Due to a conflicting meeting, I missed Andrew Gilligan’s Channel 4 Dispatches programme “Britain’s Islamic Republic” on 1 March when it was transmitted, and have only today managed to watch it on the internet.
While others have described the programme as boring, I think this charge is unfair. It held my attention throughout and made for gripping television. How could one not be gripped by a programme claiming that radical Islamists are taking over Tower Hamlets, or at least taking over Tower Hamlets Labour Party?
Cutting through all the quotes and video clips, the essence of the argument is a charge of "entryism" alleging that the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) has practised this in Tower Hamlets Labour Party. Entryism is explained in Wikipedia and in the UK appears to trouble the Labour Party far more than the Conservative Party. It is a curious political sin as the main reason people join political parties is to help propagate your political views which legitimately includes shaping the party's views towards your own.
Some groups suffer charges of entryism while other groups are ignored. For example, there are many Roman Catholics in all three of the major political parties and in many cases they seek to influence policy on abortion. However I have never seen allegations of Roman Catholic entryism.
I am not a member of IFE although several of my colleagues on the Muslim Council of Britain Central Working Committee are members. While writing this blog I spent some time on the IFE website. Some of its views I support such as the desire “to learn and embody the teachings of Islam and convey them to others in a wise, sensible and beautiful manner” which is copied from the Islamic Forum of Europe homepage. There are other views on their website which I disagree with, for example an article on apostasy which two years ago led me to write a rebuttal, originally at the City Circle website and now on this website.
However, despite his best efforts, Andrew Gilligan fails to explain why in a free and democratic society, IFE members should not be free to join political parties and promote their views inside them.
What the programme instead gives us is a large collection of complaints from people whose views differ from those of the IFE. When I see that a speaker comes from the Centre for Social Cohesion (as incongruously named as George Orwell's "Ministry of Truth") I can immediately predict what position that speaker will take before they utter a word. Similarly Jim Fitzpatrick MP has been struggling with the local electorate ever since his discourteous behaviour in walking out of a segregated wedding and then publicising that in the press. I also don’t like gender segregation, and every UK wedding that has ever taken place in my family has involved the free mixing of men and women. However, if a host organises a segregated wedding then it is simply downright rude of a guest to make a point of publicly walking out and then ensuring that the press knows about it.
I claim no expertise in the local politics of Tower Hamlets. However from the programme I can only assume that there are alternative factions within the local Labour Party, one of whom assisted Andrew Gilligan in making this sensationalist programme in order to seek political advantage.