You might imagine that a four-day festival organised by British Muslim activists to showcase Islamic culture and engage in political debate with Muslims and non-Muslims alike would be welcomed by anyone who cares about the future of community relations in Britain.
IslamExpo, which has been running in London's Olympia for the past three days, has certainly lived up to its billing: more than 40,000 people have already attended an extraordinary celebration of the diversity of Muslim art and culture, while the range of discussion about some of the most contentious issues surrounding the Muslim community has been impressive by any reckoning.
US academic specialists like John Esposito, John Voll and Robert Leiken have debated political Islam with the likes of Tariq Ramadan and Rached al-Ghannouchi, who played a crucial role in reconciling mainstream Islamism with democratic principles in the 1990s.
In a panel on the media chaired by Rageh Omar on Friday, I spoke alongside Peter Oborne of the Daily Mail, Wadah Khanfar, head of the al-Jazeera network, and the Evening Standard's Andrew Gilligan, who was happy to denounce the Muslims4Ken London election campaign and the Muslim Council of Britain for supposedly being "too close to radical Islamists".
But instead of taking part in the dialogue they all claim to believe in, several frontline politicians pulled out of the event at the last minute, including the employment minister Stephen Timms, international development minister Shahid Malik and Sayeeda Warsi, Tory community cohesion spokeswoman.
The trigger for their sudden withdrawal from a rare opportunity to engage with thousands of British Muslims (others such as the Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes resisted the pressure to withdraw) seems to have been an Evening Standard article by the increasingly extreme anti-Islamist campaigner Ed Husain comparing the event to a British National Party rally.
The basis for his absurd claim were the real or imagined links of some of the organisers with Hamas, winners of the last Palestinian elections, or the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest political movement in the Arab world. The main squeeze was put on by Hazel Blears' communities and local government department, which has been playing an increasingly retrograde and self-defeating role in relations with the Muslim community.
Several other anti-Islamist crusaders — including Martin Bright of the New Statesman and Douglas Murray, director of the rightwing Centre for Social Cohesion — then also grandly pulled out of IslamExpo debates they had earlier agreed to take part in. The pretext given was the fact that one of the organisers is suing the neocon website Harry's Place over a highly inflammatory mistranslation of a comment reported on the al-Jazeera website.
The net result of all this is that organisers of IslamExpo – who have shown themselves to be committed to pluralism and ready to engage in a dialogue with their harshest critics – have been handed the political and moral high ground. The New Labour and Tory frontbenchers and their ideological spine-stiffeners, on the other hand, have been left looking craven, small-minded and unable to face up to some of the most pressing demands of our time.