Islamists establish a bridgehead in Parliament

After a series of reverses in the political arena, Islamist sympathisers yesterday established a key bridgehead in Parliament.

A body called iEngage (also known as Engage) states in a press release that it will be acting as the secretariat to a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia, whose inaugural meeting was held yesterday in the Commons. The group is chaired by a Tory MP, Kris Hopkins. The Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes and the Labour peer Lord Janner are vice-chairs. Sources say that the inaugural meeting was attended by the Tory MPs Angie Bray and Eric Ollerenshaw, among others. (A spokesman for the Labour MP Lisa Nandy, who was listed as attending, has contacted me to say that she did not.)

I’m quite certain all these people are sincere individuals who would have no truck with Islamism or extremism. Indeed, at least one of them is Jewish. But they are being used. They need to look much more closely at who they are getting into bed with.

iEngage is an organisation of Islamist sympathisers which has consistently defended fundamentalist organisations such as the East London Mosque and the Islamic Forum of Europe. It routinely attacks all criticism of them as “Islamophobic.”

It attacked the BBC’s recent Panorama documentary on racist Muslim schools – showing that some children are being taught anti-Semitism and Sharia punishments – as a “witch-hunt.” Typically, it launched its attack before even seeing the programme. It was almost alone in this criticism – faced with Panorama’s clear evidence, even some of the usual Islamist suspects kept quiet.

It attacked me for writing about the East London Mosque’s hosting of the terrorist preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki, in 2009 – advertised with a poster showing New York under bombardment. It peddled the straightforward lie told by the mosque that no-one had realised Awlaki was a bad egg at that stage. In fact, Awlaki had been identified by the US government two months before as a spiritual leader of the 9/11 hijackers – and the mosque knew this.

iEngage’s chief executive, and secretary of the new parliamentary group, Mohammed Asif, wrote to the Home Secretary to protest against the ban on the extremist preacher, Zakir Naik. Mr Naik has stated that “every Muslim should be a terrorist.” But Mr Asif and iEngage said that Naik’s exclusion would “put at risk good community relations.”

iEngage publicised a grotesquely misleading report issued by another Islamist-sympathising group, iEra, purporting to show that three-quarters of non-Muslims believe Islam is negative for Britain. As I demonstrated, this result – massively more than the true figure – was only achieved by systematically twisting the data as part of iEra’s agenda to sow suspicion and discord between communities.

iEngage has attacked the Independent columnist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, one of the country’s major voices of moderate Islam, for her opposition to the niqab and the burka. She is far from the only Muslim to be attacked by iEngage. It is interesting that no Muslim MPs attended the launch of the all-party group last night.

There are countless other examples.

There is no question that Muslims face substantial bigotry and discrimination in this country – although the claim, often made by Islamists, that it is “rising” flies in the face of all the empirical evidence. Hate crimes against Muslims have fallen, often dramatically (in Tower Hamlets, for instance, London’s main Muslim area, hate crimes are down by 50% in seven years.)

At this year’s elections Britain’s main anti-Muslim party, the BNP, lost 26 of the 28 council seats it held and went backwards in virtually every parliamentary seat. The number of Muslim MPs doubled, with at least three Muslims now sitting for almost entirely non-Muslim, Middle English seats such as Stratford-on-Avon. The office once held by Lord Tebbit, of “cricket test” fame – the Tory chairmanship – is now occupied by a Muslim woman. Repressive anti-terror laws which have alienated Muslims are, it seems, going to be scaled back.

There may well be a place for a parliamentary group set up to tackle anti-Muslim sentiment – which is still poisonous in parts of the tabloid press. But there is no place at all for a parliamentary group serviced by Islamist sympathisers.

Because too often, the charge of “Islamophobia” has been used by Islamists to stifle and deter examination of their own actions. They deliberately conflate Islamism (followed by a tiny minority of British Muslims) with the entire faith of Islam, and accuse anyone who scrutinises or attacks their minority brand of fundamentalism of being “anti-Muslim.” That is basically iEngage’s entire purpose.

It is a deeply dangerous game and not one, I’m sure, which any MP would want to be involved in.

