UK Politics

Civil Service Turf Wars over Islamism

Martin Bright at the New Statesman has a piece which illustrates the continuing confusion within various Government departments in their dealings with the small but vocal UK Jamaat and Muslim Brotherhood Islamist groupings.

Two events this week illustrate the nature of that confusion.

On Monday, Cambridge University hosted a conference on Islam and Muslims in the World Today. The event was notable, not only for the excellent quality and diversity of the delegates from all over the world who were invited to participate; but for the almost complete exclusion of the clerical fascists of Jamaat, who until recently expected to run these sorts of events. A sign of its success was that it upset Lord Ahmed, and that it was boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood activist, Tariq Ramadan.

Less impressively, the Department for Education and Skills made the mistake of commissioning a Jamaat activist to advise the Government on the best way to improve the teaching of Islam in the United Kingdom.

That’s a bit like asking a fox the best way to set up a secure system for breeding chickens. You want to take his advice and then to the precise opposite of that which he recommends.

Indeed, one of the few disappointments about the conference was the launch of the DfES report on Islamic studies at British universities, which was a throwback to the old style of thinking. Written inexplicably by Dr Ataullah Siddiqui, head of the Islamist Markfield Institute of Higher Education in Leicestershire, the report appeared to propose an injection of traditional religious instruction into the study of Islam. This would represent a worrying departure from the long-established university principle of disinterested academic inquiry.

There’s another nice snippet of information in Martin Bright’s piece:

Behind the scenes, I discovered that the politics of the event had been fraught. It was organised by Cambridge University, but played out in a long-standing turf war between Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Home Office. Horse-trading over the invitation list took place between the departments until the last minute. My own place at the event was confirmed only 24 hours before it began, after Downing Street overcame Foreign Office objections to my presence following a series of critical articles in the New Statesman about British policy on Islam.

It is reassuring that Downing Street and the Home Office have resolved firmly to see off the clerical fascists. I very much doubt whether any future domestic policy will involve a return to Michael Howard’s policy of chumming up to the Muslim Council of Britain. Instead, we’re likely to see a proper consultation with a proper spectrum of British muslim opinion, and not simply those who yearn for a Caliphate.

The same cannot be said of the Foreign Office. It is the Foreign Office which, as we have seen, has been at the forefront of facilitating the Jamaat and Muslim Brotherhood groupings within the United Kingdom.

They do it for the best of reasons, of course. Jamaat and the Muslim Brotherhood may increasingly come to power in the Middle East, and there is an argument for this country maintaining cordial foreign relations with states run by these people.

Unfortunately, whatever the foreign policy logic in cultivating clerical fascists in South Asia and the Middle East, it has to be remembered that that the activities of these groups also have significant implications for domestic British politics.

Think of it in the same terms as the bribes allegedly paid by BAE, with the connivance of successive governments, to a Saudi prince; and the subsequent decision to halt the investigation into that corruption. No doubt, all this seemed hard nosed common sense at the time.

But just look at the cost.