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Blair backs banned Muslim scholar

The Guardian, USA
Aug. 31, 2005
Vikram Dodd
www.guardian.co.uk

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Wednesday August 31, 2005

A Muslim scholar accused by critics of sympathising with violence has been appointed to a government taskforce attempting to root out Islamic extremism in Britain, the Guardian has learned.

Professor Tariq Ramadan has been banned from entering the United States and France because of his alleged views supporting violence, allegations he strongly denies.

He faced a campaign of vilification from rightwing British newspapers, and last night some saw his inclusion on the group as evidence of the government’s willingness to stand up to the tabloids.

The taskforce, known as the working group on tackling extremism, is part of the government’s response to the July attacks on London, which was announced by Tony Blair.

A source with knowledge of the group’s work said its members had been chosen by the Home Office.

The 13-member working party will report to the home secretary and prime minister by late September and make proposals to stop British Muslims turning to violence.

His supporters say he is one of the leading Islamic thinkers and an important voice in improving relations between Muslims and the west.

The academic attended a meeting at the Home Office last week to discuss extremism among British Muslims as part of the group’s work.

The group is comprised of Muslims from community groups, academics and the MP Shahid Malik, and is staffed by Home Office civil servants.

Rightwing newspapers have called for the professor to be banned from Britain because of his alleged views justifying terrorism.

Last year he was stopped from taking up a post at a US university after the Bush administration revoked his visa claiming he “endorsed terrorist activity”.

Yesterday some hailed the appointment of Prof Ramadan to the committee, saying it showed the government was prepared to stand up to rightwing tabloids that had savaged the academic.

Sadiq Khan, Labour MP for Tooting, said: “It’s important for the government to listen to people who have scholarly knowledge of the issues.

“It sends all the right messages that the government is engaged in a real search for answers, rather than pandering to kneejerk elements in the rightwing press and their prejudices.”

One source present at last week’s meeting told the Guardian that Mr Ramadan’s contribution was “progressive” and he said there was a real need for Muslims to confront extremism and accept it exists.

Another source with knowledge of the setting up of the group said: “He brings understanding of Islam that young people respect.”

Prof Ramadan has said the French ban on him was successfully challenged in court and he now has an office there. He also says he has been invited to reapply for a US visa.

He is based in Switzerland and has lectured to senior police officers in Britain. He recently was appointed a visit fellow at an Oxford University college. The US-based Time magazine hailed him as one of the 21st century’s likely innovators.

A spokesman for the Board of Jewish Deputies said: “We have urged the government to exercise caution and responsibility in selecting participants for the taskforce which has a crucial role in tackling extremism.”

Mike Whine, spokesman for the Jewish Community Security Trust which monitors alleged Muslim extremists, said: “It’s a strange choice given his past statements which some have viewed as being anti-Jewish. Some of our community view him as extreme.

“He speaks with two voices, one for his European audience which appears moderate, and one for his Arab hinterland where he voices many of the demands of Islamists.

“He is at the soft end of the Islamist extreme spectrum.”

Last year Prof Ramadan wrote in the Guardian, defending himself against accusations of extremism, anti-semitism and despising women.

He wrote that he has called on Muslims to reject acts of extremism and added: “What about my statements, issued on September 13 2001, calling on Muslims to condemn the terrorist attacks … What about the articles in which I condemn anti-semitism.”

A Home Office spokesman would not confirm whether Prof Ramadan was part of the group tackling extremism. The membership is scheduled to be announced this week.

The Home Office spokesman said: “It’s part of the job of government ministers to talk and consult with people from different communities and that means they will routinely deal with people whose views they do not necessarily agree. The members of the working group are respected members of the Muslim community.”

Prof Ramadan is scheduled to appear at a Guardian fringe event at the Labour party conference in Brighton on September 28, and has appeared at past events organised by the Guardian with British Muslim communities.

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