Mega-Mosque “Intimidation” Mystery

A few weeks ago, Douglas Murray of the Gatestone Institute repeated a claim that a Muslim campaigner who had spoken out against plans for a large Tablighi Jamaat mosque in east London had withdrawn from a public inquiry due to alleged “witness intimidation”:

Tehmina Kazi is a member [actually Director – RB] of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, a small but significant voice in the effort to break the stranglehold of the fundamentalists in British Islam… At a previous inquiry into the mega-mosque in 2011, Kazi said in her Proof of Evidence, “The Tablighi Jamaat discourages integration into British society, especially of female members, since they essentially do not communicate with non-Muslims … Instead, female members… are kept secluded and the values surrounding this seclusion are transmitted to their children.”

Now she says that, “Withdrawing was a decision I did not undertake lightly. I did it after consultation with several trusted people and a number of assurances on women’s increased participation and involvement in the new facility.”

…According to Alan Craig [of the Christian People’s Alliance], Kazi withdrew because she was “harried and pressured” by “misogynist mosque supporters” while on holiday abroad, just before the inquiry opened. Jenny Taylor of Lapido Media — who has followed this case as closely as anyone — has spoken with Kazi, who has insisted that she had “been neither harried nor pressured but had accepted the reassurances she had been given about the place of women in the mega-mosque community.” Taylor has concluded that the person who persuaded Kazi not to testify was one Mudasser Ahmed.

That quote in which Kazi insists that she was not intimidated was actually given to Ruth Gledhill, and was afterwards cited by Taylor. Craig’s contrasting claim was also earlier repeated by Christian Concern.

Kazi’s on-the-record statement seems clear enough. As Director of BMSD, it’s her job to say what she thinks about the place of Islam in British life, and to argue against authoritarian and supremacist trends among British Muslims. And she’s always been very clear  that she is committed to speaking freely: back in March, she was quoted as telling the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies that “the more of us that speak out, the harder it is for Islamists to silence us”.

It seems most unlikely that she would be cowed into withdrawing, let alone into making a statement to a journalist that does not reflect her true views – and a bit of basic googling shows that the man named by Murray is a mainstream figure whose Unitas Communications company (“a specialist public relations, reputation management and digital communications agency”) appears to be perfectly respectable. Indeed, Kazi has herself worked with Unitas: in its 2012 submission to the Leveson Inquiry (entitled Race and Reform: Islam and Muslims in the British Media), she is described variously as a “consultant”; as a “campaigner for progressive Islam and women’s rights”; and as a “community leader”.

Sunny Hundal argued that Kazi should be taken at her word, and he criticised “the misrepresentation and spinning of a leading liberal Muslim woman’s opinion, just because it doesn’t fit the narrative of some right-wingers”. This prompted Craig to publish details of his communication with Kazi:

The previous Saturday afternoon she had called me, deeply distressed, from her holiday break abroad to tell me that Muddassar Ahmed was pressurising her (“intimidating” was her exact word) to withdraw. She said that Muddassar claimed he had obtained reassurances from Tablighi Jamaat that they would treat women better in future, and he promised Tehmina “they will continue to become more liberal under his influence.”

…”Muddassar is not som1 u want as an enemy – he is 2 well connected in the community,” she texted me in messages that are still on my phone. “Really sorry Muddassar has put you under such pressure and intimidation,” I replied, to which she texted “I’m still shocked that hes supporting them as his wife N***** P***** (my asterisks) is a feminist.”

“It (Muddassar’s intervention) has ruined my break,” she texted further. “It’s always left to me to stick my head above the parapet – I wish others would do so 4 a change,” she added.

So we now have a real and perplexing contradiction between what Kazi told Gledhill and what she apparently told Craig privately. For Craig, of course, her denials are simply further proof of intimidation, but the nature of the supposed hold over her remains somewhat opaque and the image of Kazi being intimidated by Unitas is inherently implausible. Also, the “holiday break abroad” element is difficult to understand: no-one likes to be troubled by work-related matters while on vacation, but if you make yourself available while away you can’t complain about people contacting you.

Kazi enjoys cross-political goodwill: the argument between Sunny, who is a liberal, and Craig, who is a conservative evangelical, has been played out on the shared ground that her views ought to be respected and presented truthfully. The discrepancy in her two statements is troubling.

2 Responses

  1. It was a bit disconcerting, and I thought those who asked whether Tehmina wanted this to be aired had a fair point. One would need to see the whole exchange to be sure whether Craig is reporting it accurately. Maybe she phrased her irritation in a slightly hyperbolic way, and did not mean to suggest that she was being, in any serious way, intimidated. It is perhaps also possible that she slightly reluctantly conceded that the mosque was making an effort to be more inclusive, and thus withdraw active opposition, while still feeling the sect behind it was pretty regressive.

  2. “The discrepancy in her two statements is troubling.” That’s a very fair comment. It’s very troubling.

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