As UK construction firms pay compensation for unlawful blacklisting, Muslims start to appear on neo-McCarthyite lists
This week, construction giants Balfour Beatty, Kier, Laing O’Rourke and Sir Robert McAlpine were among 40 companies which have pledged to compensate thousands of workers who were unlawfully blacklisted and denied employment for years. The firms funded a clandestine agency which kept secret files on construction workers labelled as ‘politically disruptive’.
Quite how you can put a price on causing such hardship and distress to workers and their families remains to be seen, but this is probably one of the worst examples of McCarthyism that has, thus far, been exposed in Britain today. Personal files containing information dating back to the 1980s show that individuals were described in negative terms such as “militant ringleader”, “agitator”, “is a good worker but has proved to be very militant”, “do not touch”, and “that subject is a very bad troublemaker and would not be re-employed”.
In their apology, the companies issued a statement admitting their involvement with The Consulting Association after it emerged that it held data on 3,213 construction workers and traded their personal details for profit. Blacklisting is a very un-British concept, not least because such secret briefings bear the hallmarks of cowardice and are all the more morally repugnant when money is the prime motivation for ‘digging’ the so-called ‘dirt’.
In mid-20th century America some of the most talented screenwriters, actors and directors in Hollywood lost their careers after being secretly targeted by the anti-Communist witch hunt promoted by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Many were barred from their profession on the basis of unfounded links to, or alleged membership of, the American Communist Party during the height of the persecution in the late forties through to the late fifties. By the time McCarthy was on the scene he had little proper regard for evidence.
Sadly this vile form of state-backed oppression and persecution has crossed the Atlantic and those targeted today are not confined to trade unions in the construction industry. The new blacklists contain the names of people of Faith, more specifically the Muslim Faith, and you don’t have to be a bomb-plotting, subversive, western-hating dingbat to get on the list.
For the last few years counter-terrorism units and so-called academic think-tanks have made a lucrative living out of their toxic briefings and reckless ‑ and often unsubstantiated ‑ accusations which have brought into question the character, motives and patriotism of people who dare to disagree with or challenge them.
My name has found its way on to these lists, courtesy, I believe, of the Quilliam Foundation, a controversial London based ‘counter-extremism’ think-tank which claims to challenge Islamic extremism in Britain. I am no more a threat to my own country than my 86-year-old mum and her friends in the Mothers’ Union that I was invited to address in a County Durham pit village last year.
While I would hardly class myself as a Union Jack flag-waving Brit, I am British and proud of my working class upbringing, 35 years of trade unionism, a stiff upper lip and outspoken ways, and always have been, long before I embraced Islam. I say what I mean and mean what I say and if I disagree with someone’s views they will be among the first to know. I don’t hide behind the coward’s veil of anonymity if I want to take a pop at someone; I’ll tell them to their face, and that is the way it should be.
Yet peaceful Muslim groups, politicians and at least one Islamic television station have all found their way on to lists drawn up by the Quilliam Foundation which is going to extremes itself these days to drum up funding and support. One loony briefing document from Quilliam says:
“The ideology of non-violent Islamists is broadly the same as that of violent Islamists; they disagree only on tactics… These are a selection of the various groups and institutions active in the UK which are broadly sympathetic to Islamism. Whilst only a small proportion will agree with al-Qaida’s tactics, many will agree with their overall goal of creating a single ‘Islamic state’ which would bring together all Muslims around the world under a single government and then impose on them a single interpretation of sharia as state law.”
Another toxic briefing document was marked for the attention of the director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) and carries a warning that it should not be shared with civil servants. The fact that it was leaked and posted on the web is not surprising and perhaps an example of the contempt with which the British Establishment views tittle-tattle, snitches and squealers.
Hijab-wearing Salma Yaqoob, former leader of the Respect Party, was among those targeted by the men from Quilliam. I’ve known Salma for many years and she’s a fantastic role model for young women of faith and no faith, a promoter of democracy and tireless peace activist.
The Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs select committee, said at the time that one of Quilliam’s secret lists first emerged: “I think it’s very dangerous to be drawing up lists of this kind. I am concerned and will be writing to the home secretary to ask if the government requested this list, what is the status of this list, and why it is being considered in this way.” According to Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4Uk and a former MCB spokesperson:
“This is just like something straight out of a Stasi manual. The advice from Quilliam is frankly appalling and incredibly self-serving… This is a truly shocking document, and it is little wonder that the Quilliam Foundation marked it as being not for public disclosure. In effect, Quilliam – a body funded very generously by the government through its Prevent [counter-terrorism strategy] – are attempting to set themselves up as arbiters of who is and is not an acceptable Muslim. Their document specifically contains a McCarthy-type list of large and established Muslim organisations that they regard as suspect and smears them as being ‘Islamists’.”
Another example of a poisonous briefing came in an email marked “confidential” from the foundation’s Usama Hasan earlier this year which can still be seen here: It urges recipients to harass Sheikh Haitham al Haddad with emails. Hasan then goes on to urge them to contact the media with dubious accusations about the Arab scholar in order to embarrass the University of Nottingham for hosting him as a speaker.
Now I’ve never sat through any of Sheikh Haitham’s speeches but I’m damned if I’m going to have Usama Hasan decide who I should and should not listen to. He is, after all, a former extremist himself and therefore someone who is gullible and whose judgement has been flawed; who’s to say he’s not going to flip again? Frankly I don’t know, but why should I trust a man who picked up a gun because he thought he might encounter 72 virgins if he was killed in the process?
Indeed, this is the same Usama Hasan who, two days ago, sat next to former EDL leader Tommy Robinson at a media briefing to welcome him into the Quilliam fold. It seems that Robinson and his batman, Kevin Carroll, have swapped their jeans and Primark t-shirts for Boss suits and brogues to sign up to the controversial foundation.
Quilliam, always on the lookout for a nice little earner after losing out on hundreds of thousands of pounds of government funding, heralded the arrival of the EDL duo – who are themselves clearly desperate to earn some of the dodgy foundation’s filthy lucre using their own extremist credentials – as the access key to the trough. It certainly worked for Quilliam’s founders, and Robinson and Carroll clearly found that their brand of jackboot activism and street fascism doesn’t offer the same financial rewards as the seemingly more respectable face of far-right politics. Of course, I’m all for giving people second chances but there is little evidence that the EDL pair have recanted their vile views. Like Quilliam they say that they are against Islamic extremism but, again like Quilliam, they also regard many Muslims and their organisations as ‘extremists’.
While this unholy alliance made headlines in the British media this week, there was a sense of déjà vu . As journalist and anti-fascist Anindya Bhattacharyya, who has campaigned against the EDL since the organisation first emerged four years ago, reminded us in his latest blog entry “back in July 2011 the Quilliam Foundation announced that former EDL members Leighton Evans and Harry Burns had renounced their views and would now campaign against the ED,” further pointing out that “This stunt soon unravelled when it turned out that Evans and Burns hadn’t changed their noxious views in the slightest.”
The Muslim community is already suspicious of Quilliam Foundation, and its alliance with the former EDL leadership will widen the credibility gap even further. I have a feeling another gulf has also opened up in the media which is no longer as gushing or breathless over the Quilliam Boys as it once was.
In fact, QF’s stunt looks to me like a final desperate act by a think-tank running out of gullible Gulf Emirs ‑ apparently private donors in Saudi and Kuwait have thrown money at it ‑ to prise money from and has to resort to scrambling round for new tricks and money-making schemes. So let the buyer beware: Quilliam blacklists and poisonous emails all serve to stifle liberty and freedom of speech, two very British qualities apparent in those who really welcome a multicultural Britain.
Yvonne Ridley is a British journalist and a patron of the London-based human rights NGOcageprisonners.com as well as being the European president of the International Muslim Women's Union and the Vice President of the European Muslim League. Her website is www.yvonneridley.org