Ex-mayor Cllr. Saima Mahmud and her ‘receptions to honour’ at the Town Hall

The recent fuss about Cllr. Ahsan Khan has revealed that the 2015-16 Mayor, Cllr. Saima Mahmud, habitually hosted receptions in the Town Hall, at which supposedly distinguished visitors were honoured with ‘mementoes’.

There are several questions that arise.

One is about whether this practice accords with basic democratic principles.

It would be nice to think that those enjoying Mayoral honour were chosen openly and without favour. But it transpires that this was far from the case, with one or two ordinary citizens arranging a large number of the events, and little or no input from anyone on the council staff.

Relatedly, it is reasonable to ask too whether – however they were chosen – Cllr. Mahmud’s guests were necessarily appropriate and deserving.

Here is a picture of one of these happy occasions, and the caption that accompanies it:


‘Mayor, Madam Saima Mahmud of London Borough of Waltham Forest  hosted a reception in honour of Senator Sirajul Haq and presented souvenir on behalf of Council of London Borough of Waltham Forest. Deputy Secretary General JIP Muhammad Asghar, Spokesperson JIP in Britain Syed Shoukat Ali and Councillors Ahsan, Allah Ditta, Shabana, Liaqat Malik, Johar khan, Nadeem Malik, Masood, Dr Shiukat, vilaiyat khokhar, ILyas and other community leaders were also present at the occasion’ (Cllrs.Liaquat Ali, Ahsan Khan, and Shabana Dhedi are actually pictured, left, right second row, and right front).

So who exactly is the lucky Sirajul Haq?

Well it turns out that he is leader of a Pakistani political party called Jamaat-e-Islami, and holds views that are, to put it bluntly, rather unsavoury.

For instance, a quick Google search reveals that he believes ‘Jews’ are controlling the UN, rants about the ‘blasphemous acts and conspiracies of Christians and Jews’, and in relation to proposed laws aimed at protecting women from violence, advances the bizarre theory that ‘the West’ has an ‘agenda to destroy the family system in Pakistan’.

As for Jamaat-e-Islami as a whole, a reasonable encapsulation of its world view is that it desires a state governed by Islamic law; opposes ‘Westernisation’ in any form, whether capitalist or socialist;  abhors birth control, and relaxed social mores in general; and is even against images of Christmas trees appearing in schoolbooks.

It is also fair to say that Jamaat-e-Islam’s past record is in part rather sinister. For during Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, Jamat-e-Islami irregulars sided with the Pakistan army and inflicted horrendous torture and large-scale casualties. The account in Wikipedia is a reliable summation:

‘As an Islamist party JI was uninterested in ethnic issues or local languages but strongly supported Islamic unity, and so supported the Pakistani military in their campaign. East Pakistan JI head Ghulam Azam coordinated the development and operation of paramilitary forces during the war, including Razakar, Al-shams, Al-badr for collaboration with the Pakistan Army. These units committed genocide and other war crimes at the time, most notorious of which was the systematic execution of Bengali pro-liberation intellectuals on 14 December 1971. As the war neared its end, a final effort to wipe off as many intellectuals as possible took place, to eliminate the future leaders of the new nation. On 14 December 1971, over 200 of East Pakistan’s intellectuals including professors, journalists, doctors, artists, engineers, and writers were picked up from their homes in Dhaka by the Al-Badr militias. Notable novelist Shahidullah Kaiser and playwright Munier Choudhury were among the victims. They were taken blindfolded to torture cells in Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Nakhalpara, Rajarbagh and other locations in different sections of the city. Later they were executed en masse, most notably at Rayerbazar and Mirpur. Estimates of those East Pakistanis massacred throughout the war range from thirty thousand to three million’.

Of course, Cllr. Mahmud has a perfect right to entertain whosoever she wants in her own home, or at events organised by parties or societies that she is involved with.

But the meeting with Sirajul Haq was on council property, and she attended in her official capacity as Mayor, someone representing the whole borough.

In that context, inviting in, and to an extent celebrating, someone from such a controversial background, appears to be – at the very least – a significant lapse of judgement, and moreover one that is in contravention of LBWF’s wider policies promoting community cohesion.

A final observation. It appears that the councillors who attended the Sirajul Haq event were all members of the Labour Party. It is reasonable to assume that they understand Labour’s ethos and past record. It must also be obvious to them that Jamaat-e-Islami comes from a radically different tradition, and espouses far-right values that are anathema to the democratic Left. One wonders how they live with this unbridgeable dissonance, and what their colleagues in the party think of it.

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