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Hate preachers should not be defended

Centre for Social Cohesion Research Fellow Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens replies to Andrew Boff on City Hall's links with Islamic extremism.

Yesterday, Conservative Home published my report on our investigation into the Mayor of London’s links with Islamists.  We revealed that, despite pre election promises to move away from Ken Livingstone’s pro Islamist approach, there is still co operation between the Mayor’s office and leading UK Islamists.

Among other things, we highlighted how Boris Johnson’s support for the East London Mosque (ELM) contradicts the tough rhetoric of Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling, who at the party conference pledged to take a hard line on groups that broadcast videos of hate preachers.  On New Year’s Day, an event at the ELM called ‘The End of Time’ streamed a video sermon of pro al-Qaeda hate preacher Anwar al Awlaki.

As I sifted through the Conservative Home comments section, I saw a long defence of the Mayor’s office by London Assembly Member Andrew Boff.  Responding to our criticism of Boris’ support for the ELM, Andrew writes:

The Mosque hires out its facilities to all users regardless of faith, creed or colour. The event was organised by an external organisation which discussed the Islamic concepts on Judgement Day and the Afterlife. These concepts are also prevalent in other faiths including the Christian and Jewish faiths. None of the speakers that were involved with the event were banned from entering the UK or are convicted of any hate crimes.

Like the ELM’s defence at the time, which is copied almost word for word by Mr. Boff, this is not an adequate explanation.  First of all, the event had a very sinister tone, epitomised by its promotional poster, which depicted New York City in fiery ruins.  Furthermore, the London Assembly’s bar for acceptable speakers needs to be set a little higher than just anyone who has not been convicted of a hate crime. Awlaki has been identified by the US Department of Homeland Security as a ‘spiritual advisor’ for 3 of the 9/11 hijackers, and his sermons have been directly linked with the recruitment of American Muslims to the  al-Qaeda affiliated Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab.  Joining Awlaki at the ELM event was hardcore Wahhabi hate preacher Khalid Yasin, whose DVD sermons explain that the concept of women’s rights is a ‘delusion’ and that AIDS is a western conspiracy. 

Defending this event - as Boff does in his comment - on the basis that it ‘passed without anything controversial or extreme being said’, is quite simply not good enough.  Would he similarly defend and support an event addressed by a neo Nazi who just happened not to say anything at the actual event?

In the past, Mr. Boff has spoken out about prejudices against homosexuals, and I would like to ask him how he squares this with his support for the ELM, which hosts preachers with extreme homophobic views.  We are not talking simply about people opposed to civil partnerships here: Khalid Yasin advocates the death penalty for homosexuality; and his fellow Wahhabi preacher Bilal Phillips, whose last appearance at the ELM was in June, teaches that AIDS is a ‘divine retribution’ for the practice of homosexuality.

This debate is not about whether or not people like Awlaki, Yasin or Phillips should be allowed to address Muslims in the ELM – let them peddle extremists if they like. The problem arises when government institutions like the London Assembly and the Mayor’s office partner with, and therefore lend legitimacy to, people who promote views that are in stark contrast with the most basic values of our society.   One of the many reasons for the Livingstone administration’s downfall was their extensive partnerships with Islamists, the current Mayor’s office must learn from those mistakes.


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