Ken Livingstone has hit back at Tory critics over his support for a Muslim cleric. The London mayor believes Yusuf al-Qaradawi has been deliberately misquoted over his views on the tsunami disaster.
Conservatives went on the offensive this morning over remarks attributed to al-Qaradawi that the Asian tsunami was God’s punishment for sex tourism in the region. Tory London Assembly member Bob Neill attacked Livingstone, who invited al-Qaradawi’s visit to City Hall last September.
But the mayor hit back, saying al-Qaradawi’s comments had been ‘completely distorted’ by a pro-Israeli organisation. Livingstone said:
“Qaradawi’s position is completely distorted by MEMRI, group set up by a former Israeli intelligence officer, which provided the translation. Qaradawi is campaigning to raise funds for the victims of the Tsunami in the Muslim world. He is quoted everyday on Al Jazeera calling upon Muslims to contribute to the relief. In the speech referred to by MEMRI, Qaradawi specifically calls for help for all the victims without discriminating between them according to religion.”
MEMRI – Middle East Media Research Institute – was set up by Colonel Yigal Carmon, a former Israeli intelligence and counter-intelligence officer and advisor to Israeli prime ministers.
Livingstone said he did not agree with all al-Qaradawi’s views, including the view that the tsunami was God’s retribution, but insisted the cleric was a moderate. To ban leaders like him was to cut off dialogue with the whole Muslim community. He admitted al-Qaradawi was not going to be seen on “the next gay pride march” but defending his right to meet the cleric, who was widely respected as a Muslim leader of international standing.
Other religious leaders of other faiths, like Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, had also expressed views that the earthquake and tsunami wave was an act of God, but al-Qaradawi was being singled out by people holding Islamophobic opinions.