Giving Thanks

“You say grace, Alan,” someone urged.

I was in a classy restaurant in London’s West End last week with the small celebration wineMegaMosqueNoThanks team and our professional advisers – a lawyer, a town planner, a chartered surveyor, an academic journalist – that together opposed the construction of a huge mosque close to the 2012 London Olympic stadium in East London.

The ‘Selkirk Grace’ of the Scottish poet Robert Burns sprang immediately to mind. My father, a Glaswegian Scot to his fingertips but no church-goer, taught it to us and prayed it himself on semi-formal occasions such as family Christmas lunch:

‘Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit.’ 

It’s a grace that was much prayed at Burns Night suppers this week too, no doubt – but I flunked it. Burns’ poetry needs a strong Scots’ inflection and my Sassenach tongue would mangle it. I gave thanks in English.

saying graceWe had a lot to ‘be thankit’ for. As Burns recognised, ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’; but for us our nine-year campaign against the mosque had not gone ‘agley’. Rather, as regular readers of this blog will know, we’d been given real success as first the local planning authority in December 2012 and then the Secretary of State in October 2015 both rejected the mosque plans.

Tablighi Jamaat, the fundamentalist group behind the mosque proposals, are now in a desperate corner but they have very deep pockets. In December they applied to the High Court for the right to appeal the government’s decision, and no doubt they will if necessary petition the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and even up to the European Court. This likely will go on for years. As I said, they have very deep pockets…

But as we tucked in to our Cauliflower veloute and Goosnargh duck we reckoned we had much to celebrate. We were certain that our campaign had a major impact; for instance Tablighi Jamaat explained on BBC TV that they downsized the project because of our strong opposition.

robinwalesWe also had done our bit to force Newham Council to shift – grudgingly – from 100% support for a mega-mosque to outright opposition. In celebration I had long wanted to raise a glass to Newham’s Labour mayor Sir Robin Wales who huffed and puffed much vitriol towards me personally, but in the end did the necessary U-turn and came to agree with our position on the mosque.

It was at a different table the next day that other colleagues and I had another cause to celebrate. This time the event was held in the House of Lords dining room and we celebrated with very English mid-afternoon cups of tea, cucumber sandwiches, scones, jam and clotted cream. We had just been present at the successful third and final reading of Baroness Caroline Cox’s private member’s bill.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the bill tackles gender discrimination in Sharia councils and the growth of an Islamic parallel legal system in the UK, and also that we have been researching the issue, listening to evidence and promoting the bill for four years. The completion of the bill’s passage through the upper house means that it now goes to the House of Commons, and we were elated that en route it had received strong encouragement and warm support from all quarters in the Lords – apart from the government front bench.

The job is not yet done of course: it will be a very different ball-game in the Commons and further non-cooperation by the government will be a real obstacle. Nonetheless we had reason to celebrate progress so far and afternoon tea seemed appropriate.

dark valleyPolitical activity involves major troughs as well as peaks, dark valleys as well as sunlit mountain-tops, and in my experience it’s unusual for two political wins to coincide and enable celebrations on consecutive days. I was delighted. I was having a good week.

But in If, the English poet Rudyard Kipling famously denotes Triumph and Disaster as “twin imposters”. In Scots Wha Hae,  Robert Burns is indifferent between success and failure: “Welcome to your gory bed, Or to victorie… Let us do or die!” And in the Gospels, Christ asks us, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” 

So at some deep and personal level political successes aren’t – or shouldn’t be – important. But it was pleasurable nonetheless to ignore past frustrations, give thanks for these wins and to celebrate roundly with friends and colleagues.

Courage In A Bleak Mid-Winter

I’ve just returned from another visit to Jos at the north end of Plateau State in middle-belt Nigeria. Nigeria_map_JosHere, despite the proliferating Christmas decorations in homes and churches, peace on earth and goodwill between communities continues to be in short supply and, across northern Nigeria, the church is facing an existential threat from the violence and intimidation of Islam in its various forms.

I travelled in the company of Baroness Caroline Cox and members of the team from her Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) charity for the first time. The Baroness is seventy-seven but her drive, energy and zeal for travelling to help oppressed people in remote and dangerous locations show she clearly considers herself thirty years younger.

Zambiri2In Jos we met with Ben and Gloria Kwashi, the Anglican Archbishop and his wife – an essential engagement in a Christian visitor’s itinerary as it is never less than inspirational. We visited Gloria’s school for 400 orphans where, for a third of the children, the lunchtime bowl of mixed rice and beans with added nutrients is the only meal of the day. Education of these precious orphans is taken seriously by Gloria and her dedicated staff of seven, not only as a Christian imperative but also as a vital route out of poverty.

We had dinner too in the archiepiscopal home and joined in night-time prayers with the fifty five orphans who Gloria also has rescued to live with them.

archbiship_ben_kwashi_and_his_wife_gloria“Good night children,” said Archbishop Ben after leading the prayers. The fatherly but diminutive spiritual colossus stood in front of the youngsters holding the rudimentary archbishop’s staff they had made for him from branches of a nearby tree in one hand, while blessing them with the other.

“Good night Daddy Kwashi, goodnight Mummy Kwashi,” they chimed in unison. The orphans have nothing, but, surrounded by the warm and disciplined Christian love of the Kwashis, they have everything. It was difficult to join in the prayers thanks to the lump in my throat.

I’ve blogged before about the inter-communal violence generated by Fulani Muslim herdsmen migrating from the Sharia states in the north onto Plateau land belonging to Berom Christian villagers. Ostensibly the Fulani are searching for grazing pasture for their cattle although their motive seems also to do with Islamic expansionism.

ShoVillage2On the fourth day of our visit and protected in convoy by two police armoured cars bristling with guns, we were taken to a distressing recent example of the phenomenon. The farmland belonging to and surrounding the Berom village of Sho in Barkin Ladi local government area, some 30 minutes’ drive outside Jos, has been occupied by force by Fulani herdsmen. Since September 2013 twenty-four of the Berom villagers have been massacred, ten of them on 7th July of this year. As a consequence they live in terror, unable to enter or exit their village or cross their own adjoining occupied farmland except under armed military escort. Their school and church have been destroyed.

