Category Archives: Islam

More Brutality – And More Grace

A couple of weeks ago I made my seventh visit in as many years to the persecuted church in northern Nigeria, this time accompanied by a British writer and commentator who wanted to see for himself what is happening there. (I’ve blogged my previous visits, for instance here, here and here.)

Together we talked with many people, and it was as distressing as ever to hear the stories of Christians and other minorities who are being crushed by the iron fist of Islam – a fist wielded in the north east corner of Nigeria by the madmen of Boko Haram, and across the north and ‘middle-belt’ of the country by murderous Fulani cattle herders.

Nonetheless some of the stories were inspirational.

In one IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp we met a woman who, together with her husband and a 30-strong group of others, tried to escape Boko Haram violence by crossing into neighbouring Cameroon in early 2014. They were caught by the militants at a river bank. All the men were slaughtered and the women and children were carted off to the now infamous former game-reserve, Sambisa Forest, where the Chibok girls are believed to be held.

During a captivity that lasted two years she was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to a young Boko Haram fighter, with whom, she says, she quarrelled incessantly. Once she received 80 lashes across her back when she and other women tried to escape. In the end they were rescued by Cameroon soldiers who defeated the Boko Haram militants in a fire-fight; the militants ran away and the abducted women were left free to return home.

At eight months pregnant by her Boko Haram ‘husband’, she in due course gave birth to a baby boy whom she breast-fed as she told us her story. When asked how she felt about the boy, she told us quietly that she had been taught by her Pastor to love even in the most difficult circumstances; she felt nothing but love towards her son despite his brutal Islamist father.

We were profoundly moved by her dignity and courage.

Other people’s stories were informative.

We met with the elderly wife of a Pastor who had ministered for decades in and around Gwoza which borders on Sambisa. Boko Haram has decimated the thriving Christian community there, killed or injured many believers, destroyed dozens of churches and, in August 2014, declared Gwoza town the headquarters of their Caliphate in Nigeria along the lines of the  Mosul headquarters of the Islamic State Caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

The causes of the rapid rise of Boko Haram have been much debated. Although Boko Haram’s official Arabic name when translated means ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’, most authorities refuse to blame any form of Islam. Some, like the US State Department, prefer to cite poverty, bad education and “poor government service delivery”. Others reckon it is the malign influence of armed Islamists crossing the border from West African states such as Mali, Chad and Niger. Yet others identify locals’ adverse reaction to foreign influences such as decadent Western secular lifestyles and to the residual impact of British colonialism (Nigeria gained its Independence in 1960).

We asked the Pastor’s wife what she thought. She was clear: fifteen years ago or so Afghan men dressed like the Taliban arrived unexpectedly in Gwoza and started taking young Muslim men away for education and training. That is when local Muslims became radicalised, she said, and previously good relations between many Muslims and Christians cooled noticeably.

So at the territorial centre of its operations, Gwoza, Boko Haram arose out of a radical Islam imported from a country nearly 4,000 miles away. I haven’t read that in the mainstream media.

Yet other interviewees were insightful and prophetic.

“I said it would happen,” explained the charismatic if diminutive Archbishop of Jos, Ben Kwashi. We were discussing the recent slaughter of Christians by armed Fulani herdsmen in southern Kaduna. “This persecution of Christians came from the north and started here in and around Jos in Plateau State,” said the Archbishop. “I forecast then that the Fulani violence would spread south, as it has done now into southern Kaduna. I further forecast that Niger State will be next. They will not stop, you mark my words.”

The Archbishop also pointed out that in 2015 many Christians voted for Muhammadu Buhari for Federal President even though he is a committed Muslim; he had a reputation as a former military hardman and he said he would be tough on terrorism. They have been disappointed, the senior cleric told us, as government inaction over the slaughter of Christians is difficult to explain apart from the fact that Buhari himself is Fulani.

I returned to the UK sickened once again by the Islamic and Islamist violence and inspired by many Christians’ grace under pressure and persecution.

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.

The Easter Jesus v The Islamic Fake

It was the weekend before Holy Week and I was on my way home across Meridian Square outside Stratford station. I was looking forward to the coming festivals: the commemoration of Jesus’ last supper on Maundy Thursday, the solemn reflection on his death on Good Friday and the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. For a Christian it’s the heart of the Gospel and highlight of the year.

HijackJesuspic2On the Square I was confronted by some Muslim men doing dawa (proselytism) at an Islamic book table. In principle there’s nothing wrong with this as freedom to promote your religion, and indeed your non-religion, is vital to our society.

But, deliberately courting controversy, they were trading upon our Christian festivals by wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the words, “I love Jesus (peace be upon him) because I’m Muslim!

I was well aware that their “Jesus” is a fake. So I chatted with them briefly, took a picture with their consent and tweeted it with the caption, “@ Stratford #Newham this w/e: #Islam hijacks, demotes & discredits Founder of #Christianity”.

Immediately I was contacted by our local paper, the Newham Recorder. Would I write an article to reflect my views? 250 words; deadline 10.00am on Tuesday.

I did. I wrote:

The True Jesus

“We love the Wife of the Duke of Edinburgh as much as you Brits do,” said an imaginary American in my dream. 

Queen Elizabeth“If that’s so,” I retorted, “you wouldn’t downgrade her. Instead you’d acknowledge her role properly as Her Majesty, Elizabeth ll, Queen of the United Kingdom and Head of the Commonwealth.” 

There was a bearded young man outside Stratford station last Saturday. “We Muslims love the prophet Jesus (pbuh) as much as you Christians do,” he declared. 

“If that’s so,” I reflected, “you wouldn’t demote Jesus and insult his self-sacrifice. Instead you’d acknowledge him as he truly is – the Son of God who for our sakes went willingly to his death on a cross on Good Friday 2,000 years ago.” 

Easter this weekend is the highlight of the Christian year, when Jesus’ followers commemorate both his death and resurrection. It’s a wonderful time of significance and celebration. Yet Islamic zealots like the bearded young man are trying to hijack Jesus, diminish his role and spoil the party… 

‘Jesus’ translated into Arabic is ‘Yesua’, but there is no such person mentioned in the Quran. Instead there is an inferior prophet called ‘Isa’ who ranks significantly below Muhammad. Isa wasn’t God’s Son and he didn’t die on a cross, but nonetheless some Muslims insist on misnaming him ‘Jesus’ after the Founder of Christianity. 

It’s simply a ploy or taqqiya (deception) to undermine the real Jesus. 

empty_tomb11However Christians don’t need to mind. It is Easter-time once again; Jesus is Jesus; and in Christ we are free to celebrate his life-giving resurrection from the dead.

 

However the Newham Recorder didn’t publish it!

It’s not the first time the paper has failed to publish my work. A few years ago I wanted to place a campaign advert against the proposed London Olympic mega-mosque at West Ham near my home. At the last moment they pulled the ad because they feared violence.

This time they say that they couldn’t find a Muslim writer to answer my points.

So it’s published here on my blog instead.

Would any Muslim like to respond to the piece and justify Islam’s ‘Jesus’? Avoid vulgarity and personal abuse and I will publish your comments unedited in the appropriate place below.

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…

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.

“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