I recently bought a flat in London. Well, whoop-de-doo for me. Not so far out of town (Wolverhampton, for instance) that even an estate agent with their talent for hyperbole would have trouble pretending it was really London. No, this is the genuine article. The heart of the East End; Whitechapel to be precise, where the Krays and Jack the Ripper once roamed.
There's no point pretending it's a pretty area. It isn't. There's no point pretending it's a tranquil area. It isn't. There's no point pretending it's a crime free area. It isn't. There's no point pretending it's a tidy area. It isn't. And there's definitely no point pretending it's a cheap area. It isn't. Not any more.
I won't embarrass myself by revealing how much I paid for my property. For much less though, I could be on my own island in the Outer Hebrides.
Whitechapel has always been a diverse place - a melting pot of religions, races and cultures, making it a favourite with immigrants. In the 19th and early 20th century, it was the centre of the the city's Jewish community. In the latter half of the 20th century, it became the centre for British Bangladeshis and so it remains. Muslims far outweigh any other group. Does this concern me? Do I sense, as Donald Trump asserted, that I'm living in a 'No Go' area? Of course not. That'd be ludicrous.
I moved in and I found out that directly in front of my building there's to be a giant three storey Mosque extension. Also, in the corner of the site and plainly visible from my balcony and on a clear day, Mecca, there'll be an 85 foot high Minaret that these days is simply a decorative folly. Out of interest, this will be the second biggest Mosque in Tower Hamlets.
The largest, with a 7,000 capacity, is a mere 5-10 minutes walk away. Why then the need for another one so near and in a cheirfly residential area?
To cut a long story short, despite planning permission initially being declined, it was subsequently granted with head spinning speed a few months afterwards. All this suspiciously at a time when the Tower Hamlets former disgraced Mayor, Lutfar Rahman was in power. The same Lutfar Rahman who is again to come under the spotlight with further investigations into "major failings" over the 2014 mayoral race which he won through illegal and corrupt practices.
Weirdly, my local authority property search threw up nothing, leaving me and other residents desperately trying to do something, including fruitlessly roping in local and national politicians. Baroness Warsi, who herself rails against the building of ugly Mosques and in particular Minarets, intervened on our behalf, but ultimately couldn't apparently do anything.
Not that it matters, but I'm an atheist, believing, as do other non-believers, that religion is responsible for many of the world's problems. However, be it Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam or Scientology, I'm not against anyone praying and having an appropriate place within which to do so. What I do object is the sexual segregation of those who visit venues of veneration, which is what happens with Mosques.
It's widely acknowledged that in the Muslim faith, women play second fiddle to their menfolk, but should this mean they can't worship together?
One of the reasons this new Mosque got the green light is because it will feature a women's prayer hall. Forget a huge leap forward in liberation, a giant step back might be more like it.
I checked why men and women can't pray together and supposedly it's due to the fact that men are lustful and will think inappropriate thoughts about women. By being separated, men are able to keep their thoughts pure and focus on praying to Allah. But what if men have inappropriate thoughts about other men? Perhaps best not to go there, although as a member of the LGBTT community, I wish we could address the issue and reduce ingrained homophobia.
On reflection, I'd have to admit, and it goes against every fibre of my being, that I now find myself looking at the Muslim community with slight puzzled resentment. Furthermore, I dislike myself for doing so. And it's all thanks to some crazy planning decision that never should have happened.
To be honest, I regret ever buying my latest home. I worry about the environmental impact of increased traffic, the prospect of greater societal tension, plus, from a purely selfish perspective, the flat's worth. Being so close to such a mammoth Mosque will, according to the agent who sold me it, reduce its value considerably.
Depending on the price, maybe the Mosque's Imam will fancy buying it from me. If they do, I've a notion there's an island in the Outer Hebrides with my name on it.