A column decrying “Islamic England” printed in a US newspaper has been branded “shameful” by campaigners, with the author accused of “spreading misconceptions” by Tower Hamlets council.
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Andy Ngo detailed visits to east London’s Tower Hamlets and Leyton, the East London Mosque, Westminster and Luton, “the birthplace of the English Defence League”.
Writing days after former foreign secretary Boris Johnson sparked uproar by saying Muslim women who wear burkas look like “letterboxes”, Ngo concluded in his final paragraph: “Other tourists might remember London for Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus and Big Ben.
“I’ll remember it for its failed multiculturalism. Or perhaps this is what successful multiculturalism looks like.”
Tower Hamlets council defended the borough and said it was an “amazing, diverse and cosmopolitan place” where most residents were happy to live and most people got on well with each other.
Ngo’s piece was largely observational, but some of his assertions have already been disproved.
He appeared to suggest a street alcohol ban in Tower Hamlets had a religious connection and made light of Londoners not making eye contact as a sign of cultural division.
In response to the article, Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: “If the writer had bothered to do any research he would have found that no drinking zones have been introduced by many councils across the UK to tackle antisocial behaviour linked to street drinking.
“Sadly there are people who want to spread these misconceptions. The reality is that Tower Hamlets is an amazing, diverse and cosmopolitan place where 86% of residents say they get on well with one another and 79% are happy to live here, not least because of its thriving night-time and tourist economy.
“Areas such as Brick Lane, Spitalfields, Victoria Park and Canary Wharf are home to world renowned cultural attractions, historic monuments, pubs, clubs and festivals that residents and visitors enjoy.
“We have a duty to protect people from alcohol fuelled anti-social behaviour and, like other boroughs, we use powers to restrict street drinking. The signs reflect that.”
Ngo began his piece by recalling his first visit to the UK in 2006 where he “froze, confused and intimidated by the faceless figures” dressed head-to-toe in black cloaks – an encounter more memorable, he wrote, than the capital’s “spectacular sights and history”.
Anti-extremism Charity Tell Mama said it was “depressing” to see the Wall Street Journal print “a hit piece” written “through the prism” of fear.
Director Iman Atta told HuffPost UK that the column was “bizarre” and “about as detached from reality as landing in the US, seeing segregationists all around with menacing and brooding looks and with a penchant to convert people to their faith”.
He added: “We know that this is a twisted view of the US, but in the writer’s mind, such a polarised view of the UK is normal.”
The Muslim Council of Britain are yet to respond to a request for comment, but its assistant secretary general, Miqdaad Versi, called the column “shameful”, “shocking” and “nonsense” on Twitter.
Having referenced Johnson’s remarks in Telegraph, Ngo wrote that he wanted to “cut past the polemics” and experience London’s Muslim communities “for myself”.