Archive for August 10th, 2014

Sometimes you just have to despair.

I was told this morning the black shahada flag that was taken down from the gates to the Will Crooks estate in Poplar on Friday morning is now back up.

I’m told this followed an angry estate meeting on Friday when wiser heads warned that re-erecting it would be provocative and bound to cause trouble.

I’m told ex-Respect councillor Dulal Uddin, who appeared on a strange Newsnight account of the affair on Friday (when there was no mention of the anti-Semitic abuse directed at me and Guardian journalists the previous evening), was the key agitator behind its return.

Dulal was one of the more unremarkable councillors during his stint from 2006-2010, but I’m told he’s desperate to get back into the council. There are some who believe he’s using this row for his own ends.

I understand that Sister Christine Frost, the community activist who asked for the flag to be taken down, is furious her actions were reported as “Christian nun tears down flag”; her actions were not faith-related but potential trouble related. I understand she disagrees with it being back up. I understand she’s concerned the issue is being exploited by politically motivated adults who don’t even live on the estate.

Whatever the motives, this is a stupid and dangerous move.

I understand that Chief Inspector Gary Anderson, of Tower Hamlets police, was present at Friday’s estate meeting. That meeting ended with a unanimous resolution to:

  • re-erect the Shahada, but with explanations in English below for ‘non-Muslims’. It would say it’s a flag that affirms the Islamic faith.
  • that all meet for five minutes to pray for peace in silence (all faiths and none)
  • they do some “conflict resolution” work with young people
  • to meet again on Monday

Some quick thoughts (I have a lunch date I need to make).

1. If they want a flag, why not settle for the Palestinian flag? Flying an Islamic flag (that experts say on a black background has jihadist overtones) sends the message this is a religious conflict.

2. This is a Tower Hamlets Homes estate. It is publicly owned. The council has ultimate control and ownership. Why is THH allowing political/religious flags to be flown from public property where people of all faiths and none live? How does that square with inclusiveness?

3. Mayor Lutfur Rahman asked for the flag to be taken down on Thursday night. Surely, he’ll have to follow that through.

4. I’ve not heard one apology from any of the leaders of the Will Crooks estate for the anti-Semitism. It’s not even mentioned in a statement I know they’ve distributed to people.

Fail all around.

More later..

UPDATE, 6pm, August 10 – Flag removed again (after police called)

The agreement of Friday’s estate meeting was, according to someone there, to re-erect the flag somewhere in the estate so long as it was accompanied by a translation of the shahada. That meeting agreed to meet again tomorrow to decide when and where it would go up.

However, last night someone broke that agreement. Key figures on the estate believe Dulal Uddin and others were agitating for it to go up again before tomorrow’s meeting.

I’m told that Sister Christine Frost rang the police this morning to tell them the flag was back up. That’s why, as Cllr Andrew Wood reported in the comments section of this blog, Ch Insp Anderson was there today.

In fact it was Ch Insp Anderson who supervised the removal of the flag again this afternoon.

Sister Christine has asked Lutfur to ensure that no religious flags are allowed in public places such as that estate. She wants to foster inclusiveness there.

Before the flag was removed again, Poplar and Limehouse MP Jim Fitzpatrick issued this statement:

“If the black flag is indeed a religious symbol and not a jihadist one, it should be displayed in a religious building and not on public property. The Mayor should instruct his officers to remove it as he did on Friday.”

In the meantime, and before Lutfur was aware of Jim’s intervention, the mayor had ordered it again to be removed. He has also asked the council’s youth service to conduct some “serious engagement” work on the estate to ensure the youth (and probably some adults) fully understand the issues.

I’m also told the estate caretakers have been told to look out for flags on their morning rounds, and remove any that have been hoisted again.


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