World

Documents Reveal David Cameron's Own Office Had Ties to Far Right Extremists Banned by Theresa May

A key policy may have been influenced by anti-Muslim bigots

Photo Credit: Art by Nancy Ohanian

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) confirm that the Office of the Prime Minister had direct communications with a notorious anti-Muslim campaigner, linked to far-right extremists in the US and Europe.

Some of the members of this far-right network have been banned by the Home Office due to their inflammatory views about Muslims. The revelations will raise questions about David Cameron’s record as Prime Minister, especially given his outspoken criticisms of London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan for being associated with “extremists.”

The series of FOIA requests was made by journalist Secunder Kermani over several months, and passed exclusively to The Canary.

As a result of the requests, No. 10 Downing Street confirmed that the Office of the Prime Minister had engaged in written correspondence with Ayaan Hirsi Ali in 2015, but declined to release the correspondence on the grounds that it consists of “personal information” and is therefore “exempt from disclosure.”

Prime Minister’s advisor, advised by extremist

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a former Dutch MP and Somali-born author who has risen to notoriety due to her dramatic personal story of fleeing civil war and Muslim honor-based violence in Somalia, leading to her opposition to Islam.

As American journalist Max Blumenthal showed, however, her personal story was largely fabricated. “Yeah, I made up the whole thing,” Hirsi Ali told Dutch TV in 2006, leading to a scandal that ultimately destroyed her political career.

Hirsi Ali was identified as a major voice in a far-right extremist network of self-styled ‘counter-jihadists’ by Nick Lowles, in a major 2015 report by leading British anti-racism charity, Hope Not Hate. Lowles is a ministerially-appointed UK government advisor who sits on the UK government’s cross-departmental working group on anti-Muslim hatred.

According to Lowles’ report, Hirsi Ali has worked closely with another Dutch MP, Geert Wilders – leader of the Freedom Party (PVV). Wilders, who has called for Muslims and ethnic Moroccans to be depopulated from the Netherlands and Europe, is directly affiliated with neo-Nazi parties in the European Parliament.

While Hirsi Ali has never been banned from the UK, she is championed by Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, leading American figures in the anti-Muslim ‘counter-jihad’ movement, who were banned from entering the UK by Theresa May due to racist and extremist bigotry.

Refusal to disclose

The government’s correspondence in question occurred in 2015 between Hirsi Ali and Ameet Gill, Director of Strategy at the Office of the Prime Minister and advisor to David Cameron.

The government has repeatedly refused to release the actual correspondence, but The Canary can confirm that it concerns the British government’s counter-extremism policies.

Initially, No. 10 Downing Street justified its decision not to disclose the correspondence citing “personal information”, but after more detailed requests, the government upgraded its position, saying that publishing the correspondence would constitute a threat to Hirsi Ali’s life.

In 2004, during her stint in the Dutch parliament, Hirsi Ali worked with director Theo van Gogh to produce the inflammatory anti-Muslim film, Submission. Soon after the film’s release, van Gogh – who routinely described Muslims as “goat fuckers” – was shot and stabbed to death by an Islamist extremist. Police officers at the scene found a note pinned to van Gogh’s body threatening Hirsi Ali with death.

In response to Kermani’s FOI requests, the government eventually claimed that disclosure of the government’s correspondence with Hirsi Ali would escalate the threat to her life:

“Once it is seen that disclosure of the withheld information means an increase to the risk of Ms Ali’s well-being, the Commissioner considers that the exemption is engaged,” wrote the Information Commissioner’s Office to Kermani.

However, the government has further claimed that it cannot even explain precisely why putting this information in the public domain would threaten Hirsi Ali’s life more than is already the case:

"… the Commissioner cannot put into the public domain why there is a causal link between disclosure of the information and the argued prejudice. These arguments would have to remain confidential. What he can say is that the nature of the information, and what it reveals, is seen as having a direct causal link to the possibility of an increased threat against Ms Ali."

