Promotion of clients and stooges will get us nowhere

Seumas Milne discusses the questions arising from the government’s stupid boycott of Islam Expo, which he argues is part of a wider problem involving a refusal to engage with representative Muslim organisations:

“The issue is the government’s growing hostility to dealing with anyone connected with the highly diverse movement that is Islamism. This is a political trend that has violent and non-violent, theocratic and democratic, reactionary and progressive strands, stretching from Turkey’s pro-western ruling Justice and Development party through to the wildest shores of takfiri jihadism. But it’s largely on the basis of this blinkered opposition that the government is now funding Husain’s Quilliam Foundation, promoting other marginal groups such as the Sufi Muslim Council and turning its back on more representative bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain.

“This is a dangerous game, whether from the point of view of reducing the threat of terror attacks on the streets of London or narrowing the gulf between Muslims and non-Muslims in the country as a whole. As opinion polls show, most Muslims around the world are broadly sympathetic to Hamas as a movement resisting occupation of Palestinian land – and British Muslims are no exception. If such attitudes become a block on engagement with official Britain, or are ignorantly branded ‘Islamofascist’, then the government and Tory opposition are going to end up talking to a very small minority indeed.

“It’s a risk well-recognised by some inside government. As one minister argues: ‘This cannot continue, it’s completely counterproductive. You have to engage with those with influence over those you want to influence.’ Some Muslim activists trying to work with government blame Blears’ Sufi Muslim advisers, Azhar Ali and Maqsood Ahmed; one senior local authority specialist despairs that by refusing to deal with Muslim organisations the advisers crudely brand Islamist, ministers are ‘isolating themselves from the majority’….

“The groups currently regarded as beyond the pale – such as the organisers of IslamExpo – are those keenest to promote Muslim involvement in British society and politics. But they are also the most actively opposed to western policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine – an important point of common ground, incidentally, with most non-Muslim Britons. The organisations the government backs, on the other hand, are those who keep quiet about the wars the US and Britain are fighting in the Muslim world. If the priority is really community integration and prevention of terror attacks, this sponsorship of clients and stooges is going to have to stop.”

Guardian, 17 July 2008