Christmas at the East London Mosque: 'Season's Rantings' from your favourite Islamic extremists

In his richly-entertaining, car-crash interview with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur which I covered yesterday, Muhammad Abdul Bari, the chairman of the East London Mosque, was heavily pressed on his mosque’s unfortunate predilection for hate and extremist speakers, specifically the al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

Dr Bari told Sackur that, while mistakes might have been made in the past, it was all quite different now at this renowned centre of tolerance and harmony. In one of the many hurt letters he has written to the media lately (the climate for Islamism seems to be turning rather chillier) he further insisted: “The controversial speakers who were able, in the past, to speak via third-party bookings of our facilities (circumventing our procedures) have now all been banned.

“All accusations of ‘extremism’ links are also historical: it is two years since the Awlaki issue arose, for example, and since then we have tightened our procedures and policies accordingly, to ensure no such issues arise again. Let me state once more: we deplore extremism of all kinds and fully support democracy.”

Oh dear, but what’s this I see – happening at the East London Mosque this evening, organised by our very dear friends the Islamic Forum of Europe? An event on “The Fiqh Of Social Ills.” Fiqh is normally translated as “understanding” or as “knowledge of the rules of God.”

It’s the last of a four-week seminar series. For the first two weeks the IFE’s “social ills” were pretty uncontroversial – “drug and alcohol abuse,” “domestic violence.” In week 3, it started to get a bit wackier – “jinn possession and black magic” was on the agenda. But tonight is the big one.

Tonight’s social ill to be condemned? That well-known scourge, “child-rearing in the Western context.” If the Western context, or society, around this mosque, can be described as a “social ill,” that doesn’t bode too well for cohesion and inter-community harmony, does it? Will the people at this seminar be raising their kids to mix with fellow Londoners of other cultures – or to stand apart from them?

For such a famously harmonious’n’democratic institution, the East London Mosque is perhaps over-fond of seminars decreeing what is and is not Islamically permitted. On 9 July 2009 the mosque’s London Muslim Centre had an event on the theme that “music,” too, was a “social ill.

The speaker at that one, Haitham al-Haddad, believes that music is a “prohibited and fake message of love and peace.” He opines more broadly (h/t Harry’s Place): “We always say that the conflict between Islam and the enemies of Islam is an ongoing conflict and we should pay a very high price for us, for Muslims, to gain their victory. And we should realise that victory cannot be gained easily and we should be pay the price of this victory from our blood, and Muslims are ready to do so.”

Gosh – that sounds pretty “controversial” and “extremist” to me. Thank goodness we have Dr Bari’s word for it that the mosque and London Muslim Centre’s “policies and procedures” have been “tightened… to ensure that no such issues arise again.” How lucky we all are to have Dr Bari’s assurance that the East London Mosque’s associations with such people are purely “historical.”

Oh, hold on a minute…

Happy Christmas everyone. Back on the 2nd of January.

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East London Mosque: BBC puts Bari on the spot

As you know, I’ve previously criticised the BBC’s repeated PR offensive on behalf of the hardline East London Mosque. But last week they made up for it. The mosque’s chairman, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, who is also a former president of the Muslim Council of Britain and of the Muslim supremacist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, which controls the mosque, was interviewed by the News Channel’s HARDtalk programme. The interviewer, Stephen Sackur, asked all the right questions.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dr Bari pressed so hard about the blatant lies and evasions which this self-proclaimed “centre of moderation and tolerance” has used to spin its hosting of terrorist and extremist preachers, such as Anwar al-Awlaki. He looked distinctly uncomfortable, as he indeed should have done. To the last, Bari doggedly persisted with the fingers-in-the-ears defence that nobody knew Awlaki was a bad guy at the time of the mosque’s last hosting of him. By the time Sackur was finished, this defence looked the absurdity that it is.

View the full show (for the next year) here. A transcript of the relevant section is below:

Stephen Sackur: It’s one thing to express worry [about terrorism] but keep it within the community, and quite another to go outside the community, to go to the state authorities. That is the key decision. And I want to know when exactly you would make that leap.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: I know individuals who have gone to the police, informed the police. And if [a] situation like that occurs, when someone talks about action, and talks about violent action, then definitely that individual should go to the police and inform. Because at the end of the day, protecting our society and community from atrocities is our collective responsibility. And it’s our responsibility as well.

