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).
Daily Mail – Following a rise in homophobic attacks and an increase in the number of extremist Muslim preachers in Tower Hamlets, the East London borough is more and more concerned about hardline Muslims imposing their values on others in the borough. Recently, it was reported that Islamic extremists, operating from Tower Hamlets and aiming to establish Sharia Law in Britain, have threatened a 31-year-old Asian pharmacist for refusing to wear a veil, even though she is not a practicing Muslim. While, initially, the woman’s boss received threats of boycotts for employing a female who does not cover her head in an allegedly “Muslim area”, subsequently, the woman herself received death threats. While worried and afraid, the residents of Tower Hamlets are not surprised by incidents like this, as similar threats had previously been issued and the borough has also seen a rise in homophobic abuse and physical attacks on gay men and women by Islamist groups.
Recently, Islamist groups have also begun to dominate the community’s political processes, with Bangaldeshi-born Lutfur Rahman becoming the first directly elected mayor of the borough. Originally a Labour candidate, Rahman was dumped by the party due to alleged links with a fundamentalist organization known as the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE). Subsequently, he ran as an independent candidate, allegedly with the help of the IFE, and managed to win the elections in what the London Evening Standard described as ‘one of the nastiest campaigns in recent London political history’. The Daily Mail reports of a local resident who made the following comment on the current situation: ‘You basically have a large umbrella Islamist group that appears to have almost a stranglehold over a major council in the East End of London’. Specific concern relates to Islamist group’s attempt to impose Islam on Britain, starting with the borough of Tower Hamlets, where evidence of Muslim extremism can easily be found in the form of “Sharia for the UK” or “gay-free zone” leaflets, homophobic incidents, and censored advertising boards (such as in Birmingham). While such incidents worry local residents, not many dare to voice these concerns, as they fear to be branded Islamophobic.
The Labour leader of Tower Hamlets council, Lutfur Rahman, was last week replaced in his job after this newspaper revealed that he had been elected to the post with the help of a fundamentalist Islamic group, the Islamic Forum of Europe.
Mr Rahman was replaced as leader by Helal Abbas, who has condemned the IFE’s influence in Tower Hamlets, east London, and publicly accused the organisation of running the council. All Mr Rahman’s allies in the council’s ruling cabinet have left their jobs and have returned, with Mr Rahman, to the backbenches.
The IFE, based at the East London Mosque, seeks, in its own words, to change the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed … from ignorance to Islam”.
The mosque and IFE have hosted a number of hate and extremist preachers, including Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been linked to a number of terrorist attacks, including the recent attempted Times Square bombing. A leading IFE official, Azad Ali, has justified the killing of British troops in Iraq.