Lutfur Rahman: the 'chief coordinator' of his election campaign says he has 'strategic relationship' with extremist IFE

Oh dear! It looks like Bodrul Islam, a leading ally of Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets, has had a falling-out. I spent some of last night reading his Facebook page, where he’s posted some incredibly damaging allegations about the mayor’s links with the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe:

“Let’s not beat around the bush there has always been a strategic relationship between Respect, the IFE and the mayor’s camp. That presents to me no problems as all three groups are moderate organisations [sic] who have similar policy considerations. The mayor’s campaign co-ordination was heavily influenced by Respect and IFE activists. It was collectively and cohesively planned by the groups…

“We got activated and campaigned day and night for the mayor. It is no exaggeration that most of the campaigners during the election were either Respect or IFE activists. I was a polling agent for lutfur rahman in bromley by bow and chief co-ordinator. I was involved in a lot of the collaborative high-level meetings where I also met IFE activists…

“OK then Sultana [another poster on Facebook], do you not remember a strategic house meeting where you and I were present, along with Lutfur and [now deputy mayor] Ohid [Ahmed], [Lutfur-supporting councillor] Rania [Khan], Rania’s mum and a senior IFE member. Or was this a figment of my imagination? I will also give even greater details of other more strategic meetings of the way the mayor’s camp was desperate for Respect’s and IFE’s support.”

Too busy to write a long post on this today, but this seems to hole Lutfur’s denials of IFE involvement in his campaign rather badly below the waterline. (And yes, I do have printouts of the Facebook if Bodrul tries to take them down.)

Extremist Muslim schools: Islamism's most worrying manifestation of all


I’ve just finished watching John Ware’s excellent BBC Panorama about what’s being taught in some Muslim schools: a subject which I, and others, believe is the single most worrying aspect of Islamist and radical activity in Britain.

At present the vast majority of British Muslims have little or no truck with Islamist ideas. But in some Muslim schools – not in all, but in a significant and growing number – a new generation is being raised to be much more radical than its parents.

The BBC’s film is another encouraging sign of the growing pressure under which Islamism now finds itself. But the Telegraph has been following this story for a while. As I’ve reported in the paper over the last couple of years, some British schools (most but not exclusively Muslim) are teaching impressionable children to suspect, even despise, the society in which they will have to live. Other schools are teaching an overly narrow, Islamic-focused curriculum, turning out students ill-equipped for life in anything other than a Muslim ghetto. This is, quite simply, a betrayal of the children involved and a recipe for social conflict.

The most shocking and headline-grabbing aspect of the film was, understandably, the Saudi-sponsored weekend schools which teach children racism, anti-Semitism and Sharia punishments. It was fun watching the Islamists’ usual transparent wriggling and lies – the Saudi government trying to deny responsibility for its own textbooks, and so on.

But in terms of broader social impact, what’s happening in parts of the wider Islamic education sector is far worse. It’s perhaps best understood as an example of state failure. The state is failing in some places to provide adequate education of its own. And it is unwilling to regulate or even understand the alternative provision that has grown up.

Some schools run by people with unequivocally sectarian, anti-Western, anti-British views about education are actually being funded by the state. They and others have also been whitewashed by the bodies that are supposed to protect children, Ofsted and the Charity Commission, two of the feeblest watchdogs Islamists could possibly wish for.

Even Ofsted looks good, however, by comparison with some inspections. We were the first paper to mention the remarkable Bridge Schools Inspectorate, which has been given the job of inspecting many Muslim schools and which also featured heavily in Panorama. The BSI is co-controlled by Muslim schools’ own lobbying and trade body, the AMS, and allows Muslim headteachers to inspect each other’s schools, returning favourable verdicts which don’t always seem entirely deserved. And now, the Government’s drive for more free schools and faith schools risks giving organised radical groups even more of an opening.

