The government should lay down conditions for dealing with organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, a parliamentary inquiry has been told by the Board of Deputies.
In a joint submission with the Community Security Trust to the Commons’ Communities and Local Government Committee, the Board wrote: “Any future engagement with umbrella groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain must be contingent on them representing a greater range of views than those of the Islamists, and firmly rejecting violence in all circumstances, including in overseas conflicts.”
It noted that individuals from the MCB and some British mosques had signed the Istanbul Declaration earlier this year which “contained within it implicit threats of violence against the Royal Navy or warships of UK allies, against Israel and against British Jews in the UK,” the Board declared.
“There is no long-term value in building partnerships with those whose attitude towards violent jihad is contingent upon circumstance.”
The committee launched an inquiry in the summer into the govermment’s anti-extremism Prevent programme, which has a scheduled £60-plus million budget over four years to 2011. But the Board said that local authorities allocating the money “seldom have sufficient expertise to determine who is extremist and who is not”.
Government policy should also recognise that there were differences between preventing extremism and encouraging social cohesion, the Board argued.
“Many Muslims may not be integrated, and may promote ideas that are antithetical to community cohesion, but are non-violent and are repelled by Islamism and Salafi jihadism. It is well to remember that the lead members of the 7/7 and Operation Crevice conspiracies came from well-integrated backgrounds.”
It went on: “Neither is speaking English or wearing the veil the real issue. The issue is confronting an extremist and alien political ideology which promotes the supremacy of Islam over other faiths and democratic political systems, a core belief in antisemitism and the use of violence to achieve its ends.”
In its own submission to the inquiry, the MCB said that it had “long spoken out against terrorism and violent extremism. Ever since the atrocities of September 11 2001, the MCB has initiated statements and campaigns to speak out against the scourge of terrorism.”
It added: “Our message ever since 9/11 has been unequivocal and focused — to call on all members of society to eschew criminality and participate positively in society.”
But it said the Prevent policy was “counter-productive” and that far from preventing extremism, it had “prevented cohesion”.
It referred to a recent letter it had sent to Communities Secretary John Denham raising concerns that the programme’s agenda views Muslims as the “suspect community”.
Arguing that Prevent should go “beyond and away from narrow security concerns”, it called for fresh thinking “on the renewal of democratic processes to make Britain a better nation by strengthening civil society.”
In its submission, the MCB also noted: “There seems to have been an expectation that community bodies, by showing ‘leadership’, can wave a magic wand and ask young people to remain oblivious to international political developments at the root of the frustration — not least the injustice in Palestine that has lasted well-nigh 60 years.”