Lutfur Rahman cabinet member shares platform with bigot

Over the last week I’ve covered the East London Mosque’s decision to host yet another meeting with a homophobic preacher – an almost instant breach of its recent pledge to ban “any speaker who is believed to have said something homophobic” – and then its ludicrous PR contortions as it tried to justify its bad faith.

Well, it now transpires that as well as the anti-gay campaigner Yusuf Patel, of SREIslamic, and the director of the mosque, last Wednesday’s meeting also featured a contribution from Councillor Oliur Rahman, cabinet member for children’s services in Lutfur Rahman’s administration at Tower Hamlets council.

Lutfur recently claimed to take a “zero-tolerance approach to homophobia.” So why on earth is he letting his cabinet appear at meetings organised by a group which specifically campaigns for “the unacceptability of homosexuality?”

One explanation may perhaps be that Lutfur is, of course, the man who was dropped as a candidate by the Labour Party because of his links with the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe, who just happen to control…the East London Mosque.

Wednesday’s event, by the way, was billed as an “emergency meeting” to protest about the use in Tower Hamlets schools of a children’s sex education video called Living and Growing. Living and Growing, I now learn, was made in 1999. It has been used in schools for the last twelve years, and in Tower Hamlets schools for at least the last three years.  Parents have, and always have had, the right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons if they object to any aspect of them. Some emergency!

What next, I wonder – an “emergency meeting” to oppose the Vietnam War? It’s all further grounds for suspicion that the likes of Patel and the East London Mosque are flamming up phony fears about sex education as a pretext to get their hooks into Muslim parents. And they appear to be getting support from Lutfur’s council. Instead of exposing the flimsiness of SREIslamic’s “emergency,” Councillor Rahman is reported as telling the meeting that he supports the concerns.

Almost two years ago, incidentally, one progressive blogger alerted us to the way in which SREIslamic were extremists “putting on a moderate face” and “jumping on a polarising and emotive issue to build their own base and support.” That blogger was none other than Sunny Hundal – the very gentleman who last weekend was denouncing me for making exactly the same point, and cranking out desperate excuses for the East London Mosque. I can only conclude that in this case Mr Hundal’s evident dislike of me, or the “right-wing media,” or something, has entirely undermined his judgment and intellectual integrity.

PS: Excursions like Oli Rahman’s seem unlikely to bring Lutfur’s longed-for readmission to Labour any closer. And indeed this afternoon, Lutfur announced that a further four councillors – Shahed Ali, Abdul Asad, Rofique Uddin Ahmed and Shafiqul Haque – had defected from the Labour group on Tower Hamlets council to the ranks of his nascent anti-Labour group. Interestingly, the defections are actually being welcomed by Labour as a further step in the cleansing of the Tower Hamlets party.

“We are delighted,” said one senior Tower Hamlets Labour source tonight. “We have been trying to get a couple of these people deselected for years, simply on the grounds that they are a complete waste of space. Lutfur’s downfall will be that he simply has no capable people willing to work with him.” A Labour spokesman said that all four of the councillors would be expelled from the party within days.

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Great Ormond Street: a hospital in serious trouble

Among the general public, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children still has a high reputation. Criticising it sometimes feels a bit like questioning the health of Prince Charles’s marriage in, say, 1985. But in the annual assessment exercise by the NHS regulator, the Care Quality Commission, its rating has declined from “excellent” first to “good” and then merely to “fair.” And in the medical profession, there are deep concerns about what has been happening at this celebrated institution.

After the hospital’s serious failings in the Baby P case, as documented at length by me and BBC London’s Tim Donovan, the respected medical journal, The Lancet, stated in a recent editorial (free but requires registration) that “if Great Ormond Street’s management team had been in Wigan they would almost certainly have departed by now. Perhaps Great Ormond Street is just too important to be seen to fail, even when a child dies.” A government minister has called on the chief executive to resign. This week’s Lancet includes a letter from a number of GOS consultants demanding an independent inquiry (as well as one from the hospital defending itself.)

Increasingly, however, it is clear that the hospital’s problems are wider than those exposed by Baby P. My story in today’s paper starts:

“The crisis at the world’s most famous children’s hospital has been laid bare by damning leaked documents.

“In emails, letters and secret internal reports, consultants at Great Ormond Street Hospital say that vital medical services have been “destroyed,” patient safety is “at risk” and they have been “harassed and targeted” by management for raising their concerns.

“In one of the leaked letters, Dr Cathy Owens, one of the world’s most eminent child radiologists and herself a Great Ormond Street consultant, says there is a “culture of fear” in the hospital with “malicious and vexatious targeting” of doctors who complain.