The think-tank Policy Exchange has today published an important report calling for the abolition of the Bridge Schools Inspectorate and the establishment of a Due Diligence Unit to assess all schools, their trustees and staff, against a statutory definition of extremism. Two of its authors also took part in the Panorama film. Policy Exchange’s suggested definition of extremist is those who:

support or condone the deliberate targeting for attack of civilians (as
defined by the Geneva Conventions) anywhere in the world.

call for, or condone, attacks on British service personnel and their allies
anywhere in the world or against any forces acting under a UN mandate.

call for or condone the destruction of UN member states.

give a platform to deniers of, or apologists for, crimes against humanity, including genocide.

support or condone terrorism anywhere in the world.

discriminate or advocate discrimination on the basis of religion, religious sect, race, sexual orientation or gender in any aspect of public life or public policy.

–  oppose armed forces’ recruitment.

I think this is a good first go but needs more work – I’m not sure any school which “opposes armed forces’ recruitment” should be automatically damned as extremist. And of course British forces didn’t act under a UN mandate in Iraq, did they?

As well as the obvious prohibitions (on the advocacy of racism, sexism, homophobia, violence, hatred or hostility), whatever criterion we settle on should have at its core the obligation that all British schools must prepare their pupils to be full, equal and participating citizens of Britain, not of some Muslim Ummah.

I know that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is one of the politicians who most gets this problem. He was quite strong on Panorama and I have every reason to hope for action on this crucial area.

Mehdi Hasan: New Statesman's senior editor makes up quote

Mehdi Hasan, the New Statesman’s senior editor (politics), obviously didn’t like my mockery of his less-than-probing interview with the extremist-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. It’s drawn him into a long, angry and I think very unwise riposte on his New Statesman blog.

It’s unwise because it exposes Mr Hasan, like so many other Islamist sympathisers, as a liar. He accuses me of working for the Iranian state-funded broadcaster, Press TV, and states: “Sources at Press TV tell me Gilligan is among the highest-paid, if not the highest-paid, employee at the channel.” He asks: “So, Andrew, when will you quit your lucrative job at Press TV?”

The answer to that question is “eleven months ago.” Because if Mehdi Hasan had actually spoken to any “sources at Press TV,” he would have been told that I am not, in fact, “among the highest-paid employees at the channel,” nor indeed any sort of employee at all. He would have been told that I have not worked for Press TV for nearly a year. I can only conclude that he did not, in fact, speak to anyone at Press TV – and that he made up this quote to further his untruth.

I did present a regular discussion show on the station, in which Islamism, and the policies of the Iranian government, were often debated and challenged. But I stopped last December, in part for precisely the reason Mr Hasan says – taking the Iranian shilling was inconsistent with my opposition to Islamism. I have not worked for Press TV since. The only exception is two one-off shows I presented for them in the week of the general election in May, more than six months ago. (Mr Hasan, though this must have slipped his mind, was one of the guests!)

The fact that I left Press TV last year is also clearly stated on my Wikipedia entry, from which Mr Hasan quotes in his post, and has been reported in the press. Any competent journalist would have checked this. Mr Hasan also includes a number of other claims – that I am a “propagandist” for instance – which are untrue and for which I have successfully taken legal action against one of my other critics.

Mehdi Hasan attacks what he claims is my “biased journalism” and selective quotation, without alas giving any examples that stand up to scrutiny. Selective quotation is not when you take a piece from a longer quote – it’s when you select from a quote in a way that changes its meaning. But Mr Hasan has himself been caught in that most serious of journalistic crimes – making up a quote.

(PS – Just in case Mehdi is tempted to change his post, or take it down, I do of course have copies.)

Lutfur Rahman: Pusillanimous watchdog tries to evade its responsibility for enforcing the law

As I’ve reported here and in the paper, there are strong, credible and repeated allegations that Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets, received substantial support in both cash and kind from a group of powerful local businessmen during his internal party campaign to be Labour’s candidate – support that he has not declared to the Electoral Commission. These allegations are one of the main reasons why Labour sacked him as its candidate. If true, they are a criminal offence.

Lutfur denies receiving so much as a penny from anyone during this part of his campaign, or indeed the election itself, saying he funded everything from his own pocket. He must have pretty deep pockets, is all I can say. He took High Court action (successfully) to force the Labour Party to shortlist him in the selection process. He then took Labour to the High Court again when it sacked him as candidate – unsuccessfully, that time. The legal bills for the first challenge alone were £42,000. Though most of that had to be paid by Labour, in the end, because it lost, Lutfur had to put a substantial sum up front to launch the action. The legal bills for the second challenge are likely to have been about the same – and this time, because he lost, Lutfur will have had to find most of that money.

