Among staff at the East London mosque, the sense of anger at plans by the English Defence League to demonstrate nearby on Saturday is amplified by their belief that there are more constructive things they could be doing with their time than planning how to respond to the far-right group. The far-right group’s latest attempt to march into Tower Hamlets has been banned from entering the heart of the borough, where the mosque is, but it will still pass too close for comfort.
The EDL is expected to muster between 1,000 and 2,000 supporters, while the court heard that several thousand people were expected to turn out to oppose it, making it one of the biggest anti-fascist demonstrations of recent years. The EDL’s failure to overturn the route restriction was some relief to Khan given that EDL marches have a tendency to descend into violence and when they have previously attempted to enter the area thousands of young Muslims have gone out on to the streets to oppose them.
Khan says the EDL first focused on East London mosque after an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches into the mosque and the group that runs it, the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), in 2007. The programme accused the IFE of seeking to change society in accordance with Islamist values and the mosque of hosting hate preachers, including people who voice homophobic views, accusations which continue to be levelled at it. Khan rejects outright any suggestion that the mosque harbours or condones extremists. While acknowledging there have been instances in the past where people with unpalatable views have preached at the mosque he insists that these were usually at events organised by outside groups and that the mosque has tightened up its vetting procedures. But he said it was impossible to check on every previous statement of every possible preacher, especially when they are sometimes in Arabic (which he does not speak).