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Another story of government advisers undermining government ministers (this time in the battle against extremism)

By Tim Montgomerie

Hats off to The Sunday Times (£) for yesterday's scoop exposing senior Home Office officials who rubbished the Home Secretary to supporters of the Indian Islamist leader Zakir Naik – after she had banned him from coming into the country because of his extremist preaching.

The pair - both employed by the Office of Security and Counter Terrorism – went behind Theresa May's back and told friends of the excluded televangelist Zakir Naik that they were “gutted and mortified” by their ministerial boss’s decision, which they considered to be “a huge error of judgement”.

One high ranking civil servant, Sabin Khan, has been suspended pending an investigation. Also in the frame is Charles Farr, the OSCT's Director General.

There is a deeply worrying background to this incident.  Over the last year, Farr has become increasingly assertive across Whitehall in promoting the view that the state should befriend and work with Islamist ideologues as long as they oppose terrorism on British soil.

Farr, in common with John Denham and Ken Livingstone, believes that anti-Western fanatics like Zakir Naik and Yusuf al-Qaradawi have the credibility to persuade young British Muslims not to blow themselves up on tube trains.

David Cameron came into office with a clear and oft-stated desire to reverse this approach. The Prime Minister believes that we should have learned from 7/7 that ideology matters – and that those who preach 'non-violent' extremism sow the seeds for future jihadism by fomenting division and legitimising hatred. Not every non-violent extremist becomes a jihadist – but if you are a non-violent extremist, your chances of becoming violent are infinitely greater.  For example, David Copeland, the neo-nazi who bombed the Admiral Duncan pub, was previously active in the BNP.

Farr is the embodiment of institutional resistance to the Cameron/ May approach. Indeed, Farr dragged his heels until very late in the day on the Naik decision (in which the Home Secretary enjoyed the strong backing of the Prime Minister).  He threw bureaucratic caution to the wind in reaching out to Naik’s supporters.

Under Farr’s tutelage, a group of Islamist-friendly officials – many, though not all of them from Muslim backgrounds – have been nurtured in government. The most important of these is Asim Hafiz, of whom Farr is especially protective.

Another noteworthy figure in this exotic and unaccountable clique, operating in some of the most sensitive institutions of state, is a former American academic now based at the US Embassy, Quintan Wiktorowicz.  Wiktorowicz shares Farr's outlook and is active in trying to persuade the Obama administration to be more accomodating of Islamists.

This story is of significance to all Conservatives. It illustrates how much resistance there is inside the civil service to many established Conservative policy pledges.  Theresa May isn’t the only minister who is encountering such institutional arrogance and obstruction (talk to Michael Gove) but the problem within the Office of Security and Counter Terrorism is especially severe and requires immediate and decisive action.

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