Letters between the home office and a high-profile muslim group reveal that the government has given at least £150,000 to it. The muslim council of Britain (MCB), led at the time by Sir Iqbal Sacranie, received the grant after asking the government for £500,000, according to correspondence disclosed under the freedom of information act (FOIA).
The financial relationship between the group and the home office is bound to raise questions – especially among muslims – about the MCB’s independence from the government.
However, correspondence between Sacranie and a home office minister shows that he has been critical of the government.
Ministers have seen the MCB, which in June 2006 elected Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari to replace Sacranie as secretary general, as the organisation through which to reach out to Britain’s muslim population in the wake of the September 11 attacks in America and the bombings in London last July.
However, some British muslims complain that the MCB does not speak for them.
In February last year, a policy advisor at the home office’s ‘cohesion and faith’s unit’ (CFU) sent a letter to the MCB’s treasurer, Dr Akber Mohamedali, offering the group a grant of £148,160 for the financial year ending the following March.
The money was to fund five projects that the MCB had proposed: MCB leadership development programme; MCB leadership mentoring programme; MCB direct, a web portal for information on islam and muslims; British citizenship programme; and British muslim equality programme.
The home office set out a series of terms and conditions for the grant, including: “MCB will contribute to policy development work by attending meetings, submitting ideas, debating issues, etc, which may need to be on a strictly confidential basis.”
“MCB will be prepared to work in partnership with CFU on the development and implementation of policy initiatives.
“MCB will act as a source of expertise and exp-erience to government on issues relevant to the work of the organisation.”
The MCB had submitted, in January last year, a £500,000 bid to fund the programmes in a proposal entitled, “British muslims: from alienation to engagement.”
The proposal says: “There is now a growing body of evidence that British muslim communities suffer some of the sharpest forms of both race and religious discrimination and disadvantage. They are, however, inadequately protected from either.”
“It is suggested that this defining experience of muslims, of discrimination and disadvantage, often leads to detachment and alienation from the mainstream of British society.
“This alienation has been further fuelled more re-cently – in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 – by a backlash of increased levels of islamophobia in all sections of society, the over-zealous use by law enforcement agencies of new draconian anti- terrorism provisions resulting in a disproportionate impact on muslims, the intense focus of the media on muslims as the ‘enemy within’, the gains of the far right across Europe and Britain’s role in the ‘war on terrorism’ in muslim countries.
“The level of alienation is in some cases so high that it results in not just ‘parallel lives’ but such high levels of disaffection as to threaten the kind of disorder experienced in some northern cities in 2001. It also helps the recruitment of young men by extremist tendencies.”
“Much is already underway on different fronts to address the British muslim experience and what may be brewing just below the surface as a result.
“The government’s new strategy on race, faith and community cohesion will not only add to these activities but also provide a more coherent framework for them. The purpose of the initiatives proposed in this bid is to complement those activities from within the muslim community.”
The released correspondence shows that, since being offered the £150,000 grant, the MCB has sought more funding from the home office.
In one e-mail from Mohamedali to a home office official last August, the MCB makes a bid for another £35,000, including £9,300 for “an incident monitoring service” and £5,000 for the MCB’s website.
He writes: “Home office funded developing the merged MCB website, which is completed and ready for testing and then going live. This will enable the community at large to access the work and services of the MCB in a much more user-friendly way.” The additional £5,000 is “to get the merged MCB website technically tested and go live on the web.”
The released correspondence does not include the response to this further bid.
The financial relationship between the MCB and the home office did not stop Sacranie from criticising the government’s response to the terrorist threat in the wake of the July attacks in London in a letter last August to Hazel Blears, then a home office minister.
He wrote that the MCB remained committed to working with the government to defeat terrorism. “However, we are concerned that the current proposed strategy will not be the most effective in dealing with this problem.”
“The starting point must be for the government to institute a full statutory judicial inquiry into the terroristic incidents of July 7 and July 21.”
The government continues to refuse calls for such an inquiry.
Comment on this article