Category Archives: Legal system

Another Mosque Defeat For Tablighi Jamaat

Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) must be punch-drunk. The Islamic group that wishes to build a mega-mosque at the Riverine Centre in West Ham close to the London Olympic stadium – now home of West Ham United Football Club – has endured so many defeats and blows to the head that its judgement has become suspect.

Certainly, like infamous former boxing champion, rapist, law-breaker and Muslim convert Mike Tyson, TJ has shed-loads of money to burn; it has lashed out hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years on court fees, lawyers’ costs, legal expenses and advisers’ bills.

Last month I attended the High Court in The Strand where the group was once again trying to stop Newham Council from closing their illegal temporary Markaz (mosque) called Masjid-e-Ilyas on the West Ham site, and bulldozing the buildings.

But whereas TJ previously had fielded heavyweight teams of top QCs, prominent advisors and excellent professional back-up, this time their lawyers refused to appear in court on their behalf as, they claimed apparently, they hadn’t been given enough time to prepare. Instead TJ sent a lone spokesman to make their case, a pleasant but legally lightweight member of the Islamic group, Moiz-ur-Rahman.

Like a disorientated prize-fighter, Mr Rahman staggered all over the legal canvas of planning applications, regulations, injunctions, enforcement notices and deeds of undertakings without landing a single valid blow on Newham Council. It was embarrassing to watch. The only effective point he made was the non-legal one that the Muslim community would suffer hardship if the Markaz was demolished; he told the court ominously that there is the possibility of the return of street protests by Muslim-run Newham People’s Alliance that we had last seen in 2013.

On the other hand Douglas Edwards QC, Newham Council’s silk, was on his toes and ruthless in punching and jabbing at TJ’s baleful catalogue of criminal offences and unlawful activities at the site. He soon had them on the ropes: they’d blatantly broken binding pledges, breached planning controls and built unauthorised structures. Newham Council had tried to accommodate them but TJ simply ignored planning protocols and carried on their illegal activities regardless.

The decision when it came was inevitable. Judge Walden-Smith told the mosque trustees that they had continued to procrastinate, their activities at the site were unlawful, the mosque had been in breach of planning control from the outset and that breaching an enforcement notice was a criminal offence. Having thereby shredded TJ’s reputation and exposed their dishonesty and lack of probity, she bluntly refused their application to suspend the demolition. It was a knock-out blow.

The Times and the Guardian carried reports, the former under the dramatic if misleading headline “Judge orders demolition of Abbey Mills mosque in Stratford, east London”: in fact the judge had, rather, refused to further delay Newham Council’s right to have the mosque demolished.

Continuing international interest in the mega-mosque issue was confirmed by the full-time attendance in court of a reporter from Pakistan’s The Dawn newspaper, who interviewed me and gave the case detailed and extensive coverage.

TJ are now out for the count as this is the end of the UK’s legal road for the trustees. They can make no more appeals and they have to demolish the illegal mosque buildings and vacate the site.

However, the trustees suddenly surprised the court by announcing that they are moving the fight to Strasbourg: on 5th January they had filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights for a restraining order. Planning lawyers advise that this is unlikely to succeed and the demolition will have to go ahead anyway. Others say the ECtHR is unpredictable.

Whatever, as always, it ain’t over ’til its over.

Welsh Gag

My following article was published last week by Kipper Central. Although it is primarily about the gagging of a UKIP elected representative, the freedom of speech issue it addresses is of course much wider than the party:

When UKIP’s National Executive Committee meets on 8th January there is one issue that should be top of the agenda: the shameful decision by the Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly, Elin Jones, to ban Gareth Bennett from speaking during Senedd debates in 2018.

Gareth is UKIP’s Assembly Member for South Wales Central.

During an Assembly debate about an Equalities and Human Rights report, Gareth made an excellent call for a grown-up conversation about minority rights and made the unarguable point that the increasing focus on the rights of minorities must ultimately impact negatively on the rights of the majority population.

By way of illustration he referred to the Westminster Tory government’s proposed amendments to the Gender Recognition Act which liberalise the process of changing gender, and he made these observations (here at 17.35 hours):

“There is only so much deviation from the norm that any society can take before that society completely implodes, and if we carry on down this road of appeasing the nuttiest elements of the transgender movement, then what we will face as a society, within a very short space of time, is total implosion.”