Lutfur’s most important business backer, the millionaire restaurateur Shiraj Haque, has told two senior figures in the Tower Hamlets Labour Party that it was in fact he who paid Lutfur’s legal bills. Both the people he told have spoken to me. There are also strong allegations that Mr Haque paid for Lutfur’s candidate nomination campaign. Lutfur’s nomination leaflets were identical in logo and font to leaflets printed during the campaign for a directly-elected mayor, which Mr Haque funded in its entirety (he told me that the resemblance between the two sets of leaflets was purely a coincidence.)

The law says that anyone seeking nomination as their party’s candidate for elective office, such as Lutfur, is a “regulated donee” who must declare to the Electoral Commission all gifts in cash or kind that exceed £1,500 (or multiple gifts from a single source that total more than £1,500). Donations must be declared within 30 days of accepting them and failure to declare is a criminal offence. The police are currently investigating whether Lutfur has broken this law.

But the other body supposedly responsible for enforcing the law, the Electoral Commission itself, is engaged in what can only be described as a transparent attempt to evade its responsibilities. On September 21 the opposition leader in Tower Hamlets, Cllr Peter Golds, wrote to the Commission asking it to investigate the matter of Lutfur’s alleged donations during his nomination campaign.

Eight weeks passed. Then, last week, Mr Golds got a letter back from a Commission functionary telling him to wait until after Lutfur’s return of expenses for the mayoral election was published, and saying: “I am sure you appreciate that it would be inappropriate for us to give a speculative view in response to enquiries such as yours about hypothetical scenarios.”

But as a “very, very annoyed” Mr Golds points out in a letter back to the Commission, his complaint was not about Lutfur’s mayoral election campaign – which is still, just about, within the 30-day declaration window. His complaint was made before that campaign even started, and was about Lutfur’s campaign for the Labour nomination – which began in June and ended in September. Lutfur’s offences during that phase may be alleged, but they are very much not “hypothetical.”

“The Electoral Commission are clearly misunderstanding, or choosing to misunderstand, my complaint,” says Mr Golds. “They have responded on a completely different subject to the one I complained about.”

The Commission has also, by the looks of it, been trying to sabotage the parallel police enquiry. Mr Golds says that when he was interviewed by the police, “I noticed that the officer had a copy of my letter on which he had made a handwritten note following a conversation with the Electoral Commission which implied there was nothing in my allegations.” How can the Commission know there is nothing in them if they have declined even to investigate the allegations Mr Golds actually made?

One of Islamism’s most important allies as it makes inroads to the public institutions of this country is the weakness and pusillanimity of Britain’s state regulators. As I reported in the paper the other week, both Ofsted, the schools inspectorate and the Charity Commission, have been busy whitewashing various hardline Muslim schools. The tactics used by the Charity Commission, in particular – deliberately evading the actual issue, and deliberately answering the wrong questions – bear a striking resemblance to the Electoral Commission’s modus operandi here.

Mr Golds has now written to the Electoral Commission’s chief executive, Peter Wardle, asking that his staff kindly investigate the actual, and far from “hypothetical,” allegations he first put to them two months ago. I too will be on the Commission’s case until it stops finding excuses for not doing its job.

Boris Johnson: Cameron delivers a message

At the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year Awards dinner last night, as the magazine’s blog reports, David Cameron said the following:

“I think the great thing about the Spectator is your extraordinary heritage, the remarkable figures who’ve sat in the editor’s chair.  I’m thinking of people like Iain Macleod, Nigel Lawson and obviously not forgetting my own particular favourite.  We went to the same school, the same university and of course I’ve got a soft spot for him.  A man of high intelligence and huge ambition.  An irresistible charmer with an enviable head of hair.  Always bursting with brilliant turns of phrase and bright ideas.  Yes, my kind of political maverick… Ian Gilmour.  I’m not quite sure what went wrong for Ian.  I suppose he rubbed the Prime Minister up the wrong way and never really recovered.  Shit happens.  Anyway, there’s always the chance of becoming our ambassador in Pristina I suppose.”

