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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Transcript: John Ware on Muslim Council of Britain
All but a tiny fringe of Muslim organisations in the UK have condemned the London suicide bombings. But are those organisations condemning in London what they are failing to condemn abroad? Panorama reporter John Ware is examining the role of the country's main Muslim organisation, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

Here is a transcript of an interview with Mr Ware on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, followed by a response from the Muslim Council of Britain:

Carolyn Quinn: John first, the Muslim Council of Britain's Secretary General is Sir Iqbal Sacranie. He has condemned the London suicide bombings in forthright terms, hasn't he?

John Ware: Yes he has. He says that 'Islam can never justify evil actions of bombers' and he has urged everyone to 'look to our shared values and common humanity,' as he puts it.

Quinn: Two years ago, there were two British suicide bombers, like the London bombers both of Pakistani origin. They went to Tel Aviv to blow up Mike's Bar. Three people were killed. What did Sir Iqbal say then?

Ware: Well, on this occasion, he said that the loss of civilian life, and he mentioned both Palestinian and Israelis, couldn't be condoned. The Islamist group Hamas claimed the bombing. Their founder Sheikh Yassin was later assassinated by the Israelis. Now, what happened then was that, a year or so later, several Muslim organisations here in London held a memorial service for Sheik Yassin at the Central Mosque in Regents Park, and Sir Iqbal chose to attend the service and organisation, the MCB described Sheikh Yassin as "the renowned Islamic scholar."

Quinn: But doesn't Hamas have a political wing?

Ware: It does, although the Israeli government would say that Hamas's political and military agenda was set by Sheikh Yassin. Certainly he was the chief ideologist of an organisation whose charter seeks the destruction of Israel. And Hamas has conducted a fair number of the 160 or so suicide bombing attacks since the second intifada, which have killed over 500 people in total - again many of them civilians just as in London.

Quinn: One senior theologian whose Fatwas have been used to provide justification for suicide bombings directed at Israeli civilians is Dr Yusuf Qaradawi - the man who the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, welcomed to City Hall last year and described as "moderate".

Ware: Well, although Dr Qaradawi has condemned the London suicide bombings unequivocally here when it comes to Israel he says - and I'm quoting here an interview he gave: "We must all realise that the Israeli society is a military society - men and women. We cannot describe the society as civilian...they are not civilians or innocent".

He's also supported the use of child suicide bombers. During a TV debate in the Gulf - according to BBC monitoring - he said: "The Israelis might have nuclear bombs but we have the children bomb and these human bombs must continue until liberation".

Quinn: What's the Muslim Council of Britain had to say about Dr Qaradawi?

Ware: Like the Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin, the Muslim Council of Britain has also described Dr Qaradawi in fairly flattering terms. They've said he's " a distinguished Muslim scholar...a voice of reason and understanding."

Quinn: What's his position been on Iraq?

Ware: Dr Qaradawi's position on Iraq has supported the resistance which he has described as " valiant". I'm quoting here from the Lebanese National News agency website, where he is reported to have said "We call for material, military and human support ...the Muslims want the scholars to show the Arab and Muslim person's duty is towards this cause." So this, I guess, would imply support for attacks on British soldiers as well as American obviously.

Quinn: One of the Muslim Council's main affiliates is the Muslim Association of Britain which also claims to speak for Muslims here. What have they said about suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq?

Ware: A senior member of the MAB, the Muslim Association of Britain, Dr Azzam Tamimi, has said he supports suicide bombings in Israel. I should stress Dr Tamimi has condemned unequivocally the London bombings but he says that if he got the chance in Israel "I would sacrifice myself it's the straight way to pleasing my God".

Quinn: What has the government said about suicide bombings in Israel?

Ware: The government's position is clear cut: targeting civilians wherever they are is terrorism and Mr Blair has said so in terms. "We want nothing to do with people who support suicide bombers in Palestine or anywhere elsewhere" he has said.

Here is the response from Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Inayat Bunglawala.

Carolyn Quinn: Do you have any thoughts about the rather serious charges John Ware is making, alleging the Muslim Council of Britain never expressly condemns all suicide bombings.

