Dr Muhammad Ahmedullah, a commentator on Bangledeshi politics, shares his thoughts on the re-election of Lutfur Rahman as the mayor of Tower Hamlets and what that means for Bangladeshis in the borough.
Greatness is a relative concept and therefore not all “greatnesses” are equivalent in reality. However, all greatnesses are something extraordinary based on the contexts, challenges and barriers faced by the individuals in question and how they overcame them.
I feel Mayor Lutfur Rahman has achieved something extraordinary given the challenges he faced during the last five years.
He stood up to and managed to overcome the combined might of the local Labour and Tory parties in Tower Hamlets, BBC’s Panorama, Andrew Gilligan, Channel 4’s Dispatches, many hardcore Islamophobes, and also perhaps hardcore Bengali Nationalists and Awami League elements (speculations on my part by putting two and three together).
It may be true that many Awami League-orientated people from the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets also supported Lutfur in this election partly and perhaps because they were deeply hurt by the allegations made by BBC Panorama episode “Mayor and Our Money”.
However, I feel many hardcore Bengali nationalists, inspired by the triumph of the AL party in Bangladesh in 2009, decided to embark on a mission to isolate anyone who doesn’t follow their militant secularism and Bengali nationalism and support their new aggressive anti-Jamaat-e-Islami agenda.
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I feel that part of the portrayal of Lutfur as an “Islamic extremist” or someone who has links with Islamists is because he was not willing to play according to the new agenda coming from Bangladesh and distance himself from one section of the local community identified by certain groups as Islamic fundamentalists.
A recent really badly written article will help illustrate the thinking behind my speculation (UK “The Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets” Who Is Mayor Lutfur Rahman? by Mohshin Habib, Gatestone Institute, 20 May 2014).
The author quoted Andrew Gilligan extensively without analysing whether his allegations were based on any truths.
In the same article he reported that according to Abdul Gaffar Chaudhury, a well known militant Bengali Nationalist and Awami League secularist, Tower Hamlets had “become a stronghold for Jamaat-e-Islami, a Wahhabi religious and political group”.
He further quotes Mr Chaudhury as saying that “some progressive Bangladeshi expatriates, living in London, are now labelling the borough under Lutfur Rahman as Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets”; and that that “in 1980s and 1990s, Tower Hamlets was a centre of a cultural movement and progressive people, but after Rahman became mayor, unfortunately it turned into a den for Jamaat-e-Islami.”
Anyone who knows Tower Hamlets well will know that this is just preposterous, false, partial and propaganda.
In 2005 I was invited to speak at a Kent County Council conference in Margate covering the county-wide educational under-achievement of Bangladeshi children.
One of the speakers was a senior officer from Tower Hamlets council who shared success stories and good practices from the borough. He reported that one of the most effective and successful strategies they adopted in Tower Hamlets to deal with educational under-achievement was the running of a number of projects and programmes jointly with the East London Mosque (ELM/LMC).
I believe Cllr Helal Abbas was the leader of the council at that time, not Lutfur. Working with the ELM to address local needs is not a new thing under Lutfur.
I personally know some hardcore militant secularists and nationalists from Bangladesh who became emboldened with the election triumph of the Awami League in Bangladesh in 2009 and have brought more of the country’s political divisions and conflicts into Britain, particularly Tower Hamlets, with a view to isolating and weakening the Jamaat’s large influence on East London through its hold on the ELM.
I feel that the attack on Lutfur by this group of militant Bengali Nationalists and Awami secularists is because they saw him as someone standing in their way to achieving their new aggressive agenda.
Lutfur, in contrast, wanted to serve the local community by improving local services and was not interested in playing the new aggressive militant Awami League agenda.
Subsequent attacks on Lutfur was, as far as I can see, undertaken by an alliance of forces with a lot of power and influence that did not want a self-identified Bangladeshi Muslim to do well and succeed in British politics, serving all communities not just the Muslim/Bangladeshi community.
Nobody would have ever thought a few years ago that Lutfur would be described as a great man by anyone and some may even laugh at this label, but in my view he has achieved greatness by overcoming a mighty force that assembled to destroy him, single-handedly with the support of local people in Tower Hamlets.
Sometimes ordinary people are catapulted by circumstances and experiences of injustice and unfairness to actions of resistance and by overcoming challenges they become great.
To Lutfur’s enemies, I say that continuous attacks on the re-elected mayor will have diminishing consequences. The theory that if you continue to throw mud some will start sticking is only true if there is no one to clean the mud, throw some back or prevent the throwing in the first place.
The local Bangladeshis of Tower Hamlets are not as vulnerable, weak and gullible as thought by some. They have become empowered and can fight back effectively. Through this struggle Lutfur has shown how to fight back against big boys, playground bullies and wins, and as a result has empowered and energised many more people in the local community.
Dr Ahmedullah has a PhD in Politics and Epistemology. He is a regular commentator on Bangladeshi politics and resides in East London.