An encounter with radical Islam

Last Friday, I was on the panel at City Circle, an impressive discussion group of young professional Muslims. The subject was Muslim representation and the programme I made for Channel 4, Who Represents Muslims, screened on Channel 4 on Friday 14 July.

Also on the panel with me were Sir Iqbal Sacranie, former head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Yahya Birt, from the Islamic Foundation and Madeleine Bunting the new director of Demos.

The discussion between Sir Iqbal and myself grew heated and I lost my temper with the Islamist knight on several occasions (Bunting intervened to suggest we should all be much nicer to each other). I was particularly irritated by Sir Iqbal’s response when I asked him what meetings he had had with the victims of 7/7 (I should have said survivors). At this point he said that he himself was a victim of 7/7: an astonishing display of arrogance and insensitivity.

Challenged by Bunting, he reiterated his comments at the height of the Rushdie affair that death was too good for the author of the Satantic Verses. (His actual words were: “Death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him … his mind must be tormented for the rest of his life unless he asks for forgiveness to Almighty Allah.”) He then went on to express his support for Pakistan’s Hudood Ordinances, a series of brutal “sharia-inspired” laws introduced by the former dictator General Zia al-Huq. Under the laws women must have four witnesses to prove a charge of rape or face a charge of adultery herself. Sacranie argued that it was not for those in the West to say that such laws were wrong if they were accepted by the people of the country where they were imposed. He refused to be drawn on whether the sentence of stoning was one he approved of in such cases.

However, he did confirm that the Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami party, which has been accused of human rights abuses in Pakistan and Bangladesh was represented in Britain by the UK Islamic Mission, an affiliate of the MCB.

Sacranie's credentials as an apologist for the more unpleasant aspects of political Islam were confirmed for me that night. But the links of his Bangladeshi successor, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, to Jamaat politics may be more direct. He is president of East London Mosque, a focus for Jamaat-i-Islami sympathisers in Britain. The mosque and the London Muslim Centre, which adjoins it, have regularly played host to Delwar Hossein Sayeedi, the hell-fire Bangladeshi MP, whose abortive fund-raising visit to Britain caused such a stir earlier this month.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.