Sunday, 31 August 2014

North Lanarkshire Update

The settlement talks with North Lanarkshire Council have not produced an outcome by the end of August which was the timescale originally agreed by all the parties to get the job done.

The Council has failed to provide concrete offers of settlement which is the only way to bring these talks to a satisfactory conclusion.

Action 4 Equality Scotland (which has by far the largest number of claimants in North Lanarkshire) pushed for all the cases to go back to the Employment Tribunals, but both the Council and the trade unions asked for the settlement talks to be given more time. 

So next week's tribunal dates have been postponed at this stage and the Council has been given more time to try and get its act together.

I have to say I'm now sceptical that North Lanarkshire is serious about bringing these talks to a conclusion without going back to the Employment Tribunal where senior managers can be put on the spot and forced to explain exactly what happened over the scoring and grading of so many council jobs, such as the Home Carers.

Because why else would North Lanarkshire refuse to release the minute of its Corporate Management Team (CMT) meeting dated 11 August 2005 - if the Council really does have nothing to hide?

If you ask me, this feels like history repeating itself.

In the sense that instead of acting openly and transparently, the Council is trying desperately to 'bury the evidence' just as South Lanarkshire did in relation to a previous FoI request which went all the way to the UK Supreme Court.

But as regular readers know, the UK Supreme Court decided unanimously in my favour - and a short time later all of the Action 4 Equality Scotland equal pay claims were resolved on satisfactory terms.     

Vote Early, Vote Often

I cast my 'Yes' vote in the independence referendum yesterday, by post which is why the deed has been done so early.

As I wandered around the west end and centre of Glasgow, the Yes campaign had a visible presence in lots of different locations with the equivalent of a big smile on its face.   

I read a report in a newspaper that one of the leading No campaign figures, Labour MP Jim Murphy, was calling for Yes Scotland to accept responsibility for the actions of some idiot who heckled and threw an egg at him in Dundee recently. 

Yet the same newspaper reported a 'death threat' against Alex Salmond by some sad loser (who claimed to be making a bad joke) and separate 'road rage' incident involving another lunatic and the First Minister's official car.  

But no one called upon the No campaign to accept responsibility in the manner of Jim Murphy, so it seems to me that the Better Together side is getting a bit desperate.

A clear sign of which is that they are beginning to fight amongst themselves over whose dumb idea it was to commission the 'patronising lady' advert, for example.  

'Squeaky bum' time, as they say.  

Yes Scotland (8 August 2014)

I've finally made up my mind on the business of Scottish independence and after a lot of thought I have decided to cast a 'Yes' vote in the referendum on 18 September 2014.

Now I'm not a 'committed nationalist' and I'm neither a member or supporter of the Scottish National Party. In fact I attended every Scottish Labour Party conference during the 1990s (as a union delegate from Nupe and then Unison) and I've voted for Labour on and off even after I resigned my Labour party membership in 1999.

I started out on my referendum journey strongly supporting a second question on the ballot paper for more powers or 'Devo Max' for the Scottish Parliament, but the Westminster parties ganged up to deny people the choice that most Scots wanted, as if we're all too dumb to hold two thoughts in our minds at the same time.

So, having been left with a straight Yes or No, my vote is going in support of independence. Because while the Scottish Parliament is properly representative and accountable to the Scottish people the same can't be said of the Westminster Parliament which has palpably failed to reform and reinvent itself in the wake of the great MPs' expenses scandal. At the same time the House of Lords has become even more bloated with a record 760 peers and its very existence is an insult to democracy. 

The case for the Scottish Parliament having far more extensive powers is absolutely overwhelming if you ask me, and not just because the Scottish Government, Scottish Ministers and our MSPs have shown themselves to be as capable and competent as their Westminster colleagues over the past 15 years.

No, another big reason for the Scottish Parliament to have full control of tax and economic policy, over immigration and the welfare system, is that the influence of London is distorting and destabilising the rest of the UK economy. The out of control housing market being the obvious example and one which helped lead the country to near financial disaster in 2008.

And while I can see the argument that the UK is 'greater than the sum of its parts' when it comes to defence and foreign policy, I don't believe this is true of other areas of policy and public life where there often is a distinctly Scottish agenda or political culture.

All of which boils down to the question of whether the Scottish Parliament is capable of taking over responsibility for the country's affairs. Or should we be persuaded by the last minute, death bed conversion of the Westminster parties to grant 'more powers' to the Scottish Parliament after the September 2014 referendum was called.    

