Following on from the recent corrections that The Telegraph newspaper had to issue over its London editor's erroneous reporting of the Ashraf Miah paedophile story, we once again note that Andrew Gilligan is twisting facts and editing context in order to attack our institution. Considering his London-wide brief, his fanatical interest in us seems to border on obsession.
In his blog of 27 June 'East London Mosque breaks its promise on homophobic speakers after just eight days' and follow-up report of 28 June 'The lies go on' Mr Gilligan disingenuously tries to link a local parental campaign over sex education with our institution 'apparently' campaigning for active homophobia.
The story Mr Gilligan presented was that of an extremist sect coming to our mosque, with our blessing, to campaign against homosexuality and promote homophobia in 'clear breach' of undertakings he claims we have made.
If Mr Gilligan bothers to read the local newspaper, he can see a rather more mundane (and accurate) version of events, with no attempt to hijack the story.
The facts are these:
- A set of local Muslim parents have been concerned about aspects of sex education in their children's primary schools.
- Specifically, they have objected to animated scenes of (heterosexual) intercourse being shown to their children as part of science education lessons. They want to exercise their right to excuse their children from those particular lessons and feel their concerns have not been listened to.
- A meeting was called by a Christian organisation, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, alongside a local Islamic group, SREIslamic, to debate these concerns. Our director chaired the discussion.
Mr Gilligan did not present these facts. Instead, he attempted to turn a small local story into a national story, by editing the facts to whip up the gay community's fears over apparent rampant homophobia in Tower Hamlets. (As has been pointed out elsewhere, the number of homophobic incidents has actually risen higher in areas such as Islington and Westminster than in Tower Hamlets.)
In order to do so, Mr Gilligan incorrectly said that the leaders of SREIslamic – one of the groups invited to speak – were also members of an extremist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir. They have very publicly left that group, as has been noted by the very sources which often supply Mr Gilligan with his "news".
Mr Gilligan also failed to point out that a Christian organisation was jointly organising the event. He then failed to even clarify that the actual parental campaign at the centre of the story was not even talking about homosexuality at all. In order to try and make this a 'homophobia' issue, Mr Gilligan trawled back to a defunct blog, two years old, in order to link a quote from one of the SREIslamic leaders about the "unacceptability of homosexuality" – a quote that is in fact (however much some may disagree with it) an Islamic/theological position on homosexuality, not an out and out call to attack gays.
In our view, this is a very cynical attempt to smear our reputation by linking Islamic views on homosexuality with outwards homophobia. These views are widely-held throughout the Muslim world, and by British Muslims, and are consistent with Orthodox views from the other major faiths. In which case, as one blogger said recently, we may as well prosecute any Muslim who walks through any door of any mosque; The Telegraph's London editor could be charged with hypocrisy, as he does not apply the same standards to those with similar views from other religions.
As Mr Gilligan's sources must know, the people attacking the LGBT community in Tower Hamlets are thugs (not mosque goers) and those whipping up tensions belong to a tiny group of extremists. This same group of extremists recently protested as we organised an inter-faith event, hosting a prominent Jewish rabbi. These extremists are hardly people with whom we agree, and in fact oppose. It is also a matter of record that those hate preachers who circumvented our bookings policy in the past are now barred; our vetting procedures for speakers and guests appearing at our mosque and centre have been significantly tightened over the past year.
Mr Gilligan attempts to portray an East End at war, a place where the LGBT community is unwelcome and 'moderate' Muslims are quaking in fear. The reality, as many other commentators have noted, is far from that. Efforts are underway to remove misunderstandings between the Muslim and LGBT communities in this borough, sensitive initiatives which call for pragmatism and understanding, not ranting headlines from self-appointed judge-and-jury columnists.
We urge responsibility and accuracy in reporting on the East End's Muslim community, particularly given that this is the second incident in which Mr Gilligan is playing hard and loose with issues which concern minors.
The public meeting regarding SRE went ahead yesterday (29th June 2011) at the London Muslim Centre, with no mention of homosexuality and was attended by Jack Gilbert, Chair of Rainbow Hamlets. Further coverage of the meeting can be found here.