We met the head man and villagers in the village square and heard their stories. They were grateful that outsiders – perhaps especially foreign ones – were being made aware of their plight. Fear and distress was in their eyes as they explained they are isolated, grieving and desperate, living in poverty without access to their farmland food source.

It wasn’t clear why the authorities have not attempted to rectify the situation except that justice is in short supply in northern Nigeria. And it wasn’t clear either how we as outsiders could help except by publicising their predicament. I left Sho with a heavy heart.

Mark_LipdoI also visited an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp run in dilapidated school buildings in Bukuru south of Jos by the under-funded but resourceful Stefanos Foundation and it’s energetic CEO, Mark Lipdo. Primarily the camp comprised Christians from the Gwoza area of Borno State in the north east of Nigeria, close to the Cameroon border.

Until the second half of the last century, Gwoza was peopled by primitive and frequently warring tribes. Then, after the Second World War, the colonial authorities allowed British and other missionaries into the area. These were doctors, nurses and teachers as well as evangelists, and they built health clinics, schools and in due course churches. The first indigenous convert, Inshaya Hutuku, became a Christian in the early 50s (he is still alive today) and the early trickle of converts grew to a steady stream. By 2013 there were over 200 churches in the thriving Gwoza council area.

But twelve months later, by the middle of 2014, there were almost none.

Boko Haram, who last year killed more people than ISIS and who this year pledged allegiance their brutal Iraq/Syria counterparts, moved into the area in April 2014, killing, kidnapping, burning and destroying churches and homes. On 2 June last year the militants perpetrated the infamous Gwoza massacre wherein up to 500 males were slaughtered. Then on 24 August Boko Haram declared Gwoza town the headquarters of their Islamic Caliphate. An acquaintance of mine, an elderly Nigerian minister, narrowly escaped death by scrambling up into the hills and hospitalising himself in the process through a heavy fall. His home was burnt out.

IDP2Many escaped the slaughter in Gwoza with only the clothes they stood in. Over 450 are now living in the IDP camp I visited, surviving on church generosity and handouts organised by Stefanos. The conditions are pitiful, the drafty rooms are cold during the December nights, most of the refugees are desperate to return home to Gwoza as soon as possible and there is limited cause for optimism for them. While the military under the new Federal ‘hard man’ President Muhammadu Buhari, together with increasingly effective civilian vigilante self-defence groups, are gaining some push-back against the militants across Borno State and elsewhere, there is little prospect that families can return to and rebuild their lives back in Gwoza itself in the near future.

Ben and Gloria Kwashi and Mark Lipdo – like many other Christians in northern Nigeria – are faithful, courageous, visionary and inspirational. They spread hope, joy and generosity in the darkest of places, and it is certainly appropriate to highlight and celebrate their endeavours at Christmas time when we remember the true Light who came into the world.

But the tide is flowing strongly against them. Through violence, persecution and discrimination, over the centuries and especially over the past decade Islam has chased Christianity out of the heartlands of the Middle East as well as across North Africa. The signs are that the same is happening in northern Nigeria.

So despite the joy of Christmas, rising militant Islam means it’s a bleak mid-winter for many believers there and indeed around the world.

If you are moved to help them, you can donate via HART. Your money will be well spent.

Mega-Mosque: The End

I was waiting on Dagenham East station one Saturday recently when out of the blue I received a call from Andrew Gilligan of the Sunday Telegraph.DagenhamEast

I had been door-knocking with Peter Harris, the excellent UKIP candidate for Dagenham & Rainham at the general election last May and for the London Assembly in the GLA election in May next year. He had discovered that Barking & Dagenham council were trying quietly to foist a mosque onto greenbelt land in the predominantly White English neighbourhood of Eastbrook, so we had been assessing local opinion with a door-to-door survey.

But Gilligan had good news for me about a different and much bigger mosque, the proposed London mega-mosque at West Ham in Newham close to the 2012 Olympic stadium. Mega-mosqueOriginally this mosque had a futuristic design and a proposed capacity of between 45,000 and 70,000 which would have made it one of the biggest in the world. In the face of our vociferous opposition the mosque capacity was downsized but the mosque architect still claimed the building would be the size of Battersea Power Station with a capacity three times that of St Paul’s Cathedral. I’ve been campaigning against it for nearly a decade.

At first on my own but in due course backed by a superb small team, I had spent months studying, analysing and understanding Tablighi Jamaat – the fundamentalist and isolationist group behind the project. As our opposition campaign took off I encountered vicious verbal hostility and a death threat, and had a website set up against me personally; our combative team produced the MegaMosqueNoThanks campaign website, video channel and Facebook page and participated in two huge Public Inquiries; we delivered at least one campaign leaflet to each of the 97,000 homes of Newham’s 300,000 residents, and four or five leaflets to each home in the West Ham neighbourhood;  2000px-Seal_of_the_Ronald_Reagan_Presidential_Library.svgI was flattered to receive a ‘Hero of Conscience’ award for our efforts at a glittering American Freedom Association event in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California; I undertook public debates in Newham and at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, and engaged in informal discussions in cafes and on the street with mosque supporters many of whom live near my home in Muslim-majority Forest Gate; and I was interviewed by journalists and on TV and radio from around the world as well as in our national media.

crossculturalHandshakeIt has been an extraordinary journey during which I have come to like and respect the overwhelming majority of Muslim people I have engaged with, but also to loathe the dark fundamentalist Islam that is rising across the world from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East to the UK and Europe, from Pakistan in South Asia to Nigeria in West Africa. And recently in Paris too.

But the journey was coming to an end. “The mega-mosque isn’t going to happen,” Gilligan told me. “Reliable sources say that the DCLG (the Department of Communities and Local Government) will announce soon that the trustees’ appeals have failed. The mega-mosque isn’t going to be built. My exclusive on this will be in tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph,” he continued, “and I need a quote from you.”

