Letters: Who speaks for British Muslims?

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The Independent Online

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown ("Britain's black and Asian communities have squandered the unity that gave us strength", 15 August 2005), makes the claim that the Muslim Council of Britain is undemocratic and its members unelected.

The MCB has over 400 affiliated Muslim organisations who take part in elections held every two years to the MCB's Central Working Committee. Sir Iqbal Sacranie was unanimously elected (not arbitrarily "crowned") as the Secretary-General of the MCB by its affiliates in the last election, held in May 2004. Many of the affiliates of the MCB in turn hold elections in respect of their own leadership, for example, the Islamic Society of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain.

Contrary to Alibhai-Brown's assertion, Sir Iqbal Sacranie does not regard himself as the "spokesman for all British Muslims". The MCB is certainly the largest umbrella body for British Muslims but we make no claim to speak on behalf of all 1.6 million British Muslims.



Sir: Whilst I disagree with Dr Yousef Abdulla (Letters, 16 August) on his definition of a community I share his concerns about the misuse of the concept by vested interests. His thoughts seemed to echo Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's about the Islamisation of politics in recent decades.

Faith defines the Muslim community and it gives Muslims a universal feeling of shared destiny. But this faith also encompasses a range of traditions that take in the radical literalist interpreters of Koran at one extreme as well as modernist believers who prefer to interpret Islam in the light of changing circumstances without undermining its essentials.

In this context, the Islamisation of politics in Britain and the rise of the Muslim Council of Britain as a "representative" voice of the diverse Muslim communities is a matter of concern to many. It is reminiscent of the Islamisation of Indian politics pre-independence and the role the Muslim League played in the partition of India.

The Muslim Council of Britain has recently extended its influence to Wales and has arrogated the role of speaking for the whole community here on all matters that remotely concern Muslims; they now play a "lead role" with the same arrogance shown in England, something increasingly resented and challenged by the people they purport to represent. MCB now holds regular seminars here; they have recently co-sponsored an Islamic Studies Centre in Cardiff University. All fine and good, but perhaps it is time its credentials were examined more closely.



Why A-level results go on improving

Sir: Few of the commentators on A-level standards seem to grasp the basic reason for the improvement in pass rates. The straightforward explanation is that AS-levels, which were introduced five years ago, act as a filter for A2-level entry. The students who used to fail A-level simply do not get past the AS-hurdle, and are no longer entered for the full A- level examination. There is no reason, therefore, why we should not expect grades to continue to improve.

It is particularly disappointing that the media adds to this misunderstanding of what is actually happening by raising the issue at the very moment when we should be congratulating our young people on their hard work and success. Insult is added to injury when misinformed critics of A-level standards resurrect the ghosts of the vague and unrealistic Tomlinson proposals as a credible alternative.



Sir: It's not surprising that today's A-level students are doing so much better at their exams. These students have become experts at meeting the requirements of examining bodies.

Since the age of five, these pupils have been drilled to pass Sats - at seven, 11 and 14 - and then GCSEs, before they even start their A-level syllabuses. The most tested pupils in Europe are taught the explicit demands of tests so that their schools will not be exposed in league tables.

Those who call for A-level reform need to look at the whole experience of pupils in school. Are we educating them for learning, understanding and deep knowledge, or how to play educational games? The achievement of successful game-playing is described by Ruth Kelly and the DfES as "high standards".



Sir: Richard Barnes (16 August) suggests that there is no way of determining whether A-levels have become easier. I have an example which shows the lowering of standards in my subject, music.

Until recently the expected performance level for the practical component was Grade 8. It is now Grade 6 (and Grade 5 for AS). I would like to hear someone explain how this change maintains standards.

I agree with him, though, that pupils are working harder. My concern is that they are set tasks which are very time-consuming but which sometimes achieve very little.



World 'designed' by a ham-fisted god

Sir: Are we supposed to be impressed by a letter opening "As a working scientist I have severe doubts about Darwinian evolution"? The views of a "working scientist" on evolution are worth no more than those of a scientifically aware layperson. The only working scientist who can claim a position of special expertise is an evolutionary biologist. Presumably these "working scientists" believe that the universe is lawful. They go on to claim that their "designer" interferes in its own universe, in breach of its own laws, to obtain the result it wants. They must all be members of the Church of the God Who Cheats at Patience.

They love to use "the eye" as evidence for their argument. It is instructive to consider two types of eye. The mammalian eye is, from an engineering standpoint, inside out. The light-detecting cells that form the retina are so placed that the nerve end of the cell faces into the retina while the light-detecting end faces outward. This results in a loss of efficiency in that photons must get past the nerve before activating the photoreceptor. Furthermore it causes the "blind spot" where the nerves pass through the fovea.

This is not problematical to an evolutionist. The first eye to evolve in chordates happened to be back to front, and although to reverse it would be beneficial in the long term, the intermediate steps would cause a deterioration of sight and would have been at a selective disadvantage.

On the other hand, consider the cephalopod eye. The retina is engineered the "right way round": the light detecting cells face into the eyeball so that photons reach the photoreceptors directly. Why did the "intelligent designer" give a mollusc a better eye than a man? If this designer is so intelligent why couldn't it do the job right in the first place? Intelligent designer? Ham-fisted DIY bodger more like.



