The BBC reports:
The British government is to fund a board of Islamic theologians in an attempt to sideline violent extremists.
The move will see Oxford and Cambridge Universities host a group of scholars who will lead debate on key issues such as women and loyalty to the UK.
The plans have angered some hardline activists who accuse ministers of trying to create state-sponsored Islam.
The “hardline activists” are Azzam “Kaboom” Tamimi of Hamas/BMI, and Taji Mustafa of Hizb ut-Tahrir. If they’re angry, that’s good. They’re the problem.
I’m generally unhappy about state interference in religion. However, it is about 450 years too late to worry about that in England. Moreover, the funding of a theological project attached to two universities isn’t quite the same as creating a Mosque of England. And, in any case: we do already have a number of state sponsored mosques in the United Kingdom: those funded by the austere and uncompromising salafi Saudi religious establishment.
Being a lefty, I’m prepared to accept that the Government does have a small role to play in addressing theological “market failure”. However, I wouldn’t want this Government to go as far as the Metropolitian Police did: when they installed Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood in the Finsbury Park Mosque. That should not have happened.
The key question is: who will be on this panel. One commentator on Pickled Politics says:
If the scholars are highly credible ones for angry young Muslims (such as Tariq Ramadan), it might just have some effect.
Ramadan strikes me as essentially a politician, in the Muslim Brotherhood tradition: rather than a theologian. Were he left out against his will, Ramadan can be expected to denounce the new body. Were he included, and if it spoke out too forcefully against Ramadan’s Islamist politics, he would be likely to flounce out, creating an unhelpful “media storm”
Ramadan has been favoured by the Government before, and there is a probably a “pissing out of the big tent” argument for including him in an initiative such as this: as long as pro-Islamist theologians form a minority.