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Corbyn attends Islamophobia event, as hosts deny 'extremism' claims

The Labour leader backed Islamophobia Awareness Month and told MEE 'We have to drive out racism in any form from our society'
A protester holds a sign which reads " Islamophobia is not freedom" outside the French Embassy in London on 25 August 2016 (AFP)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attended the launch of Islamophobia Awareness Month last night, as the organisation that hosts it moved to fend off claims of “extremism” which caused other MPs to pull out.

Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend), an anti-Islamophobia NGO, came under fire this week as MPs from the leading political parties pulled out of the event after reports accusing it of extremism emerged at the weekend.

Mend’s rebuttal of the claims comes as a right-wing think tank published a report which accused the group of “crossing the line into extremism”.

The report by the Henry Jackson Society - whose associate director was accused of Islamophobia after saying that the UK needs "less Islam" if it is to reduce terrorism -  describes Mend as “Islamists masquerading as civil libertarians” and says that Mend has hosted intolerant speakers.

The report also produced a charge sheet against individual staff members, and claims that Mend officials have advocated a strategy of mobilising a Muslim vote, and telling voters that it could sway an election result. The report also chides Mend’s opposition to the Prevent counter-terrorism policy and refers to articles published on MEE.

“Mend’s messaging on both counter-terrorism and counter-extremism legislation, as well as on Islamophobia, seems to have intentionally set out to persuade Muslims that there is a conspiracy being waged against them and their faith, one that is being implemented by the British government in collaboration with sinister and powerful interest groups. Anti-Semitic insinuations have emerged often in this narrative,” the report says.

Shazad Amin, Mend’s CEO, told MEE: “The fact that it was published on the eve of Islamic Awarenees month is not a coincidence. This is not the first time they’ve attacked us. The fact that they’ve done this shows that they’re seeing us as a serious organisation in tackling Islamophobia. We deny vehemently the charges of anti-Semitism and homophobia and we will be responding in full to these allegations.

“Our work will continue. We have to take note of what happened at our Parliamentary event and reflect on that in respect of our work with MPs in the future. We need to ensure that we fully explain the reasons as to why we are attacked in this way and the political context in which it occurs.”

'We have to drive out racism'

The allegations did not deter Labour MPs from the event, with Naz Shah, Wes Streeting, and Stephen Kinnock, who hosted the event at parliament, also attending. A representative from the Metropolitan Police also attended, as did the office of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.

Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke at the event that marks the beginning of a month of exhibitions and talks across the country to raise awareness of Islamophobia, on Thursday backed Islamophobia Awareness Month and reaffirmed his commitment toward tackling Islamophobia:

“We have to drive out racism in any form from our society,” he told MEE. “Islamophobia is a terrible thing which causes terrible pain.”

Corbyn also appeared in a video promoting the project in which Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, also appeared.

But four MPs walked away from the event after a raft of allegation surfaced at the weekend, with one newspaper describing Mend as “toxic”.

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, Liberal Democrat MP Sir Ed Davey and the Scottish National Party's Joanna Cherry said in a statement:

“It has become clear there is controversy over Mend’s record and claims of links between the organisation and extremist views.

“We are concerned that if this event goes ahead the controversy around the organisers will distract from the principal purpose, which is to unite all the communities we represent against Islamophobia.”

Conservative MP Anna Soubry also pulled out.

Mend claimed in their statement that the Henry Jackson report was designed to discourage MPs from attending their events as they vowed to demonstrate the “partisan motivations” behind the report’s author.

"The Henry Jackson Society report clearly has its own partisan agenda and is aimed at discrediting Mend with a view to trying to discourage politicians, journalists, unions, civil liberty organisations and others to work with us.

"We will also be exposing this report as an example of professional Islamophobia and demonstrate the partisan motivations behind the author, the Henry Jackson Society, and the neocon movement being mobilised against us."

Mend came in for criticism today after reports claimed that an event they were due to host in Birmingham was cancelled after they were accused of trying to mislead the public over the Trojan Horse affair. Mend have since said the event will still go ahead.

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