Lutfur Rahman council demands sanctions against the 'pariah state of Israel'

While I was away, Lutfur Rahman’s voting bloc on Tower Hamlets council – the councillors who defected from Labour to support him, together with the two Respect councillors – proposed and voted for a motion committing the council to “do everything in its power to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against the pariah state of Israel.”

The motion was passed, with the Conservatives voting against and Labour, the largest group on the council, abstaining. It’s another small sign of the direction the council is taking under Lutfur – thrown out of the Labour Party for his links with the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe, but elected as mayor anyway last October with the IFE’s “strategic” support.

One might think that Tower Hamlets should perhaps concern itself with the East End, rather than the West Bank – but this would be to misunderstand the nature of Lutfur’s supporters. According to Islamist ideology, you should consider yourself a member of the global Muslim community, the Ummah, first, and British (if at all) second; and you have more in common with Palestinians or Afghans than with your non-Muslim next-door neighbours. Of course, most Tower Hamlets Muslims are not Islamists: but Lutfur’s backers are. And they don’t like Jews much.

There were more little signs at last week’s council meeting to set the 2011/12 budget. Lutfur, who is treated as a pariah by the mainstream parties, couldn’t get the votes he needed to pass his proposals – he’ll have to try again on March 8. But that was almost overshadowed by the public gallery being cleared after the leader of the opposition, Cllr Peter Golds, who is gay, was allegedly subjected to homophobic abuse from the spectators and another councillor, Anna Lynch, reported that she had been verbally threatened by a young man.

The council chamber at Tower Hamlets is a small, low-ceilinged room inside an office block with councillors and public all on the same level and few, if any, barriers between them. I wasn’t there last week, but the atmosphere at the last meeting I attended, in October, was fairly unpleasant with lots of aggressive heckling of the mainstream parties from Lutfur’s army of young Bengali men.

Still, not to worry. Finger as firmly on the pulse as ever, the Guardian’s Dave Hill has pronounced that everything’s going great!

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East London Mosque keeps on lying

The East London Mosque, that legendary home of tolerance and moderation,  has condemned a series of posters which have appeared in its local area, Tower Hamlets, containing a Koranic invocation and declaring the borough a “gay-free zone.” Dilowar Khan, the mosque’s director, was quoted in a council press release saying: “We stand together with our fellow citizens against all forms of hatred, including homophobia. We are committed to building strong and cohesive communities in Tower Hamlets, and our strength is that we will not let incidents of hate divide us.”

As so often, however, the East London Mosque speaks with forked tongue. Yesterday, it was due to demonstrate its deep commitment to “standing together against homophobia” by hosting a gala dinner with one Uthman Lateef, a homophobic preacher who has stated: “We don’t accept homosexuality… we hate it because Allah hates it.”

Mr Lateef is one of at least half a dozen homophobic preachers hosted or promoted by the East London Mosque, three of whom have been officially invited to deliver the Friday sermon. In 2007, as my Dispatches programme on the East London Mosque disclosed, a “Spot The Fag” contest was staged at the mosque. In recent years, there has been a sharp rise in homophobic hate crimes in Tower Hamlets – something which simply cannot be unconnected to the fact that hatred of gay people is allowed to be openly and regularly expressed inside one of the area’s most prominent institutions.

The technique of saying one thing designed to appeal to white liberals, while in fact doing the exact opposite, has been brought to a fine pitch by Islamists generally, and the East London Mosque in particular. The mosque’s idea of “standing against hatred” involves hosting literally dozens of hate, extremist and terrorist preachers on its premises – most famously, the al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. It now claims to have banished hate preachers from its building – but, as this blog has documented, continues to welcome them almost every month.

Why does the East London Mosque tell such obvious lies? Simply, because lies work. There is a part of liberal white society which would rather ignore or deny the problem of extremism, hatred and bigotry in some parts of some Muslim communities. The lies give them a form of permission to do so.

In that same council press release, the chairs of the Rainbow Hamlets LGBT Community Forum, a local gay group, condemned the anti-gay posters but added: “We also condemn those who use these incidents to create a moral panic and stoke up racist or Islamophobic sentiment. At present the people responsible cannot be accurately determined, but it is clear that whoever is responsible, they do not represent any of the local communities.”

This statement contains at least one palpable untruth, one questionable assumption, and one dubious elision. As any gay man in Tower Hamlets will tell you, and numerous victims of homophobic hate crime in the area have told me, “the people responsible” can be perfectly “accurately determined:” the hostility towards gay people in the borough comes largely from young Bangladeshis.

