BY ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS
Jack Straw is well known to be a fan of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), and today the Times has revealed the extent of his dealings with them.
According to today’s report:
A secret MI5 report on Islamic extremism in Blackburn has raised “potential concerns” about some radical Muslim factions known to Jack Straw, the local MP and justice secretary.
A senior security figure who has seen the report said it underlined concern among cabinet colleagues that Straw could be “too close” to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), a prominent Muslim umbrella group. The government formally severed links with the group after a blazing row over extremism earlier this year.
“Jack’s a bit too close to the MCB – he sometimes appears to suggest they are the only game in town. There is a concern that proximity to them may colour [his] judgment,” the insider said.
The Mi5 report suggests that the noose is tightening around both the MCB’s extremist connections and government ministers who have been championing them. It’s about time…
When Hazel Blears tried to distance the government from the MCB after the Istanbul statement revelations, most of the resistance to this within Labour came from Straw’s camp.
In a recent interview with the Jewish Chronicle, Communities Secretary John Denham suggested that the door was still open for the MCB, although he was heavily critical of their support for the pro jihad Istanbul Statement. His conciliatory approach to the MCB is based on the same mistaken assumption made by Jack Straw that the MCB actually represent a large number of UK muslims, as he told the JC: “I think we do recognise that the Muslim Council of Britain does represent and includes a lot of voices the government would like to engage with.”
As the Spittoon blog showed us a couple of months ago, the MCB’s claim to represent around 550 Muslim organisation is disingenuous. Many of the affiliate organisations listed on their site are either duplicates, run by the same people or no longer active. Compared with how many UK Muslim groups exist, the MCB represent a tiny – and as we have seen often fringe and extreme – section.
There is also the issue of government engagement with communities based first and foremost on what particular religion they follow. For many this is a flawed approach, and rather than engaging with, for example, the Blackburn Muslim community, perhaps it would be more effective (and less sectarian) to engage with the Blackburn Gujarati community instead. This was a point made recently by Tory Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling when he told the Jewish Chronicle that ”Public money should not be supporting the Bradford Muslim football league or the Leeds Jewish football league. It should be supporting the Yorkshire Boys’ football league. It should be seeking to bring different groups together and foster understanding rather than accentuating divides.” We can only hope that this attitude will shape a future Tory government’s community engagement policies.