David Cameron, Zac Goldsmith and Andrew Neil Owe Suliman Gani An Apology for Calling Him “Repellent” and an IS Supporter

21.4.16

A photo of Zac Goldsmith with Suliman Gani, released by Gani after Goldsmith had unjustifiably described him as "one of the most repellent figures in this country."What a disgrace the Tories are. With Zac Goldsmith consistently trailing Sadiq Khan in the polls, prior to the election of London’s Mayor on May 5, campaign managers — including PR guru Lynton Crosby, who specialises only in the kind of black propaganda that has dragged politics into the gutter for the last six years — decided to play the race card, accusing Khan, a Muslim, of sharing platforms with Muslim extremists, and singling out, for particular attention, Suliman Gani, a teacher and broadcaster, and formerly the imam of Tooting Islamic Centre.

This was an odd choice, as anyone who knows Suliman Gani can confirm, because he is no extremist, but, rather, a community leader who tries to build bridges between communities, and a tireless advocate for human rights. I have known him for many years through my work on Guantánamo and the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, and have always found him to be thoroughly decent. Although he is socially conservative, and opposed to gay marriage, which is not a position I take, it is one that many Tories do, but I have no reason to suspect that he views women as “subservient,” as alleged, or, crucially, to believe that he is at all supportive of terrorism.

So it came as a real shock when, last Thursday, speaking of individuals Sadiq Khan has shared a platform with, Zac Goldsmith said, “To share a platform nine times with Suliman Gani, one of the most repellent figures in this country, you don’t do it by accident.”

Suliman Gani was shocked. Everyone who knew him was shocked. One might expect the violence-seeking provocateur Anjem Choudary to merit a description as “one of the most repellent figures in this country” by a white political candidate playing the race card, but not Suliman Gani.

And oh, the humiliation when Gani posted a photo of Zac Goldsmith standing with him, taken at an event last November encouraging Muslims to stand for election as Tory councillors, which was organised by Dan Watkins, the Conservative Parliamentary Spokesman for Tooting, who had stood against Sadiq Khan (and lost) at last year’s General Election. Gani has also appeared with other prominent Tories, including Jane Ellison, Tania MathiasDavid Davis and Andrew Mitchell during human rights campaigns.

Goldsmith was also caught out trying to accuse Sadiq Khan of supporting Tooting resident Babar Ahmad, who was extradited to the US on terrorism charges (and is now back home in the UK). As Dave Hill described it in the Guardian:

He accused Khan of poor judgment by campaigning on Ahmad’s behalf and said he had “never heard of Ahmad until quite recently.” But within hours, video footage from 2012 emerged of Goldsmith telling anti-extradition campaigners that Ahmad’s case had “caught people’s imagination” and that he’d “been bombarded with letters” about it.

And then, on Monday, Andrew Neil stepped into the fray, nakedly showing political bias at a televised Mayoral debate by targeting Khan for sharing a platform with Gani, who, he said, supported IS, a claim that he fervently denies.

Gani immediately took legal advice, and as the media took an interest I liaised with him and LBC’s Theo Usherwood, and accompanied him to LBC’s studios for an interview at which he sought an apology from Zac Goldsmith, and, to amplify the Tories’ discomfort, revealed that he had actually backed the Tory candidate Dan Watkins against Sadiq Khan in the General Election last May and “even supplied canvassers for his campaign,” as the Guardian described it, reporting that he also “said he felt he had been used by the Conservatives ‘as a scapegoat to discredit Sadiq Khan.'” On April 14, Gani had also tweeted this photo of himself with Watkins.

In the interview, which aired yesterday, Gani also “said he spoke to Goldsmith, who by that time had become the Tory mayoral candidate, outside the meeting, shook his hand and requested a meeting with him to discuss giving further help.” According to Gani, “Goldsmith was very polite and said it was: ‘No problem, and I should send him an email.'”

