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Islamophobia Watch

Qaradawi Not Welcome

Peter Tatchell

THE MAYOR of London, Ken Livingstone, has issued an open invitation to Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi to return to London, despite protests against his last visit in July. The Muslim scholar has agreed, but no date has been fixed. He is keen to spread his fundamentalist interpretation of Islam to British Muslims.

Qaradawi preaches a right-wing agenda of misogyny, anti-Semitism and homophobia. He does not respect human rights. In defiance of the Geneva Conventions and every humanitarian instinct, he has justified the taking of civilian hostages and the suicide bombing of innocent civilians. Displaying the worst kind of anti-semitism, he urges: "Destroy the usurper Jews." He does not say destroy Jewish settlers and soldiers oppressing Palestinians, but destroy the Jews – all of them.

Qaradawi also sanctions domestic violence against disobedient wives, blames rape victims who do not dress with sufficient modesty, and supports the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation.

Qaradawi’s anti-humanitarian views are a matter of public record on BBC Monitoring, Al Jazeera and Qatar TV, the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper – and in his own books, such as Modern Fatwas.

Arab News recently exposed the gullibility of Qaradawi’s western hosts, like Ken Livingstone. It pointed out that Qaradawi’s gentle words in London "don’t match" the extremism he preaches in the Middle East. Undeterred, the Mayor of London denies the evidence and continues to defend Qaradawi, claiming he is one of the world’s most "moderate" Muslim leaders.

Some moderate. In his book, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, Qaradawi denounces homosexuality as "perverted" and "abominable". He says it is an "aberration" and an "unnatural, foul and illicit practice", punishable by death. The IslamOnline website, which Qaradawi supervises as chief scholar, endorses the "burning" and "stoning" of sodomites.

When these murderous views were exposed by queer rights group OutRage!, Qaradawi hastily attempted to project a more reasonable image. He told The Guardian that although same-sex relationships are forbidden by Islam: "Muslims have no right to punish homosexuals or mistreat them as individuals." Punishment is a matter for the state, he said.

What kind of punishment does the "moderate" Qaradawi propose? He believes Islamic states are morally and legally entitled to execute queers. Indeed, this is what happens in six Islamic nations, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan (where the Islamic fundamentalist government, backed by Qaradawi, is currently colluding with the massacre of black Africans in Darfur). In addition, Pakistan and northern Nigeria have Islamic Sharia law, under which queers are put to death, usually by stoning.

Nonetheless, Ken Livingstone has invited Qaradawi back to London. Dismissing all criticism of the cleric as lies and Islamophobia, he has refused to reply to a letter from a coalition of Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, gay, student and women’s groups. They are critical of Qaradawi and want to meet the Mayor to discuss their concerns. Ken refuses to meet them – so much for democracy and accountability at City Hall.

The Mayor justifies hosting Qaradawi on the grounds that he wants a dialogue with Muslims, but why is Ken having a dialogue with a reactionary Muslim leader? Why isn’t he meeting liberal Muslims who believe in human rights? Why does he host a homophobe like Qaradawi while ignoring pleas from the Muslim gay group, Imaan? Ken has been a long-time ally of the lesbian and gay community. He stood up for our rights long before any other major politician and deserves our respect and appreciation, but on the issue of Qaradawi Ken has made a major misjudgement.

Livingstone would never host Catholic extremists like Opus Dei or right-wing Anglicans from the Christian Institute. Why is he rolling out the red carpet for an Islamist hate-monger like Qaradawi? Ken seems willing to sacrifice gay rights if it is politically expedient to do so. Does he want Muslim votes? Is that why he is cosying up to Islamic fundamentalists like Qaradawi and the reactionary Muslim Association of Britain (MAB)?

Equally worrying, the SWP and Respect defend the Qaradawi visit. They are attempting to forge a political alliance with MAB. Why? Is it a cheap attempt to exploit Muslim alienation from Labour over the war in Iraq? Shouldn’t leftwingers be aligning themselves with progressive Muslims instead?

Cynics say MAB has promised the Mayor the electoral support of the Muslim community if he takes on the Islamist agenda. Others claim it is a desperate ploy by Ken on behalf of New Labour to win back Muslim votes lost from Labour following the invasion of Iraq.

The objective of right-wing Muslim leaders – as opposed to ordinary Muslim men and women – is to increase the political influence of fundamentalist Islam in the UK. This is bad news for queers and women – especially Muslim ones.

Organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain are actively homophobic. They lobbied MPs to oppose the repeal of Section 28 and to support the discriminatory gay age of consent of 18. This push for political influence by rightwing Islamists in Britain is only the beginning. Muslim feminists and socialists warn of the global threat of "Islamo-fascism". They denounce fundamentalist Islam as the religious equivalent of the BNP – but more dangerous. The BNP is an insignificant fringe party, whereas the Islamists already rule many countries.

Everywhere that fundamentalist Islam has state power, democracy and human rights are crushed, there’s no free elections or free press, religious minorities are persecuted, and socialists, trade unionists, journalists, students and feminists are detained without trial, tortured and sometimes executed.

Qaradawi’s projected return visit to London is part of a grand plan to promote fundamentalist Islam in Britain, The Islamists want to undermine liberal humanitarian values, which they see as corrupt and decadent. This threatens Jews, women, queers – and Muslims, too. Gay Muslims are already terrorised by Islamists in Britain. If the fundamentalists gain ground, they could face even greater victimisation. Muslims who have fled to the UK to escape persecution because of their sexuality could encounter renewed persecution – this time from UK-based fundamentalists.

Not all Muslims support fundamentalism. Many share the human rights agenda, but they are sidelined, by the Mayor, SWP and Respect, who prefer to make alliances with rightwingers like Qaradawi and the MAB. Despite the threat posed by the Islamists, Muslims must be defended against hatred and scapegoating, They are over-represented among the most disadvantaged people in Britain, with disproportionate numbers living in poor housing and without jobs. Globally, Muslims suffer grave injustices – including the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the US and UK occupation of Iraq. Just because Muslims are oppressed does not, however, give them the right to oppress others. Be warned. Get organised. Defend Muslims against prejudice and discrimination, but don’t allow the fundamentalist wing of Islam to attack and undermine human rights.

Published in Labour Left Briefing, November 2004. For a reply in the December issue, see Peter Roberts, ‘Qaradawi Is Welcome’, and in the February 2005 issue, Ken Livingstone, ‘Tatchell’s Islamic Conspiracy Theory’.