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Cameron finally apologises for falsely claiming imam supports IS

Apology comes after a prolonged campaign by MEE columnist Peter Oborne for Cameron to apologise
Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs that Suliman Gani was supporter of militant Islamic State group (AFP)

LONDON - British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to make a humiliating public apology to a London imam he had labelled as a supporter of the militant Islamic State (IS) group.

He said on Wednesday evening he was sorry for "any misunderstanding" after telling MPs three weeks earlier during Prime Minister’s Questions that Suliman Gani, an imam from Tooting in South London, was an “IS supporter”. His remark appeared to be a premeditated statement in response to a planted parliamentary question.

"The prime minister was referring to reports that he [Gani] supports an Islamic state. The prime minister is clear this does not mean Mr Gani supports the organisation Daesh and he apologises to him for any misunderstanding."  

Joanne MacInnes, a friend of Gani and a campaigner, told Middle East Eye Cameron's apology was "pathetic" and that more had to be done to clear his name.

"Cameron's apology is woefully inadequate and completely implausible - are we expected to believe he meant an Islamic State when he in the same breath he called Gani an extremist? It's pathetic and doesn't acknowledge the extensive damage he has done to Suliman's life," she said.

"It is extremely significant that Cameron has apologised, because the PM doesn’t really apologise to anyone, but he has not done it to Suliman’s face and he needs to go much further to set the record straight."

Writing on Twitter on Wednesday, Gani said the matter was still with his lawyers and that he would not comment further.

Cameron’s slur on Gani was an important part of the Conservative Party’s notoriously Islamophobic campaign to prevent the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan from winning the London mayoral elections on 5 May. The Conservative Party focused on Khan’s Muslim religion and accused him of consorting with Muslim "extremists".

The Muslim Council of Britain, one of the UK's largest Muslim organisations, said it welcomed Cameron's apology but urged him to go further and make the apology in parliament as well.

It also called on the Conservative Party to also apologise for the "wider Islamophobic attack on the new mayor of London and for an "urgent review" of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, citing the example set by the opposition Labour Party which is currently conducting an investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism in its ranks.

“Such smear-by-association has become all too common for Muslims and Muslim organisations. It is a cancer blighting sections of our political and media class and has infected the solemn business of government,” said Shuja Shafi, the MCB's secretary general.

Cameron also came in for criticism from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK, a civil liberties and anti-Islamophobia lobbying organisation, which said his apology had been "a weasel-worded attempt to deflect further scrutiny and pressure for his lies".

“Cameron’s comments have further eroded the confidence Muslims have in the Prime Minister for treating the Muslim community with respect – if he wants to make it clear that he is against the dog-whistle politics which marred the Conservative campaign during the London Mayoral election he must issue a full apology for his blatant lies,” said MPACUK spokesman Raza Nadim.

Gani had immediately demanded that Cameron retract and apologise when he made the comments during Prime Minister's Questions lastr for his comments, backed by a campaign in Middle East Eye.

Downing Street had repeatedly rejected calls for a retraction and was still doing so as late as the daily meeting with lobby journalists on Wednesday. Nevertheless, Downing Street was unable to provide any evidence to support the prime minister’s claim that Gani is a supporter of the IS.

Read Peter Oborne's calls for Cameron to apologise to Suliman Gani 

A Downing Street spokesperson at one stage pointed reporters towards remarks made at a meeting in Bedford last November, where Gani appeared on a panel. A close inspection of the meeting proved that Gani made no comments that could be construed as supporting IS or any other terrorist group.

Cameron’s government stepped up its attack on Gani over the weekend when Defence Secretary Michael Fallon – who accused Sadiq Khan of posing a threat to London’s security - repeated the prime minister’s claim that Gani was an IS supporter on the BBC’s Today programme.

The following day, Tory backbencher Nadim Zahawi returned to the attack, saying that Gani “actually stands up for IS, Daesh”.

Throughout the barrage from the prime minister and senior Tories, Gani behaved with composure and dignity. However, he said he became conscious of receiving menacing glares from passers-by on the street.

He told me last weekend: “I sense people looking at me in a certain way. You can notice the difference.”

In one especially frightening incident last Saturday night, a man accused him of being a “terrorist” as he went to a local restaurant. On Sunday, Gani said he was too worried to go out with his family as his normal custom.

The lies told about Gani by senior Tories, including the prime minister, demonstrate the depth and virulence of the Conservative Party’s campaign against Sadiq Khan. This campaign has since been strongly criticised by Tory MPs and even by the family of the losing Conservative candidate, Zac Goldsmith.

The prime minister's remarks about Suliman Gani were made under parliamentary privilege, which means that no legal case can be mounted against him. However, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon had no such legal immunity when he made his accusations against Gani on the Today programme.

When Fallon issued an apology earlier on Wednesday, pressure began to mount on Cameron to follow suit.   

MacInnes said campaigners would keep pushing authorities to issue a meaningfull apology. 

"We will keep the pressure on and the lawyers are unlikely to be satisfied with this [from Fallon]," she said.

"Our petition says that 'the Prime Minister must retract his wordsand issue a full and unreserved apology in the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity'. The meagre apology thus far is therefore inadequate and doesn't go far enough to repair the damage done to Suliman's good name. 

"I don’t think it is over just yet."