|Mrs Ruth Kelly MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Elland House, Bressenden Place
London, SW1E 5DU
Dear Secretary of State,
I was not able to attend your speech 'Britain: our values, our responsibilities' on Wednesday Oct 11th. I only came to be notified by a DCLG official about your talk the evening before, and I found that the timing clashed with a meeting I already had in my diary between a delegation from the MCB and the Home Secretary, Dr John Reid (a meeting which turned out to be very constructive).
Anyhow, I have now been able to read your entire speech and would like to offer the following observations:
a) We fully share your conviction that core values such as respect for the law, freedom of speech, equality of opportunity, respect and responsibility for others, should be adhered to and defended by all sections of British society.
b) The Muslim Council of Britain, as the UK's largest and most diverse independent Muslim umbrella body, has since its inception in November 1997 sought to develop a British Muslim discourse centred on the themes of integration, higher educational attainment and working for the common good of all British citizens. In the past nine years, we have launched successful initiatives in schools, prisons, hospitals, mosques and local communities due to our longstanding partnership with over 400 affiliated Muslim organisations across the country. We have a democratically elected leadership whose members are elected every two years and we believe the MCB's grassroots structure and resilience is unparalleled among Muslim organisations in the West.
It is important for you to be aware that the MCB, since its inception as a national representative body, has participated fully in all national events and ceremonies. We are also fully involved in our great national projects, such as the bid for the 2012 Olympics. In fact, two senior members of the MCB were Britain's Olympic bid ambassadors. Lately, I was privileged to be appointed as a board member of LOCOG (London Organising Committee of Olympic Games.) How do you think it was that Lord Coe was able to draw upon London's record of diversity and confident faith and ethnic communities in convincing the Olympic judges of the merit of our bid? Such positive statements could only be made because of the extensive network of partnerships forged by the formidable Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and faith bodies like the MCB, over a number of years.
We take note of your statement `It is not good enough to pay mere lip service to fighting extremism. I want a fundamental rebalancing of our relationship with Muslim organizations from now on'. We note too, Secretary of State, your speech at the launch of a sectarian Muslim body on 19th July 2006, where you stated, `that is why we are looking to organizations and individuals across Muslim communities to be vocal and challenge the ideology of extremists'. The inescapable and preposterous intimation behind these two remarks, when taken together, appears to be that mainstream Muslim organizations including the MCB have been half-hearted in confronting extremists. This is demonstrably untrue and deeply insulting.
We have noted your decision on funding and engagement with some amazement and deep concern. It appears clear to us that the publicly announced 'shift' in your policy regarding funding is arguably unlawful. The indication that only those organisations that agree with your particular strategy as the best way to fight extremism will receive your favours is another way of saying that only those who support your government can expect to receive public funds. Access to public funds should not and cannot be dependent on such considerations as on who is and who is not attending the Holocaust Memorial Day. As a responsible representative organisation the MCB has a duty to represent and reflect the views of its constituents fairly and if those views are unpalatable to the government of the day, so be it. The legal framework and traditions of our country do not allow the government to be vindictive or punitive in the use of public funds. As part of our constitutional duty to work for the common good of British society as a whole and our Islamic commitment to seek justice, the MCB will not be deflected from its duty or commitment to social cohesion and a just society by the possibility of being treated less favourably and unfairly by the government. .....
Full text of MCB Letter to Secretary of State Ruth Kelly, 14th October 2006 (pdf)
Dr Daud Abdullah in The Guardian, 17th October 2006, 'Incitement to Violence'