated view that “homosexuality is sinful”?! The statement goes on to say that “Our two organisations respect our differences and recognise everyone's right to hold their own beliefs”. Hang on, I can believe in free speech and freedom of religion, but that doesn’t mean that I have to respect homophobic views.
The statement makes no reference to women’s rights nor to lesbian/gay/bisexual rights – neither does it uphold the right to reject or criticise religion. It is easy to write statements that make general commitments to support tolerance and oppose bigotry. But when you write those statements jointly with another organisation, you have to measure that organisation by its actual policies not just its abstract declarations. Otherwise you end up giving cover to prejudice – helping an organisation to present itself as pro-equality when in fact it is not.
Congress discussed the statement at the same time as a resolution on Islamophobia and Racism (click here and scroll down to motion 18). So it was not as though the joint TUC/MCB statement was the only opportunity for Congress to register its opposition to anti-Muslim bigotry. In fact, the statement was a liberal mush through which the MCB gets itself a new ally and the TUC promotes a religious organisation with an anti-gay stance.
Mary Page from the NASUWT gave a good speech pointing out the issues of homophobia. And Ian Murch (NUT) outlined how faith schools, spreading through the Academies policy, are increasing religious and racial segregation and therefore fuelling rather than challenging bigotry.