My joy was great and relief was deep.  I could hardly believe my ears. Gilligan swore me to silence until his exclusive was published the following day, but that didn’t matter. This massive platform for promoting fundamentalist Islam globally which also would have had a disastrous effect on social integration locally, was over, sunk, dead. My colleagues and I could relax, be grateful and celebrate. Our job was done.

Gilligan’s story was published and four days later the formal decision of the Secretary of State at the DCLG, Greg Clark, was published too. To our amazement he took a firmer line against the mosque project than the Planning Inspector recommended;Bulldozer not only is the mega-mosque not to be built, but within three months the mosque trustees must cease using the site and must demolish the 2,000-capacity wood-frame buildings they are using there as a temporary mosque.

Technically the trustees still have the right to challenge the Government decision. However, due to new and tighter regulations that came into force just two days before the decision was announced – the Government was astute in its timing – they have first to apply to the High Court for permission to make the challenge before submitting the challenge itself, and they have to do so by 9th December. Also the challenge can be only on technical points of law and not about the decision itself. This is a huge mountain to climb for the trustees and if they have any sense they will not waste their time and money.

Meanwhile I now find myself involved with UKIP in the much smaller mosque project close to Dagenham East station where I took the call from Andrew Gilligan. Here, as in Newham, the authorities have been secretive and ignored local opinion until we forced the issue into the open: Peter Harris contacted and briefed the Dagenham media; we undertook a door-to-door survey where we found 93% of locals were against the mosque for reasons ranging from “too much traffic already” and “save our greenbelt” to “no Muslims live here so no need for a mosque”; Eastbrookmeetingand ten days ago we held a residents’ meeting in a pub and invited UKIP heavyweights Peter Whittle – our London mayoral candidate – and Roger Gravett. The pub was packed. You can read about it here and here.

Inevitably, as in Newham, Labour’s borough leadership in Barking & Dagenham has been incensed by our actions.

So deja vue. Here we go again…

Homerton Hospital’s Politically Correct Prejudice

Political correctness has developed into a putrefying ideology of propaganda and untruth promoted by the elite political class and liberal opinion-formers. Homerton University HospitalIn order to foist their poisonous ‘progressive’ agenda on us, they demand frequently that evidence should be ignored, facts should be changed, truth should be denied and history should be rewritten. A well-known east London NHS hospital is a case in point…

Homerton Hospital in Hackney has been serving the people of the East End since Victorian times. Completely rebuilt and modernised in the 1980s, it has 440 beds and a staff of 2,200, serves as a teaching hospital for undergraduate students and was the designated hospital for the 2012 London Olympic Games. Although recently embroiled in controversy over the number of deaths in the maternity unit, in many ways the Homerton represents the beating heart of the NHS, the nation’s favourite institution.

The hospital claims to be rooted in the local Hackney community and to demonstrate this is currently displaying – just inside the main entrance – some 25 portraits of Hackney residents taken in the 1970s. They were photographed by local man Ron Gibson who for over half a century from 1952 ran a portrait studio at 97 Lower Clapton Road.

Carefully selected from Gibson’s huge archive to represent “memories of past and present Hackney residents” as the blurb says, the pictures are superb, colourful and well presented. Singles, couples and family groups, the subjects are dressed variously in their security guard uniforms, nurses’ uniforms, wedding dresses, national dress or normal clothes.  It’s a high quality display and it is regrettable that for copyright reasons some of the portraits cannot be shown on this blog.

There is just one glaring and hugely significant error. Not one single portrait of a white British resident is displayed. Not one.nhs-logo

Certainly, according to the national census the percentage of White British residents in Hackney has been rapidly declining, down
from 44% in 2001 to 36% in 2011, and they have been replaced predominantly by Commonwealth immigrants from the West Indies and elsewhere.  But by common consent Hackney’s population in the 1970s was overwhelmingly white working class, and indiginous white Brits today still represent over a third of the borough.

But all the white residents have been airbrushed out of the hospital’s gallery of “past and present” local people. White people don’t exist. They didn’t exist. They have been written out of the script. Not even a cockney barrow boy or traditional Pearly King or Queen is shown. They are all – according to the hospital – irrelevant and presumably an embarrassment.  Africans, Asians and West Indians are proudly and beautifully portrayed and promoted at the entrance to the hospital, often in their national dress. But not one single white person – working class East Ender or otherwise – is deemed worthy of the honour.

So Hackney’s demographic history has been falsely rewritten and re-presented by the hospital to fit a progressive politically-correct pusagenda.

It is in-your-face untruth, ‘diversity’ gone mad and it reflects blatant prejudice, discrimination and, yes, racism by the country’s major caring institution. And the political establishment wonders why bitterness and disenchantment is growing on council estates up and down the country.

There is only one way democratically to lance the boil of Homerton-style prejudice and wipe the seeping discharge of politically correct pus out of our public life.

Go anti-establishment. Vote UKIP.

UKIP’s Runners and Riders for London Mayor

For political parties in London it’s choose-your-mayoral-candidate time.

city-hallA couple of weeks ago the Greens selected Sian Berry as their candidate for the May 2016 election; any day now the LibDems are expected to announce Caroline Pidgeon is their woman for the race; and on Friday Sadiq Khan upset all expectations except his own and won the Labour Party ballot for the position. The Tories are expected to announce their man for the job by the end of the month.

UKIP too is selecting and reckons to announce the party’s mayoral candidate in a couple of weeks. And, as it happens, I’ve thrown my hat into the ring…

I was enjoying the white beaches, blue skies and blistering heat of Sardinia last month when the news website Breitbart London, jointly run by Nigel Farage’s former election strategist and right-hand man Raheem Kassam, published an assessment  of UKIP’s ‘runners and riders’ for the mayor contest. RaheemKassamKassam reckoned my ‘tough stance against gay marriage’ and my campaign against the London mega-mosque could cause the party ‘operational and public relations problems’ – but nonetheless scored me 6/10.