Sackur: If I may say so, Dr Bari, a very clear statement just there. How does it square with the decision taken by your own East London Mosque just two years ago to invite to speak, via live telephone linkup, one of the most dangerous extremist clerics in the entire world, Anwar al-Awlaki?

Bari: Can I clarify this. We have been clarifying this again and again. He spoke in 2003 in many mosques, including the East London Mosque. He was not known as a terrorist or extremist then.

Sackur: Let’s not focus on 2003. Some would dispute that and would say that something was known about him even then. But let’s bring it up to date, to January 2009, when the [London] Muslim Centre, which is a part of the complex of buildings which is the East London Mosque, when that Muslim London Centre decided to invite him both to present a video, a taped video, and then, as I understand it, to contribute a contribution on a [live] telephone link-up. Now this is a man by that stage who was being described by a senior US official as a significant player in al-Qaeda who had links to at least three of the 9/11 bombers.

Bari: We tried to clarify this. Two years ago, we didn’t know that. What happened –

Sackur: Well, I’m telling you that you did. Partly because the Daily Telegraph told you [several days in advance of the event], but also because the US official had put this on the record.

Bari: The Daily Telegraph came [out] on 27 December 2008. I was on holiday in Bangladesh with my family at the time. My management, when they got information from the Daily Telegraph, they talked to the police. They talked to the organiser. He [Awlaki] was not invited by the mosque. It was a pre-recorded video, er, er, talk by a third-party organiser. Our management talked to the police, our management talked to the organiser, and they just allowed this to go [ahead]. When I –

Sackur: Wasn’t that a terrible error? In retrospect, now that we know what we know – and you knew some of it beforehand – was it a terrible mistake?

Bari: With hindsight, I feel that was a mistake, that shouldn’t have been done. But at that time Awlaki was not known as Public Enemy Number One, or it was not that much.

Sackur: He was known. He was known as a pretty serious public enemy.

Bari: At least our management didn’t know at the time. So it was an error, and we made that correction later on, and we strengthened our booking procedure and vetting procedure, and we are very very strong about this now.

Sackur: Yeah, well, I hear the regret in your voice. But I just wonder whether there is a problem here of, of sort of wanting to have it both ways. You don’t want to be ordered around, you don’t want to be told what to think and what to do, that’s understandable. But when, for example, that same event was put on in your Muslim Centre, was advertised with posters which showed the Statue of Liberty in ruins, which appeared to show sort of fireballs landing on New York City – how could you ever believe that was appropriate, given what happened on 9/11? I just don’t understand, given everything you’ve said during this interview.

Bari: That was a stupidity at the time. What happens, people – when it comes to the Day of Judgment, you know the Biblical and Islamic, they put something very spectacular. And the mosque management at that time, because the history was not fully known, they didn’t realise that will be linked up with the 9/11 things.

Sackur: No, no, no. Come on. That’s simply not acceptable. You know – I’ve seen online the pictures – you know anybody looking at that poster would immediately have in their heads the terrible attack on New York City on 9/11. It’s impossible not to make the association. And given your ringing words today about your commitment to rooting out extremism and everything else, I simply don’t understand how you, as a senior figure in that mosque, could allow it to happen.

Bari: It’s a public – it’s community organisation, and we work with the local police. Our management has been working with the local police. And I am not an executive person in East London Mosque. And as I said, I was on holiday. So we made that error of judgment, it shouldn’t have been done, and it was done because, I discussed with the management, because there was no public information available to East London Mosque of his views [phon] at the time. And we regret that that happened, and we really are trying to streamline our booking processes and vetting processes.

Tomorrow, in my last post before Christmas, just how much the East London Mosque has “streamlined” its vetting processes.

Ken Livingstone funders deliver their Christmas present

(Updated – with result of legal action)

Transport for London has failed in its court bid to block a strike by the Tube drivers’ union, Aslef, on Boxing Day.

