Fundamentalist IFE banned by Labour council

The Labour-controlled London borough of Newham has made the important and valuable decision to deny the use of its facilities to the fundamentalist, Muslim supremacist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe.

The IFE – which controls the hardline East London Mosque, host of many terrorist sympathisers and hate preachers – openly advocates Sharia law in Europe and the destruction of democracy. Last year, one London Labour MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, accused it of infiltrating and “corrupting” his party in the same way as Militant in the 1980s.

Fitzpatrick’s brave decision to speak out started the process of Labour cleansing itself of the snake. First, the party sacked its leader in Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, as a mayoral candidate, expelled him from the party, and voted to boycott his administration when he was elected as an independent. Lutfur, as even one of his senior campaign coordinators has now said, is deeply in bed with the IFE.

Now Newham, as the Harry’s Place blog reports, has reaffirmed its decision to bar the IFE. They originally tried to book the council’s Old Stratford Town Hall for a meeting in September, but were refused because of “activity and statements that had been made by individuals who were associated with the organisation or previous events it had organised” which might conflict with the council’s “duty to promote equality and maintain community cohesion.” The IFE appealed against the decision; the decision has been upheld.

Sir Robin Wales, the directly-elected mayor of Newham, has a good record against extremism. He and his Labour counterpart in Hackney, Jules Pipe, have refused to work with Lutfur. The IFE has made little secret of the fact that after Tower Hamlets, its next target is the heavily-Muslim borough of Newham. The council clearly doesn’t want to let that happen.

One disturbing feature of this story, however, is that the IFE did not book the Town Hall under its own name, but in the name of a body called TELCO, the East London chapter of the community organising group London Citizens (though the IFE didn’t use TELCO’s address, which is what triggered the council’s suspicions in the first place.)

London Citizens are good people, regularly praised by mainstream politicians. But they have the significant problem that the IFE and East London Mosque are deeply embedded within TELCO. London Citizens’ lead organiser, Neil Jameson, has become the principal non-Muslim whom the IFE and mosque wheel out in their defence (indeed, virtually the only one remaining, outside the ranks of the far left and a single, eccentric Tory member of the London Assembly.) Their membership appears directly contrary to TELCO’s declared aims of democratic decisionmaking and of promoting equal respect and dignity for all, regardless of faith – things the IFE definitely doesn’t believe in.

With the important exception of the mayoral election in Tower Hamlets, the political tide in East London may be turning against the Islamic fundamentalists. The worry, though, is that as one mainstream, democratic institution – the Labour Party – becomes more hostile to them, they are, as with this room booking, using another essentially decent group, London Citizens, as cover.

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Islamists establish a bridgehead in Parliament

After a series of reverses in the political arena, Islamist sympathisers yesterday established a key bridgehead in Parliament.

A body called iEngage (also known as Engage) states in a press release that it will be acting as the secretariat to a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia, whose inaugural meeting was held yesterday in the Commons. The group is chaired by a Tory MP, Kris Hopkins. The Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes and the Labour peer Lord Janner are vice-chairs. Sources say that the inaugural meeting was attended by the Tory MPs Angie Bray and Eric Ollerenshaw, among others. (A spokesman for the Labour MP Lisa Nandy, who was listed as attending, has contacted me to say that she did not.)

I’m quite certain all these people are sincere individuals who would have no truck with Islamism or extremism. Indeed, at least one of them is Jewish. But they are being used. They need to look much more closely at who they are getting into bed with.

iEngage is an organisation of Islamist sympathisers which has consistently defended fundamentalist organisations such as the East London Mosque and the Islamic Forum of Europe. It routinely attacks all criticism of them as “Islamophobic.”

It attacked the BBC’s recent Panorama documentary on racist Muslim schools – showing that some children are being taught anti-Semitism and Sharia punishments – as a “witch-hunt.” Typically, it launched its attack before even seeing the programme. It was almost alone in this criticism – faced with Panorama’s clear evidence, even some of the usual Islamist suspects kept quiet.