I might have been persuaded by the 'more powers' argument if this had been backed up by a second question in the referendum because the overwhelming support of  Scottish voters would have made it virtually impossible for the Westminster parties to deploy cynical wrecking tactics.

As the Labour Party to its terrible shame did back in 1979 when a Labour MP, George Cunningham (a Fifer originally who defected to the SDP), moved an amendment to the Scotland Act 1978 which effectively denied Scotland its Scottish Parliament for another 20 years, while at the same time ushering in a 18 long years of Tory rule.

So as I see things there are risks and uncertainties either way, and nor has it escaped my attention the Westminster Parliament was responsible for fuelling the great 'boom and bust' which Gordon Brown claimed to have abolished, yet the country's economy was brought to its knees under Labour in 2008 and is only now beginning to recover.

In other words, these people are in no position to lecture Scotland on how we should now organise our own affairs. 

Attacked by a Bear

View image on Twitter

The Better Together campaign's latest advert is fast becoming the stuff of legend as the 'patronising lady' is mercilessly mocked on the internet by women, men and just about anyone with a good sense of humour. 

Someone with the user name 'andypandy' offered Better Together a storyboard for their next advert, completely free, along with a great plot line about what would happen in an 'uncertain', independent Scotland - if a mother's children get attacked by a bear.

Now that is funny and this kind of good natured humour banter is deadly for the No campaign which is beginning to sound rattled.   

View image on Twitter

Wrong Tactics

I've used the Co-op's pick up service operated by Amazon and very good it is too - far better and easier than having to traipse along to Royal Mail sorting office which is miles away and operates to much more restricted opening times.

So I think the GMB is choosing the wrong tactics in its efforts to improve pay amongst the Amazon workforce because trying to shut down part of its business can only harm Amazon while shooting the Co-op in the foot as well.  

Union calls for Co-op branches to oust Amazon lockers

GMB steps up campaign against online retailer's pay and conditions

By Sarah Butler - The Guardian

Amazon's fulfilment centre in Swansea. Photograph: Rex

The GMB union is calling on Co-operative members to help oust Amazon lockers from the mutual's grocery stores.

The union, which has pursued a long-running campaign over pay and conditions at the online retailer's British warehouses, said it had already raised the issue with the Co-op's chief executive Richard Pennycook and was now calling on members to throw out a "cuckoo in the ethical nest".

"GMB needs the support of Co-operative members to ensure that Amazon improves security of employment, treats workers fairly and pays them a wage they can live on in their distribution chain in the UK and elsewhere in the EU," the union said. It claims that the majority of Amazon staff earn £6.39 an hour, only just above the national minimum wage, with permanent staff starting on £7. Amazon was unavailable for comment.

Amazon is putting lockers in 160 Co-op stores where shoppers can choose to pick up goods ordered online, after teaming up with the mutual in 2012.

Speaking Out

Here's an excellent article by Matthew Syed writing in The Times in which he argues that moral decrees from centuries old religious books should not be the basis on which people live their lives in the 21st century. 

Now Matthew makes a point of focusing on misogyny within fundamentalist Islam, but it is fair to say that other religions set out to control people's lives as well such as the Catholic Church in relation to contraception and abortion, for example.

But I couldn't agree more with Matthew's comment on the 'dehumanising absurdity of the burka' and his call to arms for all people of good will to challenge the everyday misogyny and other forms extremism in our midst.    

Muslims must tackle the misogyny in their midst

By Matthew Syed - The Times

Most British Pakistanis are appalled at the horrors of Rotherham, but they have to confront the attitudes that cause it

We are only beginning to understand the potency of Islamic fundamentalism, with its dangerous notions of received truth and moral superiority.

It manifests itself in more ways than jihadism. It also drives the attitude behind coerced marriages, female genital mutilation and the dehumanising absurdity of the burka. All these things, in different ways, demonstrate a medieval attitude to women among extremists. It is not racist to point this out; merely enlightened.

Some moderate Muslims, too, are held back by the dictates of their religion. My mum and dad went to a wedding in the United States this month. My dad’s nephew was getting married and it was, as is often the case with Pakistani marriages, a splendid two-day affair. But at the reception, mum was crushed to hear fathers marrying off daughters before they had completed their college education. When it came to sons, the presumption was reversed. “The man is the head of the house,” they explained. “Boys have to have an education. For girls, it’s a luxury.”

