This, I have to say, has really shocked me.
You will remember that, earlier this week, we ran a piece on an associate of the 7/7 suicide bombers, Tafazal Mohammad, who Forward Thinking brought to address a meeting in the House of Commons:
Mr Mohammad was last week named in the coroner’s report into the 7/7 attacks as someone viewed by MI5 as a “suspected terrorist sympathiser”. He was a trustee of the jihadist bookshop Iqra in Beeston, Leeds, which acted as a hub for extremists.
Forward Thinking is run by Oliver McTernan, who spent 30 years of his life as a Roman Catholic priest. It is chaired by William Sieghart, who is an outspoken Hamas supporter. Jeremy Greenstock, the arch Arabist former Ambassador to the UN advises it on matters of diplomacy. This is how it describes its work:
To promote in the UK greater understanding and confidence between the diverse grassroots Muslim communities and the wider society including the Media and the British establishment.
To promote a more inclusive peace process in the Middle East.
To facilitate a global dialogue between the religious and secular worlds
Have a look through the Harry’s Place archives, and you’ll understand very quickly that this is merely a euphemism for “we support Hamas”. Forward Thinking energetically promotes individuals and organisations with Islamist or Salafi Jihadi politics, and arrange for these groups to meet with, lobby, and form links with mainstream and usually liberal political organisations.
And, now it seems, it is funded by the Pears Foundation: a project of Trevor Pears, one of the most prominent Jewish philanthropists in Britain. Here is Martin Bright’s scoop:
The organisation’s latest published annual report thanks the Pears Foundation for funding.
Forward Thinking was founded by William Sieghart, who has called for a reassessment of the West’s “distorted image of Hamas”.
Forward Thinking said: “Tafazal Mohammad is one of many hundred young Muslim leaders with whom we have worked. He has no particular relationship with our organisation.
“As he lived and worked in the Beeston area of Leeds it is hardly surprising that he came into contact with those 7/7 bombers in the same area. We were not aware of this and had no reason to be.”
The Pears Foundation told the JC that it gave Â£23,000 to Forward Thinking between 2008 and 2010 and conducted the same due diligence as it did with all the charities it funds.
This looks like a cock up. The Pears Foundation supports liberal causes – which include projects aimed an enhancing links between British universities and Israel.
The problem is this. “Engagement” is good. However, you have to “engage” with your eyes open. There’s a tendency to think of Salafi Jihadi ideologues as just “religious Muslims”. They’re not. They are deeply politically committed activists, with a politics that compares with the absolute worst of the worst of the European far Right. Moreover, they’re desperate to be accepted: as spokesmen and intermediaries for Muslims, generally. They crave validation.
Forward Thinking provides that validation. Anybody who examines this organisation, knows that this is their business.
Mark Gardner and Denis McShane put it well:
Dr Denis McShane MP said: “There seems a wilful blindness on the part of elements of the London political class to the racist ideology of ultra Islamist jihadi propagandists.”
Mark Gardner, of the Community Security Trust, said: “CST supports the principle of dialogue, but there are often significant differences between what Islamist extremists claim and what their true intentions actually are.
“It is important that the practice of dialogue is not simply used as a one-way street to allow extremists an easy entry into the mainstream.”
Paul Goodman, the former Shadow Communities Minister, makes an important point:
Paul Goodman, who now edits the Conservative Home website, said: “MPs must assume that people to whom they are introduced are not jihadists – unless they are specifically warned otherwise.
“It follows that, if organisations such as Forward Thinking bring people into Commons meetings, MPs must assume they are acting in good faith.”
And they do. Moreover, having worked with an organisation like Forward Thinking, a politician or donor is faced with a difficult choice. Do they publicly accept that they’ve made an error of judgement? Or do they conclude, instead, that their judgement is fine: and therefore criticism of Forward Thinking is malicious?
This is the whole Joseph Rowntree Trust/CagePrisoners situation, again, isn’t it?
Forward Thinking is not an organisation which should have any credibility at all. Let’s hope that the Pears Foundation don’t renew their grant, and that others are warned off them in the future.
But this episode demonstrates just how careful you have to be. There are an awful lot of faux moderates out there, and they are plausibly promoted by some extremely slick operators. Looks like the Pears Foundation fell for one of them.