Hazel Blears and IslamExpo

Hazel Blears explains her opposition to IslamExpo and the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas

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It was great to hear Hazel Blears talk to a cross-party audience about her ideological opposition to the Islamic radical right at Policy Exchange yesterday.

My real question is why has the left abandoned its old comrades in the fight against racism to rush into the poisoned embrace of the Islamists? The Labour Party, through consituency parties and local councillors should have been a natural bulwark against the rise of the influence of Jamaat-i-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain. But instead of listening to its activists and local democratic representatives, the Labour government chose instead to bolster the self-appointed Muslim Council of Britain.

This is the key part of the speech:

"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'm not so convinced about today's announcement about funding right-minded Muslim thinkers to gove guidance on the true message of the Quran. It strikes me that this misses the whole point about the nature of Islam, which has no one fixed interpretation of its holy text.