Clancy demands urgent meeting with Lord Mayor-elect over ‘Cameron is Islamophobe’ slur
Muhammed Afzal, the Labour politician chosen to be Birmingham’s next Lord Mayor, has been ordered to an urgent meeting with city council leader John Clancy to explain why he made a speech reportedly denouncing the counter-terror programme Prevent as racist.
Clancy acted quickly after a newspaper carried details of a speech by Cllr Afzal, the chair of the Birmingham Central Mosque, to a Stand up to Racisim meeting in which he is said to have called the Prime Minister David Cameron an “Islamophobe” and described the Prevent initiative “a disgraceful piece of legislation”.
Cllr Afzal also appeared to deny claims by Downing Street that as many as 500 Britons have fled to Syria to join Isil terrorist forces. There was no evidence and in any case 500 was a very small proportion of the UK Muslim population, he said.
Cllr Afzal was reported to have called for a boycott of Prevent, claiming that the national programme which aims to identify and support people at risk of radicalisation is unfairly targeting Muslims including school children.
A clearly shocked Cllr Clancy said he was seeking urgent clarification from Cllr Afzal about the accuracy of the report in the Birmingham Mail.
The comments purported to have come from Cllr Afzal are particularly unfortunate since Cllr Clancy has several times underlined the importance of Prevent since becoming council leader on December 1 last year.
In a statement, the council leader said:
The first thing I must stress is that I do not agree with the reported comments, which in no way reflect the position of Birmingham City Council and I am seeking urgent clarification from Cllr Afzal.
We continue to work closely with our communities across the city, with colleagues in West Midlands Police and at the Home Office to ensure that neither intolerance nor fanatical extremism has a place in Birmingham.
In fact, one of the first things I did as leader of the city council was to request a full counter-terrorism briefing from West Midlands Police and earlier this month I attended the Contest Board to discuss this important issue.
I also recently joined 60 of my fellow councillors for a Prevent briefing. That figure underlines the importance of this issue and there was a shared cross-party determination to fight intolerance and extremism of any kind.
While I can understand community concerns around the current media focus on Muslim communities and Prevent, I can assure you that our approach covers all forms of extremism.
I must stress that I am yet to speak to Cllr Afzal about the reported comments, which were made in his capacity as Chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque.
Earlier this month it emerged that Labour city councilors had chosen Cllr Afzal to be the next Lord Mayor. He is due to be formally appointed at the annual council meeting in May.
But the tone of his speech has already attracted bitter criticism from Conservative and Liberal Democrat councilors who are threatening to abstain or vote against Cllr Afzal becoming Lord Mayor.
His chances now of becoming Lord Mayor probably rest on whether he can maintain strong support from Labour councillors despite the toxicity of his remarks.
Cllr Matt Bennett (Con, Edgbaston) said on twitter:
This doesn’t bode well for the next Lord Mayoralty. Appalling choice by the Labour group. there will always be the suspicion of politics lurking behind the back door once he is Lord Mayor.
Cllr Peter Douglas Osborn (Con Weoley) said:
The remarks reported to have been delivered by Cllr Afzal are extremely damaging to the reputation of Birmingham.
The Prevent programme is doing some sterling work, not just here but across the West Midlands.
Liberal Democrat sources indicated councillors are most unlikely to vote for Cllr Afzal to become Lord Mayor.
The Prevent programme has been extended by the Home Office to include Ofsted inspections of out-of-school education settings including madrassas – Islamic religious schools – which Cllr Afzal reportedly labelled ‘racist’.
Coun Afzal is reported to have said:
I think the Prime Minister is an Islamophobe, he never talks about anything else but Muslim extremism.
It is ridiculous that the government is saying Muslims are becoming radicalised. David Cameron says 500 people have gone to Syria to become radicalised, but where is the evidence? And out of a population of three million Muslims in the UK, what kind of percentage is that?
The government wants to inspect madrassas, which is racist. Ofsted are losing their neutrality and what we’ll find is that madrassas will be closing down under this legislation which is totally ridiculous.
We should oppose this legislation. Everyone should sign the petition and make individual efforts to resist it and tell your local MP to support us.
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