Then, on successive days over the August Bank Holiday weekend, Breitbart published each candidate’s responses to ten key questions, seven of which were common to all and three of which were tailored to the individual. The other candidates’ responses are here: Suzanne Evans, Richard Hendron, Elizabeth Jones, David Kurton, Shneur Odze and Peter Whittle.

I was abroad and I missed out on the Breitbart exercise, but my formal party interview was postponed until this coming week. So here are my responses to Kassam’s questions and assessment:

Question 1: What makes you the best person to represent UKIP in London in 2016?

AC: For three decades I have lived and worked at street level in east London which is about as far from Boris’s Westminster/Whitehall/City Hall bubble as a Londoner can get, and my track record for standing up for ordinary people against the establishment powers-that-be is as good as anyone’s.

Locally I cut my political teeth campaigning – both successfully and unsuccessfully – against the council’s social cleansing, imposed top-down ‘regeneration’ and the large corporate developers who make people’s lives a misery.

Lemons-and-limeI have lengthy experience of UKIP-style grassroots and outsider politics. For a time I was the sole Opposition councillor on Newham Council and, later, leader of the small Opposition group. In 2008 I stood for London Mayor against Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone and also for the London Assembly. 

Q2: If it were a straight choice, would you rather be a London Assembly member or UKIP’s Mayoral Candidate?

AC: In May 2016 I’d rather be UKIP’s Mayoral Candidate. The May election almost certainly will be held prior to the vital EU referendum and I want to bend every sinew to promote London’s own case against the EU.

Debating at hustings with Sadiq Khan and maybe Zac Goldsmith about London in the EU will be a great high-profile opportunity to promote the ‘Leave’ campaign. 

Q3: Uber – are you for it or against it?

AC: I am in favour of commercial competition in principle, and we’ve seen that under pressure from Uber the black cabs recently reduced their fares for off-peak long-distance rides. This is good for the customer.

black-cabBut the black cab is an iconic part of London scene and a safer choice especially for women at night. It must retain its privileged status as, for instance, the only taxi that can be hailed on the street.

Q4: Tube strikes and union drivers. What is the solution?

AC: The tube drivers’ unions held us to ransom before the Olympics and filled their wallets at our expense. They must not do it again.

So, eyeball them and see who blinks first.

Advertise externally for new drivers and introduce driverless trains as soon as possible.

Q5: How do you feel Boris has done as Mayor? What would you keep, what would you change?

AC: He’s brought fun, laughs and global media attention to London. When he retires as mayor next year he ought to do stand-up at the Hammersmith Apollo rather than on the green benches at Westminster. He also removed the western extension of the Congestion Charge zone.

But he and his Russian billionaire friends who push up property prices simply do not understand London’s burgeoning housing crisis caused also in part by mass immigration. Ordinary young people – the future of the capital – cannot afford their own home and are being squeezed out by the lack of affordable housing.

Q6: What are the best things about London in your estimation?

london-2012-crowdAC: Londoners’ vitality, variety, open can-do spirit, and the city’s rich culture and history.

Q7: What are the worst things about London in your estimation?

AC: The widespread poverty caused by London’s exorbitant cost of living.

Also the personal pushiness on public transport that is threatening to the elderly and vulnerable. I’d welcome back some old-fashioned English queuing!

Q8: You left the Christian Peoples Alliance party and joined UKIP. Why?

I left CPA in 2012 having been variously joint-founder, leader and CPA local councillor since 1999. I had no major issues with the party. I just thought I’d done my bit.

I met UKIP MEP Gerard Batten in 2008 when we both stood for London Mayor and he started encouraging me to join UKIP. Four years ago or so I sat on the same political panel in Tottenham as Nigel Farage and he impressed me by his forceful but, then, politically lonely opposition to the EU. In 2012/13 UKIP confirmed its gutsy anti-establishment status by standing alone against the imposition of gay marriage by the metropolitan political class.

In 2014 I threw in the towel and joined the party.

Q9: You have run a lengthy high-profile campaign against the proposed Tablighi Jamaat mega-mosque at West Ham. That can’t make you an attractive UKIP candidate to the Muslim community can it?

telling-the-localsAC: When I started the campaign in 2006 I got all the knee-jerk insults – racist, Islamophobe, bigot, Christian crusader, the lot. But while I strongly opposed these mosque plans and the separatist ideology behind them, I like and respect Muslims and slowly bit by bit this message got through.

Further, I campaigned closely with moderate Muslims who also oppose the fundamentalist Tablighi Jamaat ideology and their mosque plans. There is no single ‘Muslim community’; there is a variety of ‘Muslim communities’.

Lastly, I live in the Green Street West ward of Newham which according to the 2011 Census has the highest concentration of Muslims in London. They are my neighbours and I like and respect them even when I don’t agree with them. I think they know that.

Q10: You took a strong stand against same-sex marriage. That isn’t going to get UKIP votes from the LGBT-types.

AC: Alone of all the national parties, UKIP too stood against same-sex marriage. This gained the party a lot of recognition and votes from social conservatives like me.

The gay marriage debate centred on adult rights and issues and ignored the rights and nurturing needs of children. Also, in order to make their legislation fit the lifestyle of many gays, the government – like a monster Ashley Madison – deliberately undermined the loyalty and faithfulness implicit in traditional marriage.

But currently there is no political will to repeal the Act and, like UKIP, I do not seek to do so.

What’s In A Name?

Sun_lounger_on_the_pool_terraceIt’s that lazy hazy holiday month of August – and time off from the usual activities. It’s an opportunity for reading and reflection, preferably sitting beside the pool with a book, a notepad, a cool drink, and shaded from the blazing sun by a large parasol…

Involvement in heated campaigns, local as well as national, brings with it media controversy. Some time ago when I was at loggerheads with our borough’s Labour Mayor, the Labour-leaning editor of our local rag, the Newham Recorder, twice mockingly published my picture upside down: “Alan Craig turns logic on its head”.

More recently the Left-kneeling Bishop of Buckingham splurged his sub-Christian spleen over the website of the Guardian claiming that my language during the gay marriage debate was “childish”, “offensive” and of course the Left’s default catch-all,  “bigotry”.

dramaThe twin imposters of media approval and hostility are exactly that. It’s important to become impervious to both.

