Friday, May 24, 2013

The Woolwich killings and the Lewisham Islamic Centre

UPDATE: The fascist BNP are planning to march from Woolwich to the Lewisham mosque on Saturday 1 June. They should be opposed. Details at the bottom of the post.

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.

I wrote a 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.


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.


Sarah AB said...

I read in a piece on the Commentator that the killer avoided the mosque because he felt it silenced government critics. That doesn't suggest it's very radical, but the objection may not have been made on rational grounds of course.

bob said...

Sarah,I can't find that. Are you sure it was Commentator?

Sarah AB said...

Here it is.

"According to a twitter handle @AbuNusaybahUK, the key culprit is a British born citizen of African extraction called Michael Adeboloja. Adeboloja is believed to have converted to Islam in 2003 and avoided going to mosques because he believed they were out to silence critics of the government."

Transpontine said...

As you've probably heard the BNP is planning to march on the mosque next weekend - time for the 'neither jihadists nor fascists' banner?!

bob said...

I saw the BNP are planning a march here, which made me sick and angry. It also gave me doubts about leaving this post up. I would hate to think I was fuelling the idea that the mosque is any kind of legitimate target.

"Neither jihadists nor fascists" is exactly the right slogan. We can take a lesson from the Bangladeshi activists of East London who in 2010, when an IFE Islamist meeting was picketed by the EDL, wrote:

In defending the people of Tower Hamlets and especially the ordinary Muslims we do not have to defend IFE. EDL is attacking the Muslims of this borough and we must protect them. IFE must not be allowed to use this occasion to propagate their very reactionary version of political Islam...

All progressive forces must realize that the gut reaction to EDL is to defend everybody including IFE because they might be accused of being Islamophobic. But we boldly proclaim that it is not Islamophobic to have no trucks with the heirs of Fascist Jaamat. It is not Islamophobic to denounce the anti democratic credentials of IFE and their Saudi patrons. It is not Islamophobic to show solidarity with the Muslims of Tower Hamlets and their diverse representative organisations without marching under the leadership of IFE. We cannot be consistent in fighting the fascist EDL if we elect the “fascist” IFE as our Imam. In line with the best in the Islamic and Bengali tradition we reject the siren calls of IFE as we prepare to organise against EDL.

I will update the post with details on the BNP march.

Justin said...

Hey all,

I disagree that "Neither Fascists nor Jihadists" is an appropriate slogan. I think it is akin to saying "no room for misogyny or female paedophiles" at an Abortion Rights Demo.

Yes both things are reprehensible but does the latter actually need saying?

By making the point that you are "against Jihadists", you are implying that some/many Muslims are "for Jihadists". In an environment where the state generates wall-to-wall coverage of Jihadists being juxtaposed with Muslims trying to outdo each other in condemning these horrific actions. I think we need to tread carefully in order not to reinforce Islamophobic sentiment and build bridges against real credible threats. That is in my opinion the racist state, its uniformed boot--boys and the unpaid/volunteer fascists of EDL and the BNP.

I understand the concerns regarding hateful speech that this post has raised and I am no fan of IFE as my post on Bangladesh, IFE and the SWP shows. However to ignore the pernicious way how racism is reproduced by mainstream ideological narratives would be folly also.

Unless Lewisham Islamic Centre's leadership feels the need to distance themselves from "jihadists" any more than MI6 need to in the alleged torture they presided over for Michael Adebolajo. I think we should focus our anger towards the fascists.

bob said...

I get your point Justin, but I disagree.

First, the context in which I am saying I am against jihadists is the material in the post, i.e. support for violent jihad (as well as executing more liberal British Muslims etc) from preachers at the mosque. So, I am not calling on all Muslims to take some kind of ritual gesture of distancing themselves from the Woolwich murders. I am exploring the extent to which this particular mosque, where one of the killers has been alleged to have attended, might be fostering a form hate which is every bit as noxious as the BNP's version - and arguably more murderous. I don't think the mosque condoned or encouraged the actions of the messed up young men, but I think they may have helped shape it, and I don't like that kind of view in my community any more than I like the BNP here.

