IFE: Not Harmless Democrats

(Andrew Gilligan) – WHEN WE AT CHANNEL 4 set out to make our Dispatches programme on the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe, we could almost have written the complaints in advance. And that, it turns out, is precisely what our new friends in the IFE did.

As early as 22 February, according to emails kindly leaked to us by our IFE snouts, they were circulating sizzling, oven-ready template letters (“I write to express my disgust and disappointment at Channel 4’s wholly inaccurate and defamatory accusations … The documentary is Islamophobic in nature … uses emotive and provocative language … is part of a series of organised, vindictive and orchestrated witch-hunts”) about a programme still nearly a week from air.

Fascinatingly, the IFE’s response since the actual broadcast has been much more muted. Perhaps the unequivocal statement by the local Labour MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, that they have infiltrated his party; or the squirming refusal of the local Labour council leader, Lutfur Rahman, to deny it; or the 110% growth in Labour members in the area in two years, many of them with the same names as people we can link to the IFE – perhaps these have silenced a few of those concerns about “inaccuracy.”

Perhaps our unemotive, factual quotation from original IFE documents has helped still those complaints about “defamation” and “vindictiveness”. Such as, for instance, the transcript of a 2009 recruit training course where the organisation tells its new members: “Our goal is not simply to invite people and give da’wah [call to the faith]. Our goal is to create the True Believer, to then mobilise those believers into an organised force for change who will carry out da’wah, hisbah [enforcement of Islamic law] and jihad [struggle]. This will lead to social change and iqamatud-Deen [an Islamic social, economic and political order].”

Or the leaflet where the IFE tells us that it is dedicated to changing the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed … from ignorance to Islam.” Or the document where the IFE says it “strives for the establishment of a global [my italics] society, the Khilafah … comprised of individuals who live by the principles of … the Shari’ah.” The IFE’s “primary work” to create this state, the document goes on, “is in Europe [my italics] because it is this continent, despite all the furore about its achievements, which has a moral and spiritual vacuum.”

Life in the IFE’s Islamic social and political order would be different from the way it is now. “Protect yourselves from all types of haram [forbidden things] … music, TV, and freemixing with women in that which is not necessary” the IFE recruits are told. “Democracy, if it means at the expense of not implementing the sharia, of course no one agrees with that,” says the IFE’s community affairs coordinator, Azad Ali.

Inayat Bunglawala’s attempt, therefore, to claim in this space yesterday that the IFE are merely regular Muslims seeking “democratic engagement” is hopeless. The IFE’s enmity to democracy comes from their own lips.

I have no objection at all to the IFE engaging in the political process in support of their views – so long as they are honest about them. But I very much object to what they are actually doing: concealing those views to win significant and growing power over their community through democratic, secular parties whose values are diametrically opposed to theirs.

The IFE’s deceit is borne of necessity. For all their claims that any attack on them is an attack on Islam itself, they know that their support among Muslims is small – as shown in our documentary, where Muslim Londoner after Muslim Londoner lined up to express their outrage at the IFE’s presumptuousness as much as at its views. The fact that fully 70% of our interviewees were Muslim should answer any charge that this was an “Islamophobic” programme.

My Muslim friends and I believe in a world that is, in Louis MacNeice‘s fine words, “incorrigibly plural”. We see no reason why we should have to be defined by our faith, unless we want to be. Like the poet, we feel the drunkenness of things being various. The cold Islamic supremacists of the IFE are the enemies not just of democracy, but of multiculturalism and pluralism itself. Their indulgence by the political system is one of the hidden scandals of our time.