Mehdi Hasan has an exclusive interview with the Islamic Forum Europe’s Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman in this week’s New Statesman.
“Interview” is, perhaps, a slightly grand term for what Mehdi has produced. I suspect that he sent Lutfur Rahman a list of questions by email, to which he responded. No probing. No follow up.
The tone of the interview is, itself, instructive. It is rather neutral. I suspect that Mehdi knows that Lutfur Rahman, and the whole Islamic Forum Europe bandwaggon, is now toast within the Labour Party. So Mehdi is anxious not to be seen as a Lutfur supporter. However, Lutfur and the IFE are still the darlings of Ken Livingstone and his clique, and Mehdi is obviously concerned not to piss the big fellow off.
Still, it is an interview which is well worth reading: as much for what Mehdi doesn’t ask as for what Lutfur does and doesn’t say.
There are a couple of highlights:
Are you a member of the much-criticised Islamic Forum of Europe?
I am not a member of the Islamic Forum of Europe. I have never been a member.
But you do have close contacts with the group?
I have close contacts with the chair of the Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum, with rabbis, with the Bishop of Stepney, with people who are of no faith. The IFE is one group among many. As leader of this council, I will work with each and every member of the community, whether they are Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Christian or people of no faith.
Is the IFE an extremist group?
I don’t believe we have extremist groups in Tower Hamlets. If so, I am sure the government and the police would have intervened long and ago. I will work with anyone who adheres to civil society, to democracy, to the progressive values of this council. I believe that previous leaders have worked with the IFE and other such organisations and some previous leaders are on record as having funded such faith groups. If there was nothing wrong with working with such groups then, why now?
So, there you have it. The Islamic Forum Europe is not politically extreme.
I don’t propose to rehearse the very clear evidence that demonstrates that the IFE is the British franchise of the clerical fascist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, a nearly-defunct Islamist party in Bangladesh, whose Al Badr militia abducted and murdered prominent Bangladeshi intellectuals during the War of Liberation. Readers know that this group was founded by Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, who has been accused in a Channel 4 documentary, and in an article in the Guardian, of involvement in genocide in Bangladesh. There’s really no coming back from that, to be honest.
Neither am I going to rehearse in full the very clear evidence of political extremism, from the relationship between the Islamic Forum Europe and the Al Qaeda recruiter, Anwar Al Awlaki, to the support of terrorist groups and the killing of British soldiers by one of its senior activists, Azad Ali, to the repeated hosting at the London Muslim Centre of some of the worst hate preachers in Britain.
I don’t need to. The Tories know all of this. Labour’s eyes are well and truly open, too. The IFE’s fox is shot.
Lutfur goes even further. According to him, there are no extremist groups in Tower Hamlets. What? Not even Al Muhajiroun to which Lutfur’s council hired a room – only to have to cancel it after the booking was reported by Ted Jeory. Not even the pro-wife beating Salafis, who argue that “Islam is not compatible with democracy”: who also had to be banned after Andrew Gilligan found that Lutfur’s council had authorised them to set up a display in the Town Hall reception.
The truth is, Lutfur Rahman defends extremists. He did so, during the Troxy business, where some really foul hate preachers were booked to play Tower Hamlets. They were opposed by Labour’s Helal Abbas. The English Defence League had briefly threatened to demonstrate against the Troxy speakers, before Abbas ensured that the booking was cancelled. The SWP/UAF held a rally: supposedly in opposition to the EDL, but as it soon became clear, actually in support of the hate preachers. Here is a report of Lutfur Rahman’s speech at that rally:
At the park I watched everyone gather into a peaceful group , packing the park, and all united against the EDL. Then I heard ‘Lutfur Rahman’ speak, he went into a long diatribe about the Troxy, and what was going to be a peaceful islamic conference, informing us that this was cancelled by our Council. That the council had no right to do this, and we must boot out these people and vote for strong leadership for our borough. Thats when it finally hit me, thats when I finally realised two things.
One that ‘Lutfur Rahman’ supported the Islamic Conference and apparently by castagating the council in this way, that this was an admission that he could see no harm in allowing this type of ‘hate speech’ (if the allegations are true) into the borough, and Two, that what I was witnessing was not solely about the EDL, it was about voting for our new soon to be elected Mayor.
The interview in the New Statesman demonstrates the trademark Lutfur shiftiness, which will be familiar to anybody who has seen him interviewed on the topic of the IFE, previously. His attitude is wholly unremarkable for a man in his position. Lutfur is obliged, politically, to defend his sponsors in the IFE, and to support hate preachers. That is, after all, how he came to power.
But he must know that the jig is up.
The other highlight in the interview are these passages:
Do you believe sharia law should be incorporated into British law?
I am a lawyer and I was invited to the London Muslim Centre [in July 2008] when the then chief justice, Lord Phillips, came to speak and said that there are merits in learning from certain aspects of sharia law, to help our legal system. Not the penal elements; the family and civil elements. If the chief justice can make those comments, who am I to disagree?
So, there you have it. Lutfur Rahman agrees that we should “learn from” the “family and civil elements” of Sharia law. These are the very aspects of Sharia which, as the feminist campaign group One Law For All has pointed out, deny fundamental rights to, and impose inequality on, Muslim women.
However, the way that Lutfur Rahman expresses his support for the legal inequality of women is instructive. He uses, as his alibi, the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips. Lord Phillips was invited to speak on the subject of Sharia at the London Muslim Centre, the base of the Islamic Forum Europe, precisely so that his name could be used to legitimise the controversial proposal. Lord Phillips presence at the headquarters of what is basically a fascist political party was engineered for the purpose of slapping down feminists and Muslims who are at the forefront of the campaign to resist the spread of so-called Sharia courts.
This, I’m afraid, is the bitter fruit of a couple of decades of accommodating the Islamic Forum Europe. They have built strong alliances with civil society groups, some of which are too embarrassed to break those links and admit their error, now that the true nature of the IFE has been exposed.
However, on the political level, the fightback has begun. It may take some time until the IFE is entirely routed, but that day will most certainly come.