Price of peace in the Middle East

Sir: Peter Giles (letter, 17 August) says that a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians involving the withdrawal of Israel to its 1967 frontiers would not be acceptable to a large and influential section of Israeli opinion, and that anything less would not be acceptable to the Palestinians.

From opinion polls I have seen, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians would not accept such a solution. Even apart from the question of return to pre-1967 Israel, a significant number of Palestinians, as well as the al-Qa'ida leaders, do not accept the continued existence of Israel in any form.

Further, Mr Giles is disingenuous in stating that many in Israel would not find such a settlement acceptable. I believe that a large majority would, provided they felt there was indeed some chance that they would then live in peace.



When the judges uphold democracy

Sir: In the current debate between politicians and judges ("Judges respond to political onslaught", 11 August) it is clear that some politicians profoundly undervalue the principles of the rule of law, and the separation of constitutional powers.

Rules are the lifeblood of democracy. It is of elemental importance that those who make them in the legislature should not also themselves adjudicate on whether those rules have been violated by a policy. If a policy on something like asylum or curfews is alleged to be in breach of democratically passed legislation, then the matter must be settled in a law court. It would clearly be nonsensical to allow the politicians themselves to judge whether a policy of theirs in fact transgresses existing legislation.

Members of Parliament are given a mandate by their electorates but neither being returned as an MP nor being elevated to the Cabinet affords a licence to execute policies inconsistent with established law.

To cast elected politicians as necessarily democratic, and judges as unaccountable and counter-democratic, is to make a false dichotomy. In respect of democracy, both groups have done good and bad things. Politicians, for example, have over history passed much counter-democratic legislation. Conversely, in cases like those of electoral fraud, judges have often professionally applied laws whose purpose is to protect democracy, even when politicians seemed complacent.



We really do need to learn languages

Sir: Mary Dejevsky's analysis of the drop in students studying a foreign language is sound ("Why bother to learn another language?", 16 August). Languages are perceived as difficult subjects and are difficult to teach well, but we do have the capability to learn. What is missing is the motivation.

The decision to make languages optional at 14 sent a clear message that they are not important and has encouraged headteachers with an eye on the league tables to offer choices that are more likely to provide students with the all important Grade C at GCSE.

However, Mary Dejevsky points out that "in today's utilitarian terms" languages are not perceived as economically important. Nothing could be further from the truth. A recent report from the National Centre for Languages shows that almost 50 per cent of small to medium exporting businesses have experienced linguistic or cultural barriers with 20 per cent losing business as a result.

Our linguistic record on inward tourism is also poor, as anyone who has compared signage and staff skills in major UK attractions, airports or railway stations with those of our competitors would attest.

Is it not time for the Treasury, the DTI and the DfES reassess our language needs and present a clear strategy "in today's utilitarian terms"?



Sir: It is typical of narrow-minded English parochialism that Mary Dejevsky writes about English and other languages without once mentioning our membership of the European Union.

This visionary idea entails the sharing of cultures, languages, foods and many other aspects of our lives. You can't truly understand the poetry of Lorca, the humour of Molière and Cervantes, or the brilliance of Goethe without knowing their languages. What we Brits have lost since we joined Europe in 1973 is precisely the wonderful mix and match of languages and culture which every other EU nation relishes so much - and which makes them more rounded and cultured folk than we are.



Sir: Following on from Mary Dejevsky's excellent article "Why bother to learn another language?" I would like to point out the consistent disservice being done by mainstream television. As soon as a foreign national begins to speak in his or her own language, a voice-over comes on. Why not subtitles? Do TV editors believe that there are no people in the UK capable of understanding other languages, or even of being able to read?



After Blair's war

Sir: Your disturbing article "Secrets of the morgue: Baghdad's body count" (17 August) is a telling illustration of what a distortion of the truth is Tony Blair's assertion that Iraq is better off than before his and Bush' war.



Heroes of Old Trafford

Sir: Yet another sleepless night. If this continues, Australian workplaces will suffer a major productivity crisis in coming weeks. Ricky Ponting's stirring knock deservedly won him Man of the Match honours. But in the outstanding performance category, I want to nominate the Old Trafford crowd. Patriotic, fervent and totally involved. Yet magnificently fair and appreciative. Their generous response to Ponting's eventual dismissal is a lesson for sporting crowds everywhere.



Green Tories?

Sir: Michael Ancram (Opinion, 17 August) asks: "Why not a Britain where caring for our environment is instinctive?" Which party, may one ask, created the motorway network? Which party permitted Dr Beeching to kill off our railway network, and which party killed off British Rail? Which party permitted the creation of out-of-town shopping centres?



Vegetarian meat

Sir: As a veggie I disagree with Jane Giunchi's thinking (letter, 17 August) that eating laboratory-produced meat would be unethical. The ethical arguments for not eating meat are firmly centred on it being dead meat. If there is no life, there is no death and no ethical issue. It is the lives of animals that matter, not the sensibilities of vegetarians.



Sudoku solution

Sir: I have an even easier solution to the problem of messy Sudoku puzzles. Simply do the whole thing in your head, then afterwards you can fill it in as neatly as you like. Works wonders for me.