The Trojan Horse plotters and their allies on Twitter have been getting touchingly excited about a BBC report into a secret meeting on Wednesday between officials of Birmingham City Council and the heads of the 21 schools involved. Alas, their claims that it “proved” the plot was a “hoax” don’t stand up to scrutiny.
It’s true that one of the council officials at the meeting claimed they’d seen “no evidence” of extremism in the schools, a line seized on by the Beeb. That claim, however, is clearly false, the latest of many attempts by Birmingham City Council to ignore or downplay the problems and its own role in creating them. There is, in fact, clear evidence of extremism, both religious and political, in some of these schools.
More broadly, I too was leaked the recording of Wednesday’s meeting between the heads and the council and I can only say that the BBC’s account of it, at least in the online piece I’ve linked to, was selective. As you can see from my own report, the council did concede at the meeting that there were “very significant” issues in the schools and that it expected the official reports to have “serious implications for us all, the council as well as schools.” The chief executive, Mark Rogers, predicted a “bloody firestorm” when the reports were published; his director for children’s services, Peter Hay, feared a “knockout blow.”
Mr Rogers also made the distinction, not captured by the Beeb, between problems of “radicalisation and extremism,” which he disputes, and what he described as “where Trojan Horse starts, which is whether there’s undue influence in the ethos, curriculum and practices of schools in relation to Islam.”
And for sure, as well as the evidence of extremism, there’s even more copious evidence of the latter at these schools. An official report leaked to the Telegraph (extracts here) described how girls were made to sit at the back of the class at Park View; at Golden Hillock, another school, non-Muslim pupils “had to teach themselves” in one subject; at Nansen, there is compulsory Arabic (in a primary school!) and no teaching of the arts for one entire year group.
Nansen’s deputy head, Razwan Faraz, is administrator of a group called “Educational Activists” which pursues, in Mr Faraz’s words, an “Islamising agenda” in Birmingham’s schools. Park View’s chair of governors, Tahir Alam, is co-author of a document which calls for the teaching of art, drama and dance to Muslims to be restricted and Muslim girls to be veiled in school.
Non-Muslim heads at five schools in a tiny area of Birmingham have left their jobs in the last six months. The general secretary of the headteachers’ union, Russell Hobby, says the union has found “concerted efforts” by hardliners to infiltrate Birmingham schools, is working with 30 of its members in 12 schools and has “serious concerns” about six of them. One of the schools concerned, Adderley, has released an official statement confirming that its head, a moderate Muslim, and other heads have been subjected to “malicious and targeted campaigns to remove them.” Given all this, there can’t really now be any dispute that a plot exists.
But the Beeb’s record on the story has been mixed. It has done some real reporting on it – that is, making the effort, like us, to gather actual evidence of its own. But on other occasions it’s been too ready to take at face value the obviously self-serving denials of obviously interested parties – such as governors of the schools concerned, or in this case Birmingham City Council.
The Metropolitan Police today stated that there was “no credible evidence” in files about Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets Council supplied by the BBC’s Panorama programme “to suspect that fraud or any other offence has been committed at this stage. Therefore the MPS will not be investigating at this point in time.”
Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, and his council have understandably been crowing about this statement today. The statement “is to be welcomed,” the council said. Rahman tweeted that there was “no evidence” of fraud. Rahman-friendly media outlets such as The Guardian newspaper have been carrying the statement prominently.
There’s only one problem – it’s not true. There is a criminal investigation. And the BBC files do form part of it.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed to me tonight that Tower Hamlets CID is investigating alleged fraud at the council involving a grant to an organisation called the Brady Youth Forum. A member of the mayor’s staff is involved in the alleged fraud, I separately understand. The Met said the investigation was at “an early stage”.
I understand that detailed evidence on this specific allegation did form part of the dossier that Panorama’s reporter, John Ware, passed to the DCLG and which was then passed to the Met. The material supplied by Ware includes evidence implicating one of the mayor’s staff in an operation where cheques for public money were sent to what appeared to be a bogus address.
This blog has previously noted the local police’s cosy relationship with Lutfur’s council – but what on earth is the Met playing at here? Serious questions – more serious questions – need to be asked about whether we can ever trust what this force is saying.
