Down at that self-proclaimed centre of ‘tolerance and harmony’, the East London Mosque, they’ve been holding some pretty tolerant and harmonious meetings lately. On 9 July last year, for instance, there was the half-day conference on ‘social ills’. One of the ‘social ills’ — with an entire session to itself — was ‘music’, described by one of the speakers, Haitham al-Haddad, as a ‘prohibited and fake message of love and peace’.
Then there was the talk, on 26 June, by a certain Bilal Philips — named by the US government as an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. And if that particular outrage was a little too small-time for the dedicated holy warrior — only six people died — the East London Mosque was also kind enough to host, on 1 January last year, a video address by Anwar al-Awlaki, spiritual leader to two of the 9/11 hijackers. This event was advertised with a poster showing Manhattan under bombardment.
Over the past 12 months, the East London Mosque has hosted at least 18 hate, fundamentalist and extremist speakers, many of them more than once. Over the past few years, there have been dozens — all approved, and many explicitly endorsed, by the mosque authorities themselves (in March 2008, for instance, Mr Philips was invited to deliver the Friday sermon). But perhaps the most bizarre event of all involved that notorious apostle of jihad, Jonathan Dimbleby, and the hated extremist propaganda network, BBC Radio 4.
Last week Any Questions, the station’s flagship political discussion show, conferred the honour and prestige of its presence on a mosque whose true nature can be found with little more than a Google search. Less than five weeks before the programme, the very hall from which it was broadcast hosted a speaker, Murtaza Khan, who has called for women who use perfume to be flogged. From the same platform which last week echoed to the pieties of the Lib Dem shadow communities secretary, a preacher named Abdul Karim Hattin hosted a ‘Spot the Fag’ contest.
Of course, not everyone at the East London Mosque is an extremist. For its 15,000 blameless ordinary users, it is no more than a place of worship. But among the crowd, two particular kinds of visitor stand out: hate-mongers like Mr Hattin, and gullible members of the white establishment.
This latter group is why the East London Mosque is a subject of more than local importance. Bewitched by the mosque’s spin, ministers, judges, police, even Prince Charles have all been down, paying both homage and vast sums of public money. At all levels of government, mosque activists have their fingers in a disturbingly large number of official pies. They also control the Muslim Council of Britain.
The BBC is in one sense merely the latest set of credulous liberals, but in another way the most troubling. It is supposed to be a sceptical, questioning news body. But last week, it allowed itself to be used — quite improperly, and contrary to its own journalistic standards — as part of a propaganda operation.
Listeners to Any Questions would have heard a man named Musleh Faradhi accuse the media of ‘developing hatred against Muslims’, with particular reference to a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation — also broadcast last week — into an organisation called the Islamic Forum of Europe, the IFE. One of the panellists, the former London mayor Ken Livingstone, compared the Dispatches programme to Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech, accused it of being an attack on all Islam and said it incited racist violence against Muslims. With the activist audience baying and hollering their approval, the civilised Radio 4 debate turned into just another East London Mosque hate rally.
But what listeners were not told, and would not have known, is that the IFE is the organisation which runs the East London Mosque. What they were not told is that the Dispatches programme uncovered clear evidence of the IFE’s Islamic supremacist views, and the way it conceals those views to infiltrate political parties and win significant and growing political power. Above all, what they were not told is that Musleh Faradhi — though allowed to present himself to the Radio 4 audience as an ordinary victim of media racism — is in fact the president of the IFE.
I declare my own interest here: I was part of the team which made the Dispatches programme. It was the product of six months’ research, several weeks of undercover filming, and almost equally long and painful sessions with Channel 4’s lawyers. It was measured and factual, about as far from incitement as you can possibly get — and none of the facts in it has, so far, been disputed. As for the charge of Islamophobia, 70 per cent of our interviewees — and all of the IFE’s severest critics — were Muslim.
The BBC’s journalism, by contrast, fell short of its normal standards. The BBC can be forgiven for not knowing that Livingstone is a long-time ally of fundamentalism with a grudge against me. But it must have known who Faradhi was — he had written a piece only that morning attacking Dispatches.
The BBC’s real journalistic failing, however, was nothing to do with the film. It was allowing the mosque and the IFE to present themselves as mainstream, to peddle their grossly presumptuous claim that they speak for the Muslim population of Britain, and to claim any attack on their particular fundamentalist group as an attack on all Muslims.
The IFE don’t even speak for the Muslims of east London, let alone the UK. Tower Hamlets is a Bangladeshi community — but the IFE are the heirs of a religious party that fought against the liberation of Bangladesh. Whatever the BNP might like to think, most British Muslims have no truck with fundamentalism, and many actively despise the East London Mosque crowd.
Those other Muslims may not have the same PR clout. Their mosques — and there are, by the way, 41 other mosques in Tower Hamlets — tend to be smaller and scruffier. But it is those moderate, liberal or secular Muslims, the vast majority, whom the BBC betrayed last week.
The story of the IFE infiltration is an important one, receiving coverage in national newspapers from the Mail to the Guardian — but the deeply flawed Any Questions is, so far, the only mention it has had on the nation’s broadcaster. Though Muslims know perfectly well what goes on at the mosque, parts of the white establishment suffer from a multicultural cringe.
The IFE are the enemies of everything the average BBC liberal — not to mention the average Muslim — stands for. It is time to stop legitimising them.
Andrew Gilligan is London editor of the Telegraph Media Group.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated March 13, 2010