Islamic extremists, multiculturalism and democracy

I’ve done a piece for The Guardian’s website today in response to the quite hopeless claim by Inayat Bunglawala that the IFE and their ilk are simply regular Muslims seeking “democratic engagement.” As I put it:

“My Muslim friends and I believe in a world that is, in Louis MacNeice’s fine words, ‘incorrigibly plural.’ We see no reason why we should have to be defined by our faith, unless we want to be. Like the poet, we feel the drunkenness of things being various. The cold Islamic supremacists of the IFE are the enemies not just of democracy, but of multiculturalism and pluralism itself. Their indulgence by the political system is one of the hidden scandals of our time.”

Read the full piece here.

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New series: Islamist Blogpost of the Day

For the last four days, the official spokesman for the Islamic Forum of Europe, Abul Kalam, has been furiously denying to every journalist who calls that his organisation is “radical,” “extremist,” fundamentalist – or indeed anything other than really nice and cuddly.

Alas, here are the actual views of Abul Kalam, as written on the IFE’s official blog on 19 February last year. He’s not at all happy about the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, Contest 2, which disgracefully proposed to deny official funds to extremists:  

“Concepts such as Jihad, Khilafah [caliphate, a global Islamic superstate], and Shariah are rooted in our tradition. That the open and unashamed practise and propagation of homosexuality is a sin is also an established Islamic fact…. One thing will become clear if Contest 2 becomes governmental policy: There will be no hiding space for Muslim sell-outs (his itals).”

Just the fellows to exercise growing power over a democratic, secular local council, I think!

This will be the first in a series of daily extracts from Abul and his IFE blog mates. There is no shortage of material. Their posts, written when they thought no-one was looking, are an absolute goldmine of the IFE’s true, and very objectionable, views. (And it’s no good taking them down now, chaps – we’ve got printouts.) Come back every lunchtime for a new post!

Fundamentalist-infiltrated council steps back from the cliff edge – just

At the eleventh hour, Tower Hamlets has drawn back from an act of stupidity stunning even by its own standards. The council’s initial response to our revelations that it has been infiltrated by Islamic fundamentalists – revelations which the council leader refuses to deny – has been not to investigate the matter, but to attack one of the people who helped expose it.

In the ongoing takeover process of the council by the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), one of the key moments was the appointment of Lutfur Ali, a man with close links to the IFE, to the second most important job at the Town Hall – despite his palpable unfitness for the £125,000 post.

Apart from his IFE links, there wasn’t that much else going for Mr Ali. The council-appointed headhunters who considered applicants described him as “rather limited,” “superficial,” and “one-dimensional” and said he might “struggle with the intellectual challenges [of] a highly strategic role.” And the headhunters didn’t even know that Mr Ali had submitted a misleading CV, which gave false dates for a previous employment and omitted the fact that he had been forced to resign from that job for breaching the local authority code of conduct. 

Mr Ali is responsible for council grants. Since his appointment, a lot more council money has started going to organisations closely linked to  – you guessed – the IFE. These organisations include a very generously-funded youth training project, Brick Lane Youth Development Association, or Blyda. Part of the purpose of this project, according to critics, is to take vulnerable young people off the streets and imbue them with the values of the IFE.

Blyda’s chair and three of its four trustees are also trustees of the IFE, or its youth wing, the YMO. The man in charge of Blyda’s project working with local gang members, Muhammad Rabbani, is the same person who trains young IFE recruits in the need for an “Islamic social, economic and political order” in Britain.

Has the council sacked or suspended Lutfur Ali? Not at all, but they have been trying to suspend the man who exposed him – the opposition leader, Peter Golds, who brought out the contents of the headhunters’ report in our programme. Mr Golds was accused of “breaching confidentiality” by quoting from the document. Actually, he was quoting not from the report but from a letter he wrote about it to the council’s standards committee.

The idea that someone can be thrown off a council for reading out one of his own letters has proved, in the end, a notch too far even for Tower Hamlets. It would also have been the mother of all media disasters. So this afternoon the idea has been dropped.