Even, of course, if the statement by the Met had been true – even if Tower Hamlets didn’t face any allegation of criminality – the list of charges against Rahman is long.
Panorama, too, alleged favouritism in the allocation of council grants and misuse of council resources for electioneering purposes. The fraud allegation didn’t form part of the programme because it wasn’t ready for broadcast in time.
But be in no doubt – as well as the auditor investigation into Tower Hamlets into all the non-criminal sleaze, there most certainly is an ongoing police investigation, for all the Met’s denials to the contrary.
Over the next few weeks, this blog will be setting out in detail the truth about Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, and the full evidence against him. I should stress that, over the last four years, all our material about Lutfur and his extremist allies has survived literally hundreds of complaints to Ofcom and the Press Complaints Commission.
Rahman’s supporters make two main defences: first, that in the words of the Guardian’s Dave Hill, “if Rahman has sinned, how many others are doing so all day, every day in ways that, in the end, differ if at all only in the means and detail?”
To the contrary, this series of blog posts will show that what is happening in Tower Hamlets is on a completely different plane from normal political behaviour. (What is it with Dave, who has embarrassing form as Ken Livingstone’s chief media poodle? Has he some psychological need to act as a public excuse-maker for the least scrupulous politicians he can find?)
The second defence, inevitably, is to claim that all scrutiny of Rahman is racist – again, without any factual basis. Instead, as I show below, it is Rahman who is practising racial and religious favouritism and it is his ethnicity that has saved him from scrutiny. Any council led by a white politician responsible for even half of what Tower Hamlets has done would by now have been picked apart by the media and placed under official investigation. But many journalists and officials are afraid of being branded racist for criticising Rahman.
Finally, however, following the BBC’s Panorama on Rahman this week, it looks as if the dam is breaking. A Government investigation is now looking extremely likely. In the days ahead, I will describe the kind of things it should be about.
We start today with the evidence which shows how the Rahman adminstration’s grant-giving in many areas strongly favours Muslim groups, even though their presence in the borough is actually falling.
First, some facts about the ethnic and faith makeup of Tower Hamlets. According to the 2011 census, its largest single ethnic group is white – 45.2 per cent of the population. Bangladeshis make up 32 per cent – down from 33.4 per cent in 2001. Muslims make up 34.5 per cent of Tower Hamlets people – again down, from 36.4 per cent in 2001.
You wouldn’t know this from the makeup of Lutfur Rahman’s ruling cabinet, which is 100 per cent Bangladeshi and Muslim, or from his grants. In 2012, the council changed its policy to ensure that “the decisions for all awards over £1,000 were to be made by the Mayor under his executive authority”.
After that time, as both the BBC and I have catalogued, there was a clear diversion of funding away from secular bodies serving the whole community to faith-based or religious groups serving only sections of the community. As councillors on Tower Hamlets’ cross-party scrutiny committee put it, “new, untested organisations with no track record of delivering for the community” suddenly sprang up, paid substantial sums for often ill-defined projects. As I will describe in future posts, several of these very well-funded new projects appear to be based in people’s private homes. Several involve individuals with close personal connections to Lutfur Rahman.
There are a number of grants programmes with which we will deal in turn.
Community faith buildings support scheme
This is a new £2 million fund invented by Lutfur Rahman to pay money to religious buildings. No other council in Britain does this, or anything like it. Of the first £600,000 awarded, the only round announced so far, £388,000 (64 per cent) went to Muslim faith buildings.
Some places got grants without even having to say what they wanted them for – for instance, the Bow Muslim Cultural Centre got £10,000 for work simply described as “to be confirmed.” Let’s hope they think of something to spend it on soon, shall we?
Many of the recipients were in no need whatever – such as the East London Mosque, which got £10,000 for “professional fees” even though it has an income of more than £1 million a year. The East London Mosque is the home of Lutfur’s key backers, the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), whose front organisations have received millions from the council under various programmes.
Community events and community chest schemes
Rahman has created funds that organise pre-election events and reward his supporters and potential supporters with public money. Of the £593,512 granted, at least £327,645 (55 per cent) has gone to Muslim organisations.
