Salmond hit by 'cash for cronies' row
MUSLIM leaders have accused Alex Salmond of blatant cronyism after he handed hundreds of thousands of pounds in public funds to an Islamic group run by an SNP activist.
The Scottish Government has given 215,000 to the Scottish Islamic Foundation (SIF), a group run by Osama Saeed, an SNP member who is about to contest the Glasgow Central seat in the next Westminster election.
Most of the cash will be spent on an "IslamFest" which is being organised by Saeed and will be held in Scotland next year. But another Muslim organisation which applied for funding last year for a similar event was turned down.
Last night, Muslim leaders across Scotland – including a prominent member of the SNP – expressed anger at the funding, alleging SIF was receiving preferential treatment because of Saeed's Nationalist links.
Along with Saeed, the Foundation's members also include SNP researcher Humza Yousaf and Gail Lythgoe, the national secretary of SNP Students.
SIF will spend 200,000 on the IslamFest in Glasgow next year at which Muslims and non-Muslims can enjoy displays related to Islamic culture, religion and art. The group has also received 10,152 to spend on computer and office equipment for its central Glasgow headquarters, and 5,600 for administration and volunteer and management training.
The funding has infuriated senior members of the Muslim community, including the general secretary of the Glasgow Islamic Centre, Scotland's largest Muslim organisation. It said it asked Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the MSP for Glasgow Govan, for 132,851 last year to spend on activities aimed at keeping youngsters away from extremism, but "had heard nothing".
In another case, the Muslim Sufi community asked for up to 30,000 to help fund a Sufi festival in Glasgow. They were informed by a Scottish Government official in November last year that "all resources have been committed for the rest of the financial year".
Mohammed Ashraf, of Glasgow's Sufi community, said: "It seems just one person is having support from the Scottish Executive, and for them to put that much faith into one group is not right."
He added: "The SNP is being one-sided. Osama is close to them and obviously they have decided to put their weight behind him."
Dr Shafi Kauser, of Glasgow Islamic Centre, said: "This is about scratching their own backs. If they have plenty of money, why do they ignore established organisations? I think Alex Salmond has erred and is in danger of losing the confidence of the Muslim community and he has been biased."
Mohammad Asif, of the Scottish Afghan Society, complained: "The First Minister here is just helping his own party members. If Osama (Saeed] wasn't a member of the SNP then it would be a different story altogether."
Saeed has denounced terrorism and spoken out againstforced marriages in Islam, but he has attracted controversy over his views. Particular attention has been paid to comments in 2005 when he voiced his support for a modern 'caliphate', or pan-Islamic state.
Critics of the Government's funding decision, among them a leading Muslim SNP activist, last night questioned whether SIF was an appropriate organisation to be receiving public money.
Adil Bhatti said: "The people from the Muslim community, they do not know about this organisation. It is not supported by the majority."
The allegations of cronyism were refuted by the SIF last night. Saeed, the current interim chief executive of the group, did not wish to comment publicly.
Ken Imrie, the group's chairman, said: "SIF grew organically from a large number of volunteers who have years of experience in Islamic and youth issues and who saw the need for a more professional approach.
"We are non-partisan politically, our board includes individuals of different political persuasions and none, and indeed our launch was addressed by all the main political parties. "
He added: "The IslamFest will bring Muslims and non-Muslims together, and aims to bring trade and investment into Scotland from the Muslim world to the benefit of the whole country."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Islamic Foundation was established with enormous goodwill and support on a cross-party, cross-community and inter-faith basis."
She added: "Funding events like IslamFest is part of a range of activities being developed to tackle intolerance and promote dialogue."
She said the Sufi festival entry fee had counted against their application.
The Government also funded several other Muslim bodies, she said.
One leading Muslim, former councillor Bashir Maan, did give his backing to the group last night. "I welcome all organisations supporting the Muslim community and particularly those which aim to involve our young people in the public and economic life of Scotland," he said. "They should be supported by the Scottish Government."
George Foulkes, Labour MSP for the Lothians, said: "I know many longstanding Muslim organisations in Scotland are angry at being ignored. I will be writing to the auditor general for Scotland to ask him to urgently investigate."
A spokesman for the Scottish Tories said: "We support this organisation on the basis that it will help community relations. We would take any claims from other organisations that they were having problems getting funding very seriously."
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