“She says her department is in a “dire situation” after steep job cuts and a number of experienced consultants being forced from their posts. Dr Owens is the current general secretary, and former president, of the European Society of Paediatric Radiology.”

You will also see Christine Hall, emeritus professor at Great Ormond Street and a former consultant at the hospital, quoted as saying that “management at the hospital has failed on all levels from the top down…I speak to other clinicians around the country, and they all ask: what is going on there?”

Read the whole thing here.

East London Mosque just can't stop digging

Being lied about by liars is an occupational hazard of my job – but even by its own Olympian standards of untruthfulness, the East London Mosque’s latest justification for hosting its latest extremist and homophobic bigot is a classic.

Less than a month ago, after a row over its repeated hosting of homophobic preachers, the mosque promised: “Any speaker who is believed to have said something homophobic will not be allowed to use our premises.” Alas, precisely eight days after issuing this ringing pledge, it was announced that the East London Mosque would host a public meeting – not just on its premises, but chaired by its own director – with one Yusuf Patel, a man who most certainly has “said something homophobic.”

In fact, Patel has said lots of homophobic things. Here he is, for instance (at an earlier meeting at the, ahem, East London Mosque) saying that homosexuality is “not an acceptable lifestyle” and a “sin against Allah.” In Islamic theology sinners against Allah tend to come to sticky ends, I understand. One of the principal purposes of Patel’s SREIslamic group, which co-organised last week’s meeting, is to campaign for “the unacceptability of homosexuality.” I think all this just might be covered by the mosque’s promise, don’t you?

Instead of facing up to its own dishonesty and bad faith, the mosque has taken refuge in yet further lies and irrelevancies. The first red herring is to claim that because someone from a Christian anti-abortionist group was speaking alongside Patel, and the subject of the meeting was sex education in schools, that somehow excuses the almost immediate breach of the mosque’s clear pledge. It doesn’t, of course. Indeed, using other organisations and issues as cover to draw people in is one of the oldest plays in the extremist book. The mosque’s argument is akin to claiming that it would be all right for, say, a Christian cathedral to host a meeting with Nick Griffin, chaired by the dean, so long as he promised to confine his remarks to education policy.

The second irrelevance is to claim that Patel is no longer a member of the extremist group Hizb ut Tahrir.

And now for the lies: it is untrue to claim, as the mosque does in its statement, that “the actual parental campaign at the centre of the story was not even talking about homosexuality at all.” SREIslamic most certainly does talk about the unacceptability of homosexuality, both in the first sentence of its statement of values and in its more recent literature (they took all this offline last week, but we’ve got paper copies.) It is untrue for the mosque to claim that “those hate preachers who circumvented our bookings policy in the past are now barred.” As I have reported before, several hate preachers have appeared at the mosque since this supposed “bar” came into effect.

It is untrue to claim, as the mosque and its echoes in the blogosphere often do, including in its latest statement, that the Daily Telegraph has corrected any story I wrote about it: the correction was to a news-in-brief item (six months ago!) written by someone else. And if that 50-word piece, in all the tens of thousands of words we’ve written about the East London Mosque, is the only fault they’ve been able to find, I think we’re doing pretty well.

Over the last eighteen months I have repeatedly accused the East London Mosque of, among other things, hosting extremists and of lying about them – clearly libellous charges, if wrong. This is a mosque which sues at the drop of a hat (at least once, I might add, on the basis of a claim we can now prove to be a lie.) Yet in all that time the mosque has made no attempt to sue us, because our charges are not wrong and they know they would lose.

Finally, in its latest statement, the mosque employs the time-honoured gambit of misrepresenting me in order to deny a number of things that I never actually said. I have never, for instance, claimed that the purpose of the SREIslamic meeting was to “make an out and out call to attack gays.” I drew attention to the meeting because it is in clear breach of the mosque’s promise to bar from its premises anyone who has said anything homophobic. Nor, of course, have I ever portrayed the East End as a place “at war” where “moderate Muslims are quaking in fear,” an absurd misrepresentation.

All these are intellectual tricks that would not fool a reasonably alert ten-year-old – and indeed only one slightly dim blogger, Sunny Hundal, seems to have been fooled by them. The mosque’s PR contortions impress diminishingly few, outside the ranks of the usual useful idiots. They simply expose the weakness of its case. It is now time – actually it is long past time – for the East London Mosque to decide whether it actually wants to join tolerant, 21st-century multicultural London, or just carry on pretending that it has done so.

Contrary to what was stated in an earlier version of this blog, Yusuf Patel has asked us to point out that he did not leave Hizb ut Tahrir because it was not strong enough on the issue of sexual “deviance”.