Grants (listed here and here) included a total of £37,195 to several groups closely associated with the IFE. A further £32,500 of public money has been paid to UK-based Bengali-language newspapers, media organisations and TV stations – influential with Rahman’s electorate – which have given the mayor fawning coverage.
Other grants included £1,800 to an Islamic religious teachers’ organisation for its annual day out to the Isle of Wight and £1,500 for a “festival of sneakers.” Someone else has bought themselves a coffee machine on the public dime. In a number of other cases, as with the faith grants, the council hasn’t troubled even to agree what it is paying for before it hands out the dough.
Rahman’s own officers and the council’s cross-party overview and scrutiny committee strongly objected to several of the awards, but the mayor brushed them aside, saying (in a written decision – he’s refused to answer any questions on the issue) that “although officers may come to the view that an application is poor and/or that it should not receive funding, there are from time to time cases where, when taking account of wider circumstances, projects are worth supporting in view of the perceived potential community benefits” (Page 5 of this PDF).
At its meeting on 7 January, members of the overview and scrutiny committee said that the grants were “not benefiting the Borough as a whole” but were “being directed to certain areas in the west of the borough where the Mayor had the majority of his vote.” The Bengali areas, they meant. Two maps, published by the committee, of the chosen locations for the grants make this favouritism starkly clear.
The pre-existing, and much larger, “mainstream grants” programme, too, has been changed to favour Rahman’s client groups, as the council’s own documents admit. Several key elements of the programme are affected. The full list of grants is here.
Older people’s lunch club programme
Of the £907,180 given to run lunch clubs for residents over 50, £515,280 (57 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations, to lunch clubs described by the council as exclusively for Bangladeshis or Somalis, or to clubs which from their own publicity are aimed at an exclusively Muslim clientele.
As the council’s own equality impact assessment admits (p5 of PDF), 22 out of the 34 lunch clubs funded (65 per cent) are targeted at ethnic minorities, even though 60 per cent of the borough’s over-50s are white and only 23 per cent are Bangladeshi. There was an increase of nine ethnic minority-only lunch clubs from the previous funding round, and “a reduction in lunch clubs for the general population, which primarily impacts the white British, Irish and non-Bangladeshi or Somali ethnic minority population”.
Community and economic engagement
Of the £1,235,000 in grants for community and economic engagement, £858,500 (70 per cent) went to Muslim organisations. Beneficiaries included the IFE front, the Osmani Trust, which received £80,000.
Children, schools and families
Of the £526,000 in grants for children, schools and families, £334,500 (64 per cent) went to Muslim organisations. Beneficiaries included two IFE fronts, the London Muslim Centre and the Osmani Trust, which received a total of £140,000.
As the council’s own documents admit (p3 of PDF), “this funding stream primarily supports Bangladeshi and other BAME [ethnic minority] communities.”
Of the £207,850 allocated in grants for study support schemes, £130,750 (63 per cent) went to Muslim organisations.
Mother tongue classes
Of the £313,486 in grants for mother tongue lessons, £296,016 (94 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations. The neighbouring secular borough of Newham spends money on teaching recent immigrants to speak English. Lutfur’s Tower Hamlets spends money on teaching people not to speak English.
Youth and Connexions services
Of the £667,000 in grants for youth and “connexions” (career advice) services, £437,500 (66 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations. Beneficiaries included the IFE front, the Osmani Trust, which received £130,000.
Of the £156,000 for lifelong learning, £87,000 (57 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations.
In only a handful of programmes in the grants portfolio, mainly those handed out under national guidelines such as the early years nursery grants, do Muslim groups not take the lion’s share of the funding.
It may be argued that Bangladeshis, in particular, are a poor community who need more help than others. They do – but in the past, as is still the case elsewhere in east London, that help was provided by long-established secular organisations with a strong track record of delivering for all communities, not organised into faith or race silos and not operating out of individuals’ private homes.
Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, is a worried man today. As I reported in this morning’s paper, the Government finally appears to be gearing up for a full investigation into his incredible regime, the subject of a broadcast by the BBC’s Panorama tonight.
