At Large

Mega Mosque Blues

Are Londoners right to be anxious about plans to build a ginormous mosque in their midst?

By 7.25.07

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A brief item from Sunday's Washington Post:

Italian police arrested three Moroccans on Saturday -- an imam and two aides -- accusing them of belonging to a militant cell that allegedly used a mosque in central Italy as a terror training camp.

Who is not familiar with similar stories, where this or that European mosque, staffed by Saudi and Pakistani imams, has served as a boot camp for terrorists? Competing with the latest al Qaeda video are documentaries like "Undercover Mosque" which show how, outside their places of worship, mullahs and other anointed ones insist they are regular folks who just want to get along, while inside they preach jihad, praise the Taliban, and condemn democracy, integration, and equal rights.

No wonder Londoners are anxious about plans to build a colossal 75 million pound mosque in "the heart of British society." The East London mosque will be located next to the planned Olympic stadium and that alone has raised security concerns. Local Tory councilor Alan Craig told the Daily Express: "It will be a horrendous security nightmare if they are allowed to build this large mosque so close to the (2012) Olympics." Besides security concerns, there is the obvious symbolic dimension. The London Markaz will be the largest place of worship in Britain, if not Europe, dwarfing Christopher Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Funded by Saudi oil money, the mosque will certainly be seen as proof of Islam's increasing presence and influence in Europe. Not surprisingly, the proposal has the backing of London's far-left mayor Ken Livingston, who has repeatedly denounced what he called the "vicious" campaign of misinformation against the mosque.

The proposed mosque has caused a furor in Britain with Muslims and the Left on one side and groups like the Christian People's Alliance on the other. When more than 280,000 people petitioned the government to abolish plans for the mosque, they were immediately denounced as Islamophobic and intolerant.* One of those quick to condemned the petitioners was the noted Muslim apologist and former Catholic nun Karen Armstrong. "When 255,000 members of the so-called 'Christian community' signed a petition to prevent the building of a large mosque...they sent a grim message to the Muslim world: western freedom of worship did not, apparently, apply to Islam," Ms. Armstrong wrote in the Guardian.

Never mind that there are now some 300 mosques and 500 madrassas in London, as opposed to zero churches and zero synagogues in Saudi Arabia. According to Ms. Armstrong, it is Londoners who are intolerant.

Indeed, there are now large sections of London and Paris that are off-limits to non-Muslims, neighborhoods and suburbs where even the police dare not go. Recently Britain's Home Secretary John Reid was verbally attacked for having the temerity to visit a Muslim area. The outgoing Home Secretary's weak response was to say, "There was nowhere in this country from which anyone should be excluded, nowhere that could be called exclusively Muslim."

LONDONERS ARE CERTAINLY right to be suspicious. The group behind the proposed mega mosque is one Tablighi Jamaat, a shadowy organization formed in the 1920s in India that French intelligence calls the "ante-chamber of Islamic fundamentalism," and a "gateway to extremism." Among its distinguished alumni are Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and two of the London 7/7 subway bombers. Two of the recent London-Glasgow Airport bombers were also members, according to the Independent.

Londoners do not object to the proposed mosque because they are anti-Muslim, rather because they fear it will spawn more extremists of the type responsible for last summer's plot to blow up several airliners over the Atlantic, that demand Sir Salman Rushdie's knighthood revoked, and that want to see Islamic law instituted in Britain (now about one-third of British Muslims). Britons read the daily papers and know that the group behind the proposed mosque has produced at least five British terrorists. And yet anyone who expresses doubt about the real intentions of this group is immediately pegged an Islamophobe. Despite what the name suggests, Islamophobia has come to mean not the irrational fear of Muslims, but the hatred of all Islamic peoples. Indeed, simply expressing doubts about the compatibility of Islam and liberal democracy gets one labeled an Islamophobe.

The charge of Islamophobia is often enough to silence the opposition. But Londoners must be allowed a civil debate as regards the limits of tolerance when confronted with an intolerant and potentially dangerous ideology. And -- need it be said? -- such a debate must extend beyond mere name-calling.

*The petition, located at the British prime minister's official website, begins, "We the Christian population of this great country England," which fails to take into the account the fact that England is a largely secular nation. Worse is the petition's conclusion: "This [the mosque] will only cause terrible violence and suffering and more money should go into the [National Health Service]." How the mosque will cause terrible violence and suffering is not spelled out. Further, the petitioners mistakenly seem to believe public money will be used in the mosque's construction.

Christopher Orlet writes the Existential Journalist blog.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.