You’d have thought these remarks were mere common sense: Gareth was rightly cautioning against too much accommodation to the demands of transgender extremists or, he predicted, society will suffer.

But for the biased and hostile Presiding Officer, Plaid Cymru’s Elin Jones, political correctness trumps common sense. The following day, and at the prompting of a muddled Labour AM who accused Gareth of “homophobic rhetoric” even though he hadn’t mentioned gays or lesbians let alone been hostile to them, Ms Jones demanded that Gareth withdraw his comments. She claimed his views were “particularly hateful to the transgender community” and insisted that he apologise.

When he refused, she informed him he was barred from speaking in Senedd debates in 2018. He walked out of the chamber.

Although by all accounts Gareth remains personally relaxed and upbeat, his ban is a serious issue and an ominous threat to democracy and free speech.

Journalist Arwyn Jones pointed out on BBC Wales Live that banning an elected representative from speaking indefinitely in Senedd until they apologise is completely unprecedented.

Also Welsh commentator and academic Carys Moseley wrote that Senedd is “the first legislature in the world to ban a politician for criticising transgender activism”.

She continued: “The Presiding Officer’s overreaction was subjective, disproportionate and all too typical of those who enforce the concept of hate speech.

“Her role is equivalent to that of the Speaker of the House of Commons, and as such banning a politician from debate sets a dangerous trend, and undermines free speech and democracy.

“It is also a snub to everyone else in Wales who has serious reservations about the direction that transgender policy has been taking in the UK. It is saying you cannot be a politician if you think transgenderism is abnormal, which probably rules out most of the population.

“This is a sinister state of affairs that is unprecedented and completely unacceptable.”

Sinister and unacceptable indeed, so what is to be done? First, all Kippers must support and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Gareth.

But the matter is bigger than him and the implications are much wider than for just the Welsh Assembly.

So, second, Kippers must urge the NEC to take up the cause. The NEC should commit the party to supporting Gareth, confronting and challenging the Presiding Officer, and using all means possible in the UK to defeat this attack on freedom of speech. If you are a paid-up member of the party, you can contact the general secretary Paul Oakley at paul.oakley@ukip.org and request that the issue is put on the NEC agenda and discussed at their meeting on 8th January. For information copy in the chairman Paul Oakden too, at chairman@ukip.org.

And, third, Kippers and other concerned individuals can write a polite but firm email to the Presiding Officer herself, reminding her that in the UK we live in a democracy which embraces freedom of speech, and proposing that she revokes her ban on Gareth with immediate effect. Ms Jones’ email address is: elin.jones@assembly.wales or llywydd@assembly.wales. If you email her, I suggest you copy in Gareth for his encouragement: gareth.bennett@assembly.wales

A key issue of principle is at stake. We cannot simply sit on our hands.

Respecting Muslims, Challenging Islam

Since the successful Brexit referendum in June last year UKIP has, inevitably, been struggling to find a new purpose and political identity.

There is much internal party debate, and one of the current hot topics is about how the party should respond to the rise of Islam as a religio-political force across the UK. My contribution was published last week on the blogsite ‘UKIP Daily’, and now here:

Recently UKIP Daily has hosted a number of articles about issues such as halal slaughter, Sharia courts and jihadi terrorism. It is good to see the party is beginning to get to grips with the rise of Islam in our society.

But it seems we are still tip-toeing around the topic and trying to avoid giving offence. One of the contributors even wrote that we should be careful about going too far when discussing Islam in case our political enemies “have us promptly branded as BNP-Lite, or similar” – as if it matters what our opponents say about us.

We cannot do policy by worrying about tomorrow’s headlines.

Islam now saturates our political landscape and dominates the public imagination in the way that, say, Communism/Marxism did fifty years ago, and the UK is being increasingly Islamised. UKIP must therefore develop a coherent approach to the issue if it wants to be a serious political party.

I offer two key principles to guide us:

First we must fully respect Muslims as our friends, neighbours and fellow British citizens who have the same rights and freedoms as the rest of us. Stupidly stereotyping them, insulting them or slagging them down as people is unacceptable.

But, second, we must insist that we are free to challenge all aspects of Islam, unconstrained by political correctness and with nothing off-limits. Nonsense accusations of racism and Islamophobia must not be allowed to shut down necessary debate.

