BANGLADESH: Preaching hatred, Jamaat MP Saidee in UK hot soup

The British media criticizes the British government for granting visa to controversial Jamaat-e-Islami lawmaker

The Daily Star
Thursday, July 27, 2006

By Julfikar Ali Manik and Bishawjit Das

The British media blasted its government for not revoking Jamaat-e-Islami lawmaker Delwar Hossain Saidee's visa this month although the Home Office has been considering excluding him from the UK following last year's July 7 bombings in London.

Quoting several British MPs, the online and print media branded Saidee as a "preacher of violent hatred against the West" and criticised the government for granting him visa.

Referring to British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently saying "not to tolerate the preachers of hatred against the West", the media cited several leaked emails exchanged among the advisers of Home and Foreign Offices expressing discontent at the government's allowing a "threat" like Saidee in the country.

Channel 4 on July 14 released a film titled "Who Speaks for Muslims?" by Martin Bright, political editor of the New Statesman, portraying Saidee as a radical extremist and the UK government's reluctance for not excluding him from the UK.

The Times Online carried a news item the same day on "hardline Islamist cleric" Saidee's arrival and said the government advisers wanted him banned from Britain.

"The Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office considered excluding Saidee, an MP in Bangladesh who preaches violent hatred against the West and is accused of war crimes, last year," the Times Online said.

"But despite a series of email exchanges in September, his visa was never revoked and the Home Office issued no exclusion order.

"The Foreign Office's Islamic issues adviser [Mockbul Ali] accused Saidee's detractors of being politically biased and said that his exclusion could jeopardise support from mainstream Muslims for the Government's anti-terrorism agenda," Times Online said.

"In leaked emails seen by The Times, the Home Office sought advice from research analysts in the Foreign Office while considering the case for excluding Saidee," it said.

"Internal messages between advisers discussed the threat that he allegedly posed," Times Online said, quoting Saidee as saying in a report of a Bangladeshi human rights organisation that Britain and the US "deserve all that is coming to them" for overturning the Taleban in Afghanistan.

"The email from one adviser, Eric Taylor, continues: 'He [Mr Saidee] has made a particularly offensive comment about Bangladeshi Hindus...He also appears to defend attacks against the Ahmadiyya (Islamist) community," the online media said.

It also cited several incidents of violence caused by his visits in the UK earlier and mentioned that a Bangladeshi group "wrote to the Prince of Wales in June 2004 appealing for Saidee to be banned from the UK".

Mockbul Ali, however, in an email defended Saidee from being excluded, terming him a "mainstream Muslim figure" and saying, "Any steps taken on his exclusion from the UK must take that into account, especially at a time when we require increasing support on the Prevent/Counter Terrorism agenda from British Muslims," Times Online read.

"Taylor responded that the file against Saidee was 'thoroughly referenced' and disputed whether the exclusion of an extremist cleric would endanger support from mainstream Muslims. He added: 'In the Prime Minister's words, the rules of the game have changed. What may have been tolerated pre-7/7 is no longer the case.'

"However, despite his strongly worded response, no further action appears to have been taken by the Government," said Times Online.

Murad Qureshi, a member of the London Assembly and the Metropolitan Police Authority, criticised the government's inaction. "I've been saying since the late 1990s that it doesn't help to have characters like him passing through Britain," he said.

"The anguish he causes in the Bangladeshi community is not productive and his visa should be revoked. There are some very serious allegations over his head about war crimes," he added.

The Observer on July 9 published a commentary headlined "The Foreign Office ought to be serving Britain, not radical Islam" criticising the government for allowing Saidee to enter the UK.

Refuting Mockbul who called Saidee a "mainstream" figure, it said, "He [Saidee] isn't, he's a fantastically controversial figure among British Bengalis. [Martin] Bright interviews Bengali leaders who regard him as a malign extremist and cannot understand why the Foreign Office wants him to preach Islamist radicalism to their children."

Daily Mail in its story titled "Extremist linked cleric given green light to enter Britain" on July 13 said, "MPs expressed outrage today after it emerged that Saidee has been given a visa despite boasting that England 'has it coming' for its role in Afghanistan."

It said, "...his visit could be disrupted by protests after a previous appearance was dogged by violence."

It criticised the government saying, "Saidee's presence flies in the face of Tony Blair's assurance in the wake of the July 7 bombings that the 'rules have changed' and that the presence of extremist preachers would no longer be tolerated."

About Saidee's preaching, Daily Mail said, "Saidee has called for American soldiers in Iraq to convert to Islam or die, declaring: 'And if it is not Allah's will that they become good Muslims, then let all the American soldiers be buried in the soil of Iraq and never let them return to their homes.'

"One argued that Mr Saidee's presence would breach Mr Blair's 'zero tolerance' policy for so-called 'preachers of hate'.

"Labour MP Louise Ellman said she would table questions to the Foreign Office about the position of Mr Saidee.

"'I'm horrified that he is being allowed to come. His stance is incompatible with the Prime Minister's statement and I am amazed that at this time we are allowing somebody whose comments are so inflammatory to be here. I am surprised that the East London Mosque is associating itself with him. They should answer for their decision,'" the newspaper added.

Tory frontbencher Michael Gove, whose book "Celsius 7/7" sets out what he claims are the British government's failures to tackle the threat of Islamist extremism, said, "Allowing Delwar Hossain Saidee to preach in London just days after the anniversary of 7/7 is not conducive to building good community relations and a secure, tolerant, and multi-ethnic society."

He added: "His party, Jamaat-e-Islami, is an Islamist movement with ties to extremists whose agenda is anti-democratic."

The Telegraph and The Sun also published similar stories on the issue.

Meanwhile, Jamaat and Saidee refuted the allegations brought by the British media saying those were "politically motivated" and "untrue".

Senior Assistant Secretary General of Jamaat Mohammad Kamaruzzaman said, "We had a talk with the British deputy high commissioner in Dhaka and we expressed our concern about the reports and the film against our leader."

A lobbyist group from Dhaka is influencing the British media for the "untrue" information, he told The Daily Star Tuesday evening.

Kamaruzzaman claimed to have not seen the Channel 4 film yet but termed filmmaker Martin Bright a "proven anti-Muslim". "He made some twists of Saidee's speech to turn a 'fart into a nuke' to tarnish his image," he added.

Saidee, who also claimed to have not seen the film, said he heard that he was portrayed as a controversial person and the writings in the media do not have any factual base.

Saidee admitted to saying something like what has been shown in the film but could not remember the exact words he used. "Whatever I said was symbolic," he said.

However, although Saidee was scheduled to open a housing fair, speak at East London Mosque and address a couple of rallies in London and Luton, he left early cutting some of the programmes.

Sources in London said Saidee had to flee in the face of attacks by the British media, but Saidee refuted saying, "I got fever after arriving in London.

"My medical check-up, for which I go there every year, was completed and my party also asked me to come back home," he said.

But Kamaruzzaman said Saidee went to London on July 5 and returned on July 15.

Sources said Saidee collects funds from London for himself and his party, but Saidee denied the claim, saying, "I never bring the money home -- the funds are used for the mosques and other Islamic activities in the UK."