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Archive for September, 2010

Abjol Miah’s statement on the East London Advertiser website contains the following paragraph:

Amongst the charges against Lutfur is that he met with the Imam of the Grand Mosque at Makah. I would have thought this was something that Lutfur should be praised for as the Imam is a respected religious figure.

The “charges” refer to the allegations made by Labour’s Helal Abbas in his crucial deposition to the party’s National Executive Committee. I have a copy of his dossier. It is nine pages long and contains 56 numbered paragraphs. I’m unable to repeat much of it for legal reasons, but under a section entitled ‘Lutfur Rahman as leader of the council’, paragraph 11 states:

The Imam of Mecca was invited to come to Tower Hamlets for a prayer which is very unusual. None of the leaders of any other faith was invited. The visit was unannounced and was done in secret until the last moment when there were photographs in The Times. This caused a great deal of suspicion. In the Brick Lane area funding was switched from a secular heritage trail to a most controversial Hijab sculpture.

The meeting with the imam happened in my last week at the East London Advertiser in October 2008. I’d received a tip that the meeting was taking place and sent our photographer, Carmen Valino, and a reporter, Aman Pattar, to seek an interview.

A redesign of the ELA’s website means that much of its previous content has been lost, but the cached version of the original story is still available here and I’ve pasted it below:

Mecca’s First Imam in secret talks with East London council leaders

27 October 2008
By Aman Pattar

THE First Imam of Mecca was in London’s East End today (Monday) to meet local council leaders for a “private meeting” at Tower Hamlets and conduct prayers for Town Hall staff.

Later, thousands of Muslim worshippers heard Sheikh Adil Al-Kalbani speak after evening prayers at the huge East London mosque.

The sheikh arrived at the council’s Anchorage House HQ in Blackwall at lunchtime and led the prayers before emerging in his white robe with gold lining, accompanied by council leaderLutfur Rahman and others to walk the few yards to the Town Hall next door for the meeting behind closed doors.

His entourage rushed him into the building past a waiting photographer—despite the sheikh indicating he was willing to meet the local press.

The Town Hall remained tight lipped about the meeting and would not disclose what was being discussed.

Council public relations bosses refused to say anything about the talks or the reason for the sheikh’s visit to Tower Hamlets—except that it was “a private meeting.”

Tonight, Sheikh Al-Kalbani arrived at the East London Mosque in Whitechapel, which is planning an expansion programme, to led the evening prayers before addressing the congregation estimated at around 4,000.

Al-Kalbani was in London as guest speaker at Sunday’s Global Peace and Unity event, the largest Muslim conference of its kind in Europe, which was held at the Excel centre in Canning Town.

That meeting, as Cllr Abbas implies in his statement, did cause a great deal of controversy. So when I interviewed Lutfur in March 2009 (at around the same time as my interview with IFE president Habibur Rahman), I asked him about it. Here’s the transcript of that part of our conversation:

TJ: The meeting with Sheikh al-Kalbani at the town hall last year (2008)…what was that about?

LR: You’ve got the Pope who leads the Catholic religion. As a Muslim you are obliged to go to a pilgrimage once in a lifetime. As a Muslim, you respect religious scholars. The sheikh is the second Imam of Kabbah, the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia. By co-incidence in the morning, I get a phone call saying, “Look, he’s there he wants to meet a Muslim leader in the country, will you be willing to meet him?”

I said it’s a pleasure. [Cllr] Marc [Francis, Lutfur's then chief adviser] saw him, other members saw him. He came in, my door was open and do you know what he said? He came and led the prayer. He said: ‘Look, I’m very grateful.’

It was purely a social visit. I didn’t even know it until the morning he came. As I said, my door was open, my secretary could hear what was going on and he said, ‘Look, I’m very pleased that you’re there, please lead by example and make sure you treat everyone well so there’s no misunderstanding that you have been unfair to anyone. Every single community is equal to you.’

So that’s all he said and he said goodbye and he went, that was it. He’s a very pious man.

TJ: What I don’t understand about that is that when we asked about it at the time, you didn’t say that. You, well not you, but your press office, said this was none of our business.

LR: No what it was. I’ll be honest with you. It was just the way it happened. He led the midday prayers in Anchorage House and all the staff were invited. Whilst they were walking from Anchorage House back to Mulberry Place [the town hall] you had a Sikh guy [ELA reporter Aman Pattar] and a photographer just clicking away. I found that insulting. This is one of the most pious men in the Muslim world. We were really grateful and they’re not involved in politics, it’s their duty to lead prayers and recite the Koran and that’s their duty and that’s it. To be clicking away was just insulting. There were no secrets. There was no secret agenda.

TJ: Was there any discussion about any funding at all [for the East London Mosque]…?

LR: No, nothing at all. I swear on God, nothing at all. Nothing at all. All he did, he led the prayer and he gave blessings and he had a cup of tea and he gave his blessings and all he said was – I remember it very well – ‘Please lead by example. Be a good example to the whole community. Give respect to other Muslims and non-Muslims. He said, ‘Be Grateful that people have given you this opportunity.’