‘Genocidal’ views about solving the world’s ‘Islam’ problem

Government sources familiar with the case have suggested that Ayaan Hirsi Ali was consulted on the development of the government’s counter-extremism strategy – but were not able to specify what her role was.

According to Kermani, who obtained the information under FOI:

"Given that Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s controversial views on Islam are already very public, the claim that whatever is contained in this correspondence would mean a threat to her safety would seem to suggest that the correspondence contains information that is not already in the public domain, like for example details of her being involved in the development of the government’s counter extremism strategy – as has been suggested to me. Though the decision to withhold this correspondence from the public domain means we cannot say that for certain."

Hirsi Ali’s anti-Muslim views have been condemned by leading civil society groups, such as the Southern Poverty Law Centre, for promoting hatred and bigotry.

Among her most shocking comments was her “genocidal” response when asked by Reason magazine:

We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, ‘defeat Islam’?

Here is what followed:

Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, ‘This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.’ There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.

Reason: Militarily?

Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.

More recently, Hirsi Ali reportedly described Sadiq Khan’s election as the Mayor of London as having been orchestrated by “organised Islamists.”

During Khan’s Mayoral campaign, David Cameron went out of his way to claim that Khan shared platforms with Islamist extremists, including ISIS supporters, “time and again.”

The claim was later discredited as both Cameron and his Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, had to withdraw their allegations against Suliman Gani, who had shared platforms with Khan.

British ‘Prevent’ policy influenced by anti-Muslim bigots?

The murky role of Ayaan Hirsi Ali in influencing Cameron’s thinking on extremism raises urgent questions about the British government’s counter-extremism strategy.

In particular, it raises the question of whether the Tory government’s controversial ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’ programme (Prevent) – criticised for being too draconian and discriminatory toward ordinary Muslims – is a product of far-right anti-Muslim extremism.

Ameet Gill, David Cameron’s advisor and speechwriter who conducted the correspondence with Hirsi Ali, previously worked as a researcher for the historian Niall Ferguson. Ferguson is married to Hirsi Ali.

Ferguson had originally secured a place for Gill at Jesus College, Oxford University, and had even recommended Gill for the job of Cameron’s speechwriter. Ferguson’s own ideological anti-Muslim sentiments were articulated in a 2004 oped for the New York Times, where he quotes approvingly the work of Bat Yeor, who has warned of a new “Eurabia” – in Ferguson’s words:

"A youthful Muslim society to the south and east of the Mediterranean is poised to colonise – the term is not too strong – a senescent Europe."

As I recently reported in my investigative series for the hate crime charity Tell MAMA, Return of the Reich, Bat Yeor sits on the board of the Denmark-based International Free Press Society (IFPS), alongside Robert Spencer and Pam Geller, who were banned from entering the UK by Theresa May as of 2013.

The IFPS is closely tied to the Belgian Vlaams Belang (VB), a neo-Nazi political party founded by Flemish ultra-nationalists who collaborated with Nazis during the Second World War. IFPS events have been run with logistical support from the VB party.

Despite her own criticisms of VB as “a racist, anti-Semitic” party, Hirsi Ali herself is directly connected with the VB-affiliated IFPS, offering the society this resounding praise:

"In a time when Western civilization is threatened from both outside and within, the Danish Free Press Society is an important ally in the fight to fortify and preserve the most crucial and fundamental right in a free society — freedom of speech."

The Canary asked the Home Office to clarify whether it was aware that Hirsi Ali had influenced the government’s counter-extremism strategy, and whether Theresa May planned to continue employing Ameet Gill despite his alarming “personal” connections to the far-right ‘counter-jihad’ network.

A Home Office spokesperson said:

"You need to approach No. 10’s press office regarding your query as it does not relate to the Home Office. However, I think it is unlikely they will be able to answer your questions on who the new Prime Minister will employ or engage with before she is officially in office."

Unfortunately, No. 10 Downing Street decided not to respond to The Canary’s questions concerning Ayaan Hirsi’s influence on David Cameron’s counter-extremism policies.

 

Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist and international security scholar. He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his former work at the Guardian. He is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), and the scifi thriller novel Zero Point, among other books. 

 

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