But it is symptomatic of the utter panic and denial now reigning at the council that they could even have thought of such a thing.

The IFE shows its commitment to openness and inclusion

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.

Fundamentalist infiltration of the Labour Party: look what the council leader refuses to deny

Here is the transcript of my interview with Lutfur Rahman, Labour leader of Tower Hamlets council, last Thursday – extracts of which were shown on my Channel 4 documentary yesterday about infiltration into the Labour Party and council by the Islamic Forum of Europe.

Cllr Rahman repeatedly refuses to deny that the Labour Party has been infiltrated, that a number of councillors are very close to the IFE or that a senior member of the IFE helped him win the leadership of the council. When the questioning turns to this individual, the interview is ended.

Q: Lutfur, why is the local Labour Party in special measures?

Cllr Rahman: It has been in special measures since 2001, it’s a question you should direct to the regional office.

Q: But you are the leader of the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets.

Cllr Rahman: The London region could give you that answer.

Q: We’re quoting a Labour Party spokesman [from the local Tower Hamlets newspaper] in our film, as saying they are ‘trying to prevent organisations filtering in who may try taking over the party.’ Is that something you’re worried about?

Cllr Rahman: I’m not concerned with that. I haven’t seen any signs of that. However if the London regional party have concerns, they will no doubt would have raised it, and would raise it with Tower Hamlets Labour Party.

Q: They haven’t raised it with you at all?

Cllr Rahman: That’s something you need to seek further clarification from London region.

 Q: Have they raised it with you?

Cllr Rahman: They’ve raised various concerns with me, but those concerns have been around since 2001, way before I’ve been the leader, in fact before I’ve been a councillor.

Q: But they’ve raised concerns quite recently, is my understanding.

Cllr Rahman: There are some concerns that the region have raised, with London, erm Tower Hamlets Labour party, erm.

Q: What are those concerns?

Cllr Rahman: Those are internal matters, party matters.

Q: What are the concerns that they have raised?

Cllr Rahman: They are internal party matters that I’m not at liberty to discuss on TV, or with you, the internal workings of the Labour party.

Q: Are they concerns of the nature I’ve just described to you?

Cllr Rahman: There are various concerns Andrew, you have a quote from the London region, what I suggest with the greatest of respect to you, that you raise and seek further clarification from the London region.

Q: But it’s relevant to you, it’s relevant to the council, because it’s specifically related to the council, that’s what they’re telling us.

Cllr Rahman: I tell you what’s relevant to me. I’m leading a council which is high  performing.  I’ve been the leader for the last two years, I’ve been a councillor for eight years.  What matters to me is more social housing, what matters to me are kids going to school, doing well, achieving, fantastic GCSEs.  What matters to me is the worklessness in the borough being addressed. What matters to me is having a borough where people feel safe to live in, to visit, a borough where the crime rate is falling. That’s what matters to me.

Q: Of course, but we’re talking here about an Islamist organisation, an organisation that believes, in its own words, in changing this country from a secular state to an Islamic state.  Isn’t that something you should be concerned about?

Cllr Rahman: What organisation are you referring to?

Q: The Islamic Forum of Europe [IFE].

Cllr Rahman: Right. I think you should talk to them about their ideologies.  I work in this organisation [the council].  This council works with some 1700 organisations as an authority.

Q: But you’ve admitted to me that the Labour Party has raised concerns with you.

Cllr Rahman: They’ve raised concerns with Tower Hamlets Labour Party.

Q: Of which you’re the leader.

Cllr Rahman: I am the leader of the Labour Group of this council, I’m not the leader of the Tower Hamlets Labour Party – we have a chair, we have a secretary.  But what matters to me Andrew, as I said, is doing well for this borough, serving all the communities, that’s important to me.  We have some 1700 organisations in the borough. And we will work with every one of them, as long as they aspire to our principles of delivering high quality services for all our communities, that’s what matters to me.

Q: At the last Labour Group annual general meeting, the previous leader, Helal Abbas, said that the IFE controlled the council. Do you agree with that?

Cllr Rahman: You’ll have to ask Mr Helal Abbas on his comments, I cannot –

Q: What do you make of his comments?

