It is an untruth universally acknowledged amongst western liberal academics like South Asia specialist Professor Barbara Metcalf that Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), the subcontinent-based but global Islamist group behind the West Ham mega-mosque project, doesn’t do politics. ‘A-political’, ‘detached’ and ‘quietist’ is how she describes them, and she also likes to equate them with the inoffensive and commendable self-help group Alcoholics Anonymous (here).
Duh! Is such blindness and blandness wilful? It is certainly influential. So the question must be asked: What is Ms Metcalf”s agenda? Or, worse, who funds her professorial chair and skews her analysis?
Mind you, I have to concede that TJ’s statement about the 300-strong protest outside Newham Town Hall two weeks ago (here) by the recently-formed Newham People’s Alliance (NPA) seems – on the surface – to support Professor Metcalf’s thesis.
NPA, which calls itself a non-partisan multi-faith, multi-party pressure group, held the demo to protest against Newham Council’s current High Court action to remove TJ from their West Ham site (here). This action has been parallel to but separate from the Council’s recent rejection of TJ’s planning application for a 9,500 capacity mega-mosque on the site (here).
NPA is not as diverse and inclusive as it claims. It is overwhelmingly Muslim in membership, holds its meetings inside mosques, distributes its leaflets outside mosques and uses Islamic words like mashwera in its notices (here). Significantly it also has links with the inimitable George Galloway MP (here) who, attired entirely in black, graced Newham with his presence after Christmas and, in a master-stroke of opportunism, relaunched the Newham branch of his Respect party on the back of Muslim anger over the rejection of the mega-mosque planning application (here).
(Just this week Galloway and NPA came together at a meeting to launch what they call a ‘Newham Spring’ revolution to sweep Sir Robin Wales, Newham’s autocratic Labour mayor, from power like a Tunisian or Egyptian president (here). Of course in fact Galloway and his friends could only trigger a Newham Winter and dump us out of the Labour frying pan into the combustible fire-ice of east London Muslim politics. But at the launch event hundreds turned up to hear him speak (here). Watch this space.)
So NPA held the Town Hall demo in support of the mega-mosque – but the mega-mosque trustees objected to it strongly. They issued a public statement condemning NPA for calling the protest and for using the mega-mosque rejection for political benefit. “This is a planning issue which these people are trying to hijack for their political gain,” complained the trustees. In other words, “TJ are peaceful. We do mosque planning not street politics.” Professor Metcalf would applaud.
But their statement was itself merely a political PR manoeuvre designed to persuade Newham Council that they want to work cooperatively in order to submit a revised planning application as soon as possible and convince them that political pressure through street demos is not the TJ way. This of course is nonsense:
The Council planning committee met to review the original planning application just over two months ago. A week before the meeting, controversial cleric Sheikh Haitham al- Haddad (here) issued a call on behalf of “the brothers who are in charge of the markaz” (the TJ trustees) for 15,000 supporters to demonstrate outside the town hall on 5th December in order to put pressure on the committee members meeting inside (here). In the event 3,000 turned up, and when I approached the demonstrators – who were peaceful and friendly – I was formally introduced to TJ trustees who were there approving and participating.
TJ uses various techniques to pressurise and persuade. Last October when our campaign against the mega-mosque planning application was gaining traction and likely to be successful (here) I received an email from a Dr Sohail Hameed, Chairman of Hainault & Chigwell Muslim Association, threatening me with legal action because I was “spreading violence and stirring racism” and “hurting feelings of billions of Muslims living worldwide”. He wrote, “I like to give you formal NOTICE to stop negative and baseless without any evidence propaganda against Muslims and Islam and Holy Quran. It is illegal because you are spreading racism.”
I emailed Dr Hameed that I was not spreading racism, that I stand firmly against any form of racism, and that I would be happy to meet with him to discuss his allegations.
In reply he dropped his claims of racism to accuse me instead of illegal “spreading religious hatred”. He refused to meet because he was “very busy with our planning application”. He said he would see me in court…
TJ uses other methods too including electioneering. In April 2010 when I was campaigning for re-election as a Newham councillor and also campaigning hard against the mega-mosque, a local Pakistani Muslim convert to Christianity I know received a knock on the door. He immediately recognised his visitors as TJ followers and they, thinking he was Muslim, gave him an election flyer. Entitled “Alan Craig is an enemy of Islam”, the flyer quoted dramatically out of context some “very untrue, bad and offensive things” I have written about Islam’s Prophet on this blog (here). The flyer urged electors to vote Labour “as they have the best chance of getting rid of Alan Craig as Councillor”.
No doubt the flyer persuaded some of my Muslim supporters against me and reduced my total votes. But thankfully it didn’t decide the election outcome which was driven by other factors.
Also, in November 2007, just over a year after our campaign against the mega-mosque started, a TJ supporter called Muhammad Abdullah, whose YouTube channel was linked publicly to the mega-mosque’s website, posted a video entitled ‘In Memory of Councillor Alan Craig’. This featured not only myself but my wife and two young daughters. Police arrested Abdullah, YouTube took down the video, and the incident received headlines in the press (here). I said it was either a sick joke or worse (here). Some reckoned it was definitely the latter (here). Either way, it was hostile and threatening. TJ was forced by the outcry to terminate the link and disassociate itself from the video.
So when Professor Metcalf claims that TJ is non-political, quietist and comparable to Alcoholics Anonymous, she is away with the fairies and maligning an admirable organisation that supports compulsive drinkers. It has to be asked again: What is Ms Metcalf’s agenda? Who funds her work?