It attacked me for writing about the East London Mosque’s hosting of the terrorist preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki, in 2009 – advertised with a poster showing New York under bombardment. It peddled the straightforward lie told by the mosque that no-one had realised Awlaki was a bad egg at that stage. In fact, Awlaki had been identified by the US government two months before as a spiritual leader of the 9/11 hijackers – and the mosque knew this.

iEngage’s chief executive, and secretary of the new parliamentary group, Mohammed Asif, wrote to the Home Secretary to protest against the ban on the extremist preacher, Zakir Naik. Mr Naik has stated that “every Muslim should be a terrorist.” But Mr Asif and iEngage said that Naik’s exclusion would “put at risk good community relations.”

iEngage publicised a grotesquely misleading report issued by another Islamist-sympathising group, iEra, purporting to show that three-quarters of non-Muslims believe Islam is negative for Britain. As I demonstrated, this result – massively more than the true figure – was only achieved by systematically twisting the data as part of iEra’s agenda to sow suspicion and discord between communities.

iEngage has attacked the Independent columnist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, one of the country’s major voices of moderate Islam, for her opposition to the niqab and the burka. She is far from the only Muslim to be attacked by iEngage. It is interesting that no Muslim MPs attended the launch of the all-party group last night.

There are countless other examples.

There is no question that Muslims face substantial bigotry and discrimination in this country – although the claim, often made by Islamists, that it is “rising” flies in the face of all the empirical evidence. Hate crimes against Muslims have fallen, often dramatically (in Tower Hamlets, for instance, London’s main Muslim area, hate crimes are down by 50% in seven years.)

At this year’s elections Britain’s main anti-Muslim party, the BNP, lost 26 of the 28 council seats it held and went backwards in virtually every parliamentary seat. The number of Muslim MPs doubled, with at least three Muslims now sitting for almost entirely non-Muslim, Middle English seats such as Stratford-on-Avon. The office once held by Lord Tebbit, of “cricket test” fame – the Tory chairmanship – is now occupied by a Muslim woman. Repressive anti-terror laws which have alienated Muslims are, it seems, going to be scaled back.

There may well be a place for a parliamentary group set up to tackle anti-Muslim sentiment – which is still poisonous in parts of the tabloid press. But there is no place at all for a parliamentary group serviced by Islamist sympathisers.

Because too often, the charge of “Islamophobia” has been used by Islamists to stifle and deter examination of their own actions. They deliberately conflate Islamism (followed by a tiny minority of British Muslims) with the entire faith of Islam, and accuse anyone who scrutinises or attacks their minority brand of fundamentalism of being “anti-Muslim.” That is basically iEngage’s entire purpose.

It is a deeply dangerous game and not one, I’m sure, which any MP would want to be involved in.

Lutfur Rahman: Pusillanimous watchdog tries to evade its responsibility for enforcing the law

As I’ve reported here and in the paper, there are strong, credible and repeated allegations that Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets, received substantial support in both cash and kind from a group of powerful local businessmen during his internal party campaign to be Labour’s candidate – support that he has not declared to the Electoral Commission. These allegations are one of the main reasons why Labour sacked him as its candidate. If true, they are a criminal offence.

Lutfur denies receiving so much as a penny from anyone during this part of his campaign, or indeed the election itself, saying he funded everything from his own pocket. He must have pretty deep pockets, is all I can say. He took High Court action (successfully) to force the Labour Party to shortlist him in the selection process. He then took Labour to the High Court again when it sacked him as candidate – unsuccessfully, that time. The legal bills for the first challenge alone were £42,000. Though most of that had to be paid by Labour, in the end, because it lost, Lutfur had to put a substantial sum up front to launch the action. The legal bills for the second challenge are likely to have been about the same – and this time, because he lost, Lutfur will have had to find most of that money.