But it still can be a welcome change to move into the calmer waters of books and libraries and have your activities assessed by those who at least claim to be objective and neutral.

This first happened for me when “Rescue From Danger – The story of the RFD Group” by Harold Nockolds – the author also of a definitive study of Rolls-Royce – was published. I had been the jet-setting Porsche-driving young chief executive of RFD, a Stock-Exchange-quoted international manufacturing group. Not long out of business school and appointed at 29 to effect a corporate turnaround, I’d enjoyed an exhilarating time as we moved dramatically from loss to profit, revitalised and restructured the management and then started to expand by acquisition both in the UK and in the USA. The tale was told by elderly old-school Nockolds after this thrusting and often arrogant young turk had decided to move on. Nockolds’ book concluded generously, “Alan Craig left RFD… having served the company well…”

Earlier this year Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex, Ralph Grillo, published a weighty academic work, Muslim Families, Politics and the Law. Half the book is related to Baroness Cox’s ongoing Private Members Bill in the House of Lords that tackles gender discrimination in Sharia courts. My own comments made on the Islam Channel and elsewhere are cited repeatedly, and Professor Grillo quotes lengthily from one of my posts here on AlansAngle. Even if he himself would not support our proposed legislation, he is forensic, rigorous and insightful. It is refreshingly different from the media bearpit.

vintage books and a cup of coffee

Coverage of our nine-year campaign against Tablighi Jamaat’s proposed mega-mosque close to the London Olympic stadium moved recently from the newsstand to the library. Although herself a journalist, Innes Bowen’s acclaimed book Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam published last year analyses the mega-mosque controversy with neutrality and nuance. Even where she flatly contradicts me, she quotes me fully and fairly. The whole book is a useful read.

Zacharias Pieri, formerly at the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies and now a political sociologist on the staff of the University of South Florida, is an academic who has closely followed the controversy for years. Pieri studied the ‘contentious politics’ surrounding the proposed mega-mosque for his PhD thesis; authored Lapido Media’s popular Handy Book about Tablighi Jamaat and the mega-mosque debate; co-authored a study  of the ‘scalar politics’ surrounding the mega-mosque and the Olympics for Sociology journal; and recently published his magnum opus on the saga, Tablighi Jamaat and the Quest for the London Mega-Mosque.

labelsIn this he argues that the “genius” of our campaign “was to frame the issue as the ‘Mega Mosque’, an epithet that soon became a synonym of large mosques being constructed around the world.” Pieri reckons that this simple tag, and our wider moniker ‘Olympics mega-mosque’, were key to our success; from the start they put the mosque project on the back foot in the media, from which it never properly recovered.

This is flattering of course. It’s a surprise too, as at no stage were my colleagues and I aware of the power and strategic importance of these labels until Pieri published his analysis. After all, what’s in a name? We simply described the mosque plans that were promoted in front of us and ran with a self-evident description, even identifying our opposition campaign with the epithet Mega Mosque No Thanks. To us it wasn’t genius. This wasn’t a ‘giant mosque’ or a ‘huge mosque’. And ‘monstrosity mosque’ would be too pejorative. The name we chose was the gift of an easy and obvious alliteration.

Away from the heat of battle then, the detached academic can usefully both analyse the broader picture and provide in-depth insight, and here Pieri is persuasive about the power of our labels.

I must note this for future campaigns. So, now, where’s my campaign notepad?

I’m certain I put it under the sun lounger for safekeeping…

Can We Talk About Islam?

All sorts of people promote their religious beliefs at Meridian Square outside Stratford Station in east London. Pentecostal Christians, Jehovah Witnesses and radical Muslims are the most frequent proselytisers, and it is fascinating how their styles vary. stratford-meridian-squareThe Pentecostalists preach loudly quoting Scripture, the JWs stand quietly offering their Watchtower literature and the Muslims often have a stall and always engage in discussion and argument.

One afternoon last week it was business as usual. As I crossed the Square a group of bearded Muslims were debating heatedly with a well-built African Christian who, Bible in hand, seemed to be holding his own.

Separately, a Muslim man in front of me held a large poster which declared:  “Jesus – Prophet of Allah”. He handed me a leaflet which informed me that God has sent many Prophets and Messengers, from Adam the first Prophet, through Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, to Muhammad “the last and final Messenger”.

Salome-Guido-Reni's MosesApparently all those who believe in the one true God and follow His commands are called Muslims. Therefore Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus were in fact all Muslims even though there was no such word as ‘Muslim’ in their day and there is no record anywhere of these men of God understanding themselves in this way.

It is, of course, theological imperialism. The Islamic intention is to take over, neutralise and reinterpret Jewish and Christian redemptive history in an attempt to give Muhammad a legitimacy he would not otherwise have. It certainly seems – according to traditional Islamic teaching – that Muhammad was an effective Arab preacher, military leader and state governor. But he was not an Israelite descended from the patriarch Jacob. He cannot therefore stand in the line of authentic Hebrew prophets any more than can Joseph Smith or Guru Nanak.

It’s the old military adage: “the best form of defence is attack”. Classical Islam is based on shaky prophetic foundations so it has initiated theological jihad. It attempts to colonise the Jewish and Christian story and capture these religions’ major figures. It aims to establish itself as the superior all-encompassing global religion.

Hence, as the Muslim man’s poster revealed, it has tried to highjack the Founder of the older and more numerous world religion, strip him of his divine status and reduce him to one in a long line of Islam’s prophets. That’s why the poster used his New Testament name, Jesus, rather than Muslims’ own preferred Quranic/Arabic name for him, Isa. The man in Meridian Square was declaring that Christianity’s Jesus is the prophet-servant of Islam’s god, Allah.

