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Ministers mustn't share a platform this autumn with supporters of attacks on our troops

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-07-25 at 17.31.28 Andrew Gilligan has an ominously well-briefed story in today's Sunday Telegraph about civil service pressure on Minister to drop the Government's counter-extremism programme.  I've written about how the policy was developed here and how it should be applied here.  Gilligan's kind enough to quote me, and I'll return to some of the matters he raises in due course.  In the meantime, let me deal with only one.

He refers in passing to the Global Peace and Unity conference taking place in London this October.  The GPU, as it's usually known, is a kind of Royal Ascot of the British Islamist calendar (though also attended by many apolitical people).  The event is organised by the Islam Channel, a TV station which as Gilligan says "has a number of fundamentalist and extremist presenters" - see Quilliam's report on the broadcaster.

And each year, an Ascot Gavotte is danced out between the GPU organisers and the main political parties.  The aim of the former is to gain credibility, patronage, and muscle among British Muslims by manoevering politicians to speak from the event's podium.  The aims of the latter are more complex - a mix of eagerness to win Muslim votes, anxiety about losing other votes, and a desire to do the right thing.

During the last Parliament, the Liberal Democrats were only too eager to plunge on to the dance floor.  Labour waltzed on and off in bewildering succession, depending on whether Jack Straw or Hazel Blears was calling the shots.  When I was in the Shadow Communities team, we and the Home Office team considered the matter closely.  Eventually, Dominic Grieve went to GPU...but read the organisers the riot act (politely, but firmly).

Grieve referred specifically to Yasir Quahi, who's a record of holocaust denial and anti-Shia extremism, and to William Rodriguez, who believes that the American Government destroyed the twin towers, attacked the Pentagon and shot down United Airlines flight 93, saying that "we have no business giving madmen legitimacy...such people too often have nothing to contribute and I don't want to share a platform with them".

As he drew to a close, he said: "The future participation of many mainstream politicians, including myself, will be difficult if not impossible if this issue isn't satisfactorily addressed in the future".  Gilligan notes that this autumn "speakers at the conference are a mixture of mainstream figures and Islamic militants, including Hussain Yee...who the Home Office is reportedly seeking to bar from Britain"

The Benkhaldun blog has more details.  Speakers apparently include -

Oh, and finally...Yasir Qadhi, one of the two men specifically singled out as objectionable by Grieve.

Theresa May's made a good start at the Home Office by barring Zakir Naik and Bilal Phillips from entering the UK.  The final list of speakers for GPU has yet to be published.  Part of the annual gavotte is backstairs negotiation between the organisers and politicians.  Ministers don't have to make up their minds at this stage whether or not to attend.  

Furthermore, politicians must necessarily meet all sorts of people.  At times, they can't be too particular, and it's neither practicable not desirable for them to quiz all of those they meet in detail.  But they shouldn't lend legitimacy to people who support attacks on our troops, on civilians as a matter of principle, or incite hatred and violence - and who, furthermore, don't represent the mass of British Muslims for whom they purport to organise.  If such people are on the platform, Ministers shouldn't go to the GPU this year.


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