Lutfur’s most important business backer, the millionaire restaurateur Shiraj Haque, has told two senior figures in the Tower Hamlets Labour Party that it was in fact he who paid Lutfur’s legal bills. Both the people he told have spoken to me. There are also strong allegations that Mr Haque paid for Lutfur’s candidate nomination campaign. Lutfur’s nomination leaflets were identical in logo and font to leaflets printed during the campaign for a directly-elected mayor, which Mr Haque funded in its entirety (he told me that the resemblance between the two sets of leaflets was purely a coincidence.)

The law says that anyone seeking nomination as their party’s candidate for elective office, such as Lutfur, is a “regulated donee” who must declare to the Electoral Commission all gifts in cash or kind that exceed £1,500 (or multiple gifts from a single source that total more than £1,500). Donations must be declared within 30 days of accepting them and failure to declare is a criminal offence. The police are currently investigating whether Lutfur has broken this law.

But the other body supposedly responsible for enforcing the law, the Electoral Commission itself, is engaged in what can only be described as a transparent attempt to evade its responsibilities. On September 21 the opposition leader in Tower Hamlets, Cllr Peter Golds, wrote to the Commission asking it to investigate the matter of Lutfur’s alleged donations during his nomination campaign.

Eight weeks passed. Then, last week, Mr Golds got a letter back from a Commission functionary telling him to wait until after Lutfur’s return of expenses for the mayoral election was published, and saying: “I am sure you appreciate that it would be inappropriate for us to give a speculative view in response to enquiries such as yours about hypothetical scenarios.”

But as a “very, very annoyed” Mr Golds points out in a letter back to the Commission, his complaint was not about Lutfur’s mayoral election campaign – which is still, just about, within the 30-day declaration window. His complaint was made before that campaign even started, and was about Lutfur’s campaign for the Labour nomination – which began in June and ended in September. Lutfur’s offences during that phase may be alleged, but they are very much not “hypothetical.”

“The Electoral Commission are clearly misunderstanding, or choosing to misunderstand, my complaint,” says Mr Golds. “They have responded on a completely different subject to the one I complained about.”

The Commission has also, by the looks of it, been trying to sabotage the parallel police enquiry. Mr Golds says that when he was interviewed by the police, “I noticed that the officer had a copy of my letter on which he had made a handwritten note following a conversation with the Electoral Commission which implied there was nothing in my allegations.” How can the Commission know there is nothing in them if they have declined even to investigate the allegations Mr Golds actually made?

One of Islamism’s most important allies as it makes inroads to the public institutions of this country is the weakness and pusillanimity of Britain’s state regulators. As I reported in the paper the other week, both Ofsted, the schools inspectorate and the Charity Commission, have been busy whitewashing various hardline Muslim schools. The tactics used by the Charity Commission, in particular – deliberately evading the actual issue, and deliberately answering the wrong questions – bear a striking resemblance to the Electoral Commission’s modus operandi here.

Mr Golds has now written to the Electoral Commission’s chief executive, Peter Wardle, asking that his staff kindly investigate the actual, and far from “hypothetical,” allegations he first put to them two months ago. I too will be on the Commission’s case until it stops finding excuses for not doing its job.

Lutfur Rahman takes a lifestyle hit

In his first speech as Mayor at tonight’s council meeting, Lutfur Rahman promised to “fight for the people of Tower Hamlets.” Perhaps that comes later. This evening, the first priority of Lutfur and his supporters was to fight for the new Mayor’s standard of living.

The secular and democratic parties on the council tonight proposed a motion scaling back Lutfur’s proposed 98 per cent pay hike to a measly, unconscionable 71 per cent. As I mentioned in my last post, the salary he enjoyed as council leader (£37, 945) was due to rise to £74,995 in his incarnation as mayor. Tonight, however, Labour, Lib Dem and Tory councillors united to cut that back to the crippling, near-breadline figure of £65,000. They also voted not to give him a car and driver and to limit his powers of paid patronage.

The anger all this caused in Lutfur and his army was joyous to behold. I could barely stop myself laughing out loud as these tribunes of the people shouted their opposition to the indefensible outrage that their man should be paid a mere five times his constituents’ average income.

