The Government withdrew its support from Britain’s largest Muslim organisation yesterday after accusing it of failing to lead the fight against religious extremism.
Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, attacked the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) for boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day, criticising police anti-terrorist operations and “sitting on the sidelines” in the campaign against extremists.
Muhammad Abdul Bari, the secretary-general of the MCB, was invited to hear Ms Kelly’s speech, which was delivered to a Muslim audience, but refused to attend.
Ms Kelly said that she was embarking on “a fundamental rebalancing” of the Government’s relationship with Muslim organisations.
Until now ministers have viewed the MCB, which represents 400 organisations and hundreds of mosques around the country, as the most important voice among Britain’s two million Muslims.
But Ms Kelly said that in future she would engage with and give funding to organisations that represented young Muslims and Muslim women and which were taking a “proactive leadership role in tackling extremism and defending our shared values”.
The Communities Secretary has £11 million remaining from a fund established last year to combat extremism.
Ms Kelly highlighted the MCB’s repeated refusal to participate in Holocaust Memorial Day as a serious failing which set a poor example.
She said: “There are some people who don’t feel it right to join in the commemorations of Holocaust Memorial Day even though it has helped raise awareness not just of the Jewish Holocaust, but also more contemporary atrocities like the Rwanda genocide.
“I can’t help wondering why those in leadership positions who say they want to achieve religious tolerance and a cohesive society would choose to boycott an event which marks, above all, our common human- ity and respect for each other.”
Ms Kelly also attacked groups which criticised British foreign policy as anti-Muslim and denigrated the police.
Dr Bari and the MCB have been critical of the bungled anti-terrorist raid in Forest Gate, East London, this year and have argued strongly that British policy in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan has undermined security.
Ms Kelly said: “The police and security services have disrupted a number of further attacks. And we know that followers of al-Qaeda are planning others. The scale of the threat means great urgency. And this can produce mistakes.
“But these mistakes have sometimes been seized on by some to falsely suggest that the police are the enemy rather than the terrorists. They aren’t — they deserve all of our support. A serious and tough security response is inevitable for all of our safety.”
Dr Bari responded angrily to Ms Kelly’s remarks. He said the minister was making “a veiled threat” about who would qualify for funding in future.
Dr Bari added: “Every organisation has the right to apply for government funding — but agreeing with government policy should not be a criteria for receiving that money.
“For sometime now, mainstream Muslim organisations have not been consulted. We have been talked to, we have not been talked with.”
Inayat Bunglawala, assistant general of the MCB, said: “We have the sense that the Government only wants to speak to organisations that mirror its own views. It is untenable to continue to deny that Iraq and Afghanistan have not undermined our security.”
The debate about the role of British Muslims in society was further intensified by Harriet Harman in the row over the wearing of the veil. Ms Harman, a minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, said that the veil was “an obstacle to women’s participation, on equal terms, in society”.
She told the New Statesman: “I want women to be fully included. If you want equality, you have to be in society, not hidden away from it.”
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