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Why won't the police act against anti-gay thuggery in Tower Hamlets?

by Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2011-03-04 at 10.52.00 Anna Farquhar is the Chairman of Wiltshire Involvement Network (WIN).  At a meeting of the organisation, she referred to gossip about NHS changes spreading within the Health Service, saying "You ­cannot help the jungle drums".  Sonia Carr, a member of Wiltshire Race Equality Council was present.  She complained, Mrs Farquhar apologised, but Mrs Carr remained unsatistfied.  She complained to Conservative-run Wiltshire Council, which launched a investigation.  After producing a ten-page report, the council barred all members of WIN from council premises and meetings.  It also withdrew funding to cover the group’s administration costs.

Imagine what would have happened if Mrs Farquhar, a respected former chief executive of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and St John Ambulance in the Devizes area, had done something which really would cause offence - such as turn up at a council meeting, and yell "Poofter" at any councillor who happens to be gay.  Mrs Carr would surely have had a fit of the vapours. Mrs Farquhar would certainly have been despatched for training on equality and diversity issues, and any funding WIN gets from the council would have been cut off altogether.  The police would probably have been called in.

Let's now shift our scene from rural Wiltshire to Tower Hamlets.

Anna Lynch is a Labour councillor.  At a recent Council meeting, she complained to the Chairman that someone in the public gallery had shouted "poofter" when Peter Golds, the openly gay leader of the Conservative group on the council, was speaking.  Here's part of the rest of an account of what happened from Labour List -

"Some people had already been evicted from the meeting for disruption by the chair of council, Motin Uz-Zaman. Motin tried to evict the person who had made this comment. An adjournment was called. Anna and Motin were both then threatened by members of the public in the gallery, with shouts that they would “get them”. Some of those involved in the fracas were amongst the Independent Mayor’s most prominent supporters. When the members of the public in question refused to leave Motin cleared the whole public gallery and we continued with our meeting with only the press, councillors and council officers present.

Councillors were told by police that the police would not act without the authorisation of the chief legal officer. If the police had got involved the people who had been homophobic and made threats could have been thrown out, leaving the rest of the public present. We will do more to find out why authorisation for police action was not given.

In the debate that followed, the Independent Mayor said absolutely nothing. When an anti-cuts campaigner interrupted his speech earlier in the meeting he was furious, and demanded she be expelled. When homophobia was reported and the meeting was thrown into chaos and aggression, some on his side, including one of his cabinet members, questioned and denied the existence of homophobia in the room. He said nothing at all."

Over-reaction to a solitary heckle?  An incident blown out of all proportion?  More Labour spin?

Not so.  The Independent Mayor in question is Lutfur Rahman.  There's a mass of writing on the net about his involvement with the Islamic Forum of Europe, one of Britain's leading Islamist organisations: here's a link to our own account of his election.  Gold says that "the language and behaviour at the last council meetings, and indeed at that held in February would simply not be permitted in any football ground in the country."

He adds that "the hatred and abuse directed at certain councillors is incitement and were it heard in a football ground then those doing it would be removed and almost certainly prosecuted", and cites another councillor being heckled with cries of “unnatural behaviour” in response to a question placed by one of Rahman's supporters.

Golds says that Lynch was intimidated to the extent of having to be accompanied to the lavatory by another councillor.  Tim Archer, another Conservative councillor and the former Tory candidate for Poplar and Limehouse, asked Rahman to do something, to which he replied: “You call the police”.  According to Golds, "I asked the Mayor to deal with one of his principal backers, and he grinned".
Perhaps the most worrying feature of all this is the intimidation of staff.  Golds says that he saw Haque squaring up to a senior council officer, and heard the former bawl “I will get you, you bastard” to the Chairman of Council.  This bullying atmosphere appears to having an effect on the work of council officers, one of whom has protested to Golds that "I have never heard of the IFE". 
Golds claims that the campaign of intimidation is deliberate - that text messages are sent by Rahman's supporters before council meetings urging people to turn up by 5.30 “to support Mayor Rahman” by filling the public gallery.  He says that before the February meeting the Mayor's backers were met by one of the Mayor's supporters, and spirited into the town hall to await the council meeting.
The cry of "Poofter", then, wasn't a single, isolated heckle.  But perhaps this vile behaviour is confined to Tower Hamlets council meetings, and has no wider reverberations in the East End?

 Again, not so.  During recent weeks, posters have appeared in Spitalfields and Whitechapel proclaiming a "gay-free zone" and quoting a verse from the Koran (out of context, needless to say).  Ted Jeory points out that "according to figures from the Met Police, a homophobic crime is committed in Tower Hamlets at the rate of more than five a month. I suspect the true level is much higher".

I'm not well informed about the gay scene in Tower Hamlets, although Jeory, who knows the area very well, writes: "the area around Spitalfields and the Shoreditch boundary is home to a growing and vibrant gay scene, but there is also a dark side".  A friend of mine from the area stresses the latter element, saying that several gay pubs have quietly closed in the East End fairly recently.

Jeory writes that "the gay community around Brick Lane frequently worry about being abused or attacked. Some of that abuse comes from idiots handing out leaflets outside the Whitechapel Idea Store or the East London Mosque (the mosque itself condemns such actions)".  However, as Andrew Gilligan has pointed out, that discredited institution doesn't have clean hands on the matter.

Very well, then: anti-gay thuggery and violence does have wider reverberations in the East End. But perhaps this strong anti-gay sentiment is confined to part of London?

Once again, not so.  A gay pride parade has been picketed in Nottingham - see different accounts here and  here.  Two men have been charged after handing out leafelts outside a mosque in Derby saying that gay people should be executed.

Three points arise from all this -

  • There's a coming culture clash between gay freedoms and Islamist thuggery in parts of our cities.  This has been apparent for some time, but the response from the gay press had been decidedly muted  Johann Hari has now spoken out.  Many Conservatives will have serious reservations, as I do, about abstract doctrines of "rights".  None the less, people ought to be free to as they please under the law, and that the kind of intimidation and bullying taking place in Tower Hamlets must be fought and beaten.  On that matter, Hari - not someone I usually agree with - is right.
  • Decent people are investigated, and sometimes punished, while Islamist thugs get off scot-free - Mrs Farquhar being a good example of the former.
  • The police should act in Tower Hamlets.  As Golds says about recent events at council meetings, "any one of these incidents would normally warrant arrest". 


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