Godson On The Fallout From IslamExpo

Writing in The Times, this is what he says:

No wonder Hazel Blears, the feisty Secretary of State for Communities, decided last week that this was not a place where any minister should be seen. Most of her Muslim colleagues in the Labour Party backed her, including the MPs Sadiq Khan and Khalid Mahmood.

But another minister, Shahid Malik, MP for Dewsbury, had other ideas and sought to attend in a personal capacity. He was persuaded not to attend Islam Expo only with the greatest difficulty – after heavy pressure from his departmental chief at International Development, Douglas Alexander, the Chief Whip and the Cabinet Secretary, who invoked Cabinet Office guidelines on engagement with Islamic groups.

Ms Blears is probably the member of the Cabinet readiest to uphold a strict interpretation of those criteria. She has also dealt vigorously with senior officials whom she believes have been naive in their approach to Islamist-friendly groups.

But policing the boundaries of respectable discourse is hard work. While ministers were forbidden to go, the Foreign Office-funded British Satellite News was publicising an entirely positive image of Islam Expo for overseas consumption.

This time the Government has had a narrow escape from the political Islamists of Islam Expo.

Its relief must be compounded by what has happened over the past 48 hours to Alex Salmond. Scotland’s First Minister has landed himself in serious trouble over a grant of £215,000 given to the Scottish Islamic Foundation, which is headed by one of his advisers, Osama Saeed. Other Muslim groups in Scotland are upset by what they see as favouritism to the best-known political Islamist in the Scottish National Party.

Mr Saeed, an SNP parliamentary candidate and also a speaker at Islam Expo, has described Hamas suicide attacks as “martyrdom operations” and has supported the creation of a modern caliphate, or pan-Islamic state. The row could cost the SNP victory in the Glasgow East by-election next week.

The fashionable take on deradicalising angry young Muslim men is that only political Islamists, such as Mr Saeed, have the credibility to stop them going over the deep end. This reasoning is doubtful. The opposition of political Islamists to al-Qaeda violence in the West does not mean that they are actually friends of the West. Rather, they know that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

The boundaries between violent and non-violent Islamists deserve greater exploration. Are non-violent political Islamists part of the solution or, as figures such as Hazel Blears and David Cameron increasingly suspect, part of the problem?