I’ve tried these principles and they work:

In 2005 a fundamentalist Islamic group called Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) announced that they planned to construct one of the largest mosques in the world, with a capacity of between 45,000 and 70,000, at West Ham in east London just a mile from my home and half a mile from the London Olympic stadium. TJ intended to build this as a massive showcase mosque for the 2012 London Olympics and as a global centre to propagate their hostile form of Islam across Europe and North America.

I decided to oppose it without personal animosity towards the Muslims behind the project. Indeed I often subsequently defended their right to propose their mega-mosque just as I defended my absolute right to oppose it. That’s how democracy works in the UK even if not in Saudi Arabia.

Before I started the campaign I tried to meet with the TJ elders in order to explain my opposition. Although they refused, I regularly extended the right hand of neighbourliness to them to show I had nothing against them personally or as Muslims. However they continued to refuse to meet.

I was also ruthless in publicly exposing the political ideology of the group and their underlying hostility to British society, with no holds barred. In my view it would have been utter madness to allow them this huge platform to propagate their anti-social beliefs across the UK and wider.

I launched the campaign via BBC TV in July 2006 and immediately ran into a storm of vitriol and bile, mainly from the Left, with the inevitable accusations of race-hatred, bigotry and Islamophobia. Jonathan Bartley, now joint-leader of the Green Party and that party’s leading UKIP opponent, was one of the first out of the blocks with uninformed and typically knee-jerk comments.

Muslim mega-mosque supporters too attacked me. One even issued a death threat by publishing my obituary on social media.

But as I respect Muslims and am not Islamophobic, I was able to campaign together with moderate British Muslims who also opposed this monstrosity. Our campaign co-operation was telling and in due course the message got through. Newham Council, which previously had been 100% in favour of the mega-mosque, took note, changed its mind and in December 2012 it rejected the TJ planning application. The government followed when in November 2015 Secretary of State Greg Clark MP rejected TJ’s appeal.

A personal warmth towards Muslims, together with an iron determination to publish the unpalatable facts about Tablighi Jamaat and their mega-mosque no matter the cost, were both vital to the success of our campaign.

Islam is a theocratic religion, that is, both a political ideology and a religious belief system. Also, like Communism/Marxism, it wants to take over the world. In our democracy we primarily challenge such take-overs by disputing their ideas and contesting their policies. We must maintain therefore that we are completely free to dispute the Quran, to expose hypocrisy in the Hadith and to rubbish Sharia, for example.

Further, at the heart of Islam lies Islam’s prophet Muhammad whom every stream of Islam claims is the ‘Role Model for All Humanity’.

It is our democratic duty to put Muhammad under the microscope and see what he has to offer UK society.

For instance, he had nine wives, the youngest of whom was aged six when they wed and with whom he consummated the marriage when she was just nine. If our increasingly Islamised society begins to accept Muhammad as a role model for the UK, will this necessarily change our collective view (and, ultimately, our legislation) about polygamy, paedophilia and child brides to a more Islamic approach?

UKIP is a bold radical party that rejects the soggy truth-denying political correctness of the political class. We must be willing, if necessary alone, to raise tough issues, ask hard questions and champion unpopular causes.

And from now on Islam, but not Muslims, must be on UKIP’s agenda and in our political sights.

A Happy Christmas For Geert Wilders

Christmas came early this month for Dutch politician Geert Wilders, just ahead of the country’s general election in March.

2014-05-22 09:04:56 DEN HAAG - PVV-leider Geert Wilders bij basisschool De Walvis waar hij zijn stem uitbracht op een kandidaat voor het Europees Parlement. ANP BAS CZERWINSKI

During the autumn he has been dragged through the courts by Dutch authorities and a couple of weeks ago they successfully secured his conviction for ‘inciting discrimination’ and ‘insulting’ Moroccan immigrants.

Wilders is an anti-establishment, anti-Islam, anti-EU politician who, at huge personal cost  to himself and his wife, is articulating popular discontent at the country’s entrenched elite and the growing Islamisation of the country.

The authorities’ inadvertent seasonal gift is the spike in popularity of Wilders’ PVV party (Party of Freedom) that resulted directly from the the court case. In the final opinion poll of 2016 PVV is ahead of prime minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party.

censorshipWilders argued throughout that this was a political trial about free speech brought by the country’s politically-correct establishment who want to control and undermine what he says about Islam and immigration, and there is evidence he is right.