Cllr Rahman: I cannot comment on the comments that he’s made. What matters to me is this.  That the Labour group is run by Labour councillors, of which I am the leader.

Q: Do you agree with that comment that he made?

Cllr Rahman: The Labour group runs this council.

Q: But you’re not denying that comment?

Cllr Rahman: I am denying that no other external organisation influences the Labour Group.  I’m denying that; I as a Labour member, as the Labour leader of the Labour Group, I together with my other 32 Labour councillors, we run the Labour Group.

Q: Okay.  Your own party colleague, Jim Fitzpatrick, has said that the IFE are quote ‘acting almost as an entryist organisation, placing people within the political parties.’

Cllr Rahman: I have a lot of respect for Jim.  The comments he makes, they are his views.  I’m working away very hard to make sure –

Q: Is he wrong?

Cllr Rahman: – he gets re-elected. The comments he’s made are his comments, I’m not going to comment on those comments. What matters to me –

Q:  He’s the MP, he’s the MP for this area, for the seat we’re sitting in right now.

Cllr Rahman: I cannot comment on what Jim has said. I have a lot of respect for Jim, I’m working away very hard with my Labour colleagues –

Q: But you’re not denying that that’s the case.

Cllr Rahman: I cannot comment on what Jim has said in private to you. I can’t comment on that.

Q: It’s not in private, it’s in our film.

Cllr Rahman: Andrew, I have not seen that film, I wish I had seen that film.

Q: I’ve quoted you what he’s said, that’s a fair comment on what he’s said.

Cllr Rahman: Sure, sure.

Q: Do you disagree with that? I mean, I haven’t heard, yet, a denial.

Cllr Rahman: Andrew, thank you very much, I’m not going to be drawn into those sort of arguments. All that I can say is that I have a lot of respect for Jim, we are working away hard for him to be elected as a Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse.  And what matters to me, Jim and I, together with our other Labour colleagues, [is] to continue to deliver excellent services for the people of Tower Hamlets, that’s what matters to me.

Q: Mr Fitzpatrick also says quote ‘ there is a suggestion that there are a number of Tower Hamlets councillors who are very close,’ to the IFE.  ‘It is difficult to believe that to be other than the case.’

Cllr Rahman: Sure. This concerns me. This suggestion concerns me.

Q: Is it wrong?

Cllr Rahman: This suggestion concerns me, whether it’s right or wrong. I mean only he’s told –

Q: You’re not saying it’s wrong?

Cllr Rahman : Can I just finish, please, Andrew.  What matters to me is this, and I’m concerned that this suggestion has been made.  If any of my Labour councillors belong to an organisation which they have not declared, give us the evidence. Give us the evidence, and we will ask the legal officer to investigate such allegations.  But without such allegations being put forward to us, I cannot comment on those comments.

Q: In Bethnal Green and Bow [constituency], why did the membership of the Labour Party double over a two-year period when it was falling in other places?

Cllr Rahman: First of all, I cannot comment on the number of members in Bethnal Green and Bow. I welcome people to join our party.

Q: You’re a member of Bethnal Green and Bow Labour Party.

Cllr Rahman: I am a member of Bethnal Green and Bow Labour Party.

Q: You’re aware there’s been a giant increase in the membership of that party?

Cllr Rahman: I’m aware of the Bethnal Green and Bow Labour Party. I’ve been a proud member for many years.  I’m very proud that people care to join my party. It’s the party of equality, party of social justice.  A party that delivers for the community, and I’m glad people join our party –

Q: But elsewhere in the country Labour membership has been falling, but here membership has gone up.  From 551 members in 2006, to more than 1100 members in 2008.

Cllr Rahman: This clearly demonstrates the support that the Labour Party has in Tower Hamlets.

Q: Why only in Tower Hamlets?  What’s so special about Tower Hamlets?

Cllr Rahman: I don’t know, go and ask the rest of the country why.

Q: It’s suggested to us that it’s because of infiltration by the IFE.  That is what the Labour Party itself believes.

