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Islamic Forum of Europe: Response To Statement of Helal Abbas

abass response
This is a response to the ‘Statement of Helal Abbas’, signed and dated 17 September 2010, and only deals with the allegations against, and references to Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE). We are led to believe this ‘Statement’ was prepared for the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) and formed part of the dossier used to remove Councillor Lutfur Rahman as the Labour candidate for the directly elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets.

The Statement, now in wide circulation and reported in the Bengali media, in its quest to discredit Cllr Rahman makes a number of allegations which IFE totally refutes:

“12. It was when he became Council leader that I began to suspect Luthfur [sic] Rahman’s involvement in the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE). This is a fundamentalist organisation which is gradually infiltrating the Labour party… Some of his actions led me to believe that he was being influenced by the IFE. Hira Islam, a Team Manager with the Council was seen to offering and negotiating positions on Luthfur [sic] Rahman’s cabinet. He is a prominent member of the local mosque and is suspected of being a member of the IFE. I challenged Luthfur [sic] Rahman about this saying it was improper to meet Labour councillors with someone who had a prominent role in the local mosque. That individual Hira Islam, was also an officer of the Council and should not be interfering with the political process. For me that was the confirmation of Luthfur [sic] Rahman’s links with IFE… He has never clarified the position on record nor has he ever disputed his links with IFE.”

For the record, Cllr Rahman is not and has never been a member of IFE. According to the logic used to establish Cllr Rahman’s links with the IFE – it is Cllr Abbas who arguably has greater links to IFE. Cllr Abbas often met privately and publicly with IFE, and even introduced his then protégé Cllr. Rahman to IFE. Contrary to his recent statement, Cllr Abbas met with IFE during the selection process for the Labour mayoral elections, and has even sought to meet with IFE after his imposition as the Labour candidate for mayor.

The real question is when exactly did Cllr Abbas decide that the normal duties of senior councillors, to engage with community groups and attend their events, are a sinister affair? Moreover, why did Cllr Abbas meet with IFE recently if, as he claims, IFE is a sinister ‘fundamentalist’ organisation? The ‘fundamentalist’ label will be seen by all as the political opportunism to discredit his former close Labour party associate Cllr Rahman.

Cllr Abbas mentions here that he ‘suspects’ Hira Islam is a member of IFE, perhaps deliberately to give the impression of IFE being a sinister or a banned organisation. This is despite knowing very well that Mr Islam is, and was affiliated to IFE – and Cllr Abbas acknowledges this in paragraph 24.

What Cllr Abbas conveniently fails to mention is that Mr Islam is a long-standing and prominent member of the local Labour Party. As for Mr Islam’s questionable role, as we understand it, he allegedly performed a similar role for Cllr Abbas before Cllr Rahman became council leader. The double standards to now complain of the impropriety of Mr Islam’s alleged actions is quite incredible.

“21. As I have indicated Luthfur [sic] Rahman is associated with the IFE. I can’t prove that Luthfur Rahman is a member of IFE but, whilst he was leader, grant aid was moved from secular groups to IFE linked groups. IFE is a Muslim fundamentalist organisation. It is sophisticated international operation. The organisation acts like the Freemasonry. It is a secretive organisation which has no constitution and no accountability and which seeks to influence public bodies. It is based at the East London Mosque but it has cells in most British cities. It has alleged links with banned political groups in Bangladesh including Jamaat e Islami. Members of this organisation in Bangladesh are in prison for incitement.”

The obvious contradictions and conspiracy theories in the above statement are clear and should normally be ignored, however due to the current position of the [conspiracy] theorist, we are obliged to respond.

To some, anything resembling a competent or organised event would look ‘sophisticated’. Nevertheless, personal lacking and inadequacy is no justification for wild accusations of masonic organisation and ability. Common sense dictates that an established community organisation must have bank accounts to operate, and banks do not open accounts without a constitution. It goes without saying that IFE is a properly constituted community organisation.

Contrary to the myth peddled by some, IFE is not based at the East London Mosque - it is a rent paying tenant in the Business Wing of the London Muslim Centre. The use of the word ‘cell’ (a pejorative term normally used for terrorist organisations) to describe IFE branches is disgraceful.

As someone who was previously closely linked to IFE, Cllr Abbas knows that IFE does not have any links to ‘banned’ organisations. If he has any evidence of IFE wrongdoing or criminality he has a legal duty to forward them to the appropriate authorities – and we urge him to do so without delay.