Mehdi-HasanAward-winning journalist Mehdi Hasan is a Shia Muslim and an “interviews with attitude” talk-show host for the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera TV channel. Previously he was a senior editor of the centre-left political weekly New Statesman in London where, significantly, he seductively promoted the possibility that Islam’s version of Jesus may be a way of building bridges between the two faiths – and published his article with a front-cover image of Christ wearing a kofi or Muslim prayer cap.

crown of thornsIt was a double affront by Hasan. Not only did he dress Christianity’s Founder in Muslim clothing but he replaced Christ’s crown of thorns – the only recorded item that Christ wore on his head and the sacred sign of his humiliation and crucifixion that lies at the core of Christian belief – with Islamic headdress.

Imagine the bloodshed if a Western magazine published a drawing of Muhammad wearing, say, a crucifix or pectoral cross around his neck.

So Muhammad’s religion is nothing if not pushy, and it is pushing hard at the doors of churches, congregations and Christian communities across the UK with its debased version of Jesus.

It’s partly for this reason that a colleague and I recently created a roadshow for churches called Can We Talk About Islam?

My African Christian friend in Meridian Square apart, Christians have been reticent about engaging with Muslims and Islam. Political correctness; multicultural sensitivities; fear of Islamic aggression; lack of knowledge; invertebrate leaders; confusion about whether Islam is the religion of peace that we are told about or of violence that we see on our screens; and, amongst English Christians, post-colonial post-Crusades (yes, really) guilt – all these and more have left the church like a rabbit transfixed and sometimes terrified in the headlights of the oncoming juggernaut.

HandshakeThe aim of the roadshow is first to educate Christians in the basics of Islam and then to empower them to engage with their Muslim neighbours and workmates on matters of personal faith. Christ’s command to his followers to “love your neighbour as yourself” means that such engagement must flow out of respect for Muslims as equal citizens and fellow human beings.

The roadshow aims also to embolden people to challenge the inappropriate Islamification of society. Why, for instance, are children offered only halal meat in a school canteen, as mine were? Why, further, do teachers enforce the demanding Ramadan fast among Muslim children at the local LEA primary school, denying them water and food throughout school hours even during a heatwave? CWTAIFlyerBlogAnd why do politicians in our secular state fund mosque-building in east London, support Muslim-only youth work and promote Islamic religious practices to the general population?

It’s a bit-by-bit society-wide process, Islamification by salami-slice; we encourage roadshow attendees to challenge this process whenever they find it unnecessary or unjust.

If you reckon the Can We Talk About Islam? roadshow may be suitable for your local church or churches, contact us at info@CanWeTalkAboutIslam.com.

Learning From The Pit Of Hell

They told me it would be grim. In the event I was left numb, silenced by incomprehension and the inadequacy of words.

Early this month we had enjoyed an uplifting week in conference at the huge Hotel Golebiewski in the ski resort of Wisla, southern Poland, near the Czech border. Overlooking the Vistula River close to its source and with spectacular views across the tree-covered hills and valleys of the Silesian Beskids mountain range, the hotel offered 5-star luxury and an extraordinary range of facilities.

There 700 Christian leaders from across Eastern and Western Europe ate, slept, saunaed and swam, worshipped, prayed, fellowshipped and wrestled with issues such as church planting, understanding Roman Catholicism, the sexual revolution, apologetics and a Christian response to the ISIS crisis. It was inspirational.

KrakowOn the way to the conference, too, we had experienced a heavenly sunny afternoon in the historic city of Krakow, lazily consuming ice cream under huge parasols in the Old Town’s medieval and spacious Market Square. We sat in front of the 14th century St Mary’s Basilica facing the 16th century Cloth Hall and in view of the 10th century Church of St Adalbert, watching the elegant open horse-drawn carriages circle the Square. It was magical.

On the way back from the conference, though, we descended into hell.

At the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp 65 km from Krakow, over a million people, mainly European Jews, were gassed, shot, hanged, starved or burned to death by the Nazis during WWII. Accompanied by a fierce, perhaps emotionally-seared guide, we walked under the notorious “Arbeit macht frei” sign at the gates, stood where the camp orchestra played to accompany prisoners marching to and from work, stopped in the gas chamber in Crematorium 1 and viewed the reconstructed Death Wall where many prisoners were executed.

She took us too into the notorious Block 11, death block, with its unspeakable “standing cells” in the basement where the Catholic priest Maximillian Kolbe was starved and poisoned to martyrdom. We saw horrible mountains of children’s and adults’ shoes, human hair, spectacles and used Zyklon B gas cylinders and, at Birkenau, fragments of human bones from cremated victims still in the ground. AuschwitzDollI examined a broken doll in a glass case and, as the father of young daughters, I wondered about the little girl to whom this had belonged and feared for the anguish and pain she will have suffered.

I left the camp aware that I had read somewhere that many of the German officers, guards and staff attended church especially at Christian festivals such as Easter. How on earth could they – and we – reconcile the Christian belief in a Lord of love with such depravity and evil?

The answer is, of course, we can’t. But since returning home I’ve studied Edwin Lutzer’s analysis of the German church under the Nazis, Hitler’s Cross . Previously I had devoured Eric Metaxas’ superb biography  Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, the story of the anti-Nazi churchman Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The rapid Nazification of the Protestant church in Germay had complex antecedents. These include the weakening of belief as a result of 19th century German biblical criticism, and the post-WWI poverty and despair of the German people as a result of military defeat and the imposition of massive financial reparation by the victorious Allies. Whatever the reasons, by 1930 an open-door opportunity for a national saviour had arisen.

AdolfHitlerWhen one came along the enfeebled church compromised on the Gospel and lost sight of her true Saviour who said he himself is the real Truth. Churchmen had no theological rock on which to stand out from the crowd and were easily swept along by Hitler’s oratory and untruth accompanied by Goebbels’ propaganda and Gestapo intimidation. Although the Nazi regime planned to destroy Christianity and replace it with a new paganism, gullible pastors and church leaders arrived at a 1933 General Synod in Berlin wearing Nazi uniforms and giving the Nazi salute.

Later, many congregations submitted to the prevailing zeitgeist and substituted the swastika of the Nazis for the cross of Christ and Hitler’s Mein Kampf for the Bible. This was the anti-Semitic church-going ‘Christianity’ of Auschwitz officers and guards.

