The Water Lily Centre in Mile End Road has a long (and literally divided) history in Tower Hamlets. Completed in 1927, it was the Wickhams department store until the late 1960s. Architecturally, it was famous for the little house that splits the site (the developers had to build around the house after a family refused to move out).
Last year, after decades of neglect, the site re-opened as the Water Lily Centre. It is owned by Water Lily Properties Ltd, which is owned by a group of 14 businessmen who chose the national flower of Bangladesh, representing peace and love, for their company name.
Sadly, the centre is now becoming a magnet for hate.
Last November, Anjem Choudary tried to stage an event there, but his luck ran out when his cover was blown. I wrote about it here. At the time, the Water Lily told me extremists weren’t welcome.
However, Tower Hamlets seems to be the borough of choice for extremists, with the Water Lily emerging as one of their favourite venues. On May 13, Hizb ut-Tahrir booked an event there. You can see how the Water Lily logo has been covered up in the top left of this photo.
There are more pictures to view on HT’s website here.
HT is an Islamist party that campaigns for the return of the Caliphate. It is banned in a number of countries for its links to terrorism. Indeed, when in Opposition, David Cameron called for HT to be banned in Britain, although no action has since been taken.
If you look carefully on HT’s website, you’ll see an advert for another event next month.
He said he was not aware it was in fact HT, but in any case, he would still allow next month’s event to go ahead. He said he and his staff always ask such groups for a list of speakers.
They then check those names with the police to see if they are known terrorists or on a warning list. If the police give the all clear, the Water Lily will let the booking go ahead.
These decisions are taken regardless of the personal views of any particular director, this director said. Business is business, was the thrust of his argument – and who was he, he said, to make a judgement on what might be said at an event on his property?
Well, this particular director is Syed Faruk. He’s a former teacher in Tower Hamlets and he’s also the general secretary of the UK arm of the Awami League, the political party which currently governs Bangladesh.
That is, he’s a senior figure in that party. So what’s that party’s view of HT? Well, it banned HT in Bangladesh in October 2009 over suspected links to terrorism.
In fact, whenever senior Awami League members are themselves hosted at the Water Lily, for example Bangladesh’s Home Minister Sahara Khatun earlier this month, Hizb ut-Tahrir staged their own demonstrations outside.
So, while Mr Faruk’s party bans them in Bangladesh, he’s happy to take their money and help them promote their work here in the UK. What consistency…
Mr Faruk, who is now concerned about the exposure of these links, also confirmed that Tesco is one of his tenants in the Water Lily – there’s a Tesco Express on its ground floor – and that he also takes business bookings from Tower Hamlets council.
Remember how the Troxy in Limehouse decided to cancel bookings to extremist speakers when the council threatened to withdraw its own business? I wonder if the same will happen here. After all, the council has already made plain its view of Hizb ut-Tahrir. In 2008, under Denise Jones’s leadership, it withheld some Preventing Violent Extremism money from the Cordoba Foundation after I and Tory Councillor Tim Archer revealed it was being used to give a platform to Hizb speakers.
Has the Water Lily signed up to the No Place for Hate campaign? Will the council continue to spend our money there?
ps The Water Lily accepted another booking last Thursday for a group called ‘Bangladeshi Muslims in the UK’. More than 500 attended. I understand it was a collection of groups, including Jamaat e Islami figures.