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Paul Goodman, Shadow Community Cohesion spokesman in the Commons, unearths extraordinary Government evasion over a Muslim group and a contested London mosque scheme.

Tablighi Jamaat is a controversial organisation which wants to build a large mosque close to the site of the 2012 Olympic stadium.  Its critics claim that it’s associated with extremism and terrorism.  Ministers may have a view on these claims – but, if so, won’t say what it is.

The Editor’s kindly allowed me to share with ConservativeHome readers how I unearthed this strange Government policy position (or lack of one).

Earlier this year, Conservative MPs began to receive letters which cited these claims.  Shadow Ministers were asked for a view.  Obviously, we don’t have access to the same security advice as Ministers, so the sensible course to take was to write to the Government asking for its view on the record.

I sent an enquiring letter to Hazel Blears, the DCLG Secretary.  The reply that I received from Parmjit Dhanda, the Community Cohesion Minister, took us a bit further.  It confirmed “that there’s no current planning application before Newham Council” (which we knew); said that the site “suffers from a number of development constraints” and that “the Council does not expect a planning application in the near future” (which was interesting), and that “Tablighi Jamaat is not proscribed and I’m sure you will understand that it is Government policy not to comment on organisations or groups that are not proscribed”.

This last claim was puzzling.  This is because it was clearly
inconsistent with Parliamentary answers on the record from David
Blunkett, when Home Secretary; from Charles Clarke, when Home
Secretary; from Bill Rammell, when a Foreign Office Minister; from Kim
Howells, now a Foreign Office Minister and, not least, from Gordon
Brown himself.

All these answers concerned the notorious organisation
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which David Cameron wants banned.  Indeed, David
quizzed Brown about a ban at his first Prime Minister’s questions.
Readers will remember that it was on this occasion that Brown
confessed, to the astonishment of those watching, that he’d “only been
in the job five days”.

So I wrote back to Dhanda, citing the Ministerial quotes, and
adding: “I can only assume…that the Government’s view at present is
that Tablighi Jamaat isn’t associated with extremism or terrorism, and
will do so unless or until I receive a contrary opinion from you”.

I must assume from what followed that this latest letter set alarm
bells ringing in Whitehall.  For I received a further reply not from
Dhanda, but from Tony McNulty, the Security Minister.

McNulty wrote, with regard to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, that “as you correctly
note, the Government has commented on Hizb ut Tahrir.  The publicity
surrounding this group and their possible consideration for
proscription was the main reason why the Government has chosen to make
limited comment on them”.

It surely follows that since Tablighi Jamaat has also been
surrounded by publicity recently, and since Ministers won’t comment on
the organisation, that it hasn’t been considered for proscription.

But wait.  McNulty’s letter also said:  “Parmjit’s response…stated
that Tablighi Jamaat was not proscribed as a terrorist organisation.  I
realise that this may be unhelpful, but you should not make any
inferences from this as to the Government’s wider views of the
organisation, either that they are or are not associated with extremism
or terrorism”.

He went on to set out criteria for proscription.  These include:
“the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the specific
threat it poses to the United Kingdom; the specific threat it poses to
British nationals overseas; the organisation’s presence in the United
Kingdom; and the need to support other members of the international
community in tackling terrorism”.

So what can we conclude from all this?  I suggest the following.

First, that Ministers may nor may not have a view on whether Tablighi Jamaat is associated with extremism or terrorism.

Second, that if they believe that Tablighi Jamaat is associated with either or both, they’ve none the less not proscribed it.

Third, that they won’t say anything about anything.

And fourth, that no inference is to be drawn from the fact that they won’t say anything about anything.
In
conclusion, perhaps all I can say for the moment is that our enquiries
continue.  The voter-on-the-street could be forgiven for believing that
this is a strange way for a Government to run a security policy.

8 comments for: Paul Goodman MP: They may be terror-linked but we won’t comment

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