Wednesday, June 12, 2024

English Mayor Accused of Corruption; Defenders Claim ‘Islamophobia’

NewsEnglish Mayor Accused of Corruption; Defenders Claim 'Islamophobia'

Islamist activists have accused an official investigation into financial mismanagement by a Muslim mayor with extremist links of “Islamophobia.” In a classic case of victimization, they try to divert attention from corruption. Will it succeed?

Lutfur Rahman. (Photo by Adamkash via Wikimedia Commons)

The UK government in February called in auditors, including Sir John Jenkins, author of the 2014 Muslim Brotherhood Review, a study of the UK activities of the transnational Islamist movement, to examine the use of public money by Lutfur Rahman. Rahman is a former mayor of Tower Hamlets, ousted from the mayoralty for fraud. He is linked to the Islamic Forum of Europe, a front for South Asian revolutionary Islamist group Jamaat e Islami.

Local Government Minister Simon Hoare told Parliament on February 22 that inspectors had been appointed to investigate the Tower Hamlets Council, which had experienced “significant churn at the senior management level, which has resulted in a number of interims in the senior management of the Council.”

The emergency audit of the council, which oversees an annual budget of £1.2 billion, comes ten years after a previous best value inspection in 2014 by Price Waterhouse Coopers, published in November 2014, found evidence of serious irregularities and a lack of transparency over the awarding of public grants, disposal of public buildings, and spending on publicity. (“Best value” inspections are required under British law to ensure that government agencies are fulfilling their responsibilities with “a combination of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness.”)

Following the government’s announcement of the new inspection, the political blog Harry’s Place reported that “community elders” had sent a letter on March 18 to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, accusing Sir John Jenkins, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East and a senior fellow at the right-leaning think tank Policy Exchange, of bias. The letter, broadcast by Islamist-friendly media Middle East Eye and The Socialist Worker, questioned “why a former Middle East diplomat would be assigned specifically as an inspector of this borough” and urged his removal from the team auditing Tower Hamlets. The team is led by Kim Bromley-Derry, the former chief executive of the neighboring East London Borough of Newham, which hosted the London 2012 Olympics.

The letter refers to “worrying posts” in Sir John’s social media that indicate “his primary current focus seems to be Islam, political Islam, primarily Muslim countries, and Muslim politicians in the UK and outside of it. All this shows that this is the prism through which he operates and the one through which he will be conducting the inspection in the council.”

“Sir Jenkins’ online presence sees him clearly endorsing posts that are Islamophobic, defending Islamophobia, or peddling in propaganda against Muslims (including Mayor of London Sadiq Khan), and Muslim majority countries,” the letter states. Elsewhere, the authors complain that

Sir Jenkins has also penned several articles tackling “the problems of Islamism,” including a July 2020 article in The Spectator, titled, “there’s nothing wrong with Macron’s War on Islamism,” and a December 2021, article titled, “Britain is still failing to confront Islamism.” It is therefore clear that Jenkins sees the world through the lens of Islam, which he sees as a threat and a problem that needs to be countered.

At no point do the authors address the investigation into Lutfur Rahman, who held the post of Tower Hamlets mayor from 2010 to 2015. Rahman’s term ended when Election Court Justice Richard Mawrey barred Rahman and his deputy, Alibor Choudhury, from holding public office for five years after finding them both guilty of offences including fraud, malfeasance in public office and conspiracy to defraud the election returning officer. The violations included postal vote fraud and “undue spiritual influence” placed on Muslims to re-elect the mayor as a religious duty.

In his 2015 judgment, Justice Mawrey found that council grants were handed out to boost Rahman’s personal popularity to ineligible organizations some of which had not even applied for public money. He identified a clear diversion of funding away from secular bodies serving the whole community to faith-based or religious groups serving only Muslim sections of the community, which then constituted only 34.5 percent of the population of Tower Hamlets, by slashing grants to charitable organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Society.

The Sunday Telegraph reported in 2010 that seven serving and former Tower Hamlets councilors had said Rahman, a former Labour candidate for mayor, was elected at the helm of Tower Hamlets with the support of the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) based at East London Mosque. According to a report in The Daily Telegraph the IFE is “dedicated, in its own words, to changing the very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed … from ignorance to Islam.” A joint investigation between the Sunday Telegraph and Channel 4 Dispatches revealed that after Mr. Rahman became leader, more council grants were paid to a number of organizations closely linked to the IFE.

In 2010, former Labour Environment Minister and MP for the Tower Hamlets ward of Poplar and Canning Town Jim Fitzpatrick told The Sunday Telegraph that Islamic Forum of Europe was “acting almost as an entryist organization, placing people within the political parties, recruiting members to those political parties, trying to get individuals selected and elected so they can exercise political influence and power, whether it’s at local government level or national level.”

“They are completely at odds with Labour’s program, with our support for secularism,” Fitzpatrick said.

After his Tower Hamlets First party was banned by the electoral court in 2015, Rahman founded the independent “Aspire” party in 2018 and was reelected in May 2022 alongside 24 councilors from “Aspire” using some of the same tactics identified by Mawrey, according to Conservative Peer Lord Hayward, who in October 2021 urged increased vigilance from the Electoral Commission.

Since Rahman resumed the office of mayor in May 2022, he has hired an all-Bangladeshi and male cabinet despite Tower Hamlets being only 34.7 percent Bangladeshi. He has rehired as Deputy Mayor Alibor Choudhury, described by Richard Mawrey KC (King’s Council) as Rahman’s “hatchet man” and a “wholly unreliable” witness in the April 2015 judgement against him.

Signatories of the letter to Gove alleging “Islamophobia” include Anas Al Tikriti of the Cordoba Foundation, which is described in Sir John’s 2014 the Muslim Brotherhood review as ” a think tank which is associated with the Brotherhood (though claiming to be neither affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood nor a lobby organization for it).”

The council run by Lutfur Rahman has created ‘a State within a State.’

Andy Erlam

Another signatory is Mohammed Kozbar, deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, a collaborative effort between Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-e-Islami and Deobandi Islamists, which claims to be the UK’s largest Muslim body. The Metropolitan Police cut ties with Kozbar last month after he liked a tweet by Wahid Shaida, the former head of the anti-Western, anti-Semitic revolutionary Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir UK, in which he pledged to continue his work for the group after its proscription by the UK government as a terror group in January 2024. Kozbar is also chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque, controlled by the Muslim Association of Britain, which was co-founded by senior Hamas politburo member Mohammed Sawalha.

Anti-corruption campaigner Andy Erlam, who led the successful High Court case in 2015 on vote rigging which resulted in Mr. Rahman being banned from office for five years, wrote in a letter in March to the recently appointed government Commissioners, “The council run by Lutfur Rahman has created ‘a State within a State’ in Tower Hamlets harming community relations and the best interests of all residents.”

The auditors have been instructed to report back by 31 May 2024 on “whether the standards expected for effective and convenient local government are being upheld.”

Hannah Baldock is a UK based researcher in radicalization and terrorism.

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