This idea will be announced this week by Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, as part of a strategy called Prevent, which was set up after the 7/7 bombings.
According to the Sunday Times, this new "board of imams" will attempt to "refute the ideology of violent extremists". Quite how it will do that, considering that refute means not just to repudiate, but to prove wrong, is anyone's guess. How do you "refute" an ideology? Or is this just sloppy writing on the part of the Times Whitehall editor, Marie Woolf?
Anyway, this committee "will issue pronouncements on areas such as wearing the hijab and the treatment of wives and is part of a government strategy to counter radicalism". The Sunday Times story continues:
[The committee] will rule on interpretation of the Koran and promote the moderate strain of Islam practised by most British Muslims. It will also comment on controversial issues affecting Muslims living in Britain, including whether or not they should serve in the armed forces.
And is this going to be then enshrined in public policy, something dredged up out of a book of desiccated scriptures? It goes on:
The government is concerned that extremist leaders who preach jihad have been able to radicalise young Muslims, partly because of the failure of leading Islamic figures to challenge them.
A committee of Muslim young people will try to ensure the policies are relevant to them and do not inadvertently lead to further radicalisation. The government also plans to support Muslim women by providing discussion groups and work placements.
Something called the Muslim Public Affairs Committee "questioned whether the board would address issues relevant to Muslims’ lives".
"To be successful," says a committee spokeswoman, "this initiative must have credibility with the Muslim community as a whole. What matters is what happens at the grass roots in someone's local mosque."
If Muslims wish to set up committees to regulate life in their communities, they're at liberty to do so, provided nothing that comes of their deliberations is expected to be legally binding. All sorts of organisations have their committees, with the power to recommend, decide, reprimand, hire, fire, kick arse. But Muslim committees should be paid for out of participants' pockets.
If the country can't handle those who want to bomb the hell out of us, what are the police and intelligence services doing? If such a committee can really prevent young people from being radicalised, why is it being suggested it rule on women's fashion and how men treat their wives?
And do they really think this is some sort of hearts-and-minds measure that will change the ideology of someone who's so Allah-soaked that he's willing to give his life in order to take those of others? That's a pretty unfaltering commitment.
Strikes me as just another way of seeming to be doing something instead of stopping kowtowing to religionists now, and imposing that clichéd "zero tolerance" of dubious activities. If religion didn't automatically and seemingly without exception receive such a good government ear and were not treated with such unwarranted reverence, what people do in its name might be treated with more suspicion by the public at large.
Instead, when journalism comes good for a change and creates something like Undercover Mosque, the police decide that's racist and seek to prosecute the programme makers. In that case, fortunately, the police were left with egg on their silly faces and had to issue a grovelling apology.