Britain’s opposition Labour party has come under fire for inviting an extremist Islamist preacher to speak alongside two of its MPs at an anti-racism event.
Shakeel Begg – who a judge ruled in 2016 was an “extremist Islamist speaker who espouses extremist Islamic positions” – was invited for the event to “oppose Islamophobia and anti-Semitism”.
The event was organised by a London branch of the main opposition party and featured as guest speakers two local MPs, Janet Daby and Vicky Foxcroft, as well as Mr Begg, according to advanced advertising for the event on social media.
Neither Ms Foxcroft nor Mr Begg responded to requests for comment about their planned appearances at Tuesday evening’s event. “Janet Daby MP was not present at this meeting,” her office said in statement on Thursday.
“At one time…. a Member of Parliament could have been trusted to possess the judgement and the authority to break that circle of radicalisation,” said David Toube, director of policy at anti-extremism group Quilliam, in a blog. “She would have known that it is just wrong to ally with extremists in order to fight extremism. No longer.”
Mr Begg, the imam at the Lewisham Islamic Centre, south London, lost a libel case he brought against the BBC in 2016 which had described him as an extremist preacher. The judge found that he had in the past promoted and encouraged religious violence.
The case heard evidence that Mr Begg in 2009 had likened counter-terrorist officials to “the devil” and described them as “brutal, cunning and oppressive” and the “enemies of Islam”.
The judge described him as something of a “Jekyll and Hyde” character who presented a “benign” face to the local community and extremist face to “Muslim audiences on chosen occasions”.
He was caught by a television expose earlier this year insulting officials who supported the government’s anti-terrorism programme. He was secretly recorded describing its supporters as “House Muslims”, adapting a term used for black slaves in the United States.
In a witness statement for the libel case, Mr Begg admitted using the word Zionist and Jew in a way he understood “might lead people to believe that he was anti-Semitic”. He denied that he was.
This anti-racism meeting has followed two years of controversy over alleged anti-Semitism within the party. One of the party’s senior MPs faced disciplinary action, later dropped, after she called its leader Jeremy Corbyn an anti-Semite and racist.
London’s Metropolitan police force said last week that it had criminal investigation into allegations of antisemitism by party members. Its chief, Cressida Dick, said officer had reviewed a leaked party dossier detailing 45 incidents, including comments on social media. One said: “We shall rid the Jews who are a cancer on us all,” according to the dossier passed to radio station LBC.
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson told the BBC that the announcement of the police investigation was “thoroughly depressing” but said he was not surprised.
The party on Thursday declined to comment about the two MPs but said that combined efforts by communities and faith groups “is an essential part of the fight against the scourge of racism”.