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.
Tony Blair yesterday told radical Muslims that they had a “duty to integrate” into British society and warned them they could not be allowed to override what he described as the country’s core values of democracy, tolerance and respect for the law. “Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. Conform to it; or don’t come here. We don’t want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed,” Mr Blair said. In a speech to an invited audience in Downing Street, Mr Blair offered his most explicit support yet of attempts to limit the wearing of the Muslim veil in public and said ethnic and religious groups who want grants from the state would have to show they were promoting cohesion and integration. While endorsing the concept of multiculturalism – which has been criticised by, among others, Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality – Mr Blair argued: “For the first time in a generation there is an unease, an anxiety, even at points a resentment that our very openness, our willingness to welcome difference, our pride in being home to many cultures, is being used against us; abused, indeed, in order to harm us.” Faith schools are to be required to abide by guidelines on teaching tolerance and respect for other faiths, and will be encouraged to twin with schools from different religions. The Equal Opportunities Commission is also looking at how to address the ban on women in some mosques, and the government has announced a crackdown on foreign imams by requiring them to have a proper command of English before they are allowed to enter the UK. Mr Blair admitted that “the 7/7 bombers were integrated at one level in terms of lifestyle and work” and that “others in many communities live lives very much separate and set in their own community and own culture, but are no threat to anyone”. Religions had a “perfect right to their own identity and religion, to practise their faith and to conform to their culture”. But he said: “When it comes to our essential values – belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage – then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common. It is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point no distinctive culture or religion supersedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.” Mr Blair sympathised with Jack Straw, the leader of the Commons, who provoked controversy by announcing that he asked Muslim women to remove their veils when coming to his constituency surgeries in Blackburn. He offered firmer support for Kirklees council in west Yorkshire, which sacked a classroom assistant after she refused to do the same when teaching. “It really is a matter of plain common sense that when it is an essential part of someone’s work to communicate directly with people, being able to see their face is important,” Mr Blair said. The prime minister said that in the past money had been “too freely awarded” to groups representing different religions and racial groups, as “very good intentions got the better of us”. In future, grants would “promote integration as well as help distinctive cultural identity”. But Mr Blair also offered an upbeat assessment of the progress made in race relations in the UK in the last 40 years. He praised David Cameron for delivering a turning point in political debate. “I think it is great that in British politics today no mainstream party plays the race card. It is not conceivable, in my view, that this leader of the Conservative party would … misuse the debate on immigration and that is both a tribute to him and to the common culture of tolerance we have established in this country today,” Mr Blair said. Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told Mr Blair that he could not “agree more” with his positive remarks on multiculturalism and integration. But in a statement he added: “It was disappointing to see that the PM continues to see the phenomenon of terrorism as a clash of values rather than being prepared to examine whether some of our misguided policies in the Middle East have contributed to gravely exacerbating the threat from extremist groups. It was also worrying to see the PM using emotive language such as Britain ‘being taken for a ride’ or its good and tolerant nature being ‘abused’. That can only help reinforce a ‘them and us’ attitude, when the reality is that there are a tiny group of people – from various different backgrounds – that commit criminal acts and should be dealt with firmly using due legal process.”
AMSTERDAM – Radical Muslims are gaining influence over their moderate co-religious at an increasing rate in the Netherlands. This was the main finding of the fourth progress report on combating terrorism which Interior Ministers Johan Remkes and Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner presented to parliament on Wednesday. It said that ultra-orthodox Salafism in particular was making its presence felt in an increasing number of mosques. This is a radical branch that seeks to return to the “pure Islam” of the days of Mohammed. Adherents often shun western society and criticise efforts by other Muslims to integrate into Dutch society. The movement has been linked to the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia. Followers of radical Islam have successfully used the internet and lectures to win over more followers and gain control of moderate mosques, Remkes said. Both he and his colleague said the ideological influences exerted by radical Muslims was a cause for concern. Conservative MP and Muslim critic Geert Wilders criticised Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands for her behaviour during a visit to a mosque in the Hague on 3 June. She removed her shoes on entering the Mobarak Mosque in The Hague and refrained from shaking hands with Muslim men there in accordance with their strict religious beliefs. The visit was to mark the 50th anniversary of the building of the mosque. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende praised the Queen’s behaviour as an example of the type of religious tolerance needed in the Netherlands.