Reputation check: Does MCB have an image problem?

How are the media and the British public perceiving the work of the Muslim Council of Britain, asks Alex Black

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) professes to be the principal voice of the UK's Muslim community. Its profile has surged in recent years as terrorist threats and heightened ­national security dominate the media agenda.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari MBE was earlier this year installed as the MCB's secretary general. A former teacher and chairman of the East ­London Mosque, Bari is seen as less ­inflammatory than predecessor Iqbal Sacranie, who described homosexual practices as ‘harmful' in January.

But the MCB still provokes strident views. One prominent media pundit declined to contribute to this piece because, she says, ‘the MCB is a waste of space as far as I am concerned'.

Sceptical public
Indeed, a survey commissioned by PRWeek finds more than half of the British public in agreement that UK Muslims ‘need better representation' than that offered by the MCB (see chart). MCB assistant secretary general and media secretary Inayat Bunglawala argues that as a volunteer group, senior members have full-time jobs elsewhere, which ‘places constraints on what the MCB can physically do'.

He adds that the body has a good working relationship with most of the print and broadcast media, although he insists some titles have a ‘very disturbing and frankly bigoted agenda'.

He says: ‘The MCB has tried to convey that British Muslims have an Islamic duty to co-operate fully with the police to foil any attacks. We have also urged the police to do their utmost to ensure they don't criminalise normal Muslims.'

Given the recent terror alerts, it is even more important that the MCB is seen as a legitimate voice for moderate Muslims.

ANALYSIS 1: the PR professional's view 

Lord Bell, chairman, Chime Communications:
  ‘When people break the law, they should be publicly condemned. I don't feel the Muslim Council of Britain has always been seen to have done this within the context of terrorism. ‘Upholding the rule of law must be the first duty of citizens and the government alike. There should not be any qualification in terms of a wrongness even if there is qualification in terms of punishment.

‘I think the MCB needs to be more proactive, too. Whenever there is a suggestion that being a Muslim conflicts with being British, the MCB should come forward and make it clear that there is no conflict.

‘I don't recall seeing any comment from the MCB after Ruth Kelly's announcement of a review into multi-culturalism last month. That would have been a good opportunity to make a strong statement.

‘I would hope the MCB sets out to lead and inform the people it represents, as well as representing their views to the media and the public, but most of all I would hope it wishes to be a force for good, not a source of controversy and division.'

ANALYSIS 2: the journalist's view 

Mihir Bose, Daily Telegraph columnist:
  ‘The problem with the MCB is that it is the classic NGO caught between a rock and a hard place.

‘Should it please the Government, which looks to it as representative of the Muslim community, or should it please its own constituents? It has never resolved this contradiction, so to many of its constituents it comes across as the sort of organisation that was set up by the old colonial governments: pliable natives who for a few gongs will do the master's bidding. But, the more it tries to assert its independence, the more it alienates itself from the Government and damages whatever standing it has in the wider non-Muslim community.

‘In a sense, all such organisations representing minorities are subject to such pressures, but most other minorities have more than one outlet for their views. For the Muslims, it seems there is either the MCB or Abu Hamza. Given this limited choice, it is important that the council comes across as a credible organisation. So far it has failed to convey this, let alone produce a leader who can be seen as representative of mainstream Muslim opinion and credible in the wider community.'

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