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Afzal shoots the messenger in desperate bid to save his mayoralty

Afzal shoots the messenger in desperate bid to save his mayoralty

🕔01.Feb 2016

Muhammad Afzal has launched a last-ditch attempt to remain Lord Mayor elect with an extraordinary attack on the Birmingham Mail’s coverage of remarks he made about the Prevent counter-terror strategy.

In a 1,400-word email to Labour councillors, Cllr Afzal denounced the Mail, insisting he had been misquoted and misrepresented following a speech he delivered to an anti-racism rally.

Labour councillors meet tonight and are likely to withdraw Cllr Afzal’s nomination as the next Lord Mayor after council leader John Clancy said he should no longer be the first citizen.

In his email Cllr Afzal seeks to make a distinction between what the Mail reported him as saying – “I think the Prime Minister is an Islamophobe, he never talks about anything else but Muslim extremism” – and what he says he actually said – “I think the Prime Minister himself has got too much Islamophobia. He keeps on talking about extremists, extremists, extremists.”

Cllr Afzal tells Labour councillors:

It is clear that the Mail failed to accurately report what I actually said and you have to ask why they have done this. If there is no difference between the words I said ‘the Prime Minister has got too much Islamophobia’ and what they argue I said, ‘the Prime Minister is an Islamphobe’, then why did they not report it accurately?

It is because there is a difference. Again, please note that in its Editorial, the Mail then stated accurately that I said the Prime Minister has got too much Islamophobia.

However, Cllr Afzal admits:

I was unwise as the Labour nominee to have said this and I should have chosen my words more carefully.

He repeatedly states in the email that he has always supported the principles of Prevent, although he has some concerns about the way the programme is being carried out in practice.

He claims his desire to “serve Birmingham’s citizens” as Lord Mayor “has been undermined” by media coverage of his speech at the Stand up to Racism rally at the Central Mosque, where he is the chairman.

He denies calling for a boycott of Prevent, but concedes he acted naively by allowing himself to be photographed standing next to a ‘No to Prevent’ banner.

Seeking to promote his mayoral credentials, Cllr Afzal adds:

My actions over a number of years show my support for the principle of Prevent. Like others, including the Birmingham Mail, I have reservations about how it is being implemented but I am fully behind the principle.

With Birmingham Central Mosque, I have taken a key leadership position in the Muslim community to support the important and valuable work by West Midlands Police, West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit and Birmingham City Council on Preventing Violent Extremism, tackling discrimination and encouraging even greater community cohesion.

I support anti-terrorism and anti-extremism in any form or shape. I therefore believe the principle of a project to combat extremism is only correct. I have a long history of working with the Police and other agencies to support the Prevent agenda. It does, however, require some improvements if it is to be more effective.

He goes on to warn Labour councillors that if they withdraw the mayoral nomination he would be removed “because I challenged the Birmingham Mail for running a misleading headline which said I called for a boycott of the racist Prevent programme.

He adds:

Most importantly, the decisions made by us as councillors should be our decisions alone. Such decisions should not be influenced by the press, or any others who may have a vested interest in the outcome of our decisions.

We are elected to consider these issues, and to make these choices ourselves based on what we believe is right for our City of Birmingham. I regret the ensuing negative coverage of my comments, which as I have explained have been misrepresented.

Meanwhile, the Birmingham Central Mosque has released a statement denying claims that Cllr Afzal made inappropriate remarks about forced marriages and domestic violence.

Mosque leaders say they were “surprised and saddened” by the allegations made by Shaista Gohir and Shahin Ashraf of the Muslim Women’s Network that Cllr Afzal sought to minimise the issue of domestic abuse at a meeting in December.

We strongly refute the allegations made by Ms. Gohir that Mr. Afzal made light of the fact that women are less likely to suffer domestic abuse than men.

We would also like to state that the allegations Mr. Afzal sought to link domestic abuse as an issue specific to Christianity, and claims that the basis of this is due to drunkenness, are completely false.

It is categorically untrue that Mr. Afzal or the Mosque would denigrate any other religion or make any racial slurs against people of other faiths. The Mosque recognises that the issues of domestic abuse and forced marriages are long-standing and substantial, and that Mosques can play a key role in helping to address this within Muslim communities and beyond.

We further believe that domestic abuse and forced marriages have no place in any civilised society and we condemn them in the strongest way possible.

Ms Gohir reacted to the Mosque statement via Twitter:

Absolutely disgusted with Birmingham Central Mosque – have denied what they said to us! Have just read their statement! All trustees need to go!

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