Muslim campaigners and Tower Hamlets council have come out in force against against “sickening” and “Islamophobic” comments made by Rod Liddle in this week’s Sunday Times in which he said he hoped British Islamists committed terrorism in the borough.
The associate editor of The Spectator was writing an opinion piece about the recent release of hate preacher Anjem Choudary.
He said of British-born terrorists: “I don’t really mind if they leave the country, so long as they blow themselves up – somewhere a decent distance from where the rest of us live. Tower Hamlets, for example.”
Iman Atta OBE, the director of Tell MAMA, criticised the Sunday Times columnist for his “anti-Muslim bigotry”.
He told Eastlondonlines: “For Liddle to say that Islamists should go to Tower Hamlets and blow themselves up is to associate Islamists to Muslims in a borough which has made huge strides in challenging all forms of extremism.”
“Islamism and Islamist extremism does not equate to Muslims as a whole and to associate the two together, plays to the hands of Islamist extremists. His views of associating extremism with a Muslim population in Tower Hamlets is not only sickening, it is anti-Muslim bigotry or Islamophobia.”
The Muslim Council of Britain, who represent over 500 mosques across the UK added: “Rod Liddle has a history of Islamophobic comments in national newspapers but this statement, goes beyond bigoted satirising of Muslim minorities and appears to be inciting violence here in the UK. It is totally shocking and unacceptable.
“Given he has previously called Tower Hamlets “the Holy Caliphate”, and given his longstanding bigotry against Muslims, it appears that he is specifically inciting violence against Muslims.”
Tower Hamlets has the highest proportion of Muslim residents both in London and across the country. It is the only local authority in England and Wales in which the Muslim population is the largest single ethnic group- at 38 per cent.
The borough also has the lowest proportion of Christian residents nationally, just 30% of borough residents identify as Christian.
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs said: “This is an utterly appalling column from Rod Liddle. Anjem Choudary’s incitement of hatred has no place in our society and neither does such a divisive and insensitive article.
“To allow a Sunday Times columnist to advocate that people should blow themselves up ‘somewhere a decent distance from where the rest of us live. Tower Hamlets, for example’ is outrageous.
“It is deeply insulting to Londoners and particularly those who lost loved ones in the Canary Wharf bombing in 1996, or have been affected by other violent acts.
“The kind of politics being peddled here is polarising and extremely dangerous. The ‘us and them’ language is unacceptable and not befitting of mainstream media in 2018, or at any time.
“And what ‘us and them’ is he talking about? Tower Hamlets is proud to have residents from more than 200 different countries.
“We are a place where the majority of our residents get on well with one another, and a borough that is the third largest contributor to the UK economy with some of the nation’s biggest economic centres, historic landmarks and visitor destinations.
“On behalf of my residents I will be asking the Sunday Times for a full apology and to consider whether someone with these views should be writing for them at all.”
This is not the first time this year that The Times has been criticised for its reporting on the Tower Hamlets Muslim community. In April, The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) upheld a complaint by Tower Hamlets council against the paper due to its coverage of a Christian girl placed with Muslim foster carers.
At the time, The Muslim Council of Britain demanded an apology for its “inaccurate, misleading and bigoted narrative about Muslims”.
In the past three years, Tell MAMA has reported that Islamophobia is massively on the rise. Between 2015 and 2016, there was an almost 50 per cent increase on off screen Anti-Muslim incidents. This increased yet again in 2017, with another 30% rise.
The MCB and John Biggs have both contacted The Times for an apology and further answers.
Rod Liddle has been contacted directly but has declined to respond.