Ken Livingstone, the British Labour Party's candidate for mayor of London, says he wants to turn the capital city into a "beacon" of Islam.
Speaking to Muslim worshippers on March 16 at the North London Central Mosque, one of the most hardline mosques in Europe, Livingstone pledged that if elected, he would "educate the mass of Londoners" about Islam.
Livingstone, a self-described socialist who previously served as the mayor of London from 2000 to 2008, declared: "I want to spend the next four years making sure that every non-Muslim in London knows and understands [Mohammed's] words and message. That will help to cement our city as a beacon that demonstrates the meaning of the words of the Prophet."
Livingstone's electioneering tactic may earn him the support of Muslim voters in London. But by speaking at the North London mosque, Livingstone has also succeeded in reviving long-standing suspicions that he is closely linked to Islamic fundamentalists.
The North London Central Mosque, also known as the Finsbury Park Mosque, has a well-established reputation for being a center for radical Islamism in Britain. The mosque was once controlled by Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian jihadist who is now in prison in Britain for "instigation to acts of terrorism." The Finsbury Mosque is currently being run by the Muslim Association of Britain, an Islamist organization tied to the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
One of Livingstone's main links to radical Islam is through an organization called the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), an Islamist group dedicated to changing the "very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed... from ignorance to Islam."
The IFE is especially active in the East London borough of Tower Hamlets. Also known as "The Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets," the area is brimming with extremist Muslim preachers, the Tower Hamlets' Taliban, who are seeking to impose Islamic Sharia law on large swaths of the British capital.
The Tower Hamlets' Taliban regularly issue death threats to women who refuse to wear Islamic veils. Neighborhood streets have been plastered with bright yellow posters declaring "You are entering a Sharia controlled zone: Islamic rules enforced." And street advertising deemed offensive to Muslims is regularly vandalized or blacked out with spray paint.
In 2010, Livingstone campaigned against his own party's candidate to back a Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant named Lutfur Rahman to become the mayor of Tower Hamlets. Rahman, known to be linked to Islamic jihadists, has dedicated much of his time as mayor to diverting public money to the IFE, and to stocking public libraries in Tower Hamlets with books and DVDs containing the extremist speeches of banned Islamist preachers.
Livingstone's ties to IFE began in 2004 when, as the mayor of London, he ordered the London Development Agency (LDA) to channel hundreds of thousands of pounds to the East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets for a new headquarters for the IFE. In return, IFE activists campaigned for Livingstone during the 2008 mayoral elections -- which he ended up losing by fewer than 150,000 votes -- by getting out the vote and achieving dramatic gains for him in Tower Hamlets and neighboring Newham.
Livingstone's friend Rahman is also a close ally of Anjem Choudary, a Sharia court judge based in London who believes in the primacy of Islam over all other faiths, and who has long campaigned for Islamic law to be implemented in all of Britain.
In July 2011, a Choudary-led extremist group called Muslims Against Crusades (MAC) launched a campaign to turn twelve British cities -- including what it called "Londonistan" -- into independent Islamic states. The so-called Islamic Emirates would function as autonomous enclaves ruled by Islamic Sharia law and operate entirely outside British jurisprudence.
The campaign, known as the Islamic Emirates Project, named the British cities of Birmingham, Bradford, Derby, Dewsbury, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, Sheffield, as well as Waltham Forest in northeast London and Tower Hamlets as territories to be targeted for blanket Sharia rule.
The project, which used the motto "The end of man-made law, and the start of Sharia law," was launched exactly six years after Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people and injured 800 others in London. A July 7, 2011 announcement posted by Muslims Against the Crusades, which has since been banned by the British government, stated:
"In the last 50 years, the United Kingdom has transformed beyond recognition. What was once a predominantly Christian country has now been overwhelmed by a rising Muslim population, which seeks to preserve its Islamic identity, and protect itself from the satanic values of the tyrannical British government."
"There are now over 2.8 million Muslims living in the United Kingdom -- which is a staggering 5% of the population -- but in truth, it is more than just numbers, indeed the entire infrastructure of Britain is changing; Mosques, Islamic Schools, Sharia Courts and Muslim owned businesses, have now become an integral part of the British landscape.
"In light of this glaring fact, Muslims Against Crusades have decided to launch 'The Islamic Emirates Project,' that will see high profile campaigns launch in Muslim enclaves all over Britain, with the objective to gradually transform Muslim communities into Islamic Emirates operating under Sharia law.
"With several Islamic emirates already well-established across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan, we see this as a radical, but very realistic step in the heart of Western Europe, that will Insha'Allah (God willing), pave the way for the worldwide domination of Islam."
According to a recent Ipsos MORI poll conducted for the BBC, Livingstone's main rival, the incumbent mayor Boris Johnson, holds a slight lead but is in a statistical dead heat. With an estimated one million Muslims living in London, Livingstone's appeal to Islam may, on May 3, propel him into the mayor's office. Either way, London appears headed for an Islamic future.
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him onFacebook .