New Times,
New Thinking.

23 April 2008

A Meeting of Civilisations

The launch of the Quilliam Foundation was a meeting of Islam and the Enlightment without the usual a

By Martin Bright

I was privileged to attend the launch of the Quilliam Foundation, launched by Ed Husein, the celebrated author of The Islamist and Maajid Nawaaz, who spent four years in an Egyptian prison for his membership of extremist organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The new think tank is named after the prominment early 20th century British convert and activist W.H. Quilliam. It is committed to finding solutions to the growth of political Islamist ideology in Britain.

The hall at the British Museum was packed and it was great to see such a high level of interest in the project. Even my old adversary, the Foreign Office’s favourite Islamist, Mockbul Ali was there. I am told he has made a spiritual journey away from the Islamic radical right, a move which should be welcomed if true. Either way, it’s good to know the Foreign Office has seen which way the wind is blowing and ended the monopoly hold of the Muslim Council of Britain on dialogue with the government.

I have little to add to Sunny Hundal’s wise comments on Comment is Free today, except to record my astonishment at the reception given to Timothy Garton Ash, Guardian columnist and Professor of European Studies at Oxford University.

The sage professor began by saying that he didn’t know a great deal about the Quran, the traditions of the Prophet (“hadith”) or Islamic law (“fiqh”). He even made a made a joke that he “didn’t give a fig for fiqh” to which the audience chortled politely. He told the gathered Muslims that the respect of the West had to be earned and (wait for it) “the central tenets of religions demand less respect than the proposition two plus two equals four”. Everybody clapped.

It struck me that you can probably get away with saying almost anything as long as you say it in a gentle, bearded, professorial manner.

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