The "Trojan Horse" scandal, in which extremist Muslims were trying to take over taxpayer-funded schools in Birmingham and other English cities, has shocked the British public who were unaware that there were schools in the UK where, for instance, all white women were described as "prostitutes" and anti-Christian chants were encouraged in morning assemblies. But whenever a story like this breaks, it should always remind us of the other stories as well: the Trojan Horse scandals that we do not hear about.
Just such a case is going on in East London at this moment. There, a campaign by locals has been ongoing for many years to try to prevent a "mega-mosque" from being created by the Tablighi Jamaat sect. Locals -- including many Muslims -- in Newham, East London, realize not only that the construction of this vast mosque (intended to house around 9,000 worshippers) is meant to be a statement of dominance, but that it is a statement from a group that is highly sectarian and divisive in its outlook towards other Muslims as well as non-Muslims. The progress of the building project has been stalled many times before and it appears to be stalled again -- not least thanks to the effort of a principled former councillor of the area, Alan Craig.
Alan Craig, one of the leaders of the campaign against the Tablighi Jamaat mega-mosque in east London. (Image source: MegaMosqueNoThanks.com video)
Now another public inquiry into the project is underway at the ExCel Conference Centre in London's Docklands. Convened by the government's Planning Inspector, it is due to take evidence for three weeks. The final decision over whether the mosque can be built will be taken by Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and that decision will be based on the recommendation of the Planning Inspector.
The politics around this inquiry has already become toxic. Pro-mega-mosque protests have been organized outside the Town Hall. And just to keep things as sectarian as possible, the group organizing these demonstrations has invited George Galloway, the Respect Party's sole MP and erstwhile friend of the late Saddam Hussein (among other tyrants), to assist them. It is safe to say that in such a situation, it requires a certain degree of bravery to speak out against such a plan. Alan Craig and other non-Muslims are undoubtedly courageous in their stand against this divisive Tablighi Jamaat project. But even more courage is required for anyone of a Muslim background to take such a stand.
Because, although non-Muslims may be an irritant when exposing the extremist attitudes of such sects, any Muslim opponents are, of course, the purest antidotes to the poison when they identify and condemn it. Extremists like to give off the pretense that they are speaking for all Muslims, so when other Muslims identify and call out their extremism, they cause the most terrific damage to the extremists' most treasured arguments. A non-Muslim saying, for example, that there are quite enough places of worship in the area already may be regarded (often unfairly) as someone who does not have first-hand knowledge of the mosque-attendance situation. A Muslim saying the same thing could be talking from deep experience. A non-Muslim who opposes a hostile sectarian, separatist or politicized version of Islam might be (in fact always is) accused of "Islamophobia" among other crimes. And even though Muslims making the same case can, in these Wonderlandian times, also be accused of "Islamophobia," it is harder to get that label to stick to a Muslim.
All of which brings us to why it is that the person who was the star Muslim witness brave enough to publicly testify against the mega-mosque's creation now appears to have been intimidated into not appearing at the inquiry at all. Tehmina Kazi is a member of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, a small but significant voice in the effort to break the stranglehold of the fundamentalists in British Islam. Yet now Tehmina Kazi, who has spent her career working in human rights, has withdrawn herself from giving evidence. Why the about face?
At a previous inquiry into the mega-mosque in 2011, Kazi said in her Proof of Evidence, "The Tablighi Jamaat discourages integration into British society, especially of female members, since they essentially do not communicate with non-Muslims ... Instead, female members... are kept secluded and the values surrounding this seclusion are transmitted to their children."
Now she says that, "Withdrawing was a decision I did not undertake lightly. I did it after consultation with several trusted people and a number of assurances on women's increased participation and involvement in the new facility." Yet that, it seems, is clearly not the full story. After all, Tablighi Jamaat has not spent the three years since the last inquiry becoming a progressive, secular group. How, then, could its members possibly reach the standards any self-avowed defender of human rights must hold?
According to Alan Craig, Kazi withdrew because she was "harried and pressured" by "misogynist mosque supporters" while on holiday abroad, just before the inquiry opened. Jenny Taylor of Lapido Media -- who has followed this case as closely as anyone -- has spoken with Kazi, who has insisted that she had "been neither harried nor pressured but had accepted the reassurances she had been given about the place of women in the mega-mosque community." Taylor has concluded that the person who persuaded Kazi not to testify was one Mudasser Ahmed:
"...one of those flashy operators whose web presence indicates he knows everyone and has 'led on projects' everywhere from the United Nations, the BBC, the Deputy Prime Minister's Office, the Prince of Wales' Trust ... you name it."
Well, Tablighi Jamaat remains an oppressive, sectarian, anti-female sect. And now their mega-mosque looks one step closer to construction. Because whether Kazi was pressured or has had some revelation on the progressive nature of Tablighi Jamaat that she will soon share with us all, it would appear that all that has happened is that Tablighi Jamaat have removed one of the most effective obstacles to their success.
It is in stories like this -- of private pressures and public buckling -- that a country's future is eventually decided. These are the moments when something that could have been stopped will instead go ahead and -- like the "Trojan Horse case" -- reach some far unhappier public eruption down the road.
Such bucklings are a tragedy for everyone in an area, but they are a tragedy first for British Muslims. The kind of society Tablighi Jamaat will bring with them will be a problem for local Muslims long before it is a problem for any of the rest of us. But so it goes. We all know what happens when the good people remain silent. One of them just has.