Some six months after Lutfur had that chance cup of tea, Sheikh al-Kalbani was reported by this website as having had a conversation with someone from the BBC.

Asked about his position on freedom of worship in the kingdom, Sheikh Kalbani said that “religious freedom has its limits,” before returning the ball to his BBC interviewer.

“Will the Vatican allow the construction of mosques on its territory?

“In any case, the Kingdom is the Qibla of Muslims (to whom they turn for prayer). So, not a single church bell will ring in the Saudi territory!

“We only apply this commandment of the Prophet: ‘Expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula,” he stressed.

“But their expulsion is up to the rulers and their stay (in the Saudi territory) is dependent on the extreme need of the country for their services,” he noted.

Hardly the stuff of the One Tower Hamlets community cohesion brand coined by Lutfur and his officials a couple of years ago.

The meeting with the imam continues to cause controversy.  As a result of raising it again, Abbas is now receiving bucket loads of abuse, both in some of the Bengal newspapers in Tower Hamlets and also on some of the dubious satellite TV stations (more on them another time). They are saying he is anti-Muslim.

That seems a bit strange, to say the least.

For legal reasons, I am not allowing comments on this thread.

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Triangulation, Respect-style

The East London Advertiser has published a statement from Abjol Miah, the former leader of the Respect group on Tower Hamlets council and a member of its ruling council. Although it’s aimed primarily at the Tower Hamlets scene, there is an interesting undertone to it. In fact, it was probably written by Rob Hoveman, who is one of George Galloway’s closest advisers and is, to coin a phrase, as cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University.

In the article, Rob – er, sorry, I mean Abjol – tries to align Lutfur Rahman, and to a degree, Respect, with Ed Miliband. Given the controversy surrounding Lutfur’s links and friends, that’s something I don’t think the new Labour leader would agree with.

Here’s an excerpt:

As for Helal Abbas, he has never admitted that some of Labour’s policies in the past which he carried out were very damaging to people in Tower Hamlets. Helal Abbas is the “old generation” whereas Ed Miliband and Lutfur Rahman are the “new generation”.

This is very important. I have my disagreements with Ed Miliband and the jury is out on how good a leader he may ultimately be. But there were important things in his maiden speech, as leader, to the Labour Party conference that most people can agree with.

I’m not even sure Lutfur himself would agree. Rob and Abjol don’t seem to have done their homework: according to David Miliband’s campaign website, Lutfur backed the elder brother for the Labour leadership.

His name appears at number 23, one below Helal Abbas and one above Ohid Ahmed. What a confused bunch they all are.

(There’s more in the ELA article that I’ll write about in another post.)

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Dave Hill has an interesting interview on his Guardian blog with the Tory candidate for Tower Hamlets mayor, Neil King, and his agent, Cllr Peter Golds, the leader of the Conservative group at the town hall. It’s well worth a read, here.

Pay particular attention to the passages near the end in which Cllr Golds suggests he was the victim of dirty tricks at last May’s council elections. Peter, who is openly gay and Jewish, wrote to me about this last week after I exposed anti-Semitic sentiments among some in the Tower Hamlets political scene.

Here’s what he said in his email to me:

In May 2010 I polled 900 votes fewer than my fellow councillor. Tim Archer was above me on the ballot and was also parliamentary candidate, but 900 votes??

All day polling stations were mobbed by supporters of certain Labour candidates. Commonwealth election officials who were present at Polling District BCT 1, Poplar High High Street, were horrified at the intimidation and blatant electioneering by 30 plus supporters of Yes for Mayor and Labour. All of these were Bengali.

Bengali voters were stopped when entering the polling station and in no uncertain terms were reminded of the Jewish origin of my name and in many cases shown a copy of the electoral register where it could be seen that I share a home with another male.

I repeatedly complained to poll staff, the town hall and police. This behaviour continued from 7am until almost 10pm.

Peter named an individual but I am not naming him for legal reasons.

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All the candidates for Tower Hamlets mayor are being invited to write a piece for this blog about why they want the job.

So far, Neil King of the Conservatives has contributed here, as has the Liberal Democrats’ John Griffiths, here.

Next up is Cllr Helal Abbas, the current council leader, the Labour candidate and the favourite to win. Abbas had finished his first stint as council leader by the time I joined the East London Advertiser in September 2005. Over the next three years or so, although he remained largely in the background, he was still the centre of much attention because he was a magnet for faction fights.

It was always said that his great enemy was Michael Keith, the man who replaced him as leader. When Michael lost his seat in 2006, his great friend Denise Jones grabbed the reins.

They were heady days back then; and Abbas and his own good Lutfur Rahman spent their time plotting Denise’s downfall. However, the friendship was ripped apart in 2007 when both men tried to become the party’s parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow, a quest in which they both failed after failing to beat Rushanara Ali.

Lutfur then became council leader, alliances changed…and now we are where we are.