IFE is an independent British-based community organisation; our primary focus is the issues and concerns of British Muslims and the wider community. We have no interest in the local politics of Bangladesh.

IFE believes that British Muslims must be model and active citizens, and has been promoting a balanced message of Islam, often finding itself at loggerheads with fringe and extreme groups. IFE members and volunteers were among the first to assist the emergency services to support the victims of the 7/7 bombing in Aldgate.

“22. IFE’s real aims are to take over influential organisations to use positions to promote it’s [sic] view of Islam. I believe that it is funded by the Saudi government. The only two Mosques in London that the Saudi government has put any money into are the Mosque in Regent’s Park and the East London Mosque”

IFE has never received any funding from Saudi Arabia or any other foreign government. Cllr Abbas clearly has a lot of explaining to do. If indeed he has a problem with the Regent’s Park Mosque and East London Mosque receiving Saudi funding, he needs to raise this with the Charity Commission, explaining exactly what law they have broken.

“23. In my opinion, Luthfur [sic] Rahman has been brainwashed by fundamentalists in IFE and they are using him for the purposes of entry into the Labour party.”

If Cllr Abbas concludes that Cllr Rahman has been brainwashed by IFE, using his own logic and insinuations – it would seem Cllr Abbas’s greater links to IFE is evidence that he (Abbas) must be even more brainwashed by IFE. It is plain for all to see the ridiculousness of these assertions.

It seems Cllr Abbas has adopted the entryism narrative which can only further marginalise the Muslim community – if Muslims do not engage in the political process they are labelled as isolationists, and when they do engage they are accused of entryism. IFE does not support any political party; it does however encourage its members and the wider Muslim community to engage in the political processes, including joining mainstream political parties. There is nothing sinister or abnormal about this.

“24. Hira Islam, whom I have mentioned before, is a prominent member and it was he who was driving Luthfur [sic] Rahman around to visit other councillors to make offers of political position.”

How is it possible that when Mr Islam does what is alleged for Cllr Rahman, Mr Islam is an IFE member – but when he allegedly did the same for Cllr Abbas, he was a Labour party figure? The internal politics of Labour councillors and members are a matter for the Labour Party. If there is any wrongdoing by a Labour party member, it is the party’s responsibility to take the relevant action.

“25. Unfortunately the councillors were receiving these approaches would be too frightened to come forward to give evidence against Luthfur [sic] Rahman. They are worried that this is an Islamic Cell that could do serious damage to people.”

It is simply incredible to believe that councillors are frightened to give evidence because of the threat of violence from an ‘Islamic cell’, which he alludes to. When there is no evidence, convenient excuses alluding to the bogeyman are often cited.

“26. Others have expressed concern about the role of IFE. The former leader of the council Michael Keith who is an academic, apparently prepared a report on IFE infiltration into the Labour party three or four years ago.”

Michael Keith has previously worked closely with IFE when he was council leader, and has even met IFE during the recent Mayoral campaign. Mr Keith has had many opportunities to raise any concerns during his time in office but has never done so. An ‘apparent report’ which has not been seen by or known to anyone must be considered fictitious. Casual references to imaginary reports serve no other purpose than to demonise a section of the community for political gain.

“27. In February 2010, the local MP Jim Fitzpatrick, who was then a Labour minister publicly criticised the role of IFE. He said that the views of the IFE were totally at odds with Labour policies.”

Jim Fitzpatrick’s accusations against IFE were not only without foundation and rebutted by IFE – but he was also criticised by his fellow Labour parliamentarians.

“31. At the general and local elections on the 5 May 2010 there was a vote for the proposal to have a directed elected Mayor. The Yes Campaign was victorious. It was highly resourced by IFE. This was obvious by the quality of the publicity material and the sheer number of leaflets that were produced… It has been mentioned that £100,000 was spent on the campaign to support a directly elected Mayor…”

If this part is an accusation that IFE funded the campaign, he should make the allegation clearly and directly. Our lawyers would then be in a better position to sue for libel.

Despite this incredibly misguided attempt by Cllr Abbas to do the Gilligan on IFE, we are always open to engagement. We will not be deterred by baseless accusations and insinuations.

IFE is a community organisation that works to bring about constructive social and spiritual renewal. Through the values enshrined in the Islamic faith, IFE encourages people to be full and active participants in society, benefiting all people.
Article ref no: ATC479, 15 Oct 2010
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