Three of the Labour candidates on the Lewisham East shortlist promoted a radical imam who the High Court ruled “clearly promoted and encouraged violence in support of Islam and espoused a series of extremist Islamic positions”.
Shakeel Begg is the imam at Lewisham Islamic Centre. In 2016 he lost a libel action against the BBC after a judge ruled he had promoted violence. Mr Justice Haddon-Cave said “he has shed the cloak of respectability and revealed the horns of extremism”. The court heard that in 2006, Begg gave a speech urging his followers to travel to Palestine to “fight the Zionists”. In 2008, Begg praised Muslims who had travelled abroad to fight enemies of Islam. Two further speeches were found to have contained extremist content. The judge ruled:
“The various core extremist messages which emerge from the claimant’s speeches and utterances would, in my view, have been quite clear to the audiences. The claimant’s ostensible cloak of respectability is likely to have made his [extremist] message in these speeches all the more compelling and seductive. For this reason, therefore, his messages would have been all the more effective and dangerous. It is all too easy for someone in the claimant’s position of power and influence as an Imam to plant the seed of Islamic extremism in a young mind, which is then liable to be propagated on the internet.”
Lewisham Islamic Centre is one of the most controversial mosques in Britain. In 2013, it was revealed that Lee Rigby’s killers Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale had links to the mosque. A Whitehall source told the papers: “It does attract a radical crowd and radical speakers and has its fair share of converts. From that perspective it is significant. Adebolajo and Adebowale did go there, and anywhere that attracts extremists is of interest”.
Despite these extremist links, Labour’s candidates in Lewisham East have repeatedly promoted Shakeel Begg and the Lewisham Islamic Centre.
Two weeks ago, Sakina Sheikh, the Momentum-backed candidate, was filmed sharing a platform with Begg at the Lewisham Islamic Centre. During her recent council campaign, Lewisham Islamic Centre produced a leaflet urging local Muslims to vote for Sheikh. It said: “We pray that Allah (God) Almighty blesses… Ms Sakina Sheikh”.
In February, Janet Daby, also a Lewisham East candidate, took part in a panel discussion with Begg at Lewisham Islamic Centre.
In October last year, Brenda Dacres, another Lewisham East candidate, promoted a lecture given by Begg at Lewisham Islamic Centre. In August last year, Dacres joined Begg at a Unite Against Fascism rally.
Begg is clearly a player in Lewisham, he was certainly seen as important by Labour politicians seeking votes on their council campaigns, so much so that one candidate even publicly appeared with him the night before this month’s local elections. He is also someone who the High Court says is a dangerous extremist. At the height of Labour’s anti-Semitism scandal, it is unfortunate that three of Labour’s candidates in Lewisham East have promoted someone who told his followers to travel to Palestine to “fight the Zionists”…