But God always has His faithful remnant, and thousands of ordinary Christians resisted the regime and heroically rescued Jews from their fate. Albert Einstein, exiled from Germany because he was a Jew, wrote  that, unlike the academics in universities and editors of national newspapers who were silenced in a few short weeks, “only the church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth… The church alone had the moral courage and persistence to stand for intellectual and moral freedom”.

Dietrich BonhoefferAt great personal cost Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other members of the anti-Nazi ‘Confessing Church’ clung to Christian truth. Bonhoeffer argued in his Cost of Discipleship that the cross of Christ is above the world and that Christianity and National Socialism cannot be united. He plotted against Hitler and was executed on Hitler’s orders just three weeks before the end of the war.

Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, now famous for his poem “First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist… then they came for me”, spent eight years in a concentration camp for his vehement opposition to Nazi control of the church, and only narrowly escaped execution.

David Cameron’s Britain is not Hitler’s Germany of course, but there are some disturbing parallels:

9911715-Elderly-Senior-Woman-Using-Walking-Frame-Stock-Photo-seniors-disabled-walkingThe UK too is rapidly saying goodbye to its Judeo-Christian roots and turning to a new secular paganism that aims to restrain, control and extinguish the church, promotes the wholesale slaughter of unborn children, and is on the way to approving euthanasia for the ill, the elderly, the frail and the medically hopeless.

The most media-friendly, youth-friendly and influential Baptist Church leader actively seeks State endorsement for his work while trashing Christian belief, dismissing the central Christian understanding of Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross as  “cosmic child-abuse” – a profane misnomer akin to Richard Dawkins’ famously blasphemous depiction of God.

Anti-Semitism is rising rapidly and anti-Semitic attacks are at record levels.

And the Government plans to impose ‘British values’, introduce control orders, ban extreme speech and censor talks and sermons.

The Auschwitz visit gave me much to think about.

“Anjem Choudary’s Islam Is Based On A Fraud”

Last Wednesday the BBC TV’s flagship Ten O’Clock News  broadcast an extensive investigation into the disastrous influence across Europe of London-based Islamist Anjem Choudary. According to the BBC many believe it is Choudary who has prompted the Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs) and other restrictions and bans that are contained in the Government’s upcoming anti-extremism bill.

AnjemChoudaryBut in a democracy you cannot simply ban an insidious ideology or religion any more than you can bomb it out of existence. Rather the foundational ideas need to be identified and undermined so that the whole ideological superstructure falls and thereby loses its power and attractiveness.

In this context, my friend and colleague Jay Smith is holding an important debate with Choudary tonight. It will be well worth watching live online, or on YouTube from tomorrow onwards.

This morning I published the following press release about the debate:

“Anjem Choudary’s Islam is based on a fraud” 

Extremist, ISIS supporter and prime target of UK Government’s counter-extremism bill Anjem Choudary is to be challenged in a public debate in London tonight 

In a face-to-face skype debate that takes place tonight in London, the high-profile Islamic extremist Anjem Choudary – who many commentators believe is the prime target of the Government’s counter-extremism bill that will be unveiled in the Queen’s Speech on 27 May – is to be publicly challenged about the fraudulent basis of his religion.

Choudary shares the same radical Qur’an-based Islam as ISIS, of which he is a strong supporter.

David Cameron said last week that such “poisonous” extremist ideology must be confronted, but suggests this can be done simply by banning orders and speech censorship.

Others believe there is a more effective way to undermine extremists, which is to confront the foundations of what they believe. One of them is Jay Smith, Choudary’s opponent at the event. He is a London-based debater, pacifist, and Christian polemicist, who in the past has disputed with other high-profile Muslims such as the academic Dr Shabir Ali, and the banned hate preachers Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad and Abu Hamza al-Masri.

Jay Smith“I detest the slaughter and slavery that is at the heart of the ISIS ideology,” said Jay Smith. “Anjem Choudary is ISIS’ prime apologist in London. For the sake of our vulnerable young people who may be tempted to follow Choudary, I intend drastically to up the ante in order to expose the false and fraudulent basis of his – and their – Qur’anic-based radicalism.

“Their theology is a dangerous ideology,” continued Jay.  “We must aggressively pull the Islamist rug from under their feet. Choudary publicly must be shown empty and with nowhere to go; I intend to unpack his religion to accomplish just that during our debate.”

“David Cameron seems to think that banning orders, extremist disruption orders and draconian laws are the way to tackle Choudary’s ideological venom,” said Jay Smith’s political advisor Alan Craig, the leader of the 8-year campaign against the proposed ‘London Olympic mega-mosque’ at West Ham.

“But such legislation simply endangers the UK’s democratic liberties and freedom of speech,” said Alan. “It is far better openly to expose – and mock – the fictitious fabricated roots of Choudary’s fundamentalist ideology. That’s what Jay will do surgically during the debate.

“It is this way that Choudary will slowly but surely lose his malign influence over so many impressionable young minds.”

-ENDS –

Notes for Editors:

  • 1. Queries: Jay Smith 07545 984765; Alan Craig 07939 547198
  • 2. Viewing: The debate takes place online at 01:30 a.m. (UK time), on Thursday morning, 21st May. It can be viewed live simply by clicking on Trinity Channel’s ‘live’ button at: www.trinitychannel.com/#!live-webcast/c1g0n. Although the debate takes place in London, it is intended primarily for online audiences in the US where it will be viewed live during the afternoon and evening hours of Wednesday 20th May.
  • 3. Viewing after the event: A recording of the debate will be posted on Thursday at: www.youtube.com/user/trinitychannel1/videos, and on Pfander Films channel at www.youtube.com/user/PfanderFilms
  • 4. Jay Smith introduction: An introduction by Jay Smith to his line of argument against Anjem Choudary, and a BBC investigation into Choudary’s influence across Europe, can both be seen at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=71mSbHHkpr8

My Journey Into UKIP

Out of the blue, less than 24 hours before nominations closed on 9th April, I received a call from UKIP London Region chairman asking me if I would be a candidate for the party in the General Election. He wanted me to stand in the Brent North constituency where the intended candidate apparently had gone AWOL.