It seems rather unlikely that posters quoting the Koran were put up by evangelical Christians, yuppies, brogue-wearing trendies or members of the white working class, the other main parts of the Tower Hamlets community. And given the anti-gay activities allowed inside the area’s largest Muslim institution, and the expression of sentiments there almost exactly identical to those on the posters, it’s also hard to know how the LGBT Forum can be quite so confident that the posters are entirely unrepresentative of any of the local communities.

The rise of homophobic hatred in Tower Hamlets, even as the rest of London becomes more tolerant, cannot be solved unless its cause is honestly recognised. It is caused, not by Islam as such (there has, after all, been a huge Muslim community in the borough for more than forty years), but by something much more recent: the growth in the area of radical political Islam – Islamism – under the influence of groups like the East London Mosque and its controlling body, the Islamic Forum of Europe.

Islamism, in the words of one of the IFE cadres secretly filmed during our Dispatches programme, holds that Islam is far more than a religion, but also a prescription for how the whole of society must be. Attacks on gay people and others whose behaviour transgresses the Islamists’ idea of social norms are, therefore, a logical consequence of this. It is neither “racist” nor “Islamophobic” to oppose it.

Ken Livingstone dreams that I want to kill him

Ken Livingstone  (Photo: BLOOMBERG NEWS)
Bloviating: Ken Livingstone (Photo: BLOOMBERG NEWS)

In his spare moments between campaigning against the Labour Party and working for Iranian state TV, the World’s Greatest Living Londoner is, I can reveal, standing for election as Labour’s 2012 mayoral candidate. A few weeks ago the Livingstone war machine rolled into Merton, where the South London Guardian’s Omar Oakes takes up the story:

“In my humble opinion, he did not look 100 per cent on form. He was clearly tired, and who can blame a 65-year-old political veteran for not always being on his game, especially now that he is looking after young children.

“But there was one delightful moment when Ken’s eyes lit up like candles – when he started talking about his nemesis – no not Boris! Andrew Gilligan, of course.”

Note for new readers: in 2008, I wrote a series of articles about Livingstone’s senior aide, Lee Jasper, and rather a lot of missing money; Ken blames the articles, rather than the money, for his defeat in the election that year. Oakes continues:

“And the scars of that defeat clearly still show. As we arrived to start our interview at Mitcham tram station, Livingstone started going off on one about this horrible dream he had the previous night, where he wins the London Mayor election and then – just when he is at his happiest – Gilligan is waiting at his home with a knife and tries to murder him.”

Welcome to the Twilight Zone! No word, alas, from Ken about whether I succeeded in my fiendish task – but on present evidence, I can probably leave the job to the voters. Even some Livingstone supporters are worried about last week’s YouGov poll, which put Labour 16 points ahead in London – but Ken and Boris Johnson, in the pollster’s words, “neck-and-neck” in the mayoral race, with Boris ahead on second preferences.

Some Ken partisans have tried to claim that the gap is closing, comparing it with a ComRes poll in October that showed Boris 9 points ahead – or, even more absurdly, with a poll taken right after his election three years ago showing the blond bombshell 16 points clear.

But the first law of psephology is never to compare polls by different pollsters, since they use different methodologies. The only relevant comparison – with the previous London YouGov poll in October – shows that over the last five months, while Labour has gained 8 points in the capital, Ken has managed just a one-point bump: well within the margin of error.

Even after a bad five months for the coalition, and a great deal of Kennish bloviating about genocidal bus fare rises, there has been effectively no change in Livingstone’s position. He also continues to lag, 41-44, among working-class voters: his base, as in 2008, remains the North London Guardianista crowd.

It’s fascinating to see Ken open a window on his deepest desires and desperations – not many politicians would tell a complete stranger about their dreams. And as a mere hack it’s flattering, as well as creepy, to have got so far inside the poor man’s head. Though this is the weirdest one yet, he often brings me up in interviews (the reporters, if they bother to record it at all, have to put a bit in square brackets explaining to their readers who I am.)

But it’s all further evidence of Labour’s awful mistake in choosing Ken as its mayoral standard-bearer. Even the contents of his dreams are trapped in the past.

Ken Livingstone: this is what the Iranians pay him for

Ken Livingstone has already collected plenty of flak for taking thousands of pounds from Press TV, the Iranian dictatorship’s official broadcaster, a relationship terminated only last week, under heavy pressure from Labour. When you look at the actual content of his shows, however, it gets worse.