In 1996 Aslef signed an agreement for its members to work on Bank Holidays in return for higher pay and longer holidays. They are now paid more than £40,000 a year for a 35-hour week, and get almost seven weeks’ holiday a year.

Now, however, Aslef has demanded to be paid triple time – around £495 for the day, or around £70 an hour – for working on December 26, plus a further day off in lieu. That’s what the strike’s about.

After the bad weather earlier this week, London retailers were hoping for a boost from the Boxing Day sales. If the Tube’s not working properly, they won’t get it. Services at Christmas have already been reduced – until the 1980s, the Tube used to run on Christmas Day as well, just like public transport virtually everywhere else in the world. If Aslef gets its way, it could become impossible to run on Boxing Day too.

Boris Johnson, business leaders and virtually everyone you can think of have condemned the strike, and all the other – equally ridiculous – disputes mounted by the RMT and TSSA over various non-issues in the last three months.

But one doughty champion of oppressed Londoners has fallen completely quiet over Aslef’s threat to spoil Christmas reunions for thousands of people. Can Ken Livingstone’s silence be in any way connected to the fact that his campaign has received thousands of pounds in donations from Aslef?

Indeed, in all the months of Tube strikes, Ken Livingstone has never once condemned any of the unions. Can this be in any way connected to the fact that Ken’s campaign for mayor is run out of an office in the Euston headquarters of one of the other striking unions, the TSSA?

Last week, Ken’s running-mate, Val Shawcross, was pictured supporting the RMT and TSSA strikers. This week the man in charge of Ken’s campaign, Simon Fletcher, attacked as “terrible” a Guardian leader criticising calls for “coordinated industrial action.” The side Ken has chosen in these strikes is a useful reminder of where his true loyalties lie. In the rather unlikely event that he is elected mayor in 2012, he will not be working for Londoners as a whole – but for some of the city’s greediest sectional interests.

(Update: The actual address of Ken’s campaign office – Walkden House, 10 Melton Street, London NW1, ie TSSA HQ – was removed from his website after my original post. However several of his campaign materials, available online, still show it, until they too are doubtless taken down; don’t worry, I do have printouts. The contact information now given on Ken’s website is a c/o Labour HQ,  in other words a forwarding address. Which rather suggests he’s still with the TSSA.)

Congestion charge: a failure of arithmetic

Only three more days now until yet another beloved totem of the Ken Livingstone years – the western extension zone (WEZ) of the congestion charge – sleeps with the fishes. Even by the standards of late-period Ken, this was a truly bizarre policy – a congestion charge that did not, even in the slightest, cut congestion; and a tax which gave some of London’s wealthiest people an 80% discount.

With their usual unerring feel for the London political pulse, various Ken groupie blogs are already in pre-mourning for the WEZ, which Ken has promised to reintroduce if he wins in 2012 (though they do seem finally to have realised that defending the bendy bus is a lost cause). Boris Johnson has been accused, variously, of ignoring the results of a consultation on the zone or of sacrificing £55 million of precious revenue from it to TfL, revenue which could have kept down fares.

Actually, we did have rather a large consultation on this subject – it was called the 2008 mayoral election, you may remember it – which Boris fought on an explicit pledge to “get rid of” the WEZ. And as for fares, I seem to remember that Ken put some of them up by 25% in the same year that the WEZ was introduced, without even the excuses of cuts in government subsidies, a massive investment programme to pay for, etc.

On that £55m figure, too – as so often with Team Livingstone – when you look closely, large amounts of money seem to be unaccounted for. Net revenues to TfL in the final year of the C-charge without the extension, 2006/7, were £123 million (see page 3 of this.) Net revenues in the first full year with the extension rose to only £137 million (page 8 of this.)

That is a difference of £14 million, not £55 million. Even the rise in gross revenues (that is, before costs) was only £37 million, not £55 million.  “Transport for Livingstone” put about the £55m figure back in 2008, as part of its campaign to keep the WEZ.

There’s one other thing that Boris’s opponents always forget to mention. In January, the charge in the original central zone, which continues to operate, will rise by up to a quarter – from £8 currently to £9 or £10, depending on how you pay.