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, tells the programme that the allegations against Lutfur are of “a completely different magnitude to the worries and concerns that I have with other councils” and accuses him of “abusing his position”.
He added in a statement to the Telegraph: “There is a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and mismanagement of council staff and resources by the mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets. I will be carefully examining the evidence provided by Panorama’s thorough investigation and will consider the appropriate next steps, including the case for exercising the legal powers available to me.”
Lutfur, the former Labour council leader, was replaced, deselected and subsequently expelled by the Labour Party after I revealed his close links to an Islamic extremist organisation, the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), which believes in turning Europe into an Islamic state under sharia law. He was subsequently elected mayor as an independent.
As we have catalogued in the paper and on this blog, Lutfur has channelled millions of pounds in council grants to IFE front organisations and to close colleagues and associates, often at the expense of established, secular groups serving the whole community.
Panorama found that Lutfur, who has taken personal control over council grants, had repeatedly overruled his own council officers and given Bengali- and Somali-run organisations two and a half times more money than the officers recommended.
In a memo leaked to the programme, Tower Hamlets’ head of environmental legal services, Jill Bell, warned the council was “vulnerable to legal challenge” after Lutfur and his allies added 94 extra grants, “a number of which were ineligible” under the council’s own rules. Ms Bell’s is now leaving her Tower Hamlets job.
Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, told the BBC that the degree of “material change” which Lutfur exercised over the officer recommendations was “very unusual.”
The desperation that Panorama has caused in Camp Rahman is gigantic – and possibly just as revealing as anything likely to be in the programme itself. Lutfur’s attempts to stymie the broadcast are a whole story of their own. He hired a law firm and PR specialists to try to stop it. He’s produced an expensively-produced counterattack film (did public money pay for that, I wonder?) and making predictable charges of racism and Islamophobia.
Most interestingly of all, in their fight against the BBC, he and his staff have been using confidential programme research material removed from the Panorama computers by a freelance they hired for a few days who then defected to the Rahman camp. Lutfur is claiming, entirely falsely, that the Beeb is under “criminal investigation” over this material. Shouldn’t it be Team Lutfur and the researcher who are under criminal investigation?
The tactics are familiar to any of us who report on Rahman – endless bullying threats and complaints, shameless playing of the race card, straightforward lying and denial of reality – but, as I have also found, they can be seen off easily enough if you have done your reporting properly. The programme goes out tonight at 8.30pm.
Many of its themes are likely to be familiar to readers of this blog (though I’ve had no involvement in the making of the film) but it is significant, and might possibly be a turning-point, that an organisation with the BBC’s clout is finally taking notice of this scandal.
Welcome back to the blog, by the way. I went quiet for a while because I have less time than I used to, but you will be hearing from me more over the next few months.
For a full account of Lutfur’s remarkable career to 2013, click here.
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.
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.
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.
One of the main conclusions I drew from my Telegraph/Channel 4 Dispatches investigation of the East London Mosque was quite how gullible some parts of the white establishment were in the face of a persuasive PR machine telling them what they wanted to hear.
Since we exposed some of what actually goes on inside this mosque, there has been a welcome reduction in the number of politicians and suchlike prepared to visit. But one key part of liberal Britain, the BBC, retains a trusting faith in the mosque’s spin that no amount of contrary evidence appears able to shake.
In March, as I wrote here, the BBC allowed its flagship discussion programme, Any Questions, to be hijacked by the mosque. That could, conceivably, have been carelessness. But last week the Corporation went one step further. Its BBC1 documentary on the East London Mosque, Middle East Enders (available to watch here for another day) was quite simply a licence-fee-funded, half-hour advertorial.
As the narrator put it: “Today, the East London Mosque takes great pride in its open-door policy towards believers and non-believers….While some Muslims publicly burned the Satanic Verses, a new generation of trustees seized the chance to try to live up to the mosque’s founders’ values” of “promoting harmony between faiths.”
Then in came the mosque’s director, Dilowar Hussein Khan, to tell us all that “the East London Mosque [has] played an instrumental role in uniting East London Muslims and reaching out to non-Muslims, building bridges… We are also re-engaging now with the wider society. This is something that we want every single mosque in this country to do.” There followed a heart-warming tale about how the mosque had battled through adversity and racism to become a beacon of tolerance, concluding with someone saying that if only the “wonderful relationship” the mosque had with its neighbouring synagogue could become a model for Palestine.