So, I don't see a problem with 'implying that some/many Muslims are "for Jihadists"'. Most aren't, but some evidently are.

I agree that Islamophobia is pandemic in our society (although I think the mainstream media coverage since Woolwich has actually been pretty good - the copy of the Daily Star (a paper that once more or less endorsed the EDL) which I saw in the caff last week was superb in its clarity that the Woolwich act was an aberration from the norm in British Islam.


bob said...


"I think we should focus our anger towards the fascists."

I think that most people are like me: capable of being angry about more than one thing at once. We have just witnessed the spectacle of a man literally hacked to death on our streets (in my case, in an area where I have worked, and where I have many friends, some Muslim). I think it is perfectly appropriate that at least part of our anger be focused on Islamism. The backlash from the BNP and EDL does not let jihadism off the hook.

There is an ideological narrative of anti-Muslim racism soaked through our mainstream culture; you're right we need to challenge it. There is also an ideological narrative propogated by Islamists that we need to challenge, a narrative that is the main (though not only) factor in some acts of terror that we just can't tolerate.

bob said...

Sorry, two more things I meant to say.

Yes, we need to build bridges and tread carefully, and I am worried that this post doesn't tread carefully enough, although I don't think it could be read as endorsing the BNP or EDL in any way. I'd be grateful if people tell me if they think I'm getting it wrong.

And, finally, I totally disagree with the idea that the EDL and the BNP are the unpaid volunteers of the racist state. That's not how I see them, or fascism in general, at all. But that's probably an argument for another time!

The Contentious Centrist said...

What is the qualitative difference between:

"By making the point that you are "against Jihadists", you are implying that some/many Muslims are "for Jihadists"."


"..the racist state, its uniformed boot--boys and the unpaid/volunteer fascists of EDL and the BNP." ??

The first implies that Jihadists represent the silent wishes of all Muslims, the second suggests that the fascists of EDL and the BNP represent the silent wishes of all Brits (except for Justin, of course).

Instead of making some progress towards a really precise and truthful linguistic formulation of the relationship between a tiny extremist minority and the much larger society from which it departs, Justin just reinforces the received wisdom that extremists and fanatics mirror each other perfectly.

Transpontine said...


I partly agree with you in this specifc instance, I was being slightly flippant when I first mentioned the 'neither jihadists or fascists' slogan in response to the news that Bob's post had arguably been superceded by the news that the BNP were planning to march on Lewisham.

I defend Bob's right to raise concerns about some of the people who have been associated with LIC, it's a judgement call about how and when to raise the issues. In the current climate I have chosen on my own blog not to mention this right now because of concerns about how that information might be misused, but I wouldn't see it as Islamophobic to critique 'hateful speech' wherever it occurs.

In the case of IFE I do think that a slogan like "neither Jihadists nor fascists" is correct, wording might not be quite right but sentiment of opposing both BNP/EDL and fascistic Islamist currents is correct.

I don't think Lewisham Islamic Centre is in the same boat, but while I will certainly be out to oppose the BNP on Saturday let's just say that there might be some people out who I wouldn't rely on to turn up if a synagogue was under attack.

On a broader note I think anti fascists have to also consider how to undermine core support of EDL. The BNP/EDL present themselves as the only voice for the outrage many people feel at acts like we saw in Woolwich, parts of the left like the SWP play into their hands when they apologise for right wing Islamism on the basis of 'anti imperialism'.

RJ Evans said...

How about both sides focusing on how they can live and love in peace? Why not just get on with making the various communities better and then extending that healthiness outwards? Naive, I know.


Modernity's Ghost said...

Could I suggest the slogan, neither:

Doug Murray or his mates in Commentator.

And before anyone is tempted to reply, ask yourself:

what are Murray's critical views of the EDL?

A: He doesn't have any.

Also read

Zubair Kagdi said...

i read this blog and i really don't think about the same. May be its all about different experience