Lutfur Rahman: Inspector Hasan cracks the case

I’m not sure that Mehdi Hasan, the New Statesman’s senior editor (politics), is quite ready yet for a place in the top ranks of Scotland Yard. The magazine has today published his fearless and probing interview of Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets. Sample extract:

Q: Do you believe in a secular Britain?

A: I do.

Phew! So that’s all right, then!

Mr Hasan unfortunately declined to put to Lutfur any of the detailed evidence assembled by Channel 4, the Telegraph and this blog about his close links with people who very much don’t believe in a secular Britain, set out here. Nor was he rude enough to mention the filmed evidence of Lutfur’s vote-rigging in Tower Hamlets which we obtained. Instead he asked largely general questions and was content to accept Lutfur’s denials without further challenge.

If he had put the specifics to Lutfur, the mayor might have found himself less able to deny them – as in this interview with me earlier this year.

There were, however, a few nuggets in the Hasan piece. Fascinatingly, you’ll notice that Lutfur does not deny having “close contacts” with the Islamic Forum of Europe, the fundamentalist group which believes in transforming society into an Islamic state. (He starts talking instead about his “close contacts” with the Bishop of Stepney. They can’t be that close, Lutfur: the bishopric of Stepney has been vacant for the last four months!) Asked: “Is the IFE an extremist group?” he replies, pricelessly: “I don’t believe we have extremist groups in Tower Hamlets.”

Lutfur also, interestingly, refuses to condemn the extraordinary smears against his main opponent issued by his supporters. And he confirms a deeply damaging report which I too have heard – that the mayors of the two adjoining boroughs, Hackney’s Jules Pipe and Newham’s Sir Robin Wales, are refusing to work with him. What does that tell you?

Mehdi Hasan has form on defending the IFE – in a debate with me on Sky News last summer, he denied that they were an Islamist organisation. But this piece, though clearly intended as a rehab-Lutfur effort, is perhaps less tub-thumping that I might have expected. Perhaps he’s realised that defending Lutfur is a lost cause.

Lutfur Rahman councillor arrested

Tower Hamlets council has confirmed that one of Lutfur Rahman’s key supporters on the council, Cllr Shelina Aktar, has been arrested. Sources allege she is also under investigation by the council for sub-letting her council flat.

The council states to Ted Jeory: “We can confirm that Councillor Shelina Aktar is still a councillor for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The matter over which she has been arrested is being investigated by the police.”

Multiple sources claim that a Rahman-supporting councillor has also in fact been convicted of an offence of fraud. Neither the police nor Councillor Aktar will confirm this and I do not know whether it is the same councillor.

By my count, this is already the third bad story for the Lutfur mayoralty in less than a month. The car-crash is happening even sooner than I expected…

Islamist sympathisers admit they are losing ground in government

Over the last few months, I and others monitoring Islamism’s influence inside the British state have started to believe that the tide is turning. Last week one of British Islamism’s most important fellow-travellers, a man called Bob Lambert, appeared to confirm my view.

When Lambert was head of the Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit, he exemplified a view shared by some others in the security establishment: that we can anoint “good Islamists” and use them as a bulwark against the “bad Islamists.”

The showpiece for this approach is the North London Central Mosque, also known as the Finsbury Park Mosque. The mosque, formerly home to Abu Hamza and a centre of terrorist recruitment, was closed after a police raid in 2003. On its reopening, in a deal brokered by Lambert, it was essentially gifted to an Islamist group, the Muslim Association of Britain. The new leadership were certainly more moderate than Abu Hamza – not terribly hard – but they have close links with another designated terrorist organisation, Hamas.

Last week, in an article for the al-Jazeera website, Lambert defended a decision by some of his other Islamist allies, such as the East London Mosque, to host meetings with the terrorist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. At first reading, I merely enjoyed Lambert’s piece as a rare full bingo card of all the techniques from the I-Spy Book of Advanced Islamist Rhetoric (lofty pseudo-academic tone? Check. Calling anyone who disagrees with you a “neo-con”? Check. Wilfully misrepresenting what they actually said? Check. Labelling as “speculative” any facts you don’t like? Check.)

