Leveson, the megamosque and reporting Islam

by - 5th December 2012

Tonight at 6pm (Wednesday 5 December) Newham Council’s Strategic Development Committee meets to hear why its officers are recommending refusal of outline plans for the Riverine Centre, aka ‘megamosque’. 

In a fairly scary YouTube video, one Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad, yet another pantomime bearded finger-wagger who has set up home among the infidel and who, according to Quilliam Foundation has ‘tens of thousands of followers’ – has called for a protest of up to 15,000 Muslims with their families outside the council offices. 

He’s particularly concerned at losing the possibility of ‘a big symbol of Islam in the centre of London’ and the precedent that might set for ‘other big masjid in London’ – to quote.

However, he expressly calls for this demo to be ‘civilized’ and ‘peaceful’.

In time-honoured fashion, people affected by planning decisions have the right to be seen by their councillors before a meeting. 

(It’s unfortunate that the sheikh has overlooked to consider something so prosaic as the law on footpath management in the dar-ul-harb.  Police have been informed.)

More alarming however has been the reaction of the Daily Star, with whom Lapido has been trying –in vain it appears - to work. 

We are funded to, among other things, help journalists understand religion, and nuance coverage of beliefs, behaviours, social histories. 

Since Britain’s schools teach little about religions and next to nothing of value about Islam beyond the five pillars, we are trying to bridge the gap that’s left.

Unless we do – and we’ve had some successes recently - the tabloids will continue to contribute nothing to existing obfuscation and potential strife.

Unfortunately, Monday’s story was a case in point. 

Having watched the YouTube video, the reporter Dominik Lemanski, the pleasant lapsed-Catholic son of a Polish wartime émigré who at least still possesses religious categories among his cultural baggage, allowed this ridiculous mistake: 

‘Up to 15,000 militant Islamists are set to descend on east London this week to pressure town hall chiefs into allowing a 9,000 capacity mega-mosque.’

Now Muslim families attending a council planning meeting on a wet Wednesday evening may be a crowd of variously motivated banner wavers and burqa-wearers. 

But what they certainly will not be is a bunch of gun-toting fanatics seeking to oust an illegitimate government by force of arms.

That’s the definition of an Islamist militant – and the only definition.

There are genuine enough reasons for concern about this development – not least being the Tablighi Jamaat’s own utter rejection of the wider community - as Lapido’s recent publication Tablighi Jamaat has made plain.


They regard the world as an unsavoury, defiling place to leave as quickly as possible (‘a toilet’ to quote one of the more pungent epithets) – and wilfully ignore much of it, including all property law, whether it’s here or in Pakistan.


That creates a kind of social vacuum around them which becomes worryingly abhorrent, as the old saying about nature and vacuums goes.


But for the press simply to make up the facts is risible were it not so deadly. 


As a tabloid-trained reporter myself, I’d like to give Dominic the benefit of the doubt, and assume this was just cock-up, not some plot to rouse an obnoxious and frustrated readership. 


I’m probably wrong – even if the constraints of tabloid writing are very great – so this error is hard to forgive. 


A section of the Leveson report is relevant therefore: perhaps a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand at this stage, but deeply ominous.

Lord Leveson states in the report that ‘when assessed as a whole, the evidence of discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers, is concerning.’

Most damning:  ‘There was a tendency for some titles to adopt a sensationalist mode of reporting intended to support a world-view rather than to report a story.’

And he concludes:  ‘[The] failure has, in the main, been limited to a section of the press and may well stem from an undue focus on seeking to reflect the views (even if unsuccessfully) of a particular readership. A new regulator will need to address these issues as a matter of priority, the first steps being to amend practice and the Code to permit third party complaints.’


Imagine the religiously illiterate quagmires up ahead as Sheikh Haddad and his salafi henchmen tangle with the tabloids – and their lawyers - under some putative new statutory ‘licence to complain’.


The only way out is the best way: earn some respect by sticking to the facts – before it’s too late to report them.