While up in Manchester for the Labour party conference to some of the (non-Tower Hamlets) people who were involved in the mayoral selection process. The Guardian’s Dave Hill has done the same – see here. What we were both separately told – possibly by the same people, I don’t know – was that the major concern over Lutfur was his actual ability to do the job. The appointment of Lutfur Ali as assistant chief executive and the sacking of Martin Smith as chief executive raised serious concerns in senior circles.

Similar doubts have been expressed to me by council officers, who also say they have been impressed with the way Abbas has been running things since May.

Here’s Abbas’s article.

Social Cohesion

Tower Hamlets is a borough with a rich cultural history.

We have traditionally been a place for new arrivals to the country, with our heritage shaped by Jewish and Huguenot settlers and, more recently, the large Bangladeshi community and arrivals from China and Somalia.

We are a borough where children in our schools speak over 90 community languages in an area just eight miles wide.

And yet this diversity doesn’t divide us.

Our latest Annual Residents’ Survey reflects that our communities recognise the value of unified, strong communities.

Seventy-five per cent of residents said the borough was somewhere where people from different backgrounds get on well together, up from 69 per cent in the previous year.

This is partly because we’ve taken a stand together in the face of adversity.

After the London bombings our community leaders were quick to jointly renounce the violent actions of a mindless few. This clear message, led by our active Interfaith Forum, reflected a borough resilient to messages of extremism and hate.

This has remained a powerful tool for our communities. Earlier this year we made a robust stand against the use of a local building for a debate organised by a group with extremist links.

Our community cohesion is also achieved by working together.

As a council we work with our partners to promote One Tower Hamlets; a place where we work together to reduce inequalities and ensure our communities continue to live well together.

Our main partners in achieving this are local people – and we all have a part to play.

We’re developing the idea of a powerful public – where individuals and communities are empowered to do more for their local area and to shape their own communities.

We know this can work. Our hugely successful You Decide! scheme, has seen local people choose how to spend millions of pounds in ways which are of direct benefit to very local communities.

This has engendered a sense of pride of place – an ownership at a local level which in turn feeds our pride in our borough as a whole.

We’ve been through some financially turbulent times, and more tough times ahead – but together we’re stronger.

Together we can lobby the Government to demand a fair deal for local people, just like we’re lobbying the Olympic organisers to return the marathon to our borough.

Together we’re proud of our diverse history – proud of what we’ve achieved in the face of those who would seek to divide us.

But there is always more to be done.

We’ll be leading the way as a council by tackling the underlying key issues of worklessness and lack of affordable housing.

And we’ll be working with local people, encouraging more businesses to sign our No Place Hate pledge and asking everyone to help shape their Tower Hamlets into a borough we can all be proud of.

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A suggestion for sanctuary

I’ve had a lovely suggestion from the wonderful, Liverpool-supporting Emdad Rahman, whose blog here is a fine sanctuary from the poisonous snake pit of Tower Hamlets politics.

He says to me: “On a lighthearted note you can suggest all warring political factions and representatives to visit the East London Sukkah – an organic dwelling growing out of the Jewish celebration of the harvest. I’ve been down two days in a row and it’s a wonderful project based in Spitalfields city farm. The atmosphere is relaxed, and the company is genial and very friendly. It’s given me food for thought.”

And here’s Emdad’s take on it from his own blog:

The East London Sukkah

The sukkah is a temporary, organic and transient dwelling growing out of Jewish tradition to celebrate the harvest. It has been built across faiths and cultures that have come together under its shelter to share meals, talks, performances and dialogues on food, faith and community.

Over the weekend the organisers have assembled speakers, artists, religious teachers (of many faiths), activists, radicals and mischief makers to explore how these issues might look in a post-capitalist world.

This is the creation of a temporary and ephemeral society to imagine and dream of alternative ways of living.

From 20-29 September 2010, you can visit the Sukkah at:

Spitalfields City Farm
Buxton Street
London
E1 5AR

It ends on Friday.

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The magic of Lutfur Ali

Well, well….someone’s feeling sensitive aren’t they?

Within an hour of me posting Lutfur Ali’s appearance in Lutfur Rahman’s campaign video this morning, it was removed from YouTube. Fortunately, the Harry’s Place blog had taken a screen grab of Ali’s second of fame, as well as saving a copy of the original, which they then re-posted towards the end of the text here.

This evening, another version of the video has appeared on YouTube here and below.

The two versions are identical, except for one particular scene: guess who’s gone missing….

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Lutfur Ali back – video

An interesting campaign video called Lutfur for Mayor has just appeared on YouTube, showing Lutfur Rahman addressing a campaign meeting last week.

Appearing with him are a number of (Labour) councillors including Ohid Ahmed, Alibor Choudhury, Oli Rahman and Rabina Khan.

The most fascinating clip, however, is at 45 seconds in when Lutfur Ali appears.

He’s the former assistant chief executive of the council who was forced to resign in the wake of Andrew Gilligan’s Dispatches documentary in March.

There had been rumours he was back on the scene and angling for a paid fob working for a Mayor Lutfur. Those suspicions have just grown stronger.

Here’s the video. More later

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