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.

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