As I’ve noted, the BBC has this year broadcast a couple of programmes that were essentially propaganda for the hardline East London Mosque. The programmes faithfully followed the mosque’s PR script that it is a beacon of liberalism and tolerance; only mosque officials and supporters were interviewed. The substantial evidence of the East London Mosque’s links with extremist and hate preachers was entirely ignored, and the mosque’s many critics, Muslim and non-Muslim, were nowhere to be heard.
Yesterday, Radio 4’s Sunday programme aired a report marking the mosque’s centenary and, in the words of the presenter, “sharing in the celebrations of the worshippers.” This time the BBC did a little better. They did, at least, interview one solitary critic, Delwar Hussain, sandwiched among three mosque supporters. They raised the mosque’s most controversial visitor, Anwar al-Awlaki, the terrorist preacher linked to at least eight attacks, including 9/11.
However, adequate journalism this was not. Here is the BBC’s version of the most recent Awlaki meeting at the mosque, in January 2009:
“Reporter: In recent years [the mosque] has been the focus of some criticism, hosting as it does other Muslim groups not formally part of the East London Mosque itself. And that, says Dilowar Khan [director of the mosque], is why an administrative oversight occurred recently, allowing the recorded sermon to be heard, on their premises, given by the radical Islamist and alleged inspiration behind a number of terrorist attacks, Anwar al-Awlaki. Booking procedures, says Mr Khan, have now been tightened.
Dilowar Khan, mosque director: It needs to be noted that the mosque actually condemned the views of Anwar al-Awlaki – on record, on our website, you would see that, when he supported the shooting at Fort Hood [after the meeting at the mosque]. That was the time it became apparent to most of the Muslims that his views are not compatible with the Muslims in the West.”
For Mr Khan to claim that Awlaki’s booking was an “administrative oversight” and that nobody knew of Awlaki’s views at the time is, like many claims made by the East London Mosque, simply untrue. Five days before Awlaki was due to speak there (not just by “recorded sermon,” by the way; there was also a “live telephone Q&A”) this newspaper alerted the mosque to the fact that Awlaki had been described by the US under-secretary for intelligence, in a speech more than two months before, as a spiritual leader of two of the 9/11 hijackers. His links with terrorism had in fact been endlessly publicised, including in Parliament, from about 2003 onwards.
The mosque ignored us and allowed the meeting (which was advertised with a poster showing New York under bombardment) to proceed. Even as recently as six weeks ago, the chairman of the mosque and Mr Khan’s boss, Mohammed Abdul Bari, continued to defend not cancelling the meeting and allowing Awlaki to speak.
On two earlier occasions, one of them at the mosque, Awlaki was also hosted by a group which very much is “formally part of the East London Mosque” – the Islamic Forum of Europe, the hardline Islamic supremacist body which controls the mosque and of whom no mention whatever was made by the BBC. A senior official in the IFE wrote in 2008 of his “love” for Awlaki.
The BBC could and should have checked all this in five minutes on Google – my own recent post on the matter has links to all the relevant primary sources. And if it had caught Mr Khan out in that lie, perhaps it might have raised doubts over his other claims about the mosque’s liberalism.
So committed, in fact, is the East London Mosque to liberalism and community cohesion that it has hosted dozens of other extremist preachers – from Bilal Philips, described by the US as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, to Haitham al-Hadad, who believes that music is a “prohibited and fake message of love and peace,” and Murtaza Khan, who told worshippers that women who wear perfume should be flogged.
Contrary to any attempt to distance them from the mosque, many of these and other speakers have been officially hosted by it. In 2008, for instance, Philips was invited to deliver the official Friday sermon. The BBC could and should have mentioned this, too.
It should not be the BBC’s role to “share in the celebrations” of anything, let alone the East London Mosque.