Criticism does not exclude Muslims from the political process
We are disturbed by the visible rise, in some parts of the country, of anti-Muslim bigotry resulting in sporadic attacks on Muslims and their places of worship. We deplore this and condemn it unreservedly. However, the authors of the letter you published (Islamophobia is a threat to democracy, 25 March) are quite wrong to equate legitimate concerns about the leadership of the East London Mosque and the Islamic Forum of Europe with anti-Muslim bigotry. To do so betrays those who have genuinely suffered discrimination. The East London Mosque has frequently allowed intemperate clerics to speak on its premises, some of whom have promoted values antithetical to those required in a tolerant and progressive society.
They intimidate and bully other Muslims into accepting their contested theology as undisputed truth. Their allies and associates across south Asia have encouraged discrimination against minorities, opposed the reform of family laws and supported laws on blasphemy.
How can it be right for those of us who believe in liberal democracy to leave unchallenged those who would discriminate against religious minorities, women, homosexuals and Muslims with dissenting or heterodox views?
Criticism of incitement to religious hatred has nothing to do with excluding Muslims from the political process, as the supporters of the East London Mosque and Islamic Forum of Europe suggest. There are many impeccably non-sectarian Muslims active in political life, including in parliament, who are capable of opposing both racism and fundamentalism.
The greatest threat to democracy comes from reactionary and sectarian political groupings. We are disturbed by the rise of confessional identity politics in this country. Those who would promote such politics deserve robust scrutiny. To combat them is a moral duty.
Ansar Ahmed Ullah Nirmul Committee Gita Sahgal Women Against Fundamentalism Monjulika Jamali Cultural activist in east London, Denis MacShane MP, Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui Trustee, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Nigel Fountain, Saikat Acharjee Lawyer, Amanda Sebestyen, Tehmina Kazi Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Sandra M Kabir BRAC UK, Tahmima Anam Novelist, Amina Ali Gender equality campaigner in East London, Murad Qureshi London assembly member, Aisha Shaheed Women Living Under Muslim Laws, Dr Ahmed Zaman President, Communist Party of Bangladesh UK Branch, Harunor Rashid President, Soytten Sen School of Performing Arts, Darren Johnson London assembly member, Green party parliamentary candidate, Lewisham Deptford, Keith Angus Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Rayhan Rashid War Crimes Strategy Forum-WCSF, activists' coalition, Waliur Rahman Workers Party of Bangladesh, Peter Tatchell OutRage, Syed Enamul Islam Former MEP candidate for London with the NO2EU: Yes to Democracy coalition, Dr Irfan Al Alawi International director, Centre for Islamic Pluralism, Dr Rafikul Hasan Khan President, Bangladesh Udichi Shilpi Gosthi UK Branch based in east London, Prof Tom Gallagher Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, Prof Nira Yuval Davis Centre for Research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging, UEL, Cassandra Balchin, Sujit Sen Bangladesh International Foundation, Syed Neaz Ahmad Academic and author, Harunur Rashid JSD, Zoe Fairbairns Novelist, Carolyn Hayman, Brigitte Istim, James Bethell Nothing British about the BNP, Jenny Harris Theatre administrator, founder of the Albany, formerly of National Theatre, Marieme Helie Lucas Secularism is a Women's Issue, Victor Sebestyen, Syeda Nazneen Sultana Gender equality campaigner in east London, Dr Nowrin Tamanna University of Reading, Pragna Patel Southall Black Sisters