In Hazel Blears’ speech today to a seminar organised by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, she outlines “the Government’s strategy for engagement with different Muslim groups”:
“As a minister dealing with this every day, I can tell you there is no easy answer to the questions of when, who and how to engage with different groups. When my predecessor Ruth Kelly became Secretary of State, she made it clear that the Government would not do business with any groups who weren’t serious about standing up to violence and upholding shared values, and that has been our approach ever since.
“Take the Islam Expo at the weekend. I was clear that because of the views of some of the organisers, and because of the nature of some of the exhibitors, this was an event that no Minister should attend. Organisers like Anas Altikriti, who believes in boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day. Or speakers like Azzam Tamimi, who has sought to justify suicide bombing. Or exhibitors like the Government of Iran.
“Not because the vast majority of Muslims at the event were not decent citizens; they were. But because the organisers were trying to influence the audience in certain directions. And by refusing to legitimise the event for these specific reasons, we would hope to isolate and expose the extremists and ensure they were not part of the event next year. Our policy is designed to change behaviour.
“Our strategy rests on an assessment of firstly whether an organisation is actively condemning, and working to tackle, violent extremism; and secondly whether they defend and uphold the shared values of pluralist democracy, both in their words and their deeds. By being clear what is acceptable and what isn’t, we aim to support the moderates and isolate the extremists.”
So Blears is opposed to any official contact with representative Muslim figures like Anas Altikriti and Azzam Tamimi. But she will happily lead a seminar organised by Policy Exchange, a body headed by the raving right-wing anti-Muslim extremist Dean Godson.
Not content with imposing a government boycott of one of the most popular and mainstream Muslim events of the year, Blears chooses to announce her justification for this disgraceful decision from the platform of a Tory think tank notorious for its hostility to British Muslims.
It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a conscious provocation directed against the Muslim community. Either that, or Blears is even more stupid than I’d imagined.
Update: Read IslamExpo’s response to Blears here.