I popped down this afternoon to the East London Mosque, headquarters of the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe, to check how they were taking my little expose of them on Channel 4 and in the Telegraph yesterday. You may remember that the programme included a Labour minister, Jim Fitzpatrick, saying that his party had been infiltrated by the IFE – which believes in sharia law, jihad and wants to create an “Islamic social and political order” in Britain – and the council leader, Labour’s Lutfur Rahman, rather conspicuously refusing to deny it.
Anyway, one of my friends in the Bengali media told me the IFE had called a press conference today to give its response to my story. Sadly, it turned out to be a press conference at which some press were unwelcome. Turning up at the IFE offices in the mosque with a group of our Bengali colleagues, they were admitted while both I and the Express’s Ted Jeory, the only white reporters in the group, well, weren’t.
It was, said Azad Ali, the IFE’s community affairs co-ordinator, standing in the doorway, a “private meeting,” and not a press conference at all (something denied by all the Bengali journalists I spoke to – two said they’d been sent texts by the IFE describing it as a press conference.) Work still needed in the openness and inclusion department, I think, guys!
I enjoyed meeting Mr Ali face-to-face for the first time – after all that undercover footage we took, I feel like I’ve known him for ages – and considering the difficulties I must have caused him, it wasn’t too bad-tempered. I sort of liked him, actually.
He did want to know if I was carrying a secret camera (no – we’ve got other people to do that stuff – but I don’t blame you for asking) and he’s clearly a reader of this blog, because he referred to something I’d said in a previous post. I said I wanted to meet him properly and he ended up offering to go out for a curry some time – next thing you know, we’ll be releasing a Christmas single together. Or an Eid single. Is there such a thing as an Eid single?
It was a faintly bizarre experience walking through the mosque’s business wing this afternoon, and through the familiar streets of Whitechapel. I did get the odd double-take, but no-one was even slightly hostile – another sign that even if the IFE has been rather too influential in the politics of the area, it doesn’t really represent the feelings of ordinary people.