I don't particularly enjoy doing this, but I think it's only right for me to defend Hazel Blears when she is being unjustifiably attacked. I draw your attention to an article by Soumaya Ghannoushi in The Guardian. The crux of Ghannoushi's argument is that Hazel's plans for a government-funded board of Muslim scholars and thinkers is tantamount to the state dictating the direction of a faith.
I think the idea is a flawed one. I do not think potential extremists are going to take a blind bit of notice of what this body says, and I suspect the scheme will be a failed experiment. However, I think it's right to attempt to amalgamate the dozens and dozens of Islamic organisations in this country in some capacity. Just look at this list and try to work out which is the most important or influential one.
This isn't about wanting to restrict choice, control the faith, or dictate to Muslims. It's about looking at the current situation in a pragmatic way, and realising that there are so many bodies out there that it's impossible for the government or local authorities to deal with them in an effective manner. There might be divisions in the Church of England, but that, by and large, remains a united organisation. I see no reason why it needs to be different for Islam. And the reality is that such a body would actually give a bigger collective voice to Muslims, while simultaneously rooting out those whose views are unacceptable. By coming together in a united fashion the Muslim community could expose the extremists as outcasts, and thus represent the interests of the majority of Muslims while leaving the bag eggs high and dry.
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