Before the interview aired, however, David Cameron got involved, repeating the claim that Suliman Gani supported IS during Prime Minister’s Question Time, to boos from the Labour benches, I’m glad to note, and denunciations from senior figures in the Labour Party. A spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn said, “I think it demeans the office of the Prime Minister to repeat some of those allegations. Sadiq has been very strong on issues around terrorism.” Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter stated, “Cameron sinks into the gutter in a desperate bid to prop up his failing candidate. Demeans his office. Shame on him.”

In response to the attacks, Gani tweeted, “PM David Cameron accused me of being an extremist and that I support IS! He did so during PMQT in the commons and therefore cannot be sued.” In a second tweet, he wrote, “I hope the Prime Minister will reflect and retract his comments. This is defamation at its highest level.”

As Dave Hill noted for the Guardian, “Gani also told Usherwood that his alleged support for Islamic State was based on a misconstrued remark made by someone else at a meeting where the ‘historical context’ of IS’s emergence was discussed.”

A poster for "The Evils of Isis," an event in January 2016 at which Suliman Gani, unjustly described as an IS supporter, spoke against their un-Islamic behaviour.He added that it was “not clear if the meeting in question” was the one advertised in the poster for a discussion in January, “The Evils of Isis,” which I’ve also posted here. As he noted, however, “The title of the Mitcham event [is] of interest in view of the prime minister’s Commons allegation about Gani.” Perhaps the best way of looking at the way the Tories have mischaracterised Gani’s views is to understand that, although he is in favour of the establishment of an Islamic State, he is appalled by the brutality of Daesh, whose violence he regards as un-Islamic.

As Hill also noted, “Gani said he had ‘never promoted terrorism or violence,’ and went on to say that he had fallen out with Khan over the MP’s support for same sex marriage.”

In response to the PMQ debacle, Sadiq Khan said, “The Tories are running a nasty, dog-whistling campaign that is designed to divide London’s communities. I’m disappointed that the Prime Minister has today joined in.”

That certainly seems to be true, and while I hope the Tories pay at the polls for their dirty campaigning, I do also think that Suliman Gani deserves an apology from David Cameron, Zac Goldsmith and Andrew Neil. The Muslim community, and those who know him, have rallied around him, but damage has been done to his reputation that is completely underserved, and he seems, above all, to be collateral damage to the Tories in a disgraceful effort to swing some old white racists their way in the last weeks of the Mayoral campaign. Ironically, however, they seem instead to have alienated considerably more Muslim voters, many of whom were planning to vote for Zac Goldsmith until they saw the Tories in their true colours.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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20 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my take on the digraceful slander of teacher and cleric Suliman Gani by Tory Mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, Prime Minister David Cameron and Tory sympathiser Andrew Neil, in an effort to get at Labour Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan, who has appeared with him. Goldsmith called Gani, a thoroughly decent man and a persistent defender of human rights, “one of the most repellent figures” in the UK, and the PM and Neil followed up by calling him a supporter of IS/Daesh, which he fervently denies. Gani deserves a public apology from all three, but here are some ironies: Goldsmith forgot he’d been photographed with Gani, and Gani himself had been working with the Tories, and, like many Muslims, had even been planning to vote for Goldsmith. I think there will now be an exodus of Muslim votes away from the Tories, and it serves them right!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m pleased to see the story getting some mainstream media coverage. Here’s Faisal Islam for Sky News, for example, pointing out David Cameron’s disgraceful mangling of the truth. Islam wrote that according to “a newspaper report, [Gani had] expressed support for an Islamic State – but not the organisation known as Daesh, ISIL and ISIS.”
    He continued, “I asked for clarification. None came. And when I raised the issue with Number 10 they said that by IS, the PM meant ‘an Islamic state’, not the so-called Islamic State.” That’s quite a difference, as Islam also noted, stating, “The very curious thing about that answer is that the PM is so particular about the terminology around the group in Iraq and Syria that he has even told broadcasters to use Daesh instead. He changed the Government terminology for the group in December.”
    See: http://news.sky.com/story/1682433/the-tale-of-the-pm-and-the-tory-backing-imam