My paternal grandfather, Alamdar, was another moderate whose ideals were scuppered by the dictates of Islam. He was a brilliant man who rose through the police force in southern India before partition, eventually becoming chief of police. My dad used to look on wide-eyed as British officers saluted him. Alamdar wanted his five children (four daughters and a son) to be treated equally on his death, but his wishes were betrayed. Islamic law dictated that my father alone receive his estate. But for dad’s integrity, his sisters would have been left without a bean.

When we think of misogyny in Islamic communities, our minds often turn to places such as Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from driving and have to ask male guardians’ permission to work or marry. The vast majority of Muslims condemn this, and rightly so. But echoes of this attitude reverberate far wider. It is hard-wired into many Islamic institutions and customs, neutering the forces of progress. Moderate Muslims must be open about this if they are to defeat the fanatics.

The underlying problem is, of course, received truth. Extremists regard moral decrees stated more than 1,500 years ago as literally and eternally true. They see the suppression of women as a moral imperative. It is not that they lack empathy or humanity; it is that these traits are distorted by their grotesque interpretation of the Koran. It is a curious and haunting process. I have seen Christian fundamentalists tread a not dissimilar path. On the Todayprogramme yesterday, Kalsoom Bashir, of Inspire, a human rights organisation, talked about the “Raja complex” in sections of the Pakistani community, where boys are revered by their mothers and sisters and given unbridled control over family affairs. She argued that it can lead to a degrading attitude to women and may have been one of the reasons for the prevalence of Pakistani men in the sexual exploitation scandals that have come to light in Rochdale, Derby and, most recently, Rotherham. She may be right.

She didn’t mention Islam but the connection, to my mind, is clear. Religious presumptions of the moral and intellectual superiority of man morph, as a matter of historical inevitability, into customs where women are oppressed. I suspect that few of the Pakistani men involved in child sexual exploitation were Islamic extremists in the sense of wanting to become jihadists, but the connection is there in a subtler way. Moderate Muslims should be brave enough to say this too.

Does this mean there is a “deep-rooted” problem with Pakistani culture, as the report into the Rotherham scandal implied? It is here, I think, we need to introduce a bit of perspective. There are 1.2 million people in this country of Pakistani heritage. Five so far have been convicted in Rotherham (this is an affront to justice given the scale of the abuse). But suppose that ten times as many had been involved; or a hundred times as many. This would still represent a tiny fraction of the total.

Many of the Pakistani community are secularists, many are atheists, and many others are Muslims only in the most tenuous sense. They are like the children of avowed Christians, who pay lip service to the faith to please the family but don’t believe in a single verse of scripture. Even among those with outdated attitudes towards women, whether because of warped religious ideals or customs, only a tiny minority would dream of indulging in the sexual exploitation of children. The vast majority will have been repulsed by what has been reported. So while I worry about the corrupting power of Islam, I also worry about the indiscriminate tarring of entire ethnic groups.

Providing statistical context in the aftermath of a scandal often looks like appeasement. It shouldn’t be this way. In a few weeks’ time, when the Rotherham scandal has faded from the news, it would be tragic if there was a lingering presumption that Pakistani men in general have a warped attitude towards women.

It seems to me that we need to fight a dual battle. We need to stand up for our values, to be more muscular in the way we confront unacceptable religious practices. If we think the ritual slaughtering of animals is inhumane, we should ban halal meat. If we think (as I do) that the burka is an affront to civilised values, we should say so. But we should also recognise that Islamic moderates (even those who eat halal) are fighting in the wider battle against extremism. Their task is difficult enough, given the cultural baggage of their religion, without facing unfair persecution. They need all the help they can get. And we should never tarnish entire communities on the basis of the crimes of a few.

Nobody has a more healthy contempt for Islamic fundamentalism than my father but his hatred of stereotyping runs it close. “We can win these battles,” he said to me yesterday. “We can beat the extremists who want to destroy us. But we can also defeat those insinuate that everybody with brown skin is a suicide bomber or closet rapist. In fact, we are unlikely to win either battle unless we win both.”

Burqa Ban

Be honest, does any really think it acceptable for a creche worker to turn up for duty one day wearing a body length balaclava? 

No, I didn't think so not least because it would frighten the living daylights out of the children never mind the impact on relations with parents and other staff.