Although state prosecutors could have demanded a jail sentence for – as they claim – a serious hate crime against an immigrant community, in the event they balked and requested only a symbolic 5,000 euro fine.

The judge, Hendrik Steenhuis, went further and refused to impose any sentence at all in the belief that conviction alone will sufficiently blacken Wilders’ name. It’s clear too that Steenhuis wanted to avoid creating a pre-election martyr.

So it seems the Dutch legal establishment prefers playing to the gallery and massaging public opinion rather than imposing proper punishment. Although they’re not competent in implementation, their strategy might have come straight from a Blair/Campbell/Mandelson New Labour handbook on the dark arts of spin.

grumpy-judgejudge-holding-gavel-in-courtroomAnd the Dutch judiciary has form on this. Wilders was subject to even more blatant official skulduggery in his previous 2010 trial.

He stood accused then of inciting racial hatred against Muslims. Backed by what the media cited as ‘soaring’ popular support, he argued that his hostility is against Islam not Muslims, and certainly the case against him was so weak that the Dutch public prosecutor did not want to pursue it.

However a Dutch court of appeal led by Judge Tom Schalken insisted, and in January 2010 the trial started.

Early on in the trial Wilder’s lawyers attempted to remove a judge for bias when the court president Jan Moors, faced with Wilders’ assertion of his right to remain silent, had commented idiotically that the politician was known for making bold statements but avoiding discussion, and that “it appears you are doing so again.” It was unjudicial sniggering knockabout, but the judiciary closed ranks and refused to replace Moors.

Then, on 6th May, Wilders’ lawyers were due to call their expert witness on Islam, retired Arabist professor Hans Jensen, in order for him to verify the injunctions to violence written into in the Quran.

mud-hits-fanBut three days earlier on 3rd May, Jensen had been invited to an informal ‘dinner of friends’ by the organiser of a pro-Palestine committee of academics and professionals. By design but unknown to Jensen, Judge Schalken was invited too. At the dinner, according to Jensen, the judge repeatedly engaged with him about Wilders, Islam and the trial in order to persuade him that the legal proceedings were justified.

Nobbling a witness is a serious crime of which the mafia are acknowledged experts. It is not however expected of a senior judge.

This time the mud hit the fan. Following disclosure of Schalken’s dinner party intervention, a legal review panel was convened and the case was dramatically terminated due to this “degree of (judicial) bias”. However although judges had been guilty of prejudice and the public prosecutor remained firmly against pursuing the case, the panel farcically ordered a retrial.

This took place the following year and, as widely anticipated outside court, Wilders was acquitted of all charges. The fiasco irreparably damaged Dutch judiciary’s reputation for competence and neutrality.

As highlighted in my previous post, the political tide has turned across the western world. While in the past Dutch authorities could use anti-discrimination and hate-speech legislation to close down debate and silence opposition, they’ve been exposed as fraudulent and now find themselves preaching their message to a shrinking choir. People outside their circles are no longer listening.

christmas-presentWilders’ court appearances have boomeranged back on the authorities and become a potent badge of honour for the politician. He will of course appeal the conviction in order to milk it for all it’s worth, so the case may run and run.

It’s a welcome Christmas present and boost to his chances of becoming prime minister following the elections in March.

UKIP – Defender Of The Faith

UKIP has a track record of saying the unsayable and promoting inconvenient truth against the mainstream consensus. mikeBrexit, control of immigration and opposition to gay marriage are just three issues where the party has, famously, refused to kowtow to the liberal establishment.

There is another issue too: the public role of the UK’s traditional religion.

Until recently Tory MP Andrea Leadsom had been a less than high-profile politician. But she’d frequently gone public about her Christianity and her religious reservations about – but personal support for – same-sex marriage.

These, together with some naïve comments about motherhood, brought a storm around her head from party colleagues and media alike during her brief bid for the Conservative Party leadership earlier this month.

andrea-leadsomConservativeHome editor Paul Goodman described the ferocious attacks on her as ‘prejudice’, ‘feral’ and ‘bullying’, while commentator Iain Dale called the media assaults ‘astonishing’.

Faced with this onslaught the MP withdrew from the contest. Journalist Allison Pearson interviewed her afterwards and concluded that “Leadsom was genuinely shocked by the poisonous attacks from within her own party. She said it was highly unlikely that the daily stories saying how useless/dishonest/Christian she was ‘are coincidental’.”