As we reported, and as the BBC must have known, the East London Mosque is in fact controlled by, and is the headquarters of, an Islamic supremacist group called the Islamic Forum of Europe – which, in its own words from one of its own leaflets, is dedicated to changing the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed … from ignorance to Islam.” It has been accused by the local Labour MP of infiltrating his party to achieve these ends.
In another leaflet, the IFE says it “strives for the establishment of a global [my italics] society, the Khilafah … comprised of individuals who live by the principles of … the Shari’ah.” The IFE’s “primary work” to create this state, the document goes on, “is in Europe [my italics] because it is this continent, despite all the furore about its achievements, which has a moral and spiritual vacuum.”
“Our goal,” said the leader of the IFE’s youth wing, Mohammed Rabbani, to new recruits in June last year, “is not simply to invite people and give da’wah [call to the faith]. Our goal is to create the True Believer, to then mobilise those believers into an organised force for change who will carry out da’wah, hisbah [enforcement of Islamic law] and jihad [struggle]. This will lead to social change and iqamatud-Deen [an Islamic social, economic and political order].”
Life in the IFE’s Islamic social and political order would be different from the way it is now. “Protect yourselves from all types of haram [forbidden things] … music, TV, and freemixing with women in that which is not necessary,” the IFE recruits were told. “Democracy, if it means at the expense of not implementing the sharia, of course no one agrees with that,” says the IFE’s community affairs coordinator, Azad Ali.
In keeping with its spirit of tolerance, bridge-building and harmony between faiths, the East London Mosque has hosted such notably tolerant and harmonious meetings as, for instance, the half-day conference on ‘social ills’ on 9 July last year. One of the “social ills” — with an entire session to itself — was “music,” described by one of the speakers, Haitham al-Haddad, as a “prohibited and fake message of love and peace.”
Then there was the talk, on 26 June 2009, by a certain Bilal Philips — named by the US government as an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. And if that particular outrage was a little too tolerant and harmonious for the dedicated holy warrior — only six people died — the East London Mosque was also kind enough to host, on 1 January last year, a video address by Anwar al-Awlaki, spiritual leader to two of the 9/11 hijackers. This event was advertised with a notably bridge-building poster showing Manhattan under bombardment.
Or then there was the mosque’s even more tolerant and harmonious event with a man called Murtaza Khan – who told his audience that women who use perfume should be flogged – and the harmonious, tolerant “Spot The Fag” contest run, at the mosque, by an anti-gay preacher called Abdul Karim Hattin. There’s been a big rise in gay-bashing in that part of East London lately – but it can’t have any connection with the tolerant, harmonious views preached at the mosque, of course.
In the year to March 2010, the East London Mosque hosted at least 18 hate, fundamentalist and extremist speakers, many more than once. Over the past few years, there have been dozens — all approved, and many explicitly endorsed, by the mosque authorities themselves (in March 2008, for instance, Mr Philips was invited to deliver the Friday sermon).
I describe this at some length so you will know just how much publicly-available evidence the BBC had to ignore. The mosque has huffed and puffed, but hasn’t been able to challenge any of it. The programme-makers’ other error was to accept the mosque’s ridiculous claim that it has “united East London Muslims” behind the bridge-building, harmonious ideology of the IFE.
No doubt the mosque would like us to believe that Islam and itself are the same things. But the simplest research would have found that this mosque is viewed with deep suspicion by many East London Muslims, not least because the locals are mostly of Bangladeshi (not “Middle East”) origin and the IFE fought against the very creation of Bangladesh. Not a single one of the mosque’s numerous local Muslim critics was interviewed, with the entire programme consisting of a parade of East London Mosque trustees, employees, associates and supporters.
I’m not asking, of course, that the programme-makers share my view of the East London Mosque. But unlike with Any Questions, they must have known of the existence of substantial evidence which contradicted the happy story they set out to tell. Failing even to mention it makes them, to my mind, guilty of propaganda.