The Woolwich killings and the Lewisham Islamic Centre
The Daily Mail, Evening Standard and other outlets are reporting that Michael Adebolajo (the British-born man whose image with bloody hands and knife in Woolwich has circulated widely in the last two days) "is believed to have attended the nearby Lewisham Islamic Centre mosque, which police visited yesterday".
The mosque, like many others, has put out a statement condemning the killings:
"We are deeply shocked by the tragic and disturbing events which unfolded in Woolwich on May 22.
It is further disturbing to hear that these individuals were Muslims. From our perspective, we would like to clarify and confirm categorically, that these actions are in no way, shape or form from the teachings of Islam.
Islam’s position on the sanctity of life, the concept of justice and the value of human life is such that the Quran equates the taking of one human life unjustly, with killing all of humanity - thus the Quran prohibits murder in clear terms...
It is inevitable at times like these that various groups will seek to drive a wedge between communities. We believe our community in the London Borough of Lewisham (LBL) is an excellent one that has an outstanding record with respect to community cohesion within and beyond LBL.
We sincerely hope that the heinous crime that has taken place will not lead to long term discord within the borough or beyond."I don't know anything about the current leadership of the mosque, which is a fifteen minute walk from my home. But I do know that under previous imams, the mosque has harboured some very unsavoury politics.
post in 2006, which described then imam Sheikh Shakeel Begg. He had been reported as urging 'students to wage jihad in Palestine. In a clandestinely recorded speech, Begg said to students: "You want to make jihad? Very good...Take some money and go to Palestine and fight, fight the terrorists, fight the Zionists."' (source) He has subsequently condemned in the harshest of terms a range of conservative Muslim clerics who have taken a stand against terrorism.
In 2011, I returned to the issue, passing on reports about another preacher at the mosque, Saleem Begg. Begg, aka Abu Zubair, had been among the hardline Wahhabi activists attacking former jihadi preacher Usama Hasan for departing from the advocacy of terrorism. Begg more or less advocated Hasan's execution, quoting a Saudi Salafi cleric who stated: "if there is absolutely no other way of stopping this person except execution, then this person should be executed because he is an apostate and apostates are executed".
I don't know when Adebolajo was associated with Lewisham mosque (if indeed it is confirmed that he did), but it seems clear that, at least of a period of time between 2006 and 2011, some pretty hardcore views were circulating in the mosque. In October 2012, when the Lewisham Islamic Centre last updated the activities part of its webpage, Shakeel Begg was still teaching at the Centre. In March this year, he spoke at an event relating to Bangladesh, at which his affiliation was given as the Lewisham Centre. (The event was in support of the February 28 Islamist rioters in Bangladesh, who were protesting at the sentencing of convicted genocidaire and rapist Delwar Hossain Sayidee.) If anyone knows more, please do leave a comment. I'd like to think that these sorts of views have no place in our community any more.
UPDATE 29 MAY:
The fascist BNP are seeking to revive their dying remnant by feeding on the attention focused on SE London in the wake of Lee Rigby's killing. They are planning a march from Woolwich to Lewisham this Saturday, 1 June. We must oppose them, and defend our community from their brand of hatred and violence. No to fascism, no to jihadism.
Details are at Transpontine. South London Anti-Fascists have a call out for action. Cllr Mike Harris has posted on the need for a peaceful counter-mobilisation, and honouring SE London's tradition of resisting fascism. My expectation is that they may not even manage to leave Woolwich (where counter-mobilisations will also take place). My view is that the present moment calls for a theme of increasing the peace and refusing the division and hatred preached by both Islamists and the EDL and BNP - but communities also have the right to defend themselves and we cannot allow the BNP to intimidate us.