Cllr Rahman: Andrew, what I would suggest to you is that that is because the people of Tower Hamlets are very politicised, are very conscious, are very committed Labour Party supporters.  It demonstrates the level of support for our party, for our great party.

Q: Why are nearly all these new members Asian?  Is support for the Labour Party simply confined to the Asian community?

Cllr Rahman: No, I’m sure we have members across the –

Q: Nearly every one of those – Ninety-eight per cent [in fact 90%] of those new members are Asian.

Council officer: We’re going to have to call a halt here, thanks.  Councillor Rahman’s got another meeting.

Q: All right. You want to talk about your council, we’ll talk about the council now.  Do you know a man called Mr A [official in the IFE; name omitted for legal reasons]

Cllr Rahman: I know Mr A.

Q: Did he canvas [councillors] on your behalf in the leadership election?

Cllr Rahman: Labour Party members across Tower Hamlets canvas for people when it comes to election and there are various people across Tower Hamlets who get excited, who get involved, who enjoy –

Q: Did he make any promises or threats to councillors on your behalf?

Cllr Rahman: Under no circumstances.

Q: That is the allegation from councillors to us.  From some of your own councillors.

Cllr Rahman: Sure.  It saddens me. It concerns me. If my councillors feel they’ve been threatened by anyone, they should raise this with me.  We have a proper process with the Labour Group, group and its procedure, we have a proper process within the Tower Hamlets Labour Party.  No-one should be going round making threats to anyone. I do not condone that kind of behaviour.  However, if any of my councillors feel they have been threatened, they’ve been cajoled, they should come to me, or they should come to the party.

Q: So Mr A did canvas on your behalf.

Council officer: We are going to have to wrap up now Mr Gilligan.

Q: Of course.  Mr A did canvas on your behalf?

Council officer: It [the interview] has gone on [beyond the allocated time.]

2nd council officer: Mr Gilligan, our time is up now I’m afraid.

Cllr Rahman: All I’m going to say say is people –

Council officer: Time is up now I’m afraid.  The leader has to get to another meeting.

 

Islamist radicals: Complain early, complain often…

You may have noticed that any newspaper articles or TV programmes exposing the doings of Islamist radicals – such as the ones about the Islamic Forum of Europe which I’m in the process of bringing out at the moment – always attract weirdly formulaic, oven-ready complaints (“what the well-known racist and CIA agent Andrew Gilligan conveniently forgets to acknowledge is the decisive role of the IFE in promoting community cohesion, ending world poverty, stopping climate change,” etc, etc.) Well, I think I’ve solved the mystery.

Someone not a million miles from the IFE has kindly shown me an email purportedly sent out by Musleh Faradhi, the organisation’s president, last Tuesday, February 22nd. “We need to ensure Channel 4 receives a strong message from the community by being inundated with complaints,” says the email. That was nearly a week before transmission.

Then there’s the email – also seen by me – circulated at 6.12pm yesterday (Mon) by the IFE’s chums at the Muslim Council of Britain. “Do everything you can to get articulate responses ready and distributed from as many of our affiliates as possible…In essence, we need to make a noise out there and we need everyone’s help. It is vital we do this for our collective interests,” says the email purportedly from Tufael Ahmed of the MCB’s media committee. Still almost two hours till airtime, Tufael!

Here is some free media advice for the media committee. It would have been better not to be cross until you had actually seen the programme. Any sense that complaints are being “ensured” or that “articulate responses” are being “got ready” hours or even days beforehand might lead the rest of us to conclude that the outrage is somewhat… well, manufactured.

I might also remind my new fans of something that a previous object of my attentions, Ken Livingstone, had to learn the hard way. We have amassed a great deal of material on this story, much of which has not so far emerged. Don’t rush in to any (further) denials which you may later come to regret.

I have no doubt that many of my “articulate responders” will complain on the grounds I’ve claimed that the IFE is at the heart of a giant Islamist conspiracy that Links Everything Together. I haven’t said that, in fact – but if I wanted to say it, I don’t think I’d need much better evidence than Mr Ahmed’s email, with its apparent claim that the IFE is at the heart of “our collective interests.”