Inayat Bunglawala: Well let me make clear then, once and for all, we condemn the killing of all innocent people, wherever they are. Human lives everywhere are of equal value, whether they are British, American, Iraqi or Palestinian. Jewish lives are not worth more than Palestinian lives. All are worth equal and it's been quite nauseating over the past week to see how Israel and its highly-placed supporters in the media have been trying to make political capital out of last week's atrocities against Londoners. It is shameful on them and shameful on those who are trying to help Israel improve its PR image after the brutalities it commits against the Palestinian people.

Quinn: This is now your chance to answer those charges, whether you failed to condemn in the Middle East what you have now condemned in London.

Bunglawala: We always condemn the taking of innocent life anywhere. But can I just make it clear here, it's quite misleading to compare the situation here in the UK with that in Israel. The 1.6 million Muslims in the UK live in peace. They are free to practice their faith and they are free to go about their daily lives without let or hindrance. The Palestinians, by contrast, live under a very brutal occupation, a very repressive Israeli military occupation, seeing their land every day being gobbled up by illegal Jewish settlements.

Quinn: But that still can't be justification for suicide bombing.

Bunglawala: No it cannot. But many of our own columnists, even members of parliament, have said that if they were Palestinians, if they were living under those conditions, if they were seeing their children humiliated in the way the Israelis humiliate their children, if they saw their children being blown to pieces, they would consider doing what the Palestinians do. Our own parliamentarians have said that. If they can say that, then of course Muslims will feel a greater affinity for the Palestinians.

Quinn: But you are now saying you must not, you should not, do that. That the Koran does not say that that's an acceptable practice.

Bunglawala: Absolutely. The Koran says you cannot take innocent life. But, again, to explain is not to justify. When we try and explain why the Palestinians are being driven to what they are doing it is not to justify it. It's trying to explain why they are doing what they are doing. Even our own parliamentarians have tried to do the same.

Quinn: Ok. Two other very brief points. Sheikh Yassin, the support that Sir Iqbal Sacranie has mentioned for him, as John Ware was saying, was that misguided?

Bunglawala: No it was not. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is an Islamic scholar, was an Islamic scholar, was renowned throughout the Muslim world as an Islamic scholar and the Israelis assassinated him. Let's remember that. The Israelis broke international law. He was a quadriplegic man, a disabled man. He was coming out of the morning prayers and the Israelis sent F-16 fighter planes and they blew him up.

Quinn: He was the chief ideas man behind an organisation whose charter seeks the destruction of Israel.

Bunglawala: Well, just wait, if Israel claims to be a democracy, which it does at every opportunity, then it should bring people to justice by the courts of law, not blow them up by missiles.

Quinn: Ok, and the other person mentioned, a senior member of the Muslim Association of Britain, Dr Azzam Tamimi, whose said he supports suicide bombings in Israel. Now that group is one of your main affiliates.

Bunglawala: Well, the Muslim Council of Britain has over 400 affiliates.

Quinn (interrupting): So what do you say to them?

Bunglawala: There is a whole range of Muslim organisations. If he makes that comment he should answer for that.

Quinn: Well can't you cut him off?

Bunglawala: Well, Dr Azzam himself is a Palestinian. I can understand why he feels such pain for the Palestinians and why he can understand why others are driven to what they are doing. Dr Azzam Tamimi again, is respected. If our own parliamentarians can say they can understand why Palestinians are doing this, of course other Palestinians themselves will express similar feelings.

Quinn: But if your message now is one of solidarity here in Britain and that you are condemning suicide bombings across the world, then wouldn't a strong message be to cut off affiliation with people like that, to say you no longer can be regarded as one of us.

Bunglawala: No, then we would have to throw out our own members of parliament. I think what Dr Azzam is doing is trying to explain...

Quinn (interrupting): What do you mean? They've all been...are you talking about the members of parliament here?

Bunglawala: Yes, they've said they could understand. I mean, we have had Jenny Tonge, a senior member of the Liberal Democrats, Cherie Blair, the prime minister's wife, explaining why she could understand why the Palestinians are doing what they are doing. So this is not to justify...

Quinn: It is not condoning...

Bunglawala: It is not condoning. No, it's not condoning. It's trying to explain why they do what they do.



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