This issue is too important for hijacking

By Martin Bright, July 21, 2011

As I sat in Portcullis House in Westminster on Tuesday, soaking up the feverish atmosphere in advance of the Murdochs' appearance at the culture select committee, I was accosted by the beaming figure of MP Nick Boles.

"Have you heard about the great victory?" he said. I wondered for a moment if he was talking about his performance on Newsnight against Harriet Harman the previous night, which I'd had down as a more of a draw. But he meant the crushing 60-2 vote of the APPG on Islamophobia to kick the anti-Zionist i-Engage group out of parliament.

During a week when the whole political class was in turmoil over the latest phone-hacking revelations, the vote of an obscure group of MPs, on a subject of limited interest to the wider public, may seem like small beer.

But Mr Boles was right to be jubilant. He had been responsible for helping a large number of Conservative MPs to express their opposition to granting a highly responsible role in Parliament to a highly controversial and divisive organisation.

The findings of Dr Chris Allen, the Birmingham University academic commissioned by Simon Hughes to look into the affair are damning: "[i-Engage] rarely seem to differentiate between what might be legitimate criticism, what might be illegitimate criticism, and what might be rather more derogatory or Islamophobic. Without any critical differentiation, [i-Engage] responded in exactly the same way, failing to recognise the difference between legitimate and illegitimate criticism but more crucially the difference between criticism and Islamophobia."

I have always said that the work of the APPG on Islamophobia was too important for it to be hijacked by an outfit with such a question-able agenda. There was a serious risk that with i-Engage acting as its secretariat, anyone wanting to raise serious questions about extremist Muslim ideology would have been branded Islamophobic.

Anti-Muslim prejudice in this country is all too real and hopefully in the autumn the APPG on Islamophobia can finally get to work on providing some proposals for tackling it. Now that would be a great victory.

Last updated: 1:44pm, July 21 2011