But then I noticed, buried near the end, Lambert’s significant admission that “the weight of think-tank and media opinion appears to have discouraged the Government from adopting and promoting the Finsbury Park model.” Hurrah! The trustees of Finsbury Park include Mohammed Sawalha, described by the BBC’s Panorama as a former senior figure in Hamas who “is said to have masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy” from his perch in London. The mosque’s spokesman, Azzam Tamimi, has justified suicide bombings against civilians (but only Israeli ones, so that’s all right, then.)

Lambert’s policy was a tamer version of the securocrats’ disastrous pre-9/11 misjudgment, the so-called “compact of security,” when they allowed Hamza and other al-Qaeda sympathisers openly to use London as a base in the touching belief that it would somehow count in our favour with Osama bin Laden. At Finsbury Park, Lambert legitimised fringe minority radicals as authentic, mainstream voices. Glad he knows he’s been rumbled.

Lutfur Rahman: Ken Livingstone is put on the spot

A reader alerts me to a fascinating moment on the BBC’s Daily Politics show earlier this week. At the start of the programme, Ken Livingstone quite rightly condemned the lies told by supporters of the disbarred former minister, Phil Woolas, about his opponent. But when the questioning later turned to the extremist-backed Lutfur Rahman, someone whose supporters told far worse lies than Woolas? Well, that was rather different.

This was also the first time, I think, that Ken has been put directly on the spot about his campaigning for Lutfur – and against Labour. Watch how easily Andrew Neil bats away his feeble defence: a properly-briefed interviewer is a marvellous thing. Ken also has his usual go at me – it’s amazing how large I seem to loom in the poor man’s life, but always good to know he keeps up with this blog…

The Lutfur section starts 13 minutes and 35 seconds in to the programme, but a full transcript is below.

“Andrew Neil: Why should Labour people go out and campaign for you when you campaigned for Labour’s opponent in the Tower Hamlets mayoral election?

Ken: No, no, I made it quite clear, I called for a vote for the Labour candidate. But this is one of these Alternative Vote things. What I said was, you must use your second vote for the person that the local Labour people selected.

Neil (laughing): You said the Labour candidate wasn’t credible or competent. That’s hardly campaigning for him! You said people should vote for a candidate that isn’t credible or competent?

Ken: That was the problem. And that’s why Labour got a quarter of the vote, and got a pasting. And I think Labour will learn a lot from that. You can’t impose people.

Neil: You did, really, campaign and wanted to see this Lutfur Rahman winning, and he wasn’t the Labour candidate, didn’t you?

Ken: He’d been selected by local people, I think the NEC was wrong to remove him. It’s had real shades of me ten years ago.

Neil: But he loved it. He said, I’m grateful to him for coming here to support justice, I’m very happy to have his support.

Ken: I know.

Neil: Against the Labour candidate!

Ken: I would have been quite happy to go down with the local Labour candidate, but he didn’t want me around, because he’s been one of my opponents for a long time.

Neil: You were attacking Phil Woolas, though, for smears and so on. But here are you, backing a man who distributed 90,000 copies of a Bangladeshi freesheet which carried smears [on] the Labour candidate, the man you’re supposed to be supporting, calling him “the wife-beating candidate” and a racist!

Ken (smiling): It’s very dirty politics down in Tower Hamlets. No-one denies that.

Neil: Much worse than anything Phil Woolas said. And you’re backing this guy!

Ken: I mean, I don’t believe Lutfur Rahman put that [out]. A lot of dirty stuff was circulated, always has been, and one of the reasons I wanted a directly-elected mayor in Tower Hamlets is so you move away from that very sectional politics to someone who has to appeal very widely. And Lutfur Rahman’s been subject to a long smear campaign by Andrew Gilligan. Well, that immediately suggests that he can’t be all bad.”

The fact that Lutfur is opposed by me appears to have become the main argument used by his supporters – see also here and, even more comically, here. Given the actual charge-sheet against Lutfur, I think you’ll need to do better than that, lads.