It’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”.
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.
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.
In 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…