Speaking at Mayor’s Question Time today, Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London said:
“Last week I welcomed Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, President of the European Council of Fatwa and Research, to London. Professor Qaradawi is widely respected as one of the most eminent and moderate Muslim scholars in the world. I welcomed him to London just as I would the leader of any of the other great world religions to promote understanding between London’s diverse communities. I welcome dialogue with all religious leaders in London without necessarily agreeing with all of their views.
“I was appalled by the outpouring of lies and Islamaphobia against Professor Al Qaradawi in the tabloid media. I would point out that the Professor visited Britain at least five times during Michael Howard’s time as Home Secretary and Mr. Howard has never before raised any objections to his visits. Al Qaradawi has made at least 17 visits to Britain during the 18 years of the last Conservative government and again no questions were raised in the media by any members of parliament whatsoever.
“The hysterical outburst of racism and Islamaphobia generated by the tabloid media, with some politicians (who had spent previous weeks courting Muslim votes) now falling over themselves to echo the Sun and the Mail, was remarkable given that none of them took the trouble to ask Dr. Al Qaradawi himself for his real views.
“Virtually everything printed about Dr. Qaradawi by the tabloids was a lie. The Daily Telegraph for example attributed remarks about the victims of rape, repeated on BBC Newsnight, which it turned out had nothing whatsoever to do with the Professor.
“My staff have looked at the various websites, including those in Arabic, spoken to the Arab experts at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, monitored all of Dr Qaradawi’s statements while he was in Britain. The conclusion is that he is not anti-Semitic, he does not call for the execution of homosexuals and he does not advocate domestic violence. In fact, in Islam, Al Qaradawi is known for his moderate views.
“He made it absolutely clear when he spoke at City Hall that he is totally opposed to anti-Semitism. Al-Qaradawi said that he regards Judaism as one of the world’s great religions and that Jewish and Muslim people have lived together in peace in the Middle East for hundreds of years. His difference is not with Jews but with the state of Israel government’s treatment of the Palestinians. A number of rabbis attended his press conference at City Hall and welcomed his visit to London. It is unfortunate that the media chose not to report his support for friendship between Jews and Muslims.
“At his press conference Al Qaradawi said ‘There is nothing wrong between us and the Jews. The Jews lived with the Muslims for centuries and even when they were persecuted in Europe they found no safe refuge except for in the land of Islam where they lived protected, honoured and many of them prospered.’
“Al Qaradawi is totally opposed to terrorism. He immediately condemned the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States and has totally condemned subsequent terrorist atrocities. In the case of the attacks in New York and Washington he encouraged Muslims to donate blood to help with the rescue effort.
“He made it clear that he is opposed to domestic violence, he is quoted in the Guardian, for example, as stating: ‘The respectable and honest Muslim man does not beat his wife’.
“Al Qaradawi does not advocate killing gay people. Leaders of Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Christian groups, Judaism and other major religions in the main take a similar negative attitude to the same sex relationships. I don’t agree with any of them on this issue.
“The Sheikh summarised his view to the Guardian on 13th July: ‘Muslims have no right to punish homosexuals or mistreat them as individuals’.
“With regard to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Prof Al Qaradawi takes the view that if one side is attacking with planes, tanks and missiles the other has the right to use their bodies as bombs.
“My views on the Middle East are well known. I believe the cycle of violence has to be broken – and that neither Israeli attacks on civilian areas with tanks and missiles nor suicide bombings are a way forward. What is necessary is a just peace settlement which implements the United Nations resolutions demanding that Israel withdraws from the occupied territories and recognises the rights of the Palestinians and Israel to their own states within secure borders.
“I therefore condemn all violence not merely the violence of one side or the other and I will continue to speak with supporters of the Palestinian people and the state of Israel in order to promote the dialogue which is the only way top resolve that conflict.
“As the dust settles in the coming weeks, the response of the British tabloid media and some broadcasters to Dr Qaradawi’s visit to London will be more and more understood for what it really was – a revolting outburst of Islamaphobia largely based on lies.
“I hope the Assembly will join me today upholding London’s reputation for tolerance and free speech and if he is able to come back in October, I hope you will take the opportunity to meet him and question him yourselves. I was struck by the fact that in terms of Islam today, this man seems to represent much of the same openness and commitment to change that Pope John the 23rd represented with the Catholic church half a century ago.”