Unfortunately, it appears to have become a common theme amongst the popular media and politicians that 'Muslim leaders' are not doing enough to prevent extremism amongst Muslim youngsters. I say unfortunate, because it looks in the wrong places for solutions. This idea is borne of a lack of familiarity by outsiders with the inner social dynamics of the Muslim communities across Britain, and also the (unthinking) belief that Muslims are somehow insulated from broader social and cultural trends across post/modern Britain. However, contrary to assertions, we aren't superhumans who stand outside the contingencies of history and time.
In fact, it is highly unlikely that anything Muslim leaders say or do has any great influence on Muslim youths, much less what mosque members might be saying. More often than not, they're preaching to the converted. Remember that fatwa which condemned the London bombings, or the one which rebutted the claims of al-Muhajiroun? Both texts were produced by Muslim religious leaders whose words carry weight in religious circles (and squares, triangles and most other shapes). Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Atiki, who produced the rebuttal of Bakri et al., is an authoritative contemporary jurist. But how many youngsters know about these? How many even care? And if, as we're told, Muslims place great weight on pronouncements of religious authorities, how much weight can be put on the words of the head of the MCB, who, for all intents and purposes, is a 'secular' leader?
Traditionalist Muslims, like Timothy Winter, will see this as a sign of the loss of respect for classical learning and authority in contemporary Islam (and I'd agree to some degree) and tie it in with the general malaise in post/modern Britain. But this loss of respect for authorities is not unique to Muslims. It is a general cultural trend in wider society and may be a symptom of mass consumerism and individualism in post/modern societies (note, I am trying to be descriptive and not moral in my tone here).
It is also equally likely all of these people, religious scholars and public leaders, are seen as establishment figures, detached from the everyday grind of Muslim life in Britain. So blaming them for extremism and terrorism becomes a pointless exercise. What they say and do is irrelevant to most young Muslims anyway. But, there is one point on which Muslim leaders like Dr. Abdul Bari fail, and fail miserabley like only a Muslim can. That is they, like their critics, 'Islamise' problems affecting Muslims beyond all proportion.
A point I touched on earlier was about how the lack of socioeconomic opportunities causing 'alienation' does not affect Muslims only. What prominent public Muslim spokesmen need to stress when they bring up a lack of housing, jobs and good schools in the context of Muslim integration and participation in society, is that these concerns are broader social problems affecting not just 'Muslims'. They should not reduce them to a 'Muslim' issue as it appears they do. They need to address the point that if you're poor in Britain, or stuck outside the 'mainstream', or on the lower rungs of society, life isn't too pleasant or easy and it doesn't particularly matter if you're Muslim or not. They need to stress their concern for wider issues affecting Britain (health, education and so on), rather than dabbling in stupid political point-scoring (like the MCB's refusal to attend the Holocaust Memorial Day). They should divorce themselves from the public rhetoric which presents them and their organisations as single-issue bodies representing Muslims only, and transform themselves into grassroots organisation which are interested in helping society at large. They should show that theirs is an activism for goodness, and it just so happens that they're Muslims. Whether one likes it or not, in a secular society people are not really interested in your theological viewpoints. Let people connect the two (faith and deeds), rather force-feeding it down their throats. "God guides whom He wills". (And note, this is not a call for people abandon da'wah.) When they decry human rights violations against Muslims, they should also stand up for human rights violations against others who are not Muslims, which are prepetrated by Muslims (it is very real point to note is that most human rights violations against Muslims are committed by other Muslims). Pious platitudes are not enough.
This way they can transform the image (and sadly reality) of Muslim public discourse which is one of rights and politics to one of cultural and social engagement. And yes, there are grassroots organisations run by Muslims which tackle issues like drugs; I'm familiar with one in Tower Hamlets. There was also a seminar a few months ago about sexual abuse and counselling in minority communities organised by a friend of mine at a large mosque (unfortunately I was unable to attend). So these projects do exist, albeit the lack of media coverage and networking with national institutions means they do not get enough exposure. But, my argument is that should a journalist looking for good copy phone up the likes of MCB, MAB, IHRC, MPAC, SMC (who have been silent in recent weeks...) and so on, offices whose phone numbers reside in the diaries of most journalists, then instead of vexing themselves over the latest 'Muslim outrage' story, they should show a bit of nouse and ask the journalist to help cover a project to tackle drugs or illiteracy which they may be involved in or know of. Inayat Bunglawala and Faisal Bodi, from their privileged positions as public Muslim commentators, should use their next few posts at Comment is free blogging only about such projects, tuning out from the media cycles. This way they can expose those people who do have a genuine animus towards Muslims, and make friends with other people regardless of their own personal beliefs.
There are prominent Muslims who have spoken about these sorts of issues, trying to reposition public Muslim discourse as one about broader social concerns. Tariq Ramadan comes to mind, as does Yahya Birt (who is certainly capable of it). But unfortunately they're marginalised (or smeared in the case of Ramadan) by both the popular media and even Muslims (like these comments on my blog which sees Ramadan in the same category as Irshad Manji). Bunglawala and Bodi, the MCB, MAB, SMC, MPAC and so on have access to the media, and are now see as 'Muslim spokesmen' for better or for worse. If, for some reason, they start talking about these broader topics and only these topics (that is they do not discuss 'Muslim issues') and, for some reason they drop out of the public spotlight, then at least our oft-cited complaint against a biased media that is always on the lookout for the next Professional Muslim Extremist, will be fully justified. In the meantime, we could have made some friends across a wider range of society.