Activist who praised Isis killer Jihadi John has book promoted by National Lottery-funded group

Publicly funded group to hold discussion on 'I Refuse to Condemn', edited by Asim Qureshi


Asim Qureshi of campaign group Cage gestures as he addresses a press conference in London on February 26, 2015 in which he spoke of the history since 2009 of Kuwaiti-born London computer programmer Mohammed Emwazi, identified by experts and the media as masked Islamic State militant "Jihadi John". "Jihadi John", the masked Islamic State militant apparently responsible for beheading Western hostages, was named on February 26 by experts and the media. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at London's King's College, a leading resource for studying foreign jihadists, said it believed the identity "to be accurate and correct". AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

A campaigner who praised Hezbollah and Isis killer Jihadi John has had his book promoted by a group that received more than £500,000 in public money, angering MPs.

Influential think-tank Policy Exchange revealed that a “radical reading group” supported by a group that recieved National Lottery and British Council was to hold the discussion on I Refuse to Condemn, which was edited by Asim Qureshi, who has history of controversial statements.

At a 2006 rally held by the UK branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group that aims to unite all Muslims under one caliphate, Mr Qureshi said: “When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel we know what the solution is and where the victory lies.”

Mr Qureshi is research director of Cage, an advocacy group condemned as “apologists for terror” after he described Isis beheader Mohammed Emwazi in 2015 as “extremely kind, gentle and soft-spoken”.

In a BBC interview with Andrew Neil, also in 2015, Mr Qureshi repeatedly refused to condemn the statement by an Islamist scholar that Jews are descended from pigs, merely repeating that he was not a theologian.

The “reading group” is supported by Our Shared Cultural Heritage, a group coordinated by Manchester University sociologist Dr Sadia Habib, and the pressure group Decolonise UoM (University of Manchester).

Earlier this year, the anti-colonial collective called on the University of Manchester to divest from Tel Aviv University in order to oppose “racist violence”.

An open letter pushed by Decolonise UoM and signed by Dr Habib described the Israeli university as “an institution deeply implicated in racial violence and suffering”.

Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani criticised the National Lottery for funding OSCH, saying that it could bring the organisation into disrepute.

He said: “The Heritage Fund should not be associating with Cage. Nor should the British Council. Ministers need to be aware that these types of cases corrode public faith in our institutions.”

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood added: “The public deserves much better than this. The British Council exists to promote cultural understanding between peoples and a positive view of Muslims to showcase the best of Britain.

“Asim Qureshi and Cage have consistently shown themselves to be some of the worst.

“What is an organisation with a royal charter doing in such company?”

The National Lottery Heritage Fund told the JC: “In 2018, we awarded a grant of £689,260 to the British Council to deliver the ‘Our Shared Cultural Heritage’ project, which focuses on the shared cultural heritage of the UK and South Asia.”

The British Council said it did not provide funding for the reading event itself and its logo had been removed from the promotional materials.

Cage managing director Muhammad Rabbani told the JC: “The strength of our campaigns in accounting the government for its state-sanctioned Islamophobia and Institutional racism is underlined by the breadth of partners from across the political spectrum engaging positively with our work.

“Dr Asim Qureshi’s body of work demonstrates he is an advocate for justice and a committed campaigner against racism, including antisemitism.”

A British Council spokesperson said: “The British Council builds connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and other countries.

"We’re delighted to work in partnership with Manchester Museum to deliver Our Shared Cultural Heritage, a valuable youth-led project which explores the shared cultures and histories of the UK and South Asia.

"Thanks to funding provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, since 2019 the project has supported museums, community, and youth organisations in Glasgow and Manchester to create new opportunities for young people aged 11-25 from the South Asian diaspora and their peers.”

This article has been edited to reflect that the 'radical reading' group did not recieve British Council or National Lottery funds and to include a quote from a British Council spokesperson.

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