‘A historic catastrophe’ is how Martin Bright describes it. He is referring to the policy by which successive governments in the UK, Conservative, Labour and coalition, are accused of having promoted the worst people into the positions of Muslim community leaders.
The specific case that sparks this reflection is the case of Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin. Since leaving Bangladesh and becoming a British citizen he has been at the very pinnacle of Britain’s interfaith and moderate Muslim industry. Here he is with Prince Charles at the Islamic Foundation in Leicester. Major politicians of all parties as well as numerous ‘faith leaders’ have rubbed shoulders with him. He was a founder and leading figure of the Muslim Council of Britain, a vice-chair of the East London mosque and a director of ‘spiritual care provision’ in the NHS.
Unfortunately last week he was also convicted – in absentia – of the most horrific war crimes. The specific charges of which he was convicted by the special tribunal in Bangladesh are that during the 1971 war of independence he was a leading figure in the pro-Pakistan ‘al-Badr’ militia. In this role he is convicted of playing an active role in the abduction and killing of pro-Bangladeshi intellectuals, scientists, academics and journalists. Mr Mueen-Uddin denies the charges and strongly asserts his innocence. He refuses to return to Bangladesh to face justice. If he does he could be hanged for the crimes for which he has been convicted. He himself has described the Bangladesh legal process as ‘corrupt’.
It is interesting to consider what has led Britain to this path. At one end of the spectrum few people in our country admire Argentina for its provision of a safe haven for Nazi war-criminals after World War II. Very few people would think it acceptable if this country hosted those accused or convicted of war crimes in the Balkans in the 1990s. So should we ignore or take lightly the verdicts and demands of a court in Bangladesh? How is it that this country has ended up as a refuge for people embroiled in such trials? We face being accused of ignoring the victims of such an atrocity and not only welcoming in but elevating into positions of responsibility people who are, rightly or wrongly, alleged to have perpetrated of one of the late twentieth century’s most appalling atrocities.
When history combs over our civilisation it must be bewildered by this madness. Which is hardly surprising. We are living through it and it is hard enough to understand from here.