The religious studies department at Central Foundation Girls’ School in Bow proudly states on its website that religious education enables pupils “to flourish individually within their communities and as citizens in a diverse society, to develop respect for and sensitivity to others, in particular those whose faiths and beliefs are different from their own. It promotes discernment and enables pupils to combat prejudice.”
They may want to revise that passage after four Bangladeshis from the local “community” were jailed for grievous bodily harm with intent, and a fifth for helping dispose of the perpetrators’ bloodstained clothing, their victim being 38-year-old Gary Smith, for eight years head of religious education at the school. At 8am one day in July 2010, Mr Smith was waylaid by four men who repeatedly hit him with a brick and a metal rod before kicking him on the ground. Mr Smith now has a four-inch scar across his left cheek, a reminder of the fractures sustained to his jaw and the whole facial part of his skull during the attack.
The assailants were caught by a fluke coincidence. MI5 had bugged the main culprit’s Ford Focus and recorded the men plotting and then boasting about it afterwards to the accompaniment of jihadi music on the car’s stereo. This information was given to the police a month after Mr Smith had been almost murdered. In these recordings, 26-year-old Azad Hussein, whose niece attended the school, says: “He’s mocking us and he’s putting thoughts in people’s minds,” the latter, one might presume, being partly what teachers are for. The men had also heard “rumours” that Smith had raped a Muslim girl, allegations with no substance except in their own dark fantasies.
This barbaric attack has a wider context in what is being called the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets, where, despite Labour Party deselection, a solicitor called Lutfur Rahman is the elected mayor, due, many think, to the exertions of the Islamic Forum Europe. This is the British branch of Jamaat-e-Islami, the Bangladeshi party which collaborated with Pakistan during the liberation struggle of the 1970s. While JeI gets just 2 per cent of the vote in Bangladesh, where the government has weeded out its Wahabist publications from 24,000 libraries, its message abounds in libraries around Tower Hamlets.
The US embassy has even tried to inflict the Council on American-Islamic Relations activist, Basim Elkarra, on the borough to talk to “vulnerable” Muslim youths, including those who go around attacking gays. A former Tory MP compares this with using the bad to neutralise the worst. He is right.
In Tower Hamlets, there have been repeated reports of Muslim shop staff threatened for not wearing headscarves. Signs have appeared announcing that the area is a “gay-free zone” while “provocative” advertisements for deodorants and underwear have been blacked out. Gay rights groups have reported a significant rise in attacks on gay men by Bangladeshi youths. While no connection should be made between these incidents and the borough’s politics, when Peter Golds, the Conservative opposition leader, attempts to speak at council meetings a claque shouts “Mrs Gold” or “poofter”.
With an annual budget of £1.3 billion one might imagine Mayor Rahman has enough cash for his favoured causes. And yet the business and skills department has given Yazdani Choudary more than £1 million to develop IT training and apprenticeship schemes from a building in Whitechapel, which, by coincidence, hosts his brother Anjem’s newly-minted Centre for Islamic Services. Anjem is the unemployed law graduate and putative cleric who figured prominently in al-Muhajiroun and Islam4UK, before these Islamist fronts were banned. The same building also hosts a printing business which employs a graphic designer (and al-Muhajiroun supporter) jailed for two years in 2008 for trying to fund overseas terrorism. When Ted Jeory, a doughty local Sunday Express journalist who runs an investigative website dedicated to the Islamisation of Tower Hamlets, attempted to interview this man, he was told, “Rot in hell or embrace Islam”.
The coalition government has recently sought to address some of the deficiencies in the 2007 Prevent counter-terrorism strategy it inherited from Labour, in essence a system of payoffs to the tribal chiefs of Islamism who know how to work it. As far as I can see from the wordy end-product, the revision mostly involves rearranging the chairs on the Titanic, by civil servants well past their sell-by date. No wonder the response has been tepid. None of it will reassure the likes of Mr Smith, as he looks nervously over his shoulder in an area which is fast separating itself from mainstream British society.