Hazel Blears, the U.K. Secretary Communities and Local Government, has issued a statement explaining her department’s decision not to send representatives to IslamExpo, a recent event sponsored largely by the U.K. Muslim Brotherhood:
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. Because of this approach, there is a debate within some of these organisations. We have strengthened the hand of the moderates. I believe that this approach has helped the MCB to take the welcome step of attending Holocaust Memorial Day – a small but significant step in the right direction. We have enabled new voices to be heard, and brought new people to the table. The Government’s process for engagement is not static, and needs continual assessment. I will redouble my efforts to make sure the engagement strategy is understand and applied across government, so that every minister knows when to accept invitations, and when to refuse, with clear criteria. And when it is appropriate for civil servants to meet with certain groups and individuals, and when it is not. This is a dynamic process: if organisations genuinely shift their positions, we can reconsider our engagement with them. I welcome the scrutiny from outside on our engagement, especially when it comes to our funding of local groups and programmes, because we are dealing with public money. As politicians, we have no margin of error. We take every step to minimise the risk. Of course I recognise that if a single penny was to be subverted to a group or individual which opposes our aims there would be anger amongst the public, and quite right too. By the same token, outside scrutiny must be rooted in evidence and facts, not a desire to make headlines. Nationally we need a clearer understanding of the groups we are funding through better on-the-ground intelligence (including a better relationship with local MPs and councillors who know what is going on), and we to rigorously apply the criteria to guide who we fund, for what purpose, and what we want for our money.
The British Muslim Initiative, a U.K Brotherhood group and one of the sponsors of Islam Expo, has issued a long response which demonstrate how the global Brotherhood attempts to take on the mantle of being the “mainstream” representative of Muslim communities:
2) A few days ago, the Foreign Office sponsored a trip by a handful of individuals, friends of Hazel Blears, to Egypt in what was a delegation that claimed to represent ‘British Islam’. Anyone who knows anything about the British Muslims would testify that the individuals involved have no reach within the community, and the FCO would’ve been far better served and its funds better utilised had it taken to Egypt images from IslamExpo that showed 50,000 people of all backgrounds visit, participate, discuss, debate and engage freely and openly in the heart of London. Ms. Blears ought to know that ‘legitimacy’ must be proven on the ground and in real terms, and is neither proven nor undermined by her government’s attendance of or withdrawal from mainstream events.
4) Hazel Blears’ McCarthyite attempt to single out individuals involved in IslamExpo for real or imagined positions which they assume is extremely inappropriate considering she represents the government which launched an illegal and tragically failed act of aggression in the heart of the Muslim world, and seems to simply refuse to do anything to initiate a serious dialogue with the mainstream Muslim opinion in Britain. Blears also needs to be reminded that she was happy in the past, to meet and engage in discussion with one of the IslamExpo Directors who is now under attack by certain quarters of the Media.
(Source: Preventing Violent Extremism: the Government’s Approach A Policy Exchange seminar led by Rt. Hon. Hazel Blears MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Thursday 17th July 2008)