Some interesting stuff from the London Evening Standard today about Ken Livingstone’s Islamic support and allegiances. Bear in mind that the Evening Standard and Ken have been at daggers drawn for some years, but personally I think the Standard is on to something.
Ken does live like a Muslim, 5 children by 3 different women, kept in three different establishments, at least one of whom was put in her place with a public slap.
An advocate of suicide bombing is among leaders of a group trying to mobilise Muslim voters to back Ken Livingstone, the Standard reveals today.
For the past year, the group has been working on a strategy to win an estimated 200,000 Muslim votes in an effort to re-elect the Mayor.
It includes a campaign of vilification aimed at his Conservative rival, Boris Johnson. It is being waged by Muslims 4 Ken, led by 39-year-old lecturer Anas Altikriti and Palestinian-born Azzam Tamimi, a supporter of Hamas, the militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic state of Palestine.
Muslims 4 Ken moves into overdrive this week after months of lobbying for Mr Livingstone among Muslim community leaders, in mosques and among political organisations.
The Islamic alliance backing the Mayor is based in east London and has already drawn on wide support from the area's Bangladeshi community. Muslims 4 Ken grew from Mr Livingstone's links with activists and his generous sponsorship of Muslim causes. Mr Altikriti was instrumental in the Mayor's patronage of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Islamic cleric who was welcomed by Mr Livingstone to City Hall. The Mayor's critics believe his praise of Mr al-Qaradawi was part of a cynical plan to exploit the Muslim vote. Mr al-Qaradawi is banned from Britain over fears his presence may not be conducive to "security and peace".
The last two weeks of the election campaign will see a sustained attack on Mr Johnson based on claims that he is anti-Islam. Volunteers have been supplied with quotes from his journalism over the past 15 years in which he appears to be critical of Islam.
The quotes are deluging internet forums and form part of messages posted in texts and emails sent to exhort Muslims to vote for Mr Livingstone.
A year-long strategy to mobilise the Muslim vote for Ken moves into overdrive this week, accompanied by a campaign of vilification aimed at Boris.
It has been orchestrated by Islamic leaders who have been assiduously courted by Ken, an Evening Standard investigation reveals, and signals a new departure in tactics to harness an ethnic minority vote in a bid for power.
Behind the operation are supporters of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Sunni scholar welcomed to City Hall by Ken. Al-Qaradawi has dismayed Muslim moderates with his defence of suicide bombers, female circumcision and the persecution of homosexuals, although he has denounced terrorism for political goals.
The Islamic alliance for Ken was set up early last summer and is based in east London. It grew from Ken's links with community leaders and activists and his generous sponsorship of Muslim causes.
The London Development Agency, often referred to as "Ken's piggy bank", gave £700,000 to help set up the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel. The centre and the adjoining East London Mosque are the geographical heartland of the Muslim campaign to re-elect Ken. So far, it has involved one of the biggest mobilisations of an ethnic vote ever seen in London. It is bigger than the Muslim effort behind George Galloway when he captured Bethnal Green and Bow for his Respect party in 2005.
The last two weeks of the election campaign will see a sustained attack on Boris based on claims that he is anti-Islam. Ken's Muslim supporters have made much of the fact the British National Party urged its members to make him their second preference vote. Boris has rejected BNP support but Muslims 4 Ken argues that it proves he is the enemy.
The network of Islamic groups and personalities linked to Muslims 4 Ken is not confined to London. One is Salma Yaqoob, a close associate of George Galloway and a Birmingham city councillor for his Respect party. Ms Yaqoob, a tireless campaigner for the hijab, is on record describing the 7 July bombings in London as "reprisal events".
Muslims 4 Kenbelieves that out of a possible vote of close to half a million, up to 200,000 can be secured for Ken. For months its campaigners have canvassed door-to-door and targeted 60 key mosques among the 200 or so in London. Altikriti was at Redbridge mosque on Saturday where, as is his practice, he asked the imam if he could include an appeal to vote for Ken in his address. Permission was politely declined but at other mosques he has been able to make his pitch.
A sinister element of the campaign is the effort to portray Boris as a Muslim hater. Websites have been bombarded with selected quotes from his journalism. One, Islamophobia Watch, carries a long list of excerpts from his articles under the heading Back Boris Urges BNP.
Informed observers see Islamophobia Watchas a tool of Ken's political machine. It often carries articles lauding his efforts forminorities, especially Muslims. Headlines such as "Livingstone attacks French headscarf ban" and "Livingstone decries vilification of Islam" abound.
Documents obtained by the Evening Standard reveal the exceptional access given to Muslim leaders to the Mayor's office. Altikriti has held extensive talks with Ken and his aides, apparently in the interests of improving race relations and fostering multiculturalism. Insiders believe Ken has also been highly conscious of the electoral potential among London's Muslims.
One source said a two-pronged strategy was developed in 2003: one, to take a tough stance with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and challenge the Zionist lobby. The second was to work with and court hardline Islamic groups and individuals. The source said: "Ken did not have a relationship with them directly but through Anas Altikriti."
Altikriti is closely involved with the Muslim Association of Britain, widely described as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, an international Islamist network in which Yusuf al-Qaradawi is viewed as a leading figure. It has provided a spiritual home for a number of extremists, including Ayman Al Zawahiri, the al Qaeda leader often described as Osama bin Laden's deputy.
Altikriti said his father had led the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq for 10 years but he denied he was involved with it. However, hewas instrumental in organising al-Qaradawi's visit to London to attend a meeting of the European Council of Fatwa and Research at City Hall.
Al-Qaradawi is a highly esteemed Islamic scholar, but his support for suicide bombers and his homophobia have offended many. He is held to be the unofficial leader of the Muslim Brotherhood by a number of informed authorities.
When Ken made a very public display of embracing him at City Hall - the images were widely distributed to Muslim websites and newspapers - there was disquiet, especially among Jews and gays. Al-Qaradawi is now banned from entering Britain after being refused a visa earlier this year. The decision was based on Article 41 of the UN charter which deals with threats to peace and security.
George Galloway, who is standing for the Greater London Assembly, supports Ken. He demonstrated the power of the Muslim vote in London when he captured the formerly safe Labour seat in Bethnal Green and Bow in 2006. Muslim community leaders campaigned vigorously on his behalf. One, Shiraj Haque, a wealthy restaurateur known as the Brick Lane Curry King, told me: "I got 7,000 votes for Galloway. I shall deliver more for Ken."
Galloway has acknowledged his debt to Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), which has a powerful presence at the East London Mosque. Ed Husein, who wrote revealingly about extremists at the East London Mosque, disclosed that after Galloway's election, he said at a celebration dinner: "I am indebted, more than I can say - more than it would be wise for me to say - to the IFE ... I believe they played the decisive role in this historic victory."
Ken appears to want the Muslims to help him with a historic victory of his own. The question many will ask is: what is he giving in return? Apart from high level access to Muslim organisations, Ken's office has also been a generous donor to Muslim causes, including the Islamexpo in 2005 and the annual Bangladeshi Mela festival. Ken also commissioned a report on anti-Islamic bias in the media and a long dossier defending al-Qaradawi, a document some observers say was seriously flawed.
Altikriti said the polls have not yet taken into account the massive Muslim votehe hopes will turn out for Ken. It will, he said, be at least 180,000 and could well reach 200,000.
"Boris Johnson would be extremely bad news for Muslims in London. When the 7/7 bombings happened, Ken condemned them as criminal acts. Boris condemned Islam”.
Can Muslims swing it for Ken? "Yes," he replied, "we definitely can."