Date: 17/08/2019
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Islamic 'radicals' at the heart of Whitehall

Andrew Gilligan in the Sunday Telegraph

Baroness Warsi, the first Muslim woman to sit in Cabinet, handed official posts to people linked to Islamist groups, including a man involved in an “unpleasant and bullying” campaign to win planning permission for the controversial London “megamosque” proposed by a fundamentalist Islamic sect. He sits – alongside other radicals or former radicals and their allies – on a “cross-Government working group on anti-Muslim hatred” set up by Lady Warsi and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister. 

Some members of the group are using their seats at the table to urge that Whitehall work with Islamist and extremist-linked bodies, including one described by the Prime Minister as a “political front for the Muslim Brotherhood”. Some are also pressing to lift bans on foreign hate preachers from entering Britain, including Zakir Naik, who has stated that “every Muslim should be a terrorist”. 

A(nother) member said: “The working group was Sayeeda [Warsi]’s personal project and she was responsible for the appointments. There was very little transparency about who was put on.”

The working group, set up in 2012, has continued after Lady Warsi’s resignation last summer in protest at the Government’s “morally indefensible” policy on the Gaza crisis. It is based in Eric Pickles’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and includes officials from there, the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the Department for Education, the Foreign Office and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Among its most prominent non-government members is Muddassar Ahmed, a former senior activist in the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), an extremist and anti-Semitic militant body which is banned from many universities as a hate group. 

During Mr Ahmed’s time, MPAC campaigned heavily against “Zionist” MPs, in particular Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, and Lorna Fitzsimons, the former Labour MP for Rochdale. She lost her seat after MPAC sent thousands of leaflets to local Muslim voters saying they should sack her because she was “Jewish”. She is not Jewish. MPAC has stated that Muslims are “at war” and that “every Muslim who does not participate in that war is committing a major sin”. 

More recently, Mr Ahmed and his PR company, Unitas Communications, have played a role in a body called the Newham People’s Alliance (NPA), which was created to demonstrate “community support” for plans to create Britain’s biggest mosque near the Olympic Park in the east London borough of Newham.

The NPA blockaded Newham Town Hall after councillors refused planning permission for the mosque. It has run a virulent campaign against Sir Robin Wales, the borough’s mayor, calling him “Dirty Robin”, a “Zionist” and a racist and saying that no Muslim should vote for him.

It fiercely supports Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of the neighbouring borough, Tower Hamlets, saying Newham should be more like Tower Hamlets. “It was a very vicious campaign, with a lot of lying and making things up, and they were close allies of Lutfur,” said Sir Robin last night. “Muddassar Ahmed wanted to stand as candidate for us [Labour], but we blocked him because of his background.”

The mosque applicant, Tablighi Jamaat, a conservative Islamic sect accused by some of being a gateway to radicalism, is appealing against the refusal of planning permission.

Mr Ahmed and others from Unitas Communications represented the Newham People’s Alliance at the planning inquiry last June. “The NPA were very unpleasant and bullying people to deal with,” said Alan Craig, a former Newham councillor who led a rival campaign, MegaMosque No Thanks, at the inquiry.

The planning appeal will be decided by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the same ministry which runs the working group on anti-Muslim hatred on which Mr Ahmed sits, although it reports to the Deputy Prime Minister. The decision will be announced next month. 

Also on the working group is Iqbal Bhana, who has repeatedly praised the work of a body called the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC). The group has defended Abu Hamza, saying he has been “demonised” and claiming his recent terrorism conviction in America was an example of the “double standards of the British justice system in relation to Muslims”. Other members include Iftikhar Awan, a former trustee of Islamic Relief, a charity with links to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and Sarah Joseph, a former spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), with which the current and previous governments have broken ties over its links to Islamism. 

Some members of the working group have tried to get the Government to rebuild ties with the MCB and also to open new links with the IHRC and the Cordoba Foundation, a body described by David Cameron as a “political front for the Muslim Brotherhood”. One working group member opposed to these attempts said: “Civil servants in the DCLG resisted strongly. They kept saying that there was nothing showing a change in the voice and opinions of these groups. But they were under tremendous pressure from Warsi.”

The working group was set up after Lady Warsi claimed in 2011 that Islamophobia had “passed the dinner-table test” and was “widespread and rising”. According to police figures at the time, anti-Muslim crime had been falling.

Lady Warsi was unavailable for comment.

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