Cameron’s “Community Engagement Forum”: From the irrelevant to the toxic

The Community Engagement Forum meeting at Downing Street

Blogger Ibrahim Khan argues that David Cameron’s new Community Engagement Forum should really be called the “Community Disengagement Forum.” 

We have a problem in this country  - radicalisation -  and as someone with teenage siblings I am very keen on the problem being tackled by the Government. But instead David Cameron has delivered the latest episodic fiasco in his counter-terrorism omnishambles, his Muslim Community Engagement Forum.

The way I see it, the whole point of engaging with a community is done for two reasons. Firstly, it is symbolic for “I actually give a toss”, and secondly, it gives you an idea of what the community’s views are on the problem and how it should be addressed.

The first one is particularly easy to achieve. All you have to do is go to a Muslim area - let’s say the East End of London as it’s close to Parliament - and take some pictures of yourself talking to some Muslims.

But remarkably Cameron managed to screw even that up. In his Community Engagement Forum he includes a Michael Nazir-Ali, a Bishop who has previously helpfully given Muslims the religious guidance that he “can see nothing in Islam that prescribes the wearing of the full-face veil” and accused Muslims of “hypocrisy” and “double-standards”.

Continuing in this non-Muslim theme he also includes Lord Ahmad of the Ahmadiyya community as his Minister for Countering Extremism. The same Ahmadiyya community whom 99% of Muslims regard as not Muslims.

It would be akin to appointing Tom Cruise, he of Church of Scientology fame, as a Lord Spiritual in the House of Lords to represent Christendom’s views to the Government. Or Tom to represent Jerry as Small Mammal Delegate in the Animal Parliament.

Now I don’t have anything against the Ahmadi sect, and there’s nothing against them being on such a Forum. But when they are massively over-represented and your Minister is drawn from them, then the message of “inclusivity” is drowned out in the loud implicit message “we’ll engage with only those who agree with us.”

And of course there is nothing wrong with having non-Muslims on a consultation about engagement with the Muslim community  – but it does help to choose people who Muslims actually get along with. Otherwise stated Objective One of consultation - “I actually give a toss” -  goes down the pan.

The Muslim names

Then you have the Muslim names — and to be honest with names like these I’d rather the Prime Minister stick a load more bishops in there.

Haras Rafiq is on board, head of the Quilliam Foundation, that remarkable organisation that has done what none before it have managed to achieve - uniting all warring factions of the Muslim community in a singularly intense, bilious hatred for their organisation.

Their greatest claim to fame is de-radicalising Tommy Robinson, who, judging by his Twitter antics, is more radical than ever before. Their two most famous names are two supposed “ex-extremists” Ed Hussain (who has left the organisation) and Maajid Nawaz -  individuals who will be placed on Cameron’s proposed ex-extremist register I presume, and barred from working with children like sex offenders are.

Then there is Sara Khan from Inspire. A woman who has shot to fame because she, as a Muslim, is willing to come onto mainstream media and say things about the Muslim community that neo-cons would like to say but can’t.

So when the rest of the Muslim community is criticising the Government for acting on the Trojan Horse hoax, she is fuelling the flames. When the rest of the Muslim community are outraged that the Government wants to stop volitional gender segregation, she is toeing the Government line. When the rest of the community (and human rights organisations) are vehemently criticising PREVENT, she is fully on-board.

David Cameron talking to some Muslims
David Cameron talking to some Muslims

I should also add that it has recently emerged that Sara Khan’s organisation is paid through PREVENT funds and a prominent Muslim MP has said that Inspire and the Quilliam Foundation should be called before Parliament to justify their use of public money. Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, also claimed that Inspire and Quilliam were “the most loathed organisations amongst Muslim communities.”

Anyway, for your edification here is a full list of members of the so-called Community Engagement Forum:

 

• The Prime Minister
• The Home Secretary
• Lord Ahmad, Minister for Countering Extremism
• Louise Casey, leading a review for the Prime Minister into boosting opportunity and integration
• Arooj Shah, Labour councillor in Oldham
• Sean Harriss, Chief Executive of Lambeth and the ex Chief Executive of Bolton
• Paul Martin, Chief Executive of Wandsworth Council.
• Sheikh Musa Admani, Imam and Muslim chaplain at City University, London
• Fareed Ahmad, National Security External Affairs for Ahmadiyya.
• Farooq Aftab, General Secretary, Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association
• Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester
• Ms Khatun Sapnara, Bangladeshi-born British judge.
• Aina Khan, family law solicitor.
• Fiyaz Mughal OBE, Director of Faith Matters
• Sadja Mughal OBE, Director of the Jan Trust
• Haras Rafiq, Managing Director of the Quilliam Foundation.
• Sara Khan, Co-founder and Director of Inspire.
• Wahida Shaffi, Near Neighbours Coordinator and the National Women’s Programme Lead with the Christian Muslim Forum
• Ms Faiza Vaid, Executive Director of the Muslim Women’s Network
• Aysha and Kiran Iqbal Patel, Directors of Odara
• Kamal Hanif OBE, executive head at Waverley School in Birmingham
• Alun Francis, Principal and Chief Executive of Oldham College

Actually engaging the community

I could go on, but the point has been made: The Community Engagement Forum is not representative of the vast majority of Muslim voices. The corollary of this is that Objective Two -  actually finding out what Muslims think and solutions they propose and would accept -  is completely defeated.

Cameron might turn around say, “well it’s all well and good you saying these guys are unrepresentative, but do you really want us to engage with the deeply conservative, Shariah-law loving, Caliphate-desiring proto-extremists?”

Yes, David Cameron, I do. You see, it is ordinary Muslims whose teenagers are being radicalised and it is ordinary Muslims whose families and lives are being torn apart by this ISIS plague. That means you must talk to these ordinary Muslims - however socially conservative and unpalatable you may find their world view (and you’ll find you don’t understand these views properly anyway).

I find your views deeply unpalatable and anti-human-rights and yet I am willing to talk to you because that’s how society works. One talks to people with different views if that is what is required to achieve a solution.

David, you must come up with an authentic solution that young Muslims can buy into - and that fails from the get-go if you are getting advice from your Community Exclusion.. sorry Engagement Forum.

You can follow Ibrahim’s blog here and you can find him on Twitter @ibrahimkhan

Add your comments below