We must lead fight against extremists

Jews have a crucial role to play in the struggle against neo-nazis and Islamists in east London


I recently had the pleasure of addressing an audience of well-informed, liberal and politically committed Jews on the rise of radical Islam in Britain. I suggested it was a tragedy that east London, for so long associated with Jewish immigration and the fight against fascism, had now become the home of the Islamist extreme right.

How had East London Mosque and the London Muslim Centre, both dominated by Jamaat-i-Islami (South Asia’s version of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood) come to be the first port of call for British politicians? What did the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, think he was doing earlier this year when he praised ELC and LMC for tackling prejudice? The reality is that the institutions have played a central role in promoting a sectarian Islam that represents only one strand of thinking within the magnificent diversity of this world religion.

Just around the corner sits the moderate Brick Lane mosque, a former synagogue that began life as a Huguenot church. Surely this was a far more powerful symbol of migrant integration. I tentatively suggested that perhaps the Jewish community, with its deep roots in the East End, had a duty towards the area that had once been its home.

This could take a very practical form. Jews from East London could share their experiences with recent incomers. The community leadership could pass on what had been learnt from the difficult process of integration.

One member of the audience came up to me afterwards and said, with a tone of disgust: “What do you mean? Are you seriously suggesting that we go back?”

Well yes, I am.

I have subsequently discovered that good work is already being done in this area, not least by the Board of Deputies. Under the auspices of the Mayor’s Fund, Sir Trevor Chinn has made east London a priority for action to promote community cohesion.

But I suggest something that goes a stage further than this. I believe there is an urgent need for a strategic alliance between British Jews, the anti-Islamists within the Bangladeshi community and other citizens concerned about the revival of totalitarian politics in Britain today.

This week’s news that the British National Party leader has decided to stand against the Labour MP Margaret Hodge in Barking makes the case for this alliance all the more pressing. We now face the real possibility that Barking will return the UK’s first neo-fascist MP and that the local council will soon be controlled by the BNP.

Mike Gapes, the Labour MP for Ilford South, which borders Barking, is an Islamist target because of his consistent support for Israel. His seat is far from safe.

George Galloway, who seized Bethnal Green and Bow from Oona King, has said he will take on the neighbouring Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick in Poplar. Although Galloway will not stand in Bethnal Green and Bow, the alliance he made with the Islamists has bolstered them in his old constituency. The nexus of power that centres on the East London Mosque and the London Muslim Centre will have a significant influence on the result of next year’s poll.

The deep confusion within the liberal-left about totalitarian Islam is at risk of playing itself out on the streets of East London. We should make no mistake about this: the British National Party and Jamaat-i-Islami are cut from the same ideological cloth. Boris Johnson may not understand this but many secularists and moderate Muslims within the Bangladeshi community of east London feel abandoned by liberal Britain. Organisations such as Drishtipat, the Bangladeshi human rights group, have little influence in Whitehall, where ministers have often preferred to deal with organisations sympathetic to Jamaat-i-Islami such as the Muslim Council of Britain.

Talking to Bangladeshi activists working to expose war crimes carried out by Jamaat collaborators with Pakistan during their country’s war of independence in 1971, one encounters a terrible sense of frustration and betrayal. They are appalled that liberals choose to make common cause with their comrades’ Islamist oppressors.

Britain’s Jews know better than anyone the importance of respecting historical memory. For this reason, links with east London should be re-established as a matter of urgency. In the spirit of the battle of Cable Street, Jews in Britain should embrace their anti-totalitarian past. Who better than the Jews to lead the fight against neo-fascism and radical Islam and to defend this country’s traditions of freedom and tolerance.

    Last updated: 4:44pm, December 10 2009

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