Posted 26 November 2012. Updated 8 September 2014 and 14 May 2023.
Earlier this year while I was in Paris on a speaking engagement, a friend drew my attention to a piece posted on Harry's Place on 13 June 2012 titled "It's time to shut down the Conservative Muslim Forum" by Hasan Afzal. [14.5.2023 update - this article is no longer in the Harry's Place archive for June 2012.] Essentially the same piece can be found on Hasan Afzal's own website [8.9.2014 update - Hasan Afzal's website is no longer active] and on the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy website. [14.5.2023 update - this website is also no longer active]
The piece criticises the Conservative Muslim Forum as an organisation and also criticises its chairman Lord Sheikh as well as criticising me. Neither the Conservative Muslim Forum nor Lord Sheikh need me to defend them.
I always accept personal criticism philosophically, on the grounds that anyone saying anything worthwhile can expect to be criticised by someone. Consequently I have not felt any need to respond to the criticism until now. However I have decided that my silence could be taken to imply that I accept the interpretation Mr Afzal's piece puts on the facts. Accordingly I have written some corrections and amplifications below.
Reproduced below is the complete text criticising me, copied from the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy website earlier today, so that readers can see the remarks I will comment on in context.
Another individual at the Conservative Muslim Forum of note is Mohammed Amin. Mr Amin is a former accountant and one-time leadership contender of the Muslim Council of Britain. Mr Amin’s position at the Conservative Muslim Forum is Vice Chairman. In between retirement and opining pieces comparing British diplomatic relations with Israel to North Korea, his job at the CMF, it appears, is to undermine the Home Secretary’s position on campus extremism.
Mohammed Amin is a big fan of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS). FOSIS is a radical student organisation whose glittering alumni in their affiliated student societies includes a failed suicide bomber and quite a few successful ones too.
The Government has made its position on FOSIS very clear, and the Home Secretary has gone to impressive lengths in showing FOSIS that their tendency to occasionally turn students into genocidal terrorists means that they have an issue of credibility that rings through the corridors of Whitehall. As a result, Nabil Ahmed, a liar, who heads FOSIS has had to go jump through embarrassing hoops to garner a thread of trust in his organisation.
Mr Amin, however, is not consistent with this government’s policy. Mr Amin attended the FOSIS winter conference in 2011 to give a talk after the government stopped the Civil Service Fast Stream from giving a talk to the group. FOSIS used his appearance to undermine the Home Secretary and Mr Amin legitimised FOSIS in a way that is not helpful to stopping campus extremism.
At this year’s FOSIS Annual Conference, I can reveal the Conservative Muslim Forum will be ‘representing’ the Conservative Party, as they did last year alongside the far-left extremists of Labour Friends of Palestine and Middle East.
And this is Amin’s view on Interpal:
This relief charity operates mainly in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Wikipedia article on Interpal recounts the many times that it has wrongly been accused of funding terrorism. Despite my comments with regard to Islamic Relief and donating to only one large relief charity, I respond to the annual appeal I receive from Interpal primarily out of sympathy regarding this persecution.
Below I take each of the above points in turn.
Mr Afzal's text looks dramatic. I encourage readers to click through to my piece "An Israel for all Israelis" and read my comment in context.
FOSIS was established in 1963 and is the umbrella body connecting student Islamic societies. In practice if you wish to work with Muslim students you need to work with FOSIS, just as you need to work with the National Union of Students if you wish to work with students generally. That applies regardless of one's personal view of either organisation's policies or politics.
Mr Afzal links to a Daily Telegraph article reporting criticism of FOSIS in the Prevent Review. What he fails to mention is that I wrote a piece supportive of the Prevent Review on my website and on Conservative Home.
The implication is that my talk in some way replaced the Civil Service Fast Stream event. It did not. As reported in the Conservative Home piece, to which Mr Afzal has linked, the cancelled event was a recruitment event in October 2011.
I attended the FOSIS winter conference on 10 December 2011. I gave a short talk on how to think about one's career followed by questions and answers, running that same session to three groups of about 20 students each time.
My philosophical position is very simple. I do not believe you change people by ignoring or boycotting them.
My wife and I attended this conference on 30 June 2012 to encourage the students attending to take part in democratic politics and to consider the commonalities between Islamic values and the values of the Conservative Party. For us to be absent would leave the field clear for our political opponents.
Mr Afzal refers to the participation in the same exhibition of Labour Friends of Palestine and Middle East. They would be present to put their views to students regardless of whether the Conservative Muslim Forum was present or not.
Mr Afzal has copied an extract from my website, but failed to copy a link. The quote should be stated as below:
This relief charity operates mainly in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Wikipedia article on Interpal recounts the many times that it has wrongly been accused of funding terrorism. Despite my comments with regard to Islamic Relief and donating to only one large relief charity, I respond to the annual appeal I receive from Interpal primarily out of sympathy regarding this persecution .
The link is important as readers need to be able to click through to the Wikipedia article. [Update 14.5.2023 - a few years ago I ceased donating to Interpal. The reason is that in response to what I still consider to be persecution, financial institutions have stopped processing cheque or plastic card payments to it, and donating otherwise is just too problematical.]
A reader of Mr Afzal's piece would form an incomplete and distorted view of my political work and my personal views.
My work with the Conservative Muslim Forum is directed at encouraging democratic engagement by British Muslims with mainstream politics. For this reason I reach out to all types of groups and people so long as they do not advocate violence or criminal behaviour. As a continuation of this work, I mentor young people regarding their careers which also means going to where young people are such the FOSIS conference.
Finally I have been very proactive in encouraging Muslim Jewish dialogue which I regard as a crucial facet of my work and linked to my views on the Middle East.