Anti-religious prejudice in the UK is reserved only for traditionalist Christians like Leadsom it seems. In her article Pearson drew attention to the fact that no-one calls London’s Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan a ‘religious nutter’.

And when celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins claimed that then New Statesman editor Mehdi Hasan was disqualified for the job because of his Islamic beliefs, the media leapt en masse to the Muslim’s defence and it was Dawkins who came under sustained media fire.

for everyoneBy the end of the 19th century, laws requiring holders of public office to assent to particular religious beliefs had been repealed. Jews, Catholics, Puritans, Atheists – they were all free to participate in public life. It was a long time coming, but freedom of religion had come of age.

But step-by-step today’s secular Britain is turning back to public prejudice. As Andrea Leadsom found out, there is a new intolerance in the air.

Hotel owners, registrarsmagistrates, doctors and counsellors have lost their livelihoods because of their Christian beliefs.

anti-christian_hateAnd a wider targetted hostility can be observed, for instance, via the stand-up comedians in the popular TV series Live at the Apollo. Mock Christians or Christianity and the audience falls about laughing. This is no problem in a society that values satire and freedom of speech of course. Except that it does not, it seems, translate across onto Islam or atheism.

So who will step into the breach and stand against this rising tide of prejudice against the nation’s traditional religion?

Yup, once again: only UKIP.

In last year’s general election, ours was the sole party to publish a manifesto specifically for the faithful. In the document Policies for Christians, Nigel Farage wrote “UKIP is the only major political party left in Britain that still cherishes our Judeo-Christian heritage” and “we need a much more muscular defence of our Christian heritage and our Christian constitution”.

He had made similar comments previously to Fox News in New York and at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

UKIP’s deputy leader Paul Nuttall was reported as saying too that “UKIP is the only party that will confidently protect the rights of Christians in the UK and speak out against the attack on our Christian heritage.”

The party was as good as its word. In the 2015 manifesto UKIP promised to “extend the legal concept of ‘reasonable accommodation’ to give protection in law to those expressing a religious conscience in the workplace“- in this case over same-sex marriage.

QuakersSince 1757 our society has been broad-minded enough to allow Quakers and other pacifists to refuse military service even in times of national peril, and freedom of conscience has developed into a fundamental feature of western democracy.

Yet the establishment’s growing liberal authoritarianism has meant that UKIP’s pledge on this issue is unique amongst the main political parties.

UKIP also has been the only party to speak up for Christian refugees from the Islamic Middle East and North Africa.

In Syria Christians are a vulnerable minority who frequently suffer the double whammy of having to flee first from Islamist violence in their home towns and villages, and subsequently from the hostility of militant Muslim migrants inside the refugee camps. In 2013 Nigel Farage faced down a storm of politically-correct censure when he called for the UK government to take in only Christian Syrian refugees.

MigrantBoatAerialEighteen months later, after African Muslims threw Christian fellow migrants out of the boat while crossing the Mediterranean, the UKIP leader repeated his call for Christians only, this time from north Africa, to be offered refuge in Europe.

Farage and Nuttall have both resigned from party leadership and currently UKIP is looking for a new leader. Nominations close today, and hustings and voting will take place during August. The successful candidate will be announced at the party conference on 16th September.

Will he or she be sympathetic towards Christian values and defend the nation’s traditional religion? To find out, some CAUKIP (Christian Action in UKIP) colleagues and I have formulated an online questionnaire which we will be submitting to each declared candidate.

You can view it here.

We plan to publish the responses of the candidates on the CAUKIP website. If you’re interested, watch this space too.

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.

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…

Sharia Rides Up The Agenda

Since 2011 I’ve been working with the outstanding crossbench peer Baroness Caroline Cox on her legislative initiative, the Mediation and Arbitration Services (Equality) Bill.

Sharia Council of BritainThis turgid title masks sensitive and combustible issues: The primary purpose of the Bill is to tackle gender-discrimination in the 85+ Sharia courts across the UK. The secondary purpose is to tackle the growth of a parallel legal system in the UK.

Two years ago I covered the background to this proposed legislation in a post about the Bill’s Second Reading debate in the House of Lords. Despite multiple testimonies and clear evidence of discrimination against women, and strong cross-party back-bench support, the government opposed the Bill on the head-in-the-sand grounds that adequate legislation is already in place to deal with the issue.

