The Conservatives have been accused of an “astonishing” attack on free speech and “demonising” Muslims after officials banned an event at their conference in Manchester because it had links to two Islamic charities.
The Muslim Charities Forum and Human Appeal International helped organise the fringe meeting on the role of Muslim charities in Britain, along with the national organisation that represents UK charities.
It was due to be held on Tuesday inside the Tory conference and was going to be addressed by the Conservative Muslim peer Baroness Mobarik along with the chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo), Sir Stephen Bubb, and Othman Moqbel, the chief executive of Human Appeal.
But on Sunday conference organisers informed Acevo they were banning the event without providing any explanation. While the Tories refused to explain the ban, the charities involved said it related to an article published by The Telegraph which claimed Mr Moqbel and his charity had links to Hamas.
This is categorically denied by the charity, which is funded by the World Food Programme and has an annual income of £20m. The Charity Commission has said that neither MCF, an umbrella organisation for Muslim charities, nor Human Appeal International, were under any investigation.
The decision to ban the meeting was condemned by the Conservative peer and former minister Baroness Warsi, who warned that it reflected a wider Tory failure to engage with British Muslim organisations. “There is a deeply disturbing agenda and among sections of the media and some politicians which is attempting to discredit almost every Muslim organisation and individual who puts their head above the parapet,” she said. “In doing so it further disengages and alienates a community of over three million people. There are real challenges that the British Muslim community faces but these cannot be resolved if we continue with these policies of disengagement and disempowerment. Dangerous games are being played here.”
The decision was also criticised by Sir Stephen, who has been instrumental in helping Muslim charities improve their governance. He said it was a direct attack on free speech and further evidence of the Tories’ instinct to “demonise rather than engage” with the Muslim community.
“The decision by Conservative Party organisers to cancel an important debate on the role of Muslim charities in our country is astonishing,” he said. “To shut the doors of the nation’s governing party to this discussion is a deeply disturbing development. It alienates rather than involves.
“In the fight against terrorism, to ignore any engagement is to fight with one hand tied behind the back. We need to support Muslim charities’ role in community leadership against extremism, not reject them.”
The article in The Telegraph claimed that Human Appeal “co-hosted” two events to which extremist speakers were invited. However, the charity said that it had no involvement in organising either event.
The paper also claimed that the Muslim Charities Forum had been condemned by the former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles as “linked to individuals who fuel hatred, division and violence”. However, the full statement from Mr Pickles did not link MCF with extremism.
A spokeswoman for the Conservative Party refused to comment on the rationale for cancelling the event: “The event has been cancelled. We are not saying anything else.”
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