Lutfur’s face was a study as he witnessed £40,000 of council taxpayers’ money over the next four years evaporating from his bank account: “It saddens me that on the first day of this historic event, we indulge in this sort of party politics,” he huffed. “I don’t do this for money – but I have given up a successful legal career to serve the people of Tower Hamlets.”

Cllr Oli Rahman (no relation), one of Lutfur’s backers, stormed that cutting Lutfur’s salary was a “cynical” attempt to “undermine the mayor.” To roars of approval from a large claque of Lutfur supporters in the public seats, he shouted: “It signals [the secular parties’] failure to understand and accept change!” The Lutfurites loudly jeered and heckled the movers of the motion and had to be threatened with removal by the meeting’s chairman if they continued to make a noise. “Do you wanna hear the noise, my friend?” snarled one of the Lutfurites.

I know how yobbish Lutfur’s fans can be, but what I did not realise until now was how stupid they are. The politics of this are clear. Tower Hamlets is Britain’s poorest borough, with less than half its residents in work and an average income of £13,000 per head. I imagine most of those residents would be quite happy with a salary of £65,000. The council also faces 27 per cent cuts in the spending review.

Team Rahman and its supporting chorus have tonight added fuel to their opponents’ claims that their real purpose is their own enrichment and that of their powerful business and fundamentalist backers.

There was also the fact that the salary cut could not be stopped – the other parties had the votes. The only sensible course for the Rahman Army would have been to agree with good grace. Instead, they dived head first into the trap that had been laid for them.

The rest of the meeting proceeded along the expected lines. The town hall is not an old-style municipal palace, but a bland office block near Canary Wharf. The council chamber is a smallish low-ceilinged room, rammed on this occasion with spectators, which feels like the sort of place where sales managers compare spreadsheets.

Sitting next to a representative of a very different Britain, a uniformed Lord Lieutenant-type figure in white gloves, Lutfur gave a speech saying he was “proud of the sense of fair play that enabled me to get this far.” “Fair play” isn’t perhaps the first phrase that springs to mind about Lutfur’s election campaign – which saw, for instance, the circulation of a free newspaper falsely smearing his main opponent as a wife-beater.

“The people of Tower Hamlets want a new kind of politics that reaches across the old divisions,” he said. “I look forward to working with each and every one of you.” So far, however, almost nobody seems to want to work with Lutfur. He had hoped to announce a cabinet tonight, but said that he will not be able to do so for another two weeks. He did announce a deputy mayor: Cllr Ohid Ahmed, one of his eight councillor backers. Marc Francis, the Labour councillor seen as closest to Lutfur, has apparently decided to steer clear – formally, at least.

One other little point which may come to be used against Lutfur: the sole Respect councillor, Harun Miah, said: “He [Lutfur] is a product of the Respect Party, you can’t forget that.” The Lutfur backing band didn’t like that at all.

Tonight was, of course, only a small victory for Lutfur’s enemies. He will still have near-absolute power over most things other than his own salary. But the vote to cut his patronage bank is significant: appointing people to well-paid positions is one way in which other elected mayors buy off trouble and stifle dissent. That will still be possible for Lutfur, but on a lesser scale.

And tonight was also an early sign of one of Lutfur’s other key weaknesses: not just his dodgy backers, but his own and his supporters’ sheer incompetence. That, in the end, is what may prove his undoing.

Lutfur Rahman: less scrutiny by you, more money for him

Tonight’s full meeting of Tower Hamlets council – the first since the fundamentalist ally Lutfur Rahman was elected executive mayor – will be interesting. Lutfur is expected to make a triumphal entry into his new kingdom. The main business will be to approve a proposed new council constitution which, among other things, doubles Lutfur’s salary – while substantially reducing the scope for the public to question him and the council.

The new constitution will reduce the maximum time for public questioning at any council meeting from 30 minutes to 20 minutes. And it will ban any member of the public who has asked a question, or submitted a petition, at a council meeting from doing so again until three meetings later.