Immediately I consented. Then, working with local activists, we managed to submit the required papers, signatures and deposit with just two hours to spare.

ukipIt was an unexpected and personally significant turn of events, so I thought I should email an explanation about my UKIP journey to people close to me. This, then, is what I wrote to them back on 11th April; the UKIP hierarchy requested that I shouldn’t publish it on my blog until today when the General Election campaign is over:

Dear family, friends and colleagues,

In October I joined UKIP, which surprised many, horrified some and delighted others.

Further, over the past month I have been campaigning at weekends for UKIP’s excellent candidate in the party’s most winnable London seat, Dagenham & Rainham. Then this week UKIP suddenly asked me to stand as their paper (that is, nominal or non-campaigning) candidate in the unwinnable Brent North constituency – which I readily accepted.

When I lost my seat on Newham Council in 2010 after eight satisfying years as Christian Peoples Alliance councillor, I decided that my period of electoral politics was over. I’d had my time and I’d done my bit. So I am, perhaps, as surprised as anyone to find myself back in the fray ahead of the general election on 7 May, this time on behalf of a different party.

I thought I’d try to explain why to those who know me and may be puzzled by my recent political conversion to UKIP. If however you are simply not interested or find it boring, please be free to ignore and delete this email.

the crossWhen I became a Christian in my late 20s, my worldview changed dramatically. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the corporate success, high income and jet-set lifestyle that I enjoyed then, I realised immediately that the Christian God rejects egotism, arrogance, selfishness and untruth: Christ showed us that His compassion is for the weak, the voiceless, the marginalised, the deprived, the disabled and the despised.

As a result and following my faith, I left the prosperity of leafy Highgate in north London and moved to inner-city Canning Town in London’s east end, then the most deprived neighbourhood in the country according to the London Research Council. There I founded and became live-in warden of an after-care home for young offenders following their release from prison, and I ended up running a local church and community centre for the disadvantaged docklands population.

My heart was primarily with the outsider and the underdog, so when in 2001 and without consultation Newham Council highhandedly and Mugabe-like announced a brutal housing clearance scheme across Canning Town (“social cleansing” the appalled locals termed it) I moved into action. I door-knocked, leafletted and held mass meetings. I was then elected onto Newham Council as the sole Opposition member facing 59 Labour councillors and a Labour executive Mayor. I was the first non-Labour councillor in Canning Town for nearly a century and this small local earthquake helped kick-start my short political career…

The union of one man and one woman in marriage, faithful to each another “for the procreation of children” and “till death us do part”, is an almost uniquely Christian ordinance. Like Christianity itself, this monogamous ideal has for more than a millennium so influenced our society, culture and language that we hardly notice it; for instance it is a bit of a shaker to consider that if I had been born in, say, traditionalist Africa or Muslim Middle East, my beloved Sally could be merely the first of my three or four wives without anyone batting an eyelid or me breaking the law.

wedding handsThe social benefits of Christian-style faithful marriage have been so great, especially for the nurture and socialisation of the nation’s children, that I put the promotion of the marriage-based family via tax breaks and other incentives at the top of my agenda. For instance when I ran for Mayor of London against Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone in 2008, my prime election pledge was to “Promote marriage and stable family as a long-term solution to youth crime, educational underachievement and child poverty”.

I was stunned therefore when in 2011, without prior notice or indeed, initially, the support of gay campaigning groups like Stonewall, David Cameron commenced his crusade for same-sex marriage and, consequently, the debasing and degrading of traditional marriage. Under the government’s gay marriage legislation, loyalty and faithfulness were negated as a key defining characteristic of marriage (“Go on, be modern, play the field, everyone does”) and, necessarily, so was procreation and the nurture of the marital union’s offspring.

Yet same-sex marriage was not in any of the main parties’ manifestos at the previous general election; there was no Green or White Paper consultation over the issue; debate in Parliament was severely restricted and one-sided; opponents were excoriated as stone-age dinosaurs or homophobes – in this way the whole metropolitan liberal political bubble (led unitedly and enthusiastically by David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Boris Johnson) highhandedly rammed through the destruction of this foundational building-block of a healthy society. They betrayed our children and it’s the coming generations who will suffer the consequences.

For me it was the last straw. It was shades of highhanded Newham Council again, but at the national level. Until this betrayal I still had – just – some residual respect for our political elite and our existing party system. But no more. Their cavalier and flagrant abuse of the political process over this vital social issue was, for me, jaw-dropping. They shoved it down our throats, and it made me sick.

But not UKIP.

UKIP is an unsophisticated grass-roots party of mainly ordinary people, warts and all. The leaders make mistakes but deal swiftly with the jesters and worse that any new party attracts.

The leadership has common sense and very real courage: alone they stood against gay marriage; alone they want the UK to exit the corrupt and undemocratic EU; alone they campaign to end to the madness of uncontrolled mass immigration; alone they plan to protect childhood innocence by banning sex education from primary school pre-pubescents.

I don’t agree with some of UKIP’s stuff, but as despised outsiders and in spite of virulent opposition the party has single-handedly shifted the political agenda on both the EU and mass immigration. The party is currently doing the same over health tourism and wages depressed by cheap labour. Yet encouragingly a significant percentage of supporters come from ethnic minorities who too, of course, are outsiders.

So I’ve joined UKIP and am campaigning and nominally standing for the party on 7 May. I want our society to regain its identity and confidence, to come out of the cosy but crumbling rich men’s club that is the EU and to engage independently with the wider world (including Europe) so that we stand or fall by our wits.

friends-fingersI don’t expect all my friends to agree with me (that’s not what friends are for!) or to support UKIP. But it is important to me that you understand why I am actively campaigning for them.

If you want to know more about the moral fury that has driven me into UKIP, I urge you to read my post “Matthew Parris’ Poison” (especially the second half) at www.alansangle.com/?p=1531.

Also if you have any comments, favourable or otherwise, be free to email me. I’d love to hear from you.

Very warmly,

Alan