We need to listen to the man from special branch

Ken with Qaradawi“Last week, as the archbishop’s sharia storm raged, Gordon Brown banned the leading Islamic cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi from the country. The pretext given was his support for Palestinian suicide attacks during the intifada. But the 81-year-old scholar has been to Britain several times since then – in fact he was encouraged to come by the government after the Iraq invasion because of his opposition to al-Qaida.

“The real reason for the ban, apart from the competition to appear tough on terror, is his links with the Muslim Brotherhood, the most influential Islamist organisation in the Arab world – but also a particular target for liberal hawks and neoconservatives. They have played a key role in convincing the government to end its engagement with mainstream Islamist groups and sponsor more pliant Muslim bodies.

“One man who thinks that’s not just bad for community relations but actually a threat to Britain’s security, is Detective Inspector Bob Lambert, who retired six weeks ago as head of the Metropolitan police special branch’s Muslim Contact Unit. With more than a quarter century at the sharp end of counter-terrorism operations, Lambert is scarcely a bleeding-heart liberal. But he has been unable to speak out publicly until now and is deeply frustrated by the Qaradawi ban. ‘Qaradawi is clearly useful in countering al-Qaida propaganda’, Lambert told me this week. ‘He is held in high esteem: how can we think meaningfully about enlisting credible Muslim community support against al-Qaida if we’re not prepared to engage constructively with the likes of Qaradawi?’

“Lambert also highlights the importance of Islamic activists’ cooperation with the anti-war movement and radical MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway in offering Muslim youth a way to channel their political grievances into peaceful political action. This isn’t about ‘political correctness or deference to Islamist thinking’, he insists, ‘it’s a genuine issue of London’s safety’. Groups now promoted by the government, such as the Sufi Muslim Council, may have their role, but from the perspective of countering terrorism they have ‘neither religious nor political credibility. Let’s be clear who it is that can keep London safe in the runup to the Olympic games’.”

Seumas Milne in the Guardian, 14 February 2008

For the FCO’s 2005 briefing on Qaradawi, which echoes Bob Lambert’s view, see (pdf) here