From Politics Home:
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has attacked thinktank Policy Exchange over its call to boycott the upcoming Global Peace and Unity event in London.
The thinktank had circulated a dossier questioning apparent extremist background of several of the events speakers. However Mr Clegg, who is due to speak at the event accused the thinktank’s director of “bizarre and underhand behaviour”, and questioned the validity of the evidence.
Nick Clegg’s letter reads:
I am writing to ask you to retract an offensive dossier that Policy Exchange has been privately circulating condemning the Global Peace & Unity Event scheduled for the coming weekend in London.
This is the fourth year of this conference. It will be attended by 30,000 people and is geared towards promoting harmony and dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The Policy Exchange briefing I have seen seeks to raise alarm over a number of the speakers planning to attend the conference. The accuracy of the allegations is variable, with a notable lack of evidence to support many of the claims.
In particular I was appalled to see ‘evidence’ quoted from the Society for American National Existence, an organisation which seeks to make the practice of Islam illegal, punishable by 20 years in prison. I need hardly point out how illogical it is to attempt to criticise one set of extreme views by citing another.
My concern is not limited to the facts in the document, however. Your attempt to raise a boycott of this event by privately briefing against it is bizarre, and underhand behaviour for a think-tank supposedly interested in open public debate. The information you are disseminating is extremely narrow in focus and as a result tars with the brush of extremism the tens of thousands of Muslims who will be in attendance.
Of course, no-one should condone violence or bigotry. But neither must we allow the repugnant acts of a minority of dangerous individuals to be a reason to deny the one million British Muslims – and indeed all other members of British society – the right to meet together to celebrate faith and discuss the importance of peace. The sad truth is you play into the hands of the men you seek to discredit, driving further the alienation of the majority of Muslims who see themselves mischaracterised everywhere they turn as would-be terrorists.
That a think-tank professing to promote ‘a free society based on strong communities [and] personal freedom’ would act to undermine tolerance across our society worries me greatly.
The space for debate is currently filled with few voices, a fact that extremists capitalise on. If we are to truly achieve a society in which all peaceful members are free and equal, that space must be filled with reasoned and principled debate. That is why I shall be speaking at the conference, not hiding from open discussion. We must challenge publicly the ideas of those who propagate terrorism and instead promote the cause of peace and freedom in Britain for all citizens.
I therefore urge you to withdraw this briefing and to call off any plans to circulate it further. I also suggest that if you want to make a positive contribution to this debate that you step out of the shadows and make yourself heard.