Muslims for Secular Democracy

From AIM (Asian in Media), June 12, 2006

Muslim journalists, writers, filmmakers and activists are banding together to form a new organisation aimed at influencing the media to move beyond “easy and simplistic portrayal of Muslims” and build on issues relevant to British Muslims today. Called ‘Muslims for Secular Democracy’, the lobbying group is being headed by the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and supported by others such as Ghayasuddin Siddique of the Muslim Parliament, playright Nasreen Rehman and Sharq magazine editor Reem Maghrebi. The organisation says it supports a clear separation between religion and the state and wants to make “democratic engagement” its primary concern.

“MSD founders wish create a platform for alternative, diverse Muslim views, essential for a progressive, multi- layered, democratic identity that is not in conflict with itself or fellow citizens. Social class, education, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, politics, culture all impact on and interact with the faith identity,” they say. The group stresses that British Muslims are at present “rendered invisible because of the overriding force of stereotypical perceptions and representations” as a “problematic underclass”.

“Explanations tend to dwell on Islam, the religion, rather than the convergence of certain geo-political and socio-economic factors. All Muslims are expected to assume responsibility, to apologise and feel guilty for the actions of violent militants and their supporters. From left to right Muslims are perceived as ‘aliens’ who can never really belong in this state or the EU. This sustained negative depiction of Muslims creates discomfort and mistrust amongst non-Muslims, frustration and anger amongst Muslims.”

The organisation says that while there are some issues within Muslim families such as rising criminality and alienation, the majority are “not dysfunctional people with burning resentments”. Such negative images are perpetuated by “unelected, self styled Muslim spokesmen who maintain power by overstating the ‘threat’ of Muslim disaffection”, they say. “The media and the State only consult these middleman who claim to represent all Muslims and together they reinforce stereotypes and myths.”

The organisation says it aims to:

 Challenge those who have a vested interest in promoting the ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative. These include some Muslim leaders and prominent white commentators they say.
 Highlight the rights of Muslims who are marginalised because of their inability to cope with or succeed within the system.
 Encourage British Muslim men and women to recognise the contributions they have made to Britain
 Examine the role of the political parties that pander to “community leaders”
 Enable Muslims to become more aware of their autonomous rights and question Muslim leaders who set themselves up as ‘representatives’ or ‘experts’.
 Work with other global progressive Muslims opposing Saudi influenced Salafism and its offshoots.
 Challenge the ill-informed and politicised nature of the state’s intervention with the organisation of religious life in this country and the influence faith based groups now have on public policies.
 Object to government policies that curtail civil liberties using the prevailing sense of fear of terrorism
 Work with young Muslims and try to win over their hearts and minds, so they espouse the quiet and compassionate Islam practised by Muslims through generations.

From AIM (Asian in Media), June 12, 2006