  3. Andy Worthington says...

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Angie Graham wrote:

    It is outragious that the pm and the others involved feel that they can treat Mr Gani in such a cavalier fashion to suit their own agenda.They should be made to face court for treating him so disgracefully.They should then be made to publicaly apologise. They are obviously getting desperate.Zac Goldsmith should be made to withdraw from the election.Andrew Neil should be sacked too.The pm should be disciplined or sacked.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Angie. Yes, well said!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Robert Hall wrote:

    i cud not give a hoot who is mayor

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    And I understand that, Robert, but at some very fundamental level I want the Tories to get a bloody nose for the way they have treated us, the ordinary people of Britain, with unprecedented disdain for the last six years.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Fiona Branson wrote:

    Personally, I’m more disturbed by your statement “Gani himself had been working with the Tories, and, like many Muslims, had even been planning to vote for Goldsmith” than by the fact that he’s been photographed with Sadiq Khan.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the whole thing is full of absurdities and contradictions, Fiona. I try to focus on the irony of the Tories alienating so many Muslims with whom they have so much in common rather than anything else, as a socialist myself who rarely, if ever, agrees with the Tories on anything.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Check it out – Theo Usherwood has been giving Zac Goldsmith a grilling today on LBC: http://www.lbc.co.uk/zac-goldsmith-challenged-on-islamophobic-campaign-129210

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    And the BBC has made some sort of apology to Suliman Gani for Andrew Neil’s shameful slander of him during Monday’s Mayoral debate: https://twitter.com/BBCLondonNews/status/723260697661022209/photo/1

  12. Daniel says...

    Thanks for the post. And thanks for your continued work on Guantanamo.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Daniel. Good to hear from you. Your supportive words are greatly appreciated.

  14. Hameed says...

    BS!

    Hateful Suliman Gani calling for boycott of candidate based on his religion;
    https://twitter.com/bilalmahmooduk/status/723125001734504448

  15. Hameed says...

    Suliman Gani for you
    https://t.co/FmQ7thg01b

  16. Ash says...

    Irony here is Sadiq Khan has a very low reputation in the muslim community and is viewed as someone who instead of speaking out against rabid Islamaphobia in some quarters has infact bent over backwards, to appease the Islamaphobes, and endorse their propaganda against the muslim community, most notably in the Sun newspapers now discredited article accusing ” 1 in 5 Muslims” of supporting ISIS…Can’t think of a previous election where two equally “repellant” candidates have contested it. One desperately race baiting to try and get elected, the other so spineless and cowardly that he is unwilling to speak out against the consistent public lynching and ‘Islamaphobia’ directed against the muslim community that he originates but infact seeming to have been complicit in it, and now himself becoming a victim of it. As for Sulaiman Ghani feel sorry for him, his reputation has been permanently smeared by the BBC and Dodgy Dave.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ash. Good to hear from you.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    The smears haven’t stopped, so we’ve now launched a petition calling on Cameron to make a public apology. Please sign and share! https://www.change.org/p/calling-on-friends-of-suliman-gani-join-us-in-urging-david-cameron-to-apologise-and-retract-his-false-allegations

  19. The hypocrisy of British politics says...

    […] campaign, the place he has attempted to affiliate Sadiq Khan with Muslim extremism. He’s saidto has defined Gani as “one of probably the most repellent figures on this united states of […]

  20. Labour’s crisis of anti-Semitism – The opinion of a Fat Belly Man says...

    […] Labour should not take any lessons from the Tories. It’s frustrating that they have been given such a light ride on the use of Islamophobia in the London mayoral election, where they have tried to link Sadiq Khan to ‘radical and extremist Muslims’. At times this has been farcical. One of those so called extremists that the Tories condemned, Suliman Gani, turned out to be a Tory supporter! It goes without saying that neither Zac Goldsmith nor David Cameron have apologised to Suliman Gani. […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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