Ken is (and will, until March, continue to be) one of the presenters of a programme called Epilogue, a half-hour book review. That, at least, is the theory. Remarkably often, the book is used merely as a pretext for thirty minutes of attacks by Ken and his guests against the West and Israel, sometimes coupled with extravagant praise of – well – the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On his show of 23 August 2010, Ken stated: “All my political life, I’ve watched anything that looks like it might unite the Arab world, going back to Nasser and now through al-Qaeda, is seen as a threat by the West. We fear some united Arab republic, or whatever. I mean, I don’t see why we fear…”

Is Labour’s candidate for the mayor of London – a city attacked by al-Qaeda – really saying that the West is wrong to see the terrorist group as a threat? And does he really see al-Qaeda as a legitimate expression of Arab unity? I think we should be told.

On his show of 28 June 2010, discussing a book called Israel And The Clash of Civilisations, Ken attacked the “demonisation” of the Iranian revolution and the “alarmism” in the West about Tehran’s alleged nuclear programme. He also called for the forcible disarmament of Israel.

He said: “All through this demonisation of the Iranian revolution, I’ve heard so much about the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie. I’ve never heard about the fatwas he issued against the development of nuclear weapons. And here you have the spiritual leader of Iran saying it is against the laws and will of God to build nuclear weapons. And yet we’re all still led to believe that Iran is on the verge of nuclear weapons. But as the book shows, we were being told they were on the verge of nuclear weapons 18 years ago….

“Would Saddam Hussein have looked for weapons of mass destruction if Israel didn’t have nuclear weapons? I mean, we have this alarmism in the west that Iran might get nuclear weapons. That Saddam Hussein – all the excuse of the war was that he might be trying to get them. Yet for the best part of 40 years, Israel has sat on 200 nuclear warheads, and there is not a word of protest in the West about this. What do you think the world can do to say:  there’s got to be a level playing field here, between the various regimes in the Middle East? I mean, the best route to peace is: Israel must be forced to give up its nuclear weapons.”

It is true that in 2005 the current supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons (his predecessor, Khomenei, merely said that they were “un-Islamic;” Ken is getting his ayatollahs mixed up.) But Iran’s rhetoric seems inconsistent with its behaviour: only ten days ago, nuclear talks between Iran and the IAEA again broke down. Iran’s co-operation with weapons inspectors was “insufficient,” the UN agency’s chief, Yukiya Amano, said, adding: “We cannot provide … assurance on the absence of (undeclared) nuclear activities or the exclusively peaceful nature of all the nuclear activities of Iran.”

On his 24 February 2010 show, the book of the day was Zionist Israel And Apartheid South Africa and the clear message was that Jews had no right to be in Israel. The introduction to the show described both apartheid South Africa and present-day Israel as “the products of outside implantation imposed on the indigenous population.”

Saying the book “makes a powerful case,” Ken described Israel as a “semi-theocratic state,” asking: “Is not the problem here that when Zionism was conceived in the 1880s, the world was one which accepted racial division… and that was the origin of Zionism? We see that today in… that racial exclusivity [of Judaism.]”

It’s a theme he returned to in his most recent show, on 11 January, discussing a memoir of occupied Palestine: “Is this a problem – Zionism was conceived at a time when everyone felt their race was superior, and while the rest of the world has moved on, this sort of embattled Zionism has hung on?”

Earlier, he asked his guest: “Is it fair to say what the Israelis have created is a form of apartheid, or is this an overstatement? Usually, Zionists go mad as soon as anyone links apartheid and Israel in the same sentence.”

The guest replied: “It is [fair]. Apart from watching Zionists bursting a blood-vessel… the difference between coloniality and apartheid is nothing.”

In a show on a book called The Invention of the Jewish People, the introduction describes how the author “finds present-day Palestinian Arabs to be the true heirs of the Biblical Jews.” An animation shows the Jewish diaspora spreading, not from Israel, but from somewhere near Tunis, across the Middle East to everywhere except Israel.

Ken’s programme only really seems to have two subjects – (1) America is bad; and (2) Israel is very bad, devoting roughly three-quarters of its airtime to these enticing propositions. Other recent Epilogue shows, not presented by Ken, have discussed books called A Discourse On Domination In Mandate Palestine: Imperialism, Property And Insurgency (27 December), Washington Rule: America’s Path To Permanent War (20 December), Israeli Apartheid, A Beginners’ Guide (13 December) and Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destablising Logic Of Zionism (15 November).

And that’s just the last two months! Earlier very special treats last year included The American Age of Unreason, In The Graveyard of Empires (guess whose), America’s Kingdom (about Saudi Arabia), From Co-Existence to Conquest (Israel again), and Zionism, The Real Enemy Of The Jews.

My earlier attacks on Ken’s continuing to work for this station brought forth a classic outbreak of lefty “whataboutery” in the comments. What about you? You used to work for Press TV, too! Indeed I did – until the year before last (I also, as I’ve said several times before, made two one-off appearances on the channel nine months ago.)

But I can quite categorically say that my show never, ever peddled stuff like this.