Friends House and Islamic Extremists

“Liberal hawk” website Harry’s Place attacks the managers of Friends House, the Quakers’ apostrophe-less London HQ in Euston Road, for allowing it to be used as the venue for a public meeting with Hussein el-Hajj Hassan, a Lebanese MP who is also a member of Hezbollah. Quakers, of course, are radical pacifists, and the Meeting House in central London is a popular venue for anti-war groups and meetings. However, Hezbollah is hardly “anti-war”, and HP called his presence a “betrayal of George Fox”. It’s not the first time pacificism has been dissed there; in 2006 the Hamas-linked Azzam Tamimi was cheered at the same venue as he ranted rapturously about how about how Hamas and Hizbollah would “deal with” the “Zionist entity” during the Lebanon war.

The venue has also been booked by extremists without any kind of “anti-war” veneer; in 2002 it was reported that

Abu Qatada, the missing hardline Islamic cleric suspected by intelligence officials of being a key al-Qaeda operative in the UK, has broken his silence to call on British Muslims to martyr themselves in a holy war against oppression…Qatada’s message was read out by Omar Mohammed Bakri Fostok, the leader of the al-Muhajiroun group which organised the meeting. The group has been implicated in sending volunteers to fight with the Taliban and other hardline forces. Fostok has said that he wanted Britain to become an Islamic state and has endorsed the use of violence.

…Most of the listeners were young men, though around 50 women, sitting in a segregated section, were also present. Around the hall – the Quaker’s Friends Meeting House in Euston – banners condemning the oppression of Muslims in Kashmir and the Israeli-occupied West Bank had been hung.

The Quakers apaprently claimed they had been misled, although just a few days ago al-Muhajiroun’s latest incarnation, Islam4UK, held a conference there after the Hilton turned them down. The (ahem) Daily Express picked up on the incongruity:

…In a matter of minutes this Christian enclave was sporting a banner proclaiming: “There is None Worthy of Worship Except Allah and Mohammed is the Final Messenger.”

In the foyer they were even ­giving away car stickers with the claim: Jesus was a Muslim. No one was in the mood for a cool and calm-headed religious discussion. The appetite was for fiery speakers extolling the true word of Islam.

Also at this event was film-maker Dave Bones:

The Quakers are quite well known for letting anyone hire a room. I was once told by a Quaker part of what sounded like a huge untold story about the importance of their meeting house in Belfast during “The Troubles”

…I try and film what is. They certainly preach controversial things, yet they also preach clearly against terrorism, usually toward the end every time I have been to these meetings. Islam is coming. It is going to dominate whether we like it or not. Maybe it will come through violence. We don’t know but the flag of Islam will fly over Downing street. This is a sort of Islamic revival meeting.

Preaching against terrorism seems to me likely to be no more than a “legal disclaimer”; Choudary and al-Muhajiroun are notorious for their praise of the “Magnificent 19” 9/11 hijackers.

Nick Cohen gave a characteristally sour assessment of the place back in 2001:

 It’s a charmless, echoing building overlooking the perpetually jammed Euston Road. Its style can best be described as municipal-pharaonic. The thousands of protests that have been made within its walls – a few of which succeeded, most of which failed – give it an atmosphere of resigned duty. You walk through its doors because you know you must, but expect defeat.

6 Responses

  1. I don’t subscribe to the views of Hizbollah, nor indeed of Islam, but
    Hizbollah is a major political party in Lebanon, and its main military activity has been resistance to foreign invasion and freeing the south of its country from the Israeli forces and the Christian militias they backed. This, in a country whose politics are predominantly sectarian-based has won it the support of the Shi’ite population, but respect of others beside.
    It may not meet the standards of Quaker pacifism, but nor would all kinds of political parties, including the kind supported by adherents of Harry’s Place. Should Friends House refuse bookings for meetings to which Labour MPs supporting the present government are invited? Trident is not a pacifist project, nor are the wars which people Nick Cohen have come to support.
    As a supporter of the Stop the War Coalition, I remember how its leadership insisted they could not align with any political forces within Iraq, to the extent of favouring secular and progressive movements. I recall also how they kept some left-wing speakers off their Trafalgar Square platform. They continue to exclude Hands Off the People of Iran, with its Iranian refugee supporters, because it is critical of the Islamiicist regime. Yet they have no problem arranging a meeting for speakers from Hizbollah and Hamas, ignoring other Lebanese or Palestinian voices, and this is not “taking sides” in these peoples’ politics? Anti-war campaigners should certainly question the way their movement is being led.
    But that is a different matter from demanding the government ban Hizbollah or Hamas people coming to Britain, as some Zionists and others have done, whereas it is necessary that governments talk with Hizbollah and Hamas, particularly as the latter was elected by Palestinians and has actually been strengthened after Israel’s Gaza war. These are not small bands of “extremists”, but parties that have to be included if there is to be any progress towards a Middle East peace.
    It is also right that they are able to address audiences here, and that the Quakers, whose meeting halls provide a necessary venue for all kinds of events, are not required to check who is speaking or what they can say, especially not by criteria supplied by the denizens of Harry’s Place.

  2. Charlie: Yes but Labour don’t openly advocate genocide, unlike Hezbollah who do, and the Hezbollah spokesperson in question Abou Jahjah specifically does:

    Let’s not also forget that Hezbollah have murdered Jews around the world:

    However I do follow your line of argument that no-one linked to any violence should be allowed to speak at the Friends House. In which case the Quakers shouldn’t be hosting political meetings at all. So yes, I suppose the Quakers should refuse Labour MPs if they’re being consistent with their own teachings.

    All this is rather sad as I’m sure Quakers do have a lot to contribute in debates over Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel/Palestine, yet they undermine their own credibility by hosting violent extremists.

  3. […] to protest the Quakers’ provision of premises for meetings of extremist radical groups hosting hate preachers have been met with obscurification and deaf […]

  4. […] Quakers’… Apr 2nd, 2009 by Martin Kelley. // nRelate.domain = ""; //Controversy about London’s Friends House and Islamic Extremists /**/ Share this:EmailFacebookPosted in: misc. ← Mark Franek on the hazards of […]

  5. […] War’s alliance with the Resistance, AKA Hezbollah and its allies, at a 2009 meeting hosted by the Quakers at Friends House, London. The guest of honour was Hussein el-Hajj Hassan, a Lebanese MP and member of Hezbollah. In his […]

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