So, for instance, if the rule was in force at tonight’s council meeting, and you asked a question at it, you would not be allowed to ask a question or submit a petition at the next meeting of council (8 December) or the one after that (2 February.) Your next opportunity to question your new Mayor would not be until the meeting of 2 March 2011. Democracy lives!

It is also proposed to double Lutfur’s income. When he was council leader, until being removed in May, he received an allowance of £37,945. His new proposed mayoral salary is an altogether more satisfactory £74,995.

To be fair, these changes were proposed by a working party of councillors and not by Lutfur. But his supporters firmly back them and have argued strongly for them.

Tonight, however, those supporters will be in a minority. Since winning, Lutfur has been trying to win other councillors to his side. But so far he has been unsuccessful, even (rather unexpectedly) with his closest sympathiser in the Labour group, Marc Francis. Lutfur was expected to name a cabinet tonight, but all the indications are that has yet to muster enough members who are willing to serve under him. Nobody wants to be contaminated.

At tonight’s meeting, 41 out of the borough’s 51 councillors – 32 Labour, eight Tories and the sole Lib Dem – will sit in opposition to Lutfur, with only his eight ex-Labour defectors and the sole Respect councillor backing him (the 51st seat is Lutfur’s own, for which a byelection will now be held.)

Despite their overwhelming majority, Lutfur’s enemies won’t have that much power – constitutionally, a directly-elected mayor can ignore his councillors under most circumstances. But if they stick together they can, in future, vote down his budget (it needs a two-thirds majority of councillors to do this) – and, who knows, there might also be one or two little surprises for Lutfur tonight.

Minister spoke at event with terrorist accessories on sale

Here is the full version of a story which appeared in shortened form in the print edition of this morning’s paper:

A GOVERNMENT minister spoke at an event where suicide bomber accessories and items glorifying terrorism were on open sale.

Andrew Stunell, the communities minister, addressed the controversial “Global Peace and Unity” (GPU) conference in East London on Sunday. The event’s programme says its official “supporters” include the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police.

A few yards from where Mr Stunell was speaking, a stall sold suicide bomber headbands and T-shirts promoting two banned terror groups.

One of the shirts showed a masked terrorist holding a Kalashnikov rifle in one hand and the Quran in the other against a backdrop of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The Daily Telegraph bought one of the shirts.

The image is the official logo of the al-Qassam Brigade, the military wing of Hamas, a terrorist group banned across the EU and United States. Underneath, a slogan in Arabic read: “The conscripts of the martyr. Here in response, O Jerusalem.”

The al-Qassam Brigade has been responsible for at least 200 civilian deaths in suicide attacks since 2000.

Hooded tops with the flag of another proscribed terrorist organisation, Hezbollah – a clenched fist holding a Kalashnikov, and the slogan “Resistance” – were also on sale. Hezbollah has killed many Israelis in rocket attacks.

Also available were “shahada headbands” as worn by many Palestinian suicide bombers. “Shahada” in this context means martyrdom. The headbands contain the personal testimony of the suicide bombers.

Legal experts said the items could constitute glorification of terrorism, which is illegal under UK anti-terror laws. A senior City of London police officer was listed on the programme as speaking before Mr Stunell.

The items were on sale at a stall in the GPU’s exhibition area operated by a company called Wearaloud, based in a flat in a tower block in Bethnal Green. According to its website, it specialises in “Islamic,” “political” and “guns and military” items. However, it appears to have no Companies House or other registration. The website also offers for sale a garment described as an “AK47 militia fighter fun T-shirt.”

Other stalls at the exhibition distributed fundamentalist literature calling for the destruction of Israel and the subjugation of women.

The GPU is one of the most controversial events in the annual Muslim calendar. Organised by the Islam Channel, a digital TV station with a number of extremist and fundamentalist presenters, this year’s event was boycotted by the Conservative Party because of deep concerns about some of those taking part.

They included Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, a Holocaust denier who has said that the extermination of the Jews was a “hoax,” and Mohammed Ijaz ul Haq, who has said that the British government’s decision to knight the author Sir Salman Rushdie justified suicide attacks.