Memorably, this inflexibility earned the new and junior minister responsible, Lord Gardiner, a magisterial put-down from one of the country’s top lawyers: “(Lord Gardiner) has given an Olympian exegesis of the processes and laws and consultations that are available to deal with the intellectual problem,” Lord Alex Carlile QC thundered from the LibDem benches behind and above the minister. “However we are concerned here with real people and real cases.”

baroness cox giving the keswick lecture week 2 09We had sat with many real Muslim women and heard their real and distressing cases at the hands of Sharia courts. We greatly relished Lord Carlile’s broadside.

This was Parliament’s first ever debate about Sharia. It was an historic debate – but this still cut no ice with the government.

Since then we’ve continued to push the issue in Westminster and Whitehall. We held briefings for Peers and met with individual MPs; we set up an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on ‘Honour’ Based Abuse ; we met and listened to more Muslim women; we supported vital research by Muslim women’s group Aurat led by the inspirational Habiba Jaan; we worked with other women’s groups like IKWRO, Inspire and Karma Nirvana; and we met off-record with a junior government minister and on-record with a key senior one.

Theresa MayThe first sign that things were beginning to change came at the Conservative Party conference last September. For the first time Home Secretary Theresa May raised publicly the issue of Sharia law and women. “Across the country, there are concerns about the way Sharia law is being applied, the way women are told to live and the intolerant attitudes shown to people of different beliefs and ways of life,” she said. “We must not sleepwalk into separation, segregation and sectarianism.”

Encouraged that we may not be banging against a brick wall after all, we continued to work the corridors of Westminster and Baroness Cox grabbed every opportunity to speak out.

Then on Monday last week and in collaboration with the Bow Group, we were about to publish a report calling for a judge-led investigation into Sharia courts when Theresa May, now a Tory leadership contender thanks to David Cameron, announced the government’s new counter-extremism policy; unexpectedly this included an independent review of Sharia courts.

“There is evidence of women being “divorced” under Sharia law and left in penury, wives who are forced to return to abusive relationships because Sharia councils say a husband has a right to “chastise”, and Sharia councils giving the testimony of a woman only half the weight of the testimony of a man,” said  Mrs May. “We will commission an independent figure to complete an investigation into the application of Sharia law in England and Wales.”

This was fantastic as far as it went, but on Tuesday we published our report anyway. The Ministry of Justice has previously run scared and aborted an investigation into Sharia courts citing lack of co-operation by Islamic authorities; we reckoned a formal judge-led investigation with powers to subpoena witnesses is more likely to succeed.

Boris_Johnson

On Wednesday Boris Johnson, current favourite in the Tory leadership stakes, weighed in saying that Sharia law is “absolutely unacceptable” in the UK and should not be allowed to preside even over family disputes.

On Thursday journalist Leo McKinstry – who famously turned on his former boss, Labour’s anti-marriage deputy leader and Shadow Deputy Prime Minster Harriet Harman, and accused her of preaching a “dangerous gospel of feminist fascism” – praised “robust” Boris and spelled out his support on the issue. Harriet Harman on the other hand, like most feminists, remains culpably silent.

So the cat is out of the bag and the hare is running. There’s been a sea change and Sharia is open for proper political scrutiny at last.

Muslim women up and down the country will be grateful.

Minor Is Major

It’s a cast-iron undertaking written in just a couple of lines towards the end of the recent UKIP publication Policies for People, such that you might well miss it. It hasn’t been promoted like the party’s policies for leaving the EU or limiting immigration, and for many it is a minor matter. But it contains a major democratic principle:

“UKIP will amend the smoking ban to give pubs and clubs the choice to open smoking rooms properly ventilated and separated from non-smoking areas.”

scolding nannyThe 2007 blanket ban on smoking in all enclosed public places was a crass piece of infantilising nanny-state legislation and a denial of the right of freedom of association.

If law-abiding and adult citizens in their right minds and fully informed of the likely (medical) consequences choose voluntarily to come together to set up a peaceable smoking club, on what possible grounds can a supposedly mature democracy refuse them?

There are no grounds of course, except the instinctive desire of our masters – whenever they can get away with it – to close down our exasperating liberties, limit our frustrating choices and knock us into the shape they think is good for us.

