British Foreign Office Under Fire for Engaging With Radical Muslims

By Kevin McCandless | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

London ( - The British government has drawn too close to the radical international Islamic movement, a prominent think tank here has charged.

Drawing on previously confidential documents, the conservative Policy Exchange said at a press conference the British Foreign Office has decided to "engage with" extremist Islamic figures in the Middle East.

Martin Bright, who authored a report for the think tank, cited official papers he said had been provided by an anonymous source showing that the foreign office considered talking to groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood to be necessary if reform was to take place in the region.

In a position paper circulated last summer, two Foreign Office consultants argued that G8 governments had to enter dialogue with these movements -- which call for the creation of an Islamic state -- if the West was to avoid a "clash of civilizations."

"If we are serious about reform in the Middle East, we must do business with those who are struggling to relate their faith [to] the world as it is," wrote authors Richard Murphy and Basil Eastwood.

In May, the British government revealed that it had since September 2001 been in contact with members of the Muslim Brotherhood who sit in the Egyptian Parliament, and also with representatives of the same organization based in Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon.

Bright said this policy had also led to the government letting two controversial figures into the country within the last year.

On July 14 2005, a week after the terrorist attacks on London, a Foreign Office advisor on Islamic affairs, Mockbul Ali, wrote that the Home Office -- which handles visas -- should let Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, visit the United Kingdom.

An Egyptian-born scholar based in Qatar, Qaradawi has controversially written in praise of Palestinian suicide bombers and urged Muslims to fight against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Ali argued that Qaradawi had also condemned the London bombings and that he was a popular figure whose views were shared by many Muslims in Britain.

"We certainly do not agree with Qaradawi's views on Israel and Iraq, but we have to recognize that they are not unusual or even exceptional amongst Muslims. In fact it is correct to say that these are views shared by a majority of Muslims in the Middle East and the UK," Ali wrote.

"To act against Qaradawi would alienate significant and influential members of the global Muslim community."

Ali also approved the visit last September of Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, a Bangladeshi lawmaker who reputedly preaches violence against the West.

Ali said that while Sayeedi might be regarded as "very conservative," he also had a large following and could be regarded as "mainstream."

Following the release of the Policy Exchange report, a British television channel is set to broadcast a documentary Friday on the subject, co-produced by Bright.

Bright said Wednesday it was important that the government shift from talking to extremist groups that it sees as "mainstream" to engaging with genuinely moderate and liberal voices.

Otherwise, the government would be giving credibility to groups and figures who had previously been considered marginal, he warned.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has condemned Muslim extremism in all its forms. Bright speculated that the Foreign Office had been working without his approval or knowledge.

"The Foreign Office has a tradition of mounting its own operations and I think that's the case here," he said.

A Foreign Office spokesman on Wednesday declined to comment, citing a department policy on not discussing leaked material.

Haras Rafiq, a member of a taskforce on extremism set up by the Home Office after the 7/7 bombings and comprising scholars, imams and community representatives, said Wednesday he was frustrated by the government's tendency to talk solely to a small number of Islamic groups, most of whom were heavily religious.

"I'm afraid of my children becoming radicalized," he said. "I'm not the only one."

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