At Large

Imam Livingstone, I Presume?

London's red mayor paves the way for an Islamic cantonment in the heart of the British capital.

By 9.22.06

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When the British ruled India they set up well-policed areas in major cities known as Cantonments. Originally temporary encampments, by the beginning of the 20th century they had become permanent garrison bases.

In the London Spectator British journalist Charles Moore remarked recently: "It would be a grim revenge for the Raj if an Islamic cantonment were permitted to set up in our capital."

The Islamic movement Tablighi Jamaat (proselytizing group) wants to build a mosque in East London for up to 10,000 people as part of an "Islamic Village" in time for the London Olympics of 2012, near the official Olympic stadium at West Ham. Tablighi Jamaat is secretive and publishes little about itself, but it is on the fundamentalist side of the Islamic spectrum and has links with Wahabism. It is based in Pakistan, where for a Muslim to convert to Christianity is a capital offense.

It is planned the Mosque and surrounding buildings will ultimately accommodate 70,000 visitors. What happens after the Olympics is another matter, but what seems on the cards is a permanent Muslim city in the heart of London -- which already has large Muslim areas and a complex of mosques in the Finsbury Park area.

Britain as a whole is already well-supplied with mosques. There were a few in the 19th and early 20th centuries. By the 1980s there were about 150 and by 1996 there were 613. Now there are well over a thousand, many of them converted Anglican churches. The Muslim website "British Muslim Heritage" says: "London probably has more mosques than any other city in the Western World, save Turkey ... the modern Muslim Londoner is spoilt for choice with regard to mosques." There are dozens in contiguous areas like Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney.

Tablight Jamaat's spokesmen have claimed it is a moderate organization. However, it has been accused by the FBI of being a recruiting ground for al Qaeda, and two of the London tube bombers, including the leader, Mohammed Sidque Khan, are believed to have attended mosques run by it. French intelligence is reported by Le Monde to have described it as an "antechamber of fundamentalism."

LONDON'S FAR-LEFT MAYOR KEN LIVINGSTONE says he is "very much in favor" of the scheme. It is fair to say that Livingstone's entire career has been concerned with culture-war against British institutions and identity. Even Tony Blair, whose record on these matters is pretty bad, was desperately against Livingstone gaining political power in London.

Livingstone's background is relevant here for other reasons as well. He has called Ariel Sharon a war criminal, told a BBC interviewer that it was "wrong to brand a British Muslim boy a terrorist if he got involved in Palestinian violence against Israel" and claimed that the "Jewish boys in Britain" had contributed to the "slaughter" of Palestinians. He was temporarily suspended from office for having taunted a Jewish journalist about Nazism.

When asked if there was a possibility he himself had Jewish blood, Livingstone replied: "I could be a self-hater, couldn't I?" -- which looks like a boast that he hates Jews. Where Rome's mayor Walter Veltroni (who began as a communist) led 10,000 Italians in a torchlight protest outside the Iranian Embassy in Rome after Iranian President Ahmadinejad called for the annihilation of Israel, Livingstone did nothing.

When Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yousuf Al-Qaradawi -- who has vilified Jews, claimed there are no civilians in Israel and reportedly said of the London tube bombings: "I consider this type of martyrdom operation as an evidence of God's justice" -- visited London, Livingstone (against the advice of moderate Muslim leaders) received him as a personal guest, stating: "Here is the force that we need to engage with if we are to actually get a dialogue." When the black chairman of the British Commission for racial equality, Trevor Phillips, said he was concerned about the failures of multiculturalism, Livingstone jeered that he expected Phillips soon to join the racist British National Party.

To round out one's picture of the man and what he wants for the future of Britain and its identity and culture, Livingstone has called for the removal of two statues of 19th century military heroes, Sir Henry Havelock and Sir Charles Napier, from Trafalgar Square, allegedly because no one knows who they are. (Napier should be known to feminists at least. In India he put an end to suttee. Told that burning widows was a "traditional custom," Napier responded: "We also have a custom: when men burn women alive, we hang them.") Livingstone has told schoolchildren that President George Bush is "everything repellent in politics...venal...corrupt" and expressed sympathy for the IRA.

Hence, Livingstone's support for the mosque-complex project may be seen as a significant to the culture-war against the fabric and structure of Britain's and the Anglosphere's traditions, values and history.

THE MOSQUE IS INTENDED TO BE A NEW "Islamic Landmark" in Britain. Comparable in size to Saint Paul's Cathedral, it will dominate a great area of the London skyline and be massively illuminated at night. One way of putting this in perspective is to ask what the chances are of establishing a cathedral or synagogue with accommodation around for 70,000 Christians or Jews in Saudi Arabia. The first major London mosque was built in 1944 with a grant from the British Government in return for an Anglican cathedral being built in Cairo, where there was then a British Army. Would that happen in any Muslim country now?

It matters much in one sense whether the builders of this new "cantonment" have extremist associations or not, though one need not be too paranoid to imagine that it could create a vast haven and training area for extremists and no-go areas for everyone else including police (plans to give police powers to close mosques used by extremists were quietly dropped by the impotent Home Office last December). More importantly it would be a huge step further in incorporating part of the historic heart of Britain into the House of Islam, a process which according to Muslim teaching is irreversible.

According to the Daily Mail of August 7, almost a quarter of British Muslims -- 370,000 of 1.6 million -- believe the 7/7 the London bombings were justified because of British support for the war on terror. This is almost double a previous figure of 13%. A third of Muslims said they disapproved of the freedoms allowed in Britain and would rather live under Sharia Law, and 45% believed the Jews were behind 9/11.

Following Pope Benedict's controversial lecture the website Little Green Footballs published pictures of Muslims outside Westminster Cathedral (London's Catholic cathedral) waving placards including "Islam Will Conquer Rome," and "May Allah Curse the Pope" and chanting: "Pope Benedict you will pay, the Mujahadeen are coming your way."

On the fifth anniversary of 9/11 the general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain -- which the government recognizes as the leading voice of British Muslims -- Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari, claimed that if "demonization" of Muslims continued, "then Britain will have to deal with two million [sic] Muslim terrorists, 700,000 of them in London."

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About the Author

Hal G.P. Colebatch, a lawyer and author, has lectured in International Law and International Relations at Notre Dame University and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and worked on the staff of two Australian Federal Ministers.