The ban on smoking in public places where non-smokers are present, such as restaurants, offices and on public transport, is certainly to be welcomed. And there is a good case for the forthcoming ban on smoking in cars when children are passengers.

But the complete and total ban insisted on by our legislators in 2007 – and indeed the current contested proposal to ban smoking in city parks and outdoor areas – amply illustrate the bossy small-minded we-know-best attitude of the governing class that is the antithesis of an open and free participative democracy. They are managers not leaders; they act as political masters not public servants; they use coercion not persuasion; they are long on patronising paternalism and short on grass-roots common sense: and our freedoms of choice and association are suffering because it.

cigarUKIP’s track record is far from perfect, but consistently it shows that the party has the courage to do democracy, challenge established categories, confront the mainstream PC consensus and go where the LibLabCon elite refuses to go. Amending the smoking ban is a brilliant if unnoticed case in point.

So if all goes well on 7th May, next Christmas I’ll once again be free to enjoy a festive cigar alongside a pint and a game of pool in my favourite pub.

It’s yet another reason for joining and voting UKIP.

The Pink News Definition Of Democracy

I received a call from BBC Radio Northampton on Tuesday: with effect from midnight Civil Partnerships (CP) could be converted legally into Same Sex Marriages (SSM), they said, so would I discuss the issue on Stuart Linnell at Breakfast in the morning? They had heard me on BBC Radio London and wanted me to make my case to their Northamptonshire audience.

benjamincohenIn the event and on behalf of our campaign group Because Children Matter, I followed Ben Cohen of Pink News  in the show (here, commencing at 1 hr 6 mins 53 secs into the programme). I’ve met Ben before in LBC studios and he’s a friendly articulate guy although this time inevitably he stumbled and struggled to identify any advantage of same-sex marriages over civil partnerships.

“(You make SSM) sound just symbolic really,” said Stuart Linnell (at 1:14:53). The presenter was trying to help his faltering interviewee, but also unwittingly he exposed the fact that while SSM may be an important issue for Pink News gay activists and their useful idiots in the LibLabCon political class, in reality and on the ground it is an empty – if destructive – charade.

Indeed Ben was forced to concede that the number of gay couples who have entered into SSMs since they became legal on 29th March “is not that high” (at 1:13:20). Thank-you-but-noOrdinary same-sex couples have seen through the pretence and said “No thanks”. Significantly, the in-touch leadership of Ukip like Nigel Farage and gay MEP David Coburn have seen through it too, to Ukip’s electoral advantage.

When it was my turn (this slot can be heard in full here) I pointed out that while CPs are what it says on the tin, SSMs are a fake and a counterfeit: while conventional marriage commits the participants to a faithful ‘til death us do part’ which brings stability and huge benefits for the nurture of children, SSMs were designed by the government  to accommodate what Brendon O’Neill calls the “flightiness and flexibility more commonly associated with gay relationships”.

So adultery is no ground for divorce with SSMs. High-profile gay couple Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow play the field and openly advertise for sex partners – “preferably firemen, married men, muscle men and rugby players” – on Gaydar. And BBC-duping Eric Anderson reckons to have had sex with over a thousand people other than his marriage partner Grant Tyler Peterson. Faithful monogamy SSM is not.

rageMy approach clearly hit the target as Ben Cohen was incensed. He contacted the programme producer and demanded further airtime. Rebuffed, he took to his website and gave vent to his spleen. There he quoted me at length and I’m grateful for the further coverage of my views.

But he also let slip his guard and laid bare the underlying intolerance for which triumphalist gay leaders have become renowned. “Everyone understands the BBC, like all broadcasters, must ensure that news reporting is balanced and impartial,” he burbled, “however when it comes to reporting on gay rights issues the BBC seems to step well off the mark… As the law has already been enacted, this issue is no longer up for debate… So quite why BBC Northampton felt the need to allow Alan Craig on the air to regurgitate the same old anti-gay diatribe, and for that to go unchallenged is beyond me.”

No doubt Ben was disappointed at his own confused contribution to the programme, and in his subsequent anger at my arguments he illustrated an almost universal truth: gay activists, having stormed and plundered the ancient marriage stronghold, now want to lift the drawbridge and shut down all further discussion.

It’s the Pink News definition of democracy: “The issue is no longer up for debate”.