So I was pleased to learn that judges at the European court of human rights have upheld France's burqa ban and thrown out the ridiculous argument that this constituted a breach of a person's human rights.  

France's burqa ban upheld by human rights court

European judges declare that preservation of a certain idea of 'living together' was legitimate aim of French authorities.

By Kim Willsher - The Guardian

The French law, introduced in 2010, also covers balaclavas and hoods but has been criticised as targeting Muslim women. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Judges at the European court of human rights (ECHR) have upheld France's burqa ban, accepting Paris's argument that it encouraged citizens to "live together".

The law, introduced in 2010, makes it illegal for anyone to cover their face in a public place. While it also covers balaclavas and hoods, the ban has been criticised as targeting Muslim women.

The case was brought by an unnamed 24-year-old French citizen of Pakistani origin, who wears both the burqa, covering her entire head and body, and the niqab, leaving only her eyes uncovered.

She was represented by solicitors from Birmingham in the UK, who claimed the outlawing of the full-face veil was contrary to six articles of the European convention. They argued it was "inhumane and degrading, against the right of respect for family and private life, freedom of thought, conscience andreligion, freedom of speech and discriminatory".

The French government asked the court to throw out the case, claiming that the law was not aimed at the burqa or veil but any covering of the face in a public place, and also applied to hoods and helmets when not worn on a motor vehicle.

The court heard that out of an estimated five million Muslims living in France – the exact figure is unknown as it is illegal to gather data by religion or ethnic group – only about 1,900 women were estimated to be affected by the ban, according to 2009 research. French officials told the judges this figure had since dropped by half "thanks to a major public information campaign".

The complainant, named only by the initials SAS, was described as a "perfect French citizen with an university education …who speaks of her republic with passion".

Her lawyer Tony Muman told the ECHR last November: "She's a patriot" adding that she had suffered "absolutely no pressure" from her family or relatives to cover herself. While she was prepared to uncover her face for identity checks, she insisted on the right to wear the full-face veil, Muman said.

The European judges decided otherwise, declaring that the preservation of a certain idea of "living together" was the "legitimate aim" of the French authorities.

Isabelle Niedlispacher, representing the Belgian government, which introduced a similar ban in 2011 and which was party to the French defence, declared both the burqa and niqab "incompatible" with the rule of law.

Aside from questions of security and equality, she added: "It's about social communication, the right to interact with someone by looking them in the face and about not disappearing under a piece of clothing."

The French and Belgian laws were aimed at "helping everyone to integrate", Niedlispacher added.

The ECHR has already upheld France's ban on headscarves in educational establishments, and its regulation requiring the removal of scarves, veils and turbans for security checks.

Tuesday's legal decision came a few days after France's highest court, the cour de cassation, upheld the firing of a creche worker for "serious misconduct" after she arrived for work wearing a veil. The woman has said she will appeal to the ECHR.

Whole Body Veils (18 September 2013)

Hugo Rifkind gets to the heart of the debate about whole body veils with his opinion piece for the Times.

The issue has nothing to do with people's human rights or ability to practice their religious beliefs - instead it's about how citizens interact with each other in public places.

To my mind, any religion that insists a woman must wear a bag over her head in public   is crazy and offensive - but then I find lots of other things about religion offensive as well.

The difference with niqabs and burkas is that they have no place in the public spaces where people come together as equals - believers and non-believers alike - whether to work, teach, practice medicine or administer justice. 

So, if a fundamentalist Muslim wants to wear a whole body veil indoors, in a Mosque or strolling in the park - then knock yourself out, I say.

But in other areas of public life I think it's an unacceptable way to behave - 'just bloody rude', as Hugo Rifkind says.     

Veils shouldn’t be banned. Except sometimes

By Hugo Rifkind

A niqab is a barrier, worn to repel. It is un-British — but so too is a blanket ban on them being worn

The best contribution I have yet heard to the debate on the ethics of veils came a few months ago, on Radio 4, from the comedian Francesca Martinez. To avoid the glare of men, she noted, some women drape themselves from head to toe in material, save for the strip they cut away to see. She felt she had a more economical solution. “Keep that strip and get men to put it over their eyes,” she suggested, “and then you can wear what you like.”

Niqabs are very now. Last week, following a protest, Birmingham’s Metropolitan College un-banned the niqab after eight years. Yesterday, a judge in Tower Hamlets decided that a woman should be allowed to stand trial in a veil except for when she gave evidence, when she would be shielded behind a screen. Already, we know what a whole bunch of politicians think about this. All speak with a strange sort of detachment, as though the issue here were a grave and complicated one, with two rational sides. Rather than what it really is, a sexist and perhaps coercive belief that a woman in public ought to have her head in a bag.

