The right-wing blogosphere has been cock-a-hoop at news that the Scottish-Islamic Foundation “have been forced to repay” £128,000 to the Scottish Government for “an event that never took place”.
The news was covered by the Daily Mail and Express, peddled by Centre for Social Cohesion’s Douglas “Neoconservatism: why we need it” Murray and Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, and repeated by Harry’s Place.
The story is that SIF last year received £200,000 to organise IslamFest, a large event planned for this summer 2009 aimed at the public on Muslim culture, but which also had a Middle East trade expo as part of it. The original plans were to cost over £1m to hold, but there were difficulties in obtaining the remaining funding due to the economic crisis.
As a result, the plans were scaled back and pushed back. It has been split into two elements – Salaam Scotland and Etisal. The former is a four month festival of events taking place around Scotland from December this year, while the latter is the trade expo which will also take place this year.
The work is important given the level of Islamophobia in Scotland and the wider UK, and the project also has the potential to attract investment and jobs into Scotland – something you would have thought would be supported given the economic climate. The Scottish Government are still considering the new timetable.
Anyone with any knowledge of the voluntary sector knows that if a grant is given in a financial year, 08/09 in this case, and is underspent, the remainder is returned. This is not unusual. Perhaps what is unusual is SIF’s scrupulous approach to the money. SIF CEO Osama Saeed told the Express:
“Many in our position would simply have cobbled something together and spent the money. This would not have been good enough for the high standards we set ourselves”.
The full picture has not been reported anywhere. The event that “did not take place” claim is not the full story, and SIF’s critics know this.
If this was just a case of misrepresentation, that would be one thing. But SIF’s critics have had to add some spice to the story by claiming financial “irregularities”. The word has been repeated ad nauseam in quotation marks, but no one has been able to back it up.
The genesis of it seems to be this astonishing Labour Party press release.
We would counsel SIF to consider legal action.
The SIF boasts an impressive range of enemies, especially for such a young organisation. This can only be down to the effectiveness of their work. Labour should be supportive of SIF – in England they’ve been at pains to encourage new Muslim voices, backing them with millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash, but in Scotland they seem to want to maintain the same old gatekeepers.
SIF have over the last year taken action on forced marriage, called for more English sermons in mosques, distributed food amongst Glasgow’s homeless, set up a PhD with Strathclyde University, exposed the man that threatened to blow up Glasgow Central Mosque, condemned vandalism by young Muslims against a synagogue in Edinburgh, and generally given young Muslims the confidence to operate in the mainstream of society. They are a breath of fresh air and a needed voice in the country. Their annual report can be read here.