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Rector criticises interfaith group for 'luxurious' trip

08 May 2015

ACHILVER/COMMONS

Manor: Kentwell Hall, in Suffolk 

Manor: Kentwell Hall, in Suffolk 

JUDGING by the photos posted on Facebook, an interfaith weekend away between the Salvation Army and a group of Muslim community activists in Stepney went excellently.

Staying at a Tudor manor in Suffolk, the men went riding and ate together. Selfies, taken by a local councillor, Mahbub Alam, of the group smiling for the camera were posted to Twitter.

But an Anglican rector in Stepney has accused the group of wasting public funds; and, on the Facebook page of one of the Muslim activists, a blogger reported finding a post that "saluted" Adolf Hitler.

The trip, two weeks ago, was paid for by a £2000 grant from the Near Neighbours fund, set up with £5 million from the Department for Communities and Local Government and administered by the Church Urban Fund (CUF).

The Rector of St Dunstan's, Stepney, the Revd Trevor Critchlow, was consulted by the CUF after the group applied for a grant. He said last week that he had told the CUF that it was a frivolous waste of money, but thought nothing more of it until he saw pictures from the trip appear online.

"They said they would go to an Outward Bound centre, but they hadn't. It seemed to be much more luxurious," he said.

Then the journalist and blogger Ted Jeory reported that one of the men on the weekend away, a friend of Mr Alam and a former council candidate for his Tower Hamlets First party, Ahad Miah, had an anti-Semitic image on Facebook which had appeared during last summer's war in Gaza.

It was a picture of Adolf Hitler with the words "Let me salute to Hitler The Great. He said: 'i would have killed all the jews of the world, but i kept some to show the world why i killed them'".

Mr Critchlow said that, while it was sometimes worthwhile to engage people with extreme views in dialogue, the weekend away - particularly as it included people such as Mr Miah - was a mistake. "I think there is a point where some of these views are so abhorrent that it makes any kind of conversation quite difficult," he said.

"I'm up for meeting people over a cup of tea about why they hold these views . . . but I do object to them going away for a weekend."

A Salvation Army leader in Stepney, Captain Nick Coke, declined to comment, but Canon Paul Hackwood, who chairs the CUF, defended the weekend away.

"I think spending some money on quality relationship-building is necessary, provided they are not in five-star accommodation, which they weren't," he said. "I don't think it was a jolly. They cooked their own food, and there weren't enough beds; so some slept on the floor."

He said that Mr Miah had signed up for the trip on the last day; so the Salvation Army could not do the "normal checks". But he did say that it was regrettable that a person apparently with such anti-Semitic views had been funded by Near Neighbours to go away for a weekend.

After Mr Jeory highlighted the Facebook post praising Hitler, Mr Miah deleted the image, and posted a statement on his account denying that it had been put online by him, and appearing to suggest that his account had been hacked.

"My Facebook account access was closed for several weeks until recently when I finally got access," he wrote. "I am not a highly computer literate person but I do NOT agree anything in that message that was circulated."

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets and leader of the Tower Hamlets First party, Lutfur Rahman, also released a statement demanding that Mr Miah remove the "offensive post". Mr Rahman has since been removed from office for electoral fraud and corruption.

In a separate statement, Canon Hackwood said that Near Neighbours had also funded a great deal of work combating anti-Semitism in the East End, and that the CUF abhorred and always challenged prejudice.

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