The Tory chairman, Baroness Warsi, was banned from attending by the Prime Minister, David Cameron. However, Lib Dems, including Mr Stunell and the party’s deputy leader, Simon Hughes, were not affected by the ban. Senior Labour figures, including the party’s candidate for mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, also spoke at the event.

The DCLG said that Mr Stunell’s speech “made clear that the Coalition Government will not tolerate extremism, hatred or intolerance in any form.”

Paul Goodman, the former Tory MP who shadowed Mr Stunell’s brief in opposition and has campaigned against GPU, said: “This evidence demonstrates why no minister should have gone. I hope that Andrew Stunell, the minister who did go, did deliver the robust renunciation we were promised.”

Jamal Uddeen Waitakarie, a spokesman for Wearaloud, said he thought his products were “acceptable,” adding: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” He described the suicide bomber headbands as “an identification of faith” and said: “I suppose suicide bombers wear them. But anybody wears them.”

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: “There was no formal Met Police representation at GPU. The Commissioner was invited to attend or record a video message but did not. We understand a small delegation from the Association of Muslim Police attended. The Metropolitan Police Service does not support any extremist view or behaviour and would consider any allegations of criminality raised.”

A spokesman for City Police said: “We spoke at the event to raise awareness of we were doing to work with the Muslim community, and to raise awareness of fraud against hajj pilgrims.”

The organisers of the event declined to comment.

Lutfur Rahman: Labour votes to isolate him

The Tower Hamlets Labour councillors met last night at Westminster. According to several of those present, they voted:

–         to ban their members from joining Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet or acting as paid advisers to him.

–         to oppose Lutfur’s and all his supporters’ readmission to the Labour Party.

–         to ask Labour’s National Executive Committee to investigate the role of Labour Party members in Lutfur’s election campaign and to treat them all equally.

This last bit is clearly aimed at Ken Livingstone, whose action in campaigning against Labour and for Lutfur continues to appal many members of the Labour Party.

But the first is perhaps the most significant. Lutfur knows that he needs to enlist some mainstream political figures (and some non-Bengalis) to give his administration even a breath of credibility. This motion makes it much less likely that he will manage that. It treats him as a pariah from democratic, secular politics.

He will probably now have to form a cabinet from the ranks of his existing eight ex-Labour councillor supporters – a deeply problematic bunch including few with any kind of managerial skills, some who are, shall we say, greedy and another councillor, Alibor Choudhury, who appeared in court in 2006 on charges of violent disorder.

The trial was stayed  – Alibor insists because of “abuse of process,” though has always refused to discuss with me exactly what the supposed “abuse” was. Others have said it was because key witnesses backed out. Alibor also has very close links to the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe. More about Alibor, and Lutfur’s other supporters, on this blog in the days to come!

One of those present at last night’s Labour meeting said it was “one of the most comradely meetings” of the Tower Hamlets Labour group he could ever remember – with deep relief at having got rid of the eight Lutfurites, who were forces for instability within the group.

Lutfur could still get one important non-Bengali fig-leaf to join him: Labour’s Cllr Marc Francis, who was a member of the last cabinet and is strongly rumoured to be thinking about a post as Lutfur’s deputy mayor. Mr Francis did not openly support Lutfur, but was seen little on the Labour campaign trail, reportedly turned up at the count without a Labour rosette and voted against the motion above last night.

Unlike almost all Lutfur’s other allies (and indeed Lutfur himself) Mr Francis is widely seen as competent. His presence would help the good ship HMS Rahman avoid sinking straight away. Many expected him to have jumped already by now – the fact that so far he has not is a signal of just how risky he must know his move would be. His Labour career would be at an end; he would be under intense scrutiny from the likes of me; and he must know that the Rahman experiment is likely to end in tears and the destruction of the reputations of all those involved in it.

Mr Francis declined to comment to me today, but I’ll let you know as soon as I hear his decision.