Who says that Islamists can’t learn a trick or two from the West when they have to? Take a glance at the glossy brochure of Islam Expo – billed as Europe’s “biggest Islamic cultural festival” – which ended at Olympia yesterday. You could be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at the catalogue for the forthcoming Boden sale that comes to the venerable London exhibition centre in a few weeks’ time.
Visitors to Islam Expo would have witnessed such innocent activities as an Islamic arts and crafts workshop for under 12s, live Islamic storytelling performances and lute-playing and poetry recitals in the pomegranate and date gardens.
The old Comintern would have instantly recognised the first rate tradecraft involved in organising all this. Just as Moscow and its allies knew how to organise a “popular front” to draw non-communist progressives and liberals into their orbit of influence, so some Islamists have honed a keen sense of how to present a non-threatening face to the West and to the many hundreds of decent, apolitical Muslims who turned up for a family day out.
But behind the cultural soft power of Islam Expo, there is political hard power, and some of it comes in quite raw, unpalatable forms. The organisers gave floor space in the exhibition section to the genocidal regime in Sudan (festooned with pictures of happy-looking black Africans) and to the “Cultural Section” of the Iranian Embassy (representing an aspirant genocidal regime) and the Algerian junta (no spring picnic on human rights).
This perhaps becomes less surprising when one examines some of the directors of Islam Expo. All oppose al-Qaeda violence, but they are anything but moderate Muslims. They include Azzam Tamimi, a supporter of Hamas suicide bombings in Israel and an admirer of Ayatollah Khomeini; and Ismail Adam Patel, who believes that women in the West who are raped share responsibility with their attackers.
Consider also the views of one of the expo’s speakers: “Prof Zaghloul al Naggar, professor of geology and director of the London-based Markfield Institute of Higher Education has rightly told IslamOnline that many Westerners – some of them homosexual – convert to Islam in order to appeal to Islamic communities and spread sinful behaviour among Muslims, thus shaking their belief,” according to the allaahuakbar.net website.
No wonder Hazel Blears, the feisty Secretary of State for Communities, decided last week that this was not a place where any minister should be seen. Most of her Muslim colleagues in the Labour Party backed her, including the MPs Sadiq Khan and Khalid Mahmood.