Don’t flinch from this. By all means, let us debate the reach of the State, and the requirements of tolerance in a multicultural, multifaith society, and all that jazz. But at the heart of this lies the notion that a woman, by virtue of being a woman, ought to be invisible in a public space. That’s a notion to which, in my view, we ought to give a big old kick every time we happen to pass it. Few things are less British than the niqab, and few things should be less welcome to a Brit.

Although that doesn’t mean we ought to ban it. Well, except for sometimes, when we definitely should. Of course people shouldn’t be allowed to cover their faces in airport security or in court. I surprise myself with my own vehemence on this, but there is no doubt in my mind. Yesterday’s ruling in Tower Hamlets was hailed as a compromise, but it wasn’t one at all. It was a surrender to somebody who was attempting to reject centuries of convention in British courts.

Such situations, though, are rare. More often, I’d actually approve of a situation in which a woman has every right to wear a veil, but that right is not in any way protected from rival obligations. A bit like most clothes, in other words. A policeman, for example, has every right to march out of his house in a mankini as modelled by Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, but that doesn’t mean a judge needs to get involved if the DCI sends him home to change. In most lines of work you should be able to wear a veil up until the point where your boss tells you that you can’t. And, if you work in any sort of people-facing public service, let’s be honest, your boss ought to be telling you that pretty damn quickly.

With teachers, this seems to be how it works already. Some may forget, but last time Britain grew terribly perturbed — yet, you know, understanding — about the niqab was in 2006, when a woman called Aishah Azmi was sacked from her post as a teaching assistant by a Church of England school for refusing to unveil while teaching. Much as I try, I can’t think of any good reason why a teacher should have her face covered. I suppose you might argue it beneficial for children to be exposed to people in veils, and thus grow to understand it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to wear, but I’d respond that it isn’t, thus it isn’t. Pretty simple.

Yesterday, the Home Office minister Jeremy Browne seemed to be suggesting that face-coverings should be banned among school pupils, so as to protect vulnerable girls who are compelled to cover up by relatives. I take his point, but given that there’s little evidence that this actually happens much — veils are very rarely worn by children — it does sound like he’s picking a fight.

If so, he should pick it properly. Personally, in an utterly non-tub-thumping way, I’d be quite happy to find headmasters sending kids home for wearing any kind of religious garb — yarmulkes, bindis, whopping great crucifixes, whatever — in just the same way as they might do if they came in dressed as cowboys, aliens or Krusty the Clown. For some, it would be a liberation from the dogmas of their parents, and for others a bit of early education about what it means, or should mean, to live in a country where priests don’t call the shots.

Is it hard to imagine this ever happening? I suppose it is, and for reasons that help to show why the issue of veils has the potential to throw so many people into such an angry, humourless, erratic tizz. The veil is a fairly unique form of cultural symbol, after all. Not everything about Britain ought to be multicultural, and there are some forms of civic interaction that frankly ought to demand that you take your funny hat off. Elsewhere, though, while I might object to the clearly sexist rationale behind, say, a Somali’s hijab, or the wig of an ultra-Orthodox Jew, at least these are people who want me to know who they are. The veil isn’t like that. It isn’t a symbol of multiculturalism but a stand against it. Whether worn voluntarily or by compulsion, it’s an opt-out. It is what it looks like, which is a barrier worn to repel. In the end, there’s no other way of saying this. It’s just bloody rude.

What pains me is that we’ve lost the knack of navigating this, or even comfortably talking about it. The grey, essential space between not liking something and outlawing it has almost disappeared. Why not first speak of engaging with those tiny parts of already small communities that wear them, and politely asking them not to?

It’s cowardice. It’s a lack of confidence in our own values and our ability to articulate them. We are like the neighbours who call the police about noise complaints, afraid to simply knock on the door. Not actually wanting to look each other in the face, even if we could.

