This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman
I was invited to speak at a public discussion (about Gaza) in Bristol on 2 April, before an audience of young people. I was invited because the organiser (the ‘Prevent Violent Extremism’ Department within the Community Cohesion team of Bristol City Council) was
“hoping to present a wide spectrum of opinion to enable debate and questioning…. I would hope that a representative from the Israeli embassy or the Zionist Federation would be able to provide a more balanced debate to enable young people to hear all sides.”
I asked who else had been invited. One of the names mentioned was Azzam Tamimi, who – I was told – had accepted.
I accepted the invitation, but said that in my view Tamimi should not have been invited. Tamimi is a former official spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood member and has close links with Hamas. Indeed he has been described as “Hamas’ Special Envoy”. Hamas is an extremist organisation whose military wing Hamas Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades is proscribed by the UK Government under the Terrorism Act 2000.
In the November 2004 BBC programme Hardtalk, Tamimi said that sacrificing his life for Palestine would be
“a noble cause. It is the straight way to pleasing my God and I would do it if I had the opportunity”.
In the BBC programme “A Question of Leadership”, Tamimi reiterated his support for suicide bombers who murder Israelis and allied troops in Iraq.
He recently gave an address where he said: “Today we are all Hamas! Today we are all Hamas”
I said that it was important that the ‘Prevent’ programme does not promote extremists such as Tamimi, and I cited the speech by Hazel Blears at LSE on 25 February:
“But it is local government, working closely with local communities, who deliver the Prevent programme on the ground……With groups which call for or support terrorist acts there is no room whatsoever for debate, only vociferous opposition…… These principles hold for engagement at a local, as well as at a national level.
The Prevent Delivery Strategy – published in June 2008 – gave clear advice to local authorities and their partners on what factors they should take into account when deciding which organisations to engage with, and how.”
Bristol City Council disinvited Tamimi. However the reason they gave me on the phone was odd. They did not say he was disinvited because he is an extremist. Rather, they said that they had decided to reduce the likely level of controversy at the meeting, by inviting only local speakers. Non-local speakers – according to the Council – could take extreme positions and then go back home without subsequently needing to be accountable for those positions to Bristolians ….. .
…and by the way they were also disinviting me…..
Paul Goodman MP (Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government) has taken up the problems with ‘Prevent’. Local authorities are responsible for spending the ‘Prevent’ cash but it seems that although there are broad guidelines for local authorities, there is little ‘ex-ante’ guidance as to those individuals and organisations to whom a platform should not be offered. Neither is the DCLG able to audit how the funds have been spent, other than with a time lag of many months.
Harry’s Place has discussed these issues before. Suffice it to say that I don’t think it’s right that extremists can be offered a platform under the ‘Prevent’ programme and then only disinvited if other invited speakers kick up a sufficient stink – like I did.
There are many non-extremists in the UK who can put the Palestinian case perfectly well. For example, Professor Manuel Hassassian (the Palestine Liberation Organisation representative to the UK)
Or Sharif Nashashibi of Arab Media Watch.
Or someone from the PSC or from JFJFP.
I can help organisers of meetings with email addresses and phone numbers.
But how many invitations to extremists are going through ‘on the nod’? We simply do not know. I am aware of a similar meeting in Cardiff – also for young people – but I do not know when it is, nor who has been invited to put the Palestinian case.
Do you? Or do you know of similar meetings elsewhere?