The Markaz – Freedland takes a ‘balanced’ view

Following on from the editorial in yesterday’s issue, the Evening Standard has published an article by Jonathan Freedland on the proposed West Ham mosque.

Freedland takes a “balanced” view of the issue, condemning “knee-jerk” responses both from the mosque’s opponents, who believe it will become an al-Qaida training camp, and equally from “the planned mosque’s defenders, poised to brand any opponent of the project as an Islamophobe”. It is difficult to believe that, in the event of a proposed new synagogue provoking a similar outburst of hostility towards the Jewish community and its beliefs, Freedland would be quite so ready to place an equals sign between the anti-semitic opponents of the plan and those who took a stand against them.

Freedland tells us that Tablighi Jamaat, the organisation behind the scheme, is “aligned with the Saudi strain of Wahhabi Islam”, when the movement in fact originates in the Deobandist school of Islam from South Asia. It is pretty clear that he has carried out no research whatsoever into the subject.

Freedland recycles the by now well-worn quote attributed to French intelligence that Tablighi Jamaat is an “antechamber of fundamentalism”, whatever that means. He also claims that Tablighi’s “roll call of alumni is damningly said to include the 7 July bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer”. Given that Tablighi has millions of adherents, how can it be “damning” that out of all these millions a couple of terrorists should have once been involved with the movement? Freedland goes on to say that Tablighi’s name has been “linked” (he doesn’t say how) to Richard Reid and Zacarius Moussaoui, and concludes: “Small wonder that locals in West Ham are wary of a Tablighi Jamaat megapolis on their doorstep.” To which we can only reply – small wonder that locals should hold such views if they share Freedland’s ignorance and prejudice.

Freedland’s article contains the obligatory quote from the discredited self-styled expert on Islam, Patrick Sookhdeo, whose claim that the mosque would lead inevitably to “a completely Muslim community … a parallel society”, Freedland asserts, “should not be dismissed out of hand”. Given that Sookhdeo is a forceful proponent of a paranoid fantasy about Christian culture being submerged beneath an alien tide of Muslims, I would suggest that this is exactly how Sookhdeo’s opinions should be treated.

As Sookhdeo told the Sunday Telegraph in a notorious interview earlier this year: ” … in a decade, you will see parts of English cities which are controlled by Muslim clerics and which follow, not the common law, but aspects of Muslim sharia law. It is already starting to happen and unless the Government changes the way it treats the so-called leaders of the Islamic community, it will continue.”

And this is the man whose views are given credence by Freedland, who argues that the very size of the proposed centre “could make Sookhdeo’s fears come true”.

Freedland goes on to lecture those dealing with the planning application that “they should insist it is built to be open and accessible to everybody, including those non-Muslims who would never dream of going inside to pray.”

Freedland is evidently oblivious to the fact that Mangera Yvars, the architects responsible for designing the Markaz, state quite explicitly that it is intended as “a place for Muslims and Non Muslims to interact, debate and promote a greater understanding between ideology, faith and humanity”. Abdul Kalik, project director for Tablighi Jamaat, was quoted in Andrew Gilligan’s article (Evening Standard , 17 July) as saying that the centre “would welcome people of all faiths”. The Standard (25 July) published a letter from Ali Mangera of Mangera Yvars responding to Gilligan’s piece, which again emphasised that: “Our aim is to create dialogue between peoples and provide an inclusive centre open to all faiths….”

Not only has Freedland failed to research his article properly, but it appears that he doesn’t even read the paper he writes for.

Freedland concludes by arguing that the Mayor of London should have the final say over whether the scheme goes ahead and advises that “he should put aside the multiple prejudices this question has stirred up”. Freedland might set an example by putting aside a few of his own.