Foul Creatures

Seagull flying over Brighton beach. Photograph: Davis McCardle/Getty Images
Seagull flying over Brighton beach. Photograph: Davis McCardle/Getty Images
A regular reader drew my attention to this seagull enquiry which appeared in The Guardian the other day - so I decided to respond. 
What is the point of seagulls? If they were made extinct, would mankind or the ecological balance be affected?
Hilary Shenken, Isleworth
My answer to Hilary Shenken is that the world would be a much better place if these birds were to become extinct because they are foul and aggressive, noisy and smelly, and serve no useful purpose unlike other 'feathered friends' which have a beautiful birdsong or play a role in helping to maintain the ecological balance in the countryside, hawks and other raptors for example. 
Seagulls in Glasgow, where I live, have virtually no connection with the sea and are a vile city centre menace and quite why they are a 'protected species' is truly one of life’s great mysteries. 
I would vote them out of existence tomorrow if I could and maybe, one day, I’ll get my way. 
Mark Irvine, Glasgow

Having a Laugh

I came across the following reasons offered up by Russia by way of explanation as to why many members of the Russian armed forces (plus equipment) have found their way into Ukraine in recent weeks. 

The one that takes the biscuit for me is that Russian soldiers in the Ukraine are supposedly 'on holiday', as if they are free to wander away  from their barracks with their weapons and equipment in tow - and their commanding officers have nothing to say.

Now no army in the world operates that way, not even the Red Army.  

1. They were volunteers

"There are Russian volunteers in eastern parts of Ukraine. No one is hiding that."

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin

2. They are from video games

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, commenting on reports about the satellite images on Friday said previous imagery was from video games and the Nato photos “happen to be much the same quality”.

“It’s not the first time we’ve heard wild guesses, though facts have never been presented so far,” he said according to Russia Today.

3. It was an aid convoy

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko accused Russia of a “flagrant violation of international law” when its aid convoys entered Ukraine without its permission, the BBC reports.

4. It was an accident

After Ukraine said they had captured ten Russian soldiers in Ukraine, near the Russian border, Russian officials said the whole thing was a misunderstanding, reports the BBC.

The soldiers really did participate in a patrol of a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border, crossed it by accident on an unmarked section, and as far as we understand showed no resistance to the armed forces of Ukraine when they were detained.

Russian defence ministry source to Russian news agency RIA Novosti

5. They were on holiday

Pro-Russian separatist Alexander Zakharchenko claimed Russian soldiers in Ukraine were just “on holiday", the Guardian reports.

"And moreover, I’ll say it openly, we also have current soldiers, who decided to take their holidays not on the beach, but among us."

Alexander Zakharchenko

Muslim Voices

The Grand Mufti in Egypt, Shawqi Allam, a Sunni Muslim I'm sure, has spoken out against the murderous activities of the Islamist State in Syria and Iraq.

Now the report from Reuters is not the most serious denunciation I've ever read in my time, but it's a start and who knows maybe Islamic leaders is other parted of the world will follow his example because there is a real concern that Sunni and Shia Muslims are incapable of living in space with one another, never mind their non-Muslim neighbours.

Egypt's top religious authority condemns Islamic State

Source: Reuters - Aug 2014

CAIRO, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Egypt's top religious authority condemned the armed group Islamic State which has taken over parts of Iraq and Syria, describing it on Tuesday as a corrupt, extremist organisation that is damaging Islam.

"An extremist and bloody group such as this poses a danger to Islam and Muslims, tarnishing its image as well as shedding blood and spreading corruption," said Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, Egypt's most influential Muslim cleric, the state news agency MENA reported.

The comments came as the Vatican called on Muslim religious leaders to take a "clear and courageous stance" and condemn "unspeakable criminal acts" by Islamic State.

The grand mufti's view represents the opinion of Al Azhar, one of the world's oldest seats of Muslim learning, which influences the opinions of Muslims worldwide.

Islamic State has declared a Muslim caliphate in the territory it has captured in Iraq and Syria. It sees all Shi'ite Muslims as heretics and boasted of killing hundreds of captive Shi'ite soldiers in June.

An Iraqi government minister said on Sunday that Islamic State fighters had killed hundreds of Iraq's minority Yazidis, burying some alive and taking women as slaves.

In comments made during a visit by former Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora, Allam said Islamic State's actions strengthened the hand of those who wanted to harm Islam.

"(They) give an opportunity for those who seek to harm us, to destroy us and interfere in our affairs with the (pretext of a) call to fight terrorism," Allam said,

Last week, the United States bombed Islamic State targets in northern Iraq, saying it was protecting the Kurdish autonomous region and trying to prevent what U.S. President Barack Obama called a potential genocide of religious minorities. (Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Robin Pomeroy).