Tower Hamlets Council is falling under the control of extremist Islamic groups, according to allegations made in a television documentary.
However, the claims were strongly rejected by some local politicians and the group at the centre of the allegations, the Islamic Forum of Europe, which said they aimed to incite Islamophobia.
According to the film, ‘Britain’s Islamic Republic‘, made by journalist Andrew Gilligan, the IFE, a community organisation with links to the East London Mosque, has ‘secretly infiltrated the Labour Party’ in Tower Hamlets, and is ‘already exerting influence’ on the running of the borough. Tower Hamlets has the highest proportion of Muslim voters of any local authority in the country.
The film claimed that although the IFE ‘presents itself as a beacon of tolerance’, in reality it ‘houses a fundamentalist organisation’ allied with terrorist sympathisers and advocating the imposition of sharia law on both Muslims and non-believers.
The IFE said the film’s content amounted to ‘media slurs.’ The group said that it categorically condemned violent extremism, adding: “The suggestion that there is anything sinister about [its] engagement with normal democratic processes, or that the IFE is bent on political ‘infiltration’ is untrue, inflammatory and socially divisive.”
During the documentary Gilligan presented a dossier of what he said was evidence of the group’s political influence and radical intentions. This included anecdotal accounts and pamphlets produced by the IFE, but also undercover filming at the mosque. In one scene, an individual allied with the organisation is heard to claim that: “Our brothers have gone into those positions of influence… council positions.”
Local Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, who represents Poplar and Canning Town, also criticised the IFE saying: “They are acting almost as an interest organisation.”
Tower Hamlets Labour Party has been placed under ‘special measures’ by the Labour Party nationally following concerns about its membership numbers and status of some members. The move places restrictions on its independence as a local party.
A Labour Party spokesperson said last year: “We’re concerned about people joining for the right reasons and are trying to prevent organisations filtering in who may try taking over the party by signing up and ousting existing members.”
In the programme, Lutfur Rahman, the leader of Tower Hamlets Council, was asked to respond to these allegations. He said: “Those are internal party matters.”
Local journalist Ted Jeory, formerly of the East London Advertiser, claimed a councillor had privately told him: “We’re petrified by these guys. They’ve got us by the balls.”
Kevan Collins, the chief executive of Tower Hamlets Council, said the council took the allegations ‘very seriously’ and would investigate anything which potentially breached its regulations or any aspect of the law.
He continued: “If we were to be made aware through the police or Home Office of any issues with any group, we would act swiftly to cease any relationship with that group (as we did recently with the banning of Islam4UK).”
Even before being broadcast, the programme had already provoked heated responses among members of the public. Around 70 comments, many of them attacking the film, had already been posted on its page on the Channel 4 website yesterday afternoon, several hours before it was due to be shown.
Among the critical responses was that of ‘Abdul’, who saw Islamic political involvement as a Catch-22. He wrote: “If ur a muslim and dont go into politics your not integrating, and if you do go into politics your an extremist. Mr Gilligan and co what should the muslims in Britain do? [sic]”
Others disagreed with the programme’s portrayal of the IFE, claiming that its work is for the most part beneficial to the community. User ‘SM’ wrote: “There may be bad eggs within the IFE – like any big organisation – but the amazing work they’ve done (especially in one of the poorest boroughs of London) stands testament to the strength and overwhelming good the IFE are known for.”