Nick Cohen

Lutfur Rahman: Not a ‘bully’, just ‘sly’ and ‘unappetising’

Lutfur Rahman: Not a 'bully', just 'sly' and 'unappetising'
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For the record, I did not accuse Rahman of being a 'bully,' as he tells Spectator readers. I accused the Mayor of Tower Hamlets of being 'sly' and 'unappetising'. His letter to the Spectator bears me out, I think. As does his ludicrous allegation that Rob Marchant and other Labour Party activists were threatening to murder him.

In an insinuating passage, he links Marchant - a principled man, and anti-racist - to the English Defence League. Look at how he does it:

'Unsurprisingly, as a prominent Muslim figure, I frequently receive abuse and threats - mainly from racist extremists of the EDL-ilk. That and the sheer violence of Marchant’s language in discussing me (‘I will load the revolver and we can all take turns … [makes mental note to keep revolver well cleaned and oiled]’) should explain why I acted when the tweets were drawn to my attention.'

There was no remote hint of any racism in Marchant’s tweets or any other comments he made about him. But then this is a tactic many of us are becoming familiar with. Rahman and his kind are desperate to stop the notion gaining currency that you should oppose the Islamist religious right and the white far-right with equal force and for the same reasons. Criticise reactionary ideas on liberal and left wing grounds and their supporters immediately claim that you back the EDL and BNP. I have noticed that members of the white far-right are trying the same trick: oppose them, and you become a supporter of radical Islam. Truly what unites extremists is more important than what divides them.

Notice, too, in that passage that Rahman does not say that Marchant and his friends were joking on Twitter about killing themselves if Labour readmitted the renegade mayor to the party. Everyone else accepts that the tweets were just the banter of friends chatting among themselves, including the police, whose time the Mayor has wasted. Nor did Marchant say he 'regretted' the joke, as the Mayor claims. He said he regretted any genuine discomfort caused due to misunderstanding of the joke. I find it hard to believe that there has been any genuine discomfort whatsoever in this case, but there you are.

On to Rahman’s own record. No-one ever accused him of being a member of Islamic Forum Europe. The fact that he works with groups of other faiths is entirely irrelevant (so what?). That does not mean he cannot be a front man for Islamic Forum Europe

If he is not, why according to the Telegraph did, 'six of the people who signed his nomination papers have the same names as senior office-holders and trustees of the IFE.'? 

If Rahman is a 'moderate social democrat', as he claims, why did the Press Complaints Commission rule that he can be described as 'extremist-backed', if he is not backed by extremists?

If Rahman is not intent on harassing people who disagree with him, why has he just wasted £100,000 of the public funds of a desperately poor borough harassing a whistleblower (a case which he lost)?

And why, while I am at it, did Rahman put in place as assistant chief exec to the council someone with close links to the IFE, even though recruiters could barely find any evidence that he was remotely qualified for the role?

If the IFE is not an 'extremist network', as he claims, does he deny its links to the murderous Jamaat-i-Islami, whose leaders in Bangladesh are currently on trial for vile war crimes? Does he suggest it has never had connections to hate preachers? The idea that it is not extremist is risible. That 'every previous council leader' has worked with Islamic Forum Europe, by the way, is hardly a recommendation, merely an indication of the dire state of the local Labour party. 

Doubtless the 'moderate social democrat' will be supply answers to these pressing questions to Tower Hamlets’ luckless citizens soon.

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

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