A couple of days ago, I covered the open letter from East London gay activists criticising the “platform for hate” provided by the fundamentalist East London Mosque/ London Muslim Centre, which regularly hosts “viciously ” homophobic and extremist preachers. Now the mosque has responded by claiming it will ban homophobic speakers from its premises.
“Any speaker who is believed to have said something homophobic will not be allowed to use our premises, whether that is us organising an event or someone else,” soothes the mosque’s PR, Salman Farsi. “We have done as much as we possibly can. The LGBT [gay] community need to take that in good faith.”
Unfortunately, it is at least the third time the East London Mosque has made this promise.
On 10 November 2007, the mosque’s chairman, Muhammad Abdul Bari, told my newspaper: “If I hear of a specific preacher who is inciting hatred, I will ban him from preaching.”
In the six months after this rousing statement, the numerous “specific preachers inciting hatred” not banned from speaking at the mosque included Khalid Yasin, who describes Jews as “filth” and says gay people should be killed; Abdurraheem Green, who says that a husband has the right to administer “some type of physical force… a very light beating” to his wife; and Bilal Phillips, described by the US government as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the World Trade Center bombing (Phillips was officially invited to deliver the Friday sermon.)
In subsequent months, the hit parade continued with (among many others) Gharait Baheer, spokesman for a leading ally of the Taliban; Murtaza Khan (who told his audience that women who use perfume should be flogged); Haitham al-Haddad, who thinks music is a “fake and prohibited message of love and peace;” and Anwar al-Awlaki, a key recruiter for al-Qaeda whose talk was advertised with a poster showing Manhattan under bombardment.
On 6 December 2010, Dr Bari again claimed: “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.”
Alas, the very next month – on 23 January 2011 – Haitham al-Haddad was back speaking at the mosque (as well as his views on music, Haitham also believes that “the conflict between Islam and the enemies of Islam is an ongoing conflict…we should pay the price of this victory from our blood, and Muslims are ready to do so.”) And on 25 February, we had the homophobic preacher Uthman Lateef plus Hamza Tzortzis, who states: “We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even of freedom.” Sounds pretty “controversial” to me, Dr Bari!
The East London Mosque’s response to accusations of extremism has three stages. First there are the injured protestations of its deep commitment to community cohesion, democracy, etc, often accompanied by straightforward lying – in 2009, for instance, the mosque’s assistant director, Shaynul Khan, claimed that “Anwar Al-Awlaki did not give a lecture via video link at an event held at the East London Mosque.” Then there are silly legal threats from its libel lawyers, again often based on lies: tedious, but perfectly easy to see off if you know what you’re doing.
Finally, if none of that works and their backs are absolutely against the wall, the mosque will crank out one of their statements claiming they’ve banned hate preachers. The supply of bad guys will dry up for a month or two, then as soon as the coast is clear they’ll start creeping back again. Let’s hope it’s different this time. But you’ll forgive me, I’m sure, for being a little sceptical about the East London Mosque’s “good faith.”