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Islamophobia Watch

Livingstone Rejects Human Rights Coalition

Peter Tatchell

LONDON Mayor Ken Livingstone has refused to meet a coalition of human rights activists, including Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians, gays, feminists, students, humanists and refugees from Islamist repression. They want to discuss their concern over the Mayor’s hosting of the Right-wing Muslim cleric, Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, at City Hall last July.

The coalition has written to members of the London Assembly, calling for an inquiry into Livingstone’s embrace of Qaradawi and his refusal to meet them. They feel threatened and alienated by the Mayor’s fierce defence of the fundamentalist cleric.

The coalition accuses Qaradawi of condoning anti-Semitism, misogyny and homophobia. They point to his books and speeches as evidence that he supports female genital mutilation, domestic violence, suicide bombing of innocent civilians, the execution of homosexuals by Islamic states, destruction of the Jewish people and the blaming of rape victims who do not dress with sufficient modesty.

Qaradawi’s extremist views are documented in his books, Modern Fatwas and The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, and on the IslamOnline website – the content of which Qaradawi approves as the website’s chief scholar.

His anti-human rights opinions are meticulously documented on the coalition’s website www.londoncommunitycoalition.org

The coalition highlights a petition delivered to the United Nations on October 30, signed by more than 2,500 of the world’s leading Muslim intellectuals from 23 countries. The petition names Qaradawi as one of "the theologians of terror", accusing him of "providing a religious cover for terrorism".

Refugees from Islamist repression in the Arab world condemn Qaradawi as an apologist for "Islamo-fascism". They accuse him of opposing democracy, socialism and human rights. The apparently liberal opinions Qaradawi espouses when he visits Western capitals are just a front, designed to fool and seduce politicians such as the Mayor of London. Qaradawi’s true beliefs are the hard-line fundamentalism he preaches in Arabic to Middle Eastern audiences when no Western journalists or politicians are present.

Arab News points out that Qaradawi’s gentle words in London "don’t match" the extremism he preaches in the Middle East. Undeterred, Ken denies the evidence and continues to side with Qaradawi against liberal and Left-wing Muslims.

Although a good Mayor of London, on this issue Livingstone has made a serious misjudgement. His dismissal of the coalition’s concerns as Islamophobia is obvious nonsense. As the coalition states: "We condemn all forms of prejudice or discrimination against Muslim people, utterly and without qualification."

Livingstone justifies his embrace of Qaradawi on the grounds that he has a duty to engage in dialogue with a leader of one of the world’s major religions. But he would never host a Right-wing Christian fundamentalist cleric who advocates, as Qaradawi does, the creation of a theocratic state where democracy and individual liberty are extinguished, gay sex is punishable by death, wife-beating is sanctioned, and where free speech, trade unions and the right to protest are suppressed. These views are clerical fascism.

The Mayor’s stand has caused great hurt to Left-wing Muslims and the victims of Islamist repression. They are horrified that Livingstone, the Socialist Workers Party and Respect seem to be forging an alliance with Right-wing Islamic fundamentalists such as Qaradawi and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) – an alliance against socialist, gay and feminist Muslims.

"I fled to Britain to escape murder by Islamic fundamentalists in Atgeria," says gay Muslim and OutRage! activist, Ramzi Isalam. "Now I find the Mayor of my adopted city embracing a cleric who endorses the execution of gay people in Islamic states and who provides a theological justification for the people who wanted to kill me. Why is Ken prepared to have a dialogue with Islamic fundamentalists like Qaradawi and the MAB, but not with liberal and progressive Muslims? Why does he ignore the pleas of the victims of Islamist repression and dictatorship? Those of us who have suffered at the hands of the fundamentalists do not want our persecutors following us to London and being given the red carpet treatment by the Mayor of London."

The row over Qaradawi has been inflamed by the way the Greater London Authority (GLA) has censored and gagged criticisms from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community groups. A debate and vote at September’s GLA/LGBT Forum was blocked by Mayoral advisor Anni Marjoram (previously a valued supporter of gay rights).

Forum members proposed a motion expressing "disappointment" that the Mayor had hosted Qaradawi. Marjoram told them they were not permitted to debate and pass motions. But since the Forum has no constitution or standing orders that disallow motions and votes, there was no valid reason why members could not have had a debate and vote if they wished.

According to John Hunt of OutRage!: "The Mayor says he wants to consult the LGBT community on issues that concern us. But when we try to express views critical of the Mayor, we get silenced. There is not a shred of democracy in the LGBT Forum when the Mayor’s advisor can stifle debate and deny members the right to vote. It is clear the Forum operates entirely on the terms imposed by the GLA and its staff, Any perceived criticisms of the GLA or its management are vetoed."

Accusing GLA officials of "gagging and censorship", OutRage! is now questioning whether the LGBT Forum serves any useful purpose. Dr Hunt: "The GLA claims democratic input and consultation, but when confronted with awkward issues, it blocks debate and criticism. The Forum is an impotent, ineffectual talking-shop."

This article was published in Tribune, 7 January 2005