TfL states (p47 of this) that this will raise between £20 million and £25 million more (though it also stands to lose some penalty revenue, because the charge is being made easier and simpler to pay.) Knowing its tendencies, that might be an underestimate.

So even if you work on the basis that drivers’ money belongs to TfL rather than to them, the actual revenue impact of Boris’s changes to the congestion charge on the London coffers will be broadly neutral, or even slightly positive.

High-speed rail: Primrose Hill and Joan Bakewell largely spared. Shame about Belsize Park and a couple of council estates, though

High Speed Rail Two will bypass Primrose Hill
High Speed Rail Two will pass north of Primrose Hill (Photo: Heathcliff O'Malley)

Most of the “significant” changes “unveiled” to the London-Birmingham high-speed rail route by the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, today aren’t very significant, and nor were they unveiled today. They are in fact largely the changes unveiled in the so-called “supplementary report” published by HS2, the line’s promoters, back on 8 September. This is the kind of spin that used to give New Labour a bad name.

But there are at least two interesting and significant alterations that we hadn’t heard about before. Along the Northolt corridor and in the west London suburb of Ruislip, where seven streets were said by the council to be “at risk,” the land take has been reduced a bit, sparing by the looks of it most of the properties to be demolished (though not always their gardens, and of course the lucky inhabitants will still have a high-speed railway roaring right past them.) Download the map of the line here (it is the one ending 04004).

And just out of Euston, the line of the HS2 tunnel which was to have passed right under the upmarket Primrose Hill district has now been moved a bit to the north. It now runs beneath Gloucester Avenue, on the edge of the neighbourhood, and closer to the existing surface railway line. (Download here – the one ending 04001.)

Several hundred Primrose Hill houses could still suffer vibrations from the tunnel. Estimates published on the HS2 website (p23 of slides) are that properties within 100 metres are at risk. There will also be a new tunnel portal surfacing from the line on to the existing rail network near the Regents Park Road railway bridge, causing more disruption during building work.

But the line no longer goes right under the heart of Primrose Hill, nor does it pass directly beneath the houses of Dame Joan Bakewell, Robert Plant and Adam Ant (it still goes fairly near David Miliband’s gaff, alas.) Isn’t it great what fear of celebrity lobbying can do for you?

Sadly, in order to accommodate this change, the HS2 tunnel now curves into the southern end of a whole new wealthy neighbourhood, Belsize Park, going under Fellows Road and bringing upmarket Eton Avenue within vibration range. However, most of the new people impacted are council tenants on an estate along Adelaide Road.

Nor, though the Government may have taken fright at the massed ranks of the Primrose Hill brigade, has it done anything for a much poorer neighbourhood which will be far worse affected.

Just west of Euston station, five council blocks of the Regents Park Estate, with 220 flats and at least 500 residents, will be demolished to accommodate a widened station “throat.” From the plans, that looks like it hasn’t changed. And Euston itself will still be extended some hundreds of feet to the west, swallowing up at least a further 20 homes, 25 businesses including two major hotels, and most of a park, St James’s Gardens.

Less aggro for rich people – poor people treated even worse. Could this be Conservative government in action?

High-speed rail madness: some useful links

The continued meltdown of the country’s transport network (even though, at the time of writing, the last snow in London fell more than two days ago) is the best reminder we could need that, instead of wasting our money on flashy high-speed rail vanity projects, we need to get the ordinary, everyday basic network in order.

The gods, I thought, were making a particular point when they decreed that Eurostar, which uses Britain’s only existing high-speed line, should suffer some of the worst disruption.

Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, is supposed to be announcing the precise route of the new high-speed line today – but has instead spent his time fending off questions about Britain’s “third world” transport systems, to quote his predecessor Lord Adonis.

I’ve a piece in this morning’s paper examining the case for the new line made by its promoters themselves. The small print of their own prospectus makes, bluntly, an even more persuasive case against the project than anything produced by any Home Counties protest group.

