A series of Labour MPs, including party leader Jeremy Corbyn, have attended an event arranged by an organisation accused of having previously hosted “extremist Islamist speakers”.
Mr Corbyn was joined by Naz Shah, Stephen Kinnock, Wes Streeting, Afzal Khan and Kate Green at Wednesday evening’s event in Parliament organised by the Muslim Engagement and Development group (Mend). Shakira Martin, president of the National Union of Students, was also among the speakers at the event.
Mr Corbyn told the audience: “Our future lies in mutual respect between all communities.”
Referring to the terror attack outside Finsbury Park Mosque in his Islington constituency in the summer, the Labour leader added: “An attack on any one of us is an attack on all of us. The only future is to come together.”.
However, in a report published this week by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, Mend was accused of having “regularly hosted illiberal, intolerant and extremist Islamist speakers at public events”.
Marie Van der Zyl, vice president of the Board of Deputies, said at its monthly meeting on Sunday: “Mend is not an organisation we can work with.”
Jeremy Corbyn is also at this event, and speaks about the terror attack in his constituency and how children in schools had been traumatised pic.twitter.com/s1ppsSLJoH— Aisha S Gani (@aishagani) November 1, 2017
He says a number of women have spoken to him because they had been attacked on buses and trains just because they were identifiably muslim— Aisha S Gani (@aishagani) November 1, 2017
MPs Anna Soubry, Crispin Blunt, Sir Ed Davey and Joanna Cherry had been due to speak at the event, but pulled out after being alerted to the nature of statements made by Mend.
Ms Soubry said the organisation did not “have the best of reputations”, while the other three MPs issued a statement saying: “It has become clear there is controversy over Mend’s record and claims of links between the organisation and extremist views.”
Mr Streeting, Ilford North MP and vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, had been heavily criticised ahead of the meeting, which launched “Islamophobia Awareness Month”.
Maajid Nawaz, who founded the Quilliam counter-extremism think tank, condemned Mr Streeting and Mr Kinnock’s participation.
Mr Nawaz, speaking on his LBC radio show, said: “What are you two thinking? You should be ashamed of yourselves. There’s no way you should be involved with this organisation. If your colleagues have pulled out, what are you still doing involved with this event?”
But Mr Streeting said he viewed the meeting as an opportunity to debate how to counter Islamophobia.
He told the JC: “I’ve made tackling Islamophobia locally and nationally a personal priority and I welcome Islamophobia Awareness Month as an opportunity to debate what each of us can do to stamp out pernicious bigotry, which is why I agreed to speak at the launch.”
He said some of the reported comments made by people associated with Mend were “contested by the individuals concerned and Mend has both an opportunity and a responsibility to make it very clear what the organisation will and won’t stand for”.
He added: “It has been my experience at every local and national event I’ve attended, that Mend officials have talked about the importance of tackling antisemitism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice alongside Islamophobia, which is an approach I can support.”
Mr Streeting said it was not in his character or nature to “duck difficult conversations or debates”.
Before the event Mr Kinnock said: “I believe that one of my most important duties as a member of Parliament is to actively seek opportunities to engage with people with whom I disagree.”
He added that he would “not hesitate in calling them [Mend] out and challenging them on the numerous actions and comments that I find totally unacceptable".