It has been known for some time that Iqbal Sacranie, General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, was right-wing. After all, he accepted a knighthood last year, and serves on government quangos including Blair's "task force" against terrorism. But, he said, the award would not stop him from "speaking out'. Now we know what he means.
Interviewed on 3 January on Radio 4, Sacranie was prompted to "speak out" on homosexuality. "Certainly it is a practice that in terms of health, in terms of the moral issues that comes along in a society, is not acceptable. Each of our faiths tells us that it is harmful", he said. He went on to suggest that the risk of AIDS proves that being gay is wrong.
Civil partnerships, of course, are out of the question for Muslims in his view: "it is something we would certainly not in any form encourage the community to be involved in." Gay marriage threatened "stability [and] family relationships', he said.
These comments were so offensive that even some Tories condemned them. Labour MP Stephen Pound pointed out that Sacranie's comments will make life difficult for gay people of Muslim background: "It's a cruel and vicious blow to strike... we are living in the 21st century, not the 7th century. It may come as a shock to Mr Sacranie, but I know many gay Muslims who are living perfectly normal, decent lives."
Of course, Sacranie and co. deny that such people exist. They have not the slightest inkling of the concept of solidarity, and their rantings undermine all those of Muslim background and other minority groups by allowing prejudice to flourish in society.
As Peter Tatchell puts it, at a time when both people on Muslim background and gays and lesbians are suffering from hatred, "it's tragic for one minority to attack another minority".
Of course, Sacranie isn't the only religious bigot to denounce civil partnerships. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, head of the Scottish Roman Catholic Church, used his New Year's Day sermon to say that their introduction was partly responsible for "the truth of marriage and family [being] obscured and distorted".
Tony Blair, by allowing any religious groups with cash to run a privatised state schools is encouraging the sort of "threat to the family" nonsense spouted by O'Brien and Sacranie, undermining the civil partnership legislation enacted by his own government, easing the path of persecutors and family tyrants and helping to drive gays and lesbians from religious backgrounds back into the closet. What the government seems to be saying is: middle class, predominantly white gays and lesbians can have equal rights, but not religious gays and lesbians.
...AND SECULAR LOVE
If that is what Blair wants, we do not think he will succeed. The first scheduled gay marriage in the country took place on 19 December between Shannon Sickels and Grainne Close in Belfast. Of course, the religious bigots were out in force, with anti-gay placards, in this most priest-ridden part of the British Isles, with one Protestant preacher raving about "sodomite weddings" (anatomy is obviously not a fundamentalist strong point). Despite this, the ceremony and many others passed happily.
On 21 December, the first day of civil partnerships in Britain, over 700 ceremonies took place.
A government less obsessed with pandering to the irrational right would, of course, have called the partnerships marriages, and enabled religious ceremonies to take place if the couple so desired.
Nevertheless, this is a very important step forward for gays and lesbians, won through decades of struggle. There will be no going back.
SCROOGE STRIKES AGAIN
Despite virtually every major shop-owning capitalist appearing in the media before Christmas forecasting doom and job losses in the sector, the retail indusry has enjoyed a profitable Christmas. But this hasn't changed the bosses' minds about the job losses.
Morrisons recorded a 6.1% rise in sales over the six weeks around Christmas - but they are still closing three depots, in Kent, Bristol and Warrington, and depriving 2,000 workers of their livelihoods.
Merry Christmas? Bah! Humbug!
WHO SAYS THE POLICE ARE A WASTE OF MONEY?
A LONDON Metropolitan Police document leaked to the press last month discussed plans to station armed police at chemists and GP surgeries in case the flu vaccine runs out over the winter. They are scared of "public riots" apparently (as opposed "private riots", by invitation only: otherwise known as royal birthday parties, which are of no concern to the police).
Judging by the armed response, the police must also be afraid of terrorist attacks on ill-stocked chemists. And as we know, the Met's armed officers are somewhat trigger-happy. So our advice is: if you get flu this winter, stay in bed...
ANOTHER BON MOT FROM OLD DUMPLING FACE
YES, John Prescott's at it again. Working himself up to oppose Blair and Kelly publicly over their ultra-Tory Education Bill, he's been under special pressure over the last couple of months to show his old right-wing form. But don't worry: as usual he came up trumps.
Christine Shawcroft, left-wing member of the Labour Party National Executive, reports Prezza's faint praise of democratic procedure at November's NEC meeting. "John Prescott said that it was important that issues like the fourth option for council housing should come to the NEC so that ministers could explain why they weren't going to carry out Conference policy. Then everyone would know that the Government wasn't just ignoring the Conference, but they were not carrying out decisions for very good reasons!"