It says, among other things, that the £17 billion project

–         could actually increase Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 26.6 million tonnes and that any possible reduction there is in CO2 will be “small… HS2 would not be a major factor in managing carbon in the transport sector.”  (Chapter 1 p7, Chapter 4 p180)

–         would only reduce road traffic by a tiny amount, for instance traffic on the southern section of the M1 would fall by just 2% over the next 23 years!  (Chapter 4 p175)

–         has a totally flaky business case, which depends on what even the prospectus admits is an increase in demand “of at least double today’s [historically high] levels.” (Chapter 4, p188.)

–         will devastate existing services to many places off the route – for instance:

–         Coventry will see its existing fast service from London slashed by two-thirds, from three trains an hour to one, and slowed down from 59 to 69 min (Technical Appendix 2, pp 17, 19 – scroll down the PDF past Appendix 1 to find Appendix 2).

–         Stoke on Trent will see its existing fast service halved, from two trains an hour to one, and slowed down from 84 to 87 min (Technical Appendix 2, p16).

–         Trains on the Great Western main line (GWML) from Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford, Reading and the like into Paddington will be slowed down so they can interchange with the high-speed route at a new station at Old Oak Common (chapter 4, p175).

–         London Overground inner-suburban services from Watford into Euston could be “removed” to make room at the station for high-speed services (chapter 3, p64.)

Even for travellers to Birmingham, the high-speed line won’t use the existing New Street station in the heart of the city centre, but a new terminal at Fazeley Street, on the eastern edge of the centre. So much of the time you save on the way will be negated by the less convenient location of the station in Brum.

And if you need to change to an onward local service (the vast majority of which will continue to use New Street) your journey will again be slower than it is now, because you’ll have to transfer between stations in Birmingham city centre.

Too much of the coverage of high speed rail has focused on the impact, devastating as that will be, on the Chilterns and other places. But this line’s real and fatal weakness is that it does not stack up in environmental, economic or even transport terms.

High-speed rail: most of the worst victims will be in London

High Speed Rail Two could affect Londoners most of all (Photo: Alamy)
High Speed Rail Two could affect Londoners most of all (Photo: Alamy)

Everyone thinks of the Government’s whizzy new high-speed rail route, due to be confirmed tomorrow, as mainly affecting relatively affluent people in the Tory shires. But in fact, as I explain in this morning’s paper, the vast majority of the worst victims will be poor and middle-income Londoners.

Near Euston, the London terminus of the route, the line will on present plans demolish much of a council estate, with the loss of 220 flats, home to at least 500 people. That’ll do wonders for Camden council’s waiting list!

Euston station itself will be extended several hundred yards to the west, swallowing up a further 20 homes and 25 businesses employing hundreds, including two major hotels. Most of a park next to the station, St James’s Gardens, will also go. See the plan for the area here.

In South Ruislip, again no great bastion of privilege, the local council says that seven streets – Bridgewater Road, Roundways, Lawn Close, Almond Close, Bell Close, Herlwyn Avenue and Blenheim Crescent – are “at risk” from the extra land take needed to widen the existing railway line.

And tens of thousands of Londoners in Primrose Hill, Swiss Cottage, Kilburn, Queens Park and Kensal Green are also at risk of vibration from tunnels under or near their homes. They include plenty of celebs (Joan Bakewell, Adam Ant, David Miliband, etc) – expect to hear more from them.

Tomorrow’s announcement might, I suppose, announce some measures to relieve the misery for London. But from the briefings we’ve been given, it doesn’t look like it.

The London end of this story has been almost totally unreported on until now. All the running has been made by the Chilterns. That seems likely to change. Many residents near Euston are very angry indeed at how invisible Labour-controlled Camden council has been in opposition to the scheme, unlike the local councils in Buckinghamshire and Ruislip. The local Labour MP, Frank Dobson, by contrast, has been outspokenly opposed, calling it “devastating” for his constituents.

I have a feeling that Labour as a whole could be waking up to the social, fiscal and environmental costs of the scheme, and coming round to opposing the link. The party’s transport spokeswoman, Maria Eagle, has recently appeared less than enthusiastic about the great dream. There’s nothing more dangerous than cross-party consensus, and one of the most encouraging things to happen to this deeply questionable project is that that consensus appears to be breaking down.