Because “Islamophobe” is shorthand for “Bad Person”, it can sometimes silence legitimate debate – which is what the mayor of the London borough of Tower Hamlets seems to have tried to do to the BBC.
Lutfur Rahman is Britain’s first directly elected Asian mayor. On 22 May, he seeks re-election. He says he aspires to the highest standards of transparency and probity and that he welcomes scrutiny.
Two weeks ago, on Panorama, we scrutinised the way he’s run this most diverse of boroughs. Instead of welcoming this, the mayor employed a major City law firm and a PR company at huge public expense to try to get the programme stopped.
Tower Hamlets is home to the largest Bangladeshi population in Britain. The mayor says he seeks only to promote harmony; his Gandhi-like watchword is “No Place for Hate”. Yet before even a frame had been transmitted, a fusillade of hate-filled tweets screamed from his closest supporters: the licence fee had been “used to preach hate”, to “demonise Muslims” and to “peddle racism and Islamophobia”.
The mayor launched an inflammatory 26-minute counter-documentary, weeks in the making. Fat was poured on this fire by a young Bengali researcher, who made increasingly fantastical claims that we were “Islamophobic bullies” and handed confidential research material from our production, including source notes, to the mayor’s office. Because of concerns about her reliability, we had asked her to leave the team after five days…