Makbool Javaid interview: Sadiq Khan's former brother-in-law speaks out

Makbool Javaid speaking in 1997: "It is not a speech I would make today"
Makbool Javaid speaking in 1997: "It is not a speech I would make today"

By Fiona Bawdon

Makbool Javaid, the controversial former brother-in-law of London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan, readily accepts that the video of him speaking at a 1997 Islamic rally in Trafalgar Square makes him look like a "fucking nutter".

The footage shows Javaid, now a high-flying employment lawyer, railing against the evils of western civilisation. With his clenched fist, prayer cap and tub-thumping delivery, Javaid looks every inch what we have now come to think of as the stereotypical 'hate preacher'.

When the film surfaced online recently, The Sun accused Javaid of preaching "shocking... anti-western hate", branding him "evil", "notorious" and a "jihad-monger".


Of course, the reason Javaid's 20-year-old speech continues to haunt him is not because of what he said, but because of his former brother-in-law's political ambitions. In Javaid's words, he is just "collateral damage" in the increasingly bitter campaign to derail Khan's prospects in the London mayoral election.

Sitting in a Soho members club, Javaid wearily concedes "it is not a speech I would make today". The club is near to Simons Muirhead & Burton, the media law firm where he is an employment partner, and which, as Private Eye recently pointed out, includes The Sun among its clients.

Javaid tells me his 1997 comments were fuelled not by radicalism but naivety - and an advocate's innate desire to play up to his audience. Back then, ranting against western governments was just knockabout stuff, he claims. He says the skull cap wasn't even his. "That stupid hat!" he says. "Someone gave it to me just as I was about to go on stage."

For 22 years, Javaid was married to Sadiq Khan's sister, Farhat, who is also a lawyer. The couple had five children before divorcing in 2011. Although Khan and Javaid haven't spoken in ten years, footage from the 'rally against oppression' was the first of a slew of stories attempting to link Labour's candidate with extremism. Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told the Sun that Khan had shown "terrible judgement on who he associates with", as if Khan was somehow to blame for his sister's choice of marriage partner.

For his part, Javaid dismisses Khan as "a little short arse".

He adds: "He is a cold, calculating politician who wants to get on. I have mixed with politicians all my life. They are single-minded and ambitious and will do whatever it takes to get what they want."

The footage of the 1997 rally has been on Youtube since 2008 and Javaid says both he and Khan knew it would come up. When the press first raised the issue of his relation to Javaid, sources close to Khan were keen to stress the lengths he had taken to avoid him. In fact, such was the politician's desire to put distance between himself and his former brother-in-law that Javaid claims Khan missed both of his nieces' weddings. "His loss," says Javaid, although he admits the snub was painful for his family.

"That's the price [Sadiq not attending his nieces' weddings]," he says. "He knew and I knew that this [the film] could come up at some point. That makes it painful, because there is a family thing to it."

Javaid is now a successful lawyer. During his lengthy legal career, he's been involved in a number of groundbreaking anti-discrimination cases. In 2001, he won a six-figure payout for a Jewish broker whose City employer demanded he wear a Nazi uniform as a forfeit for being late into work. In 1996, when at the now-defunct Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), Javaid won damages from the employer of two black waitresses who had worked at a dinner where Bernard Manning, the comedian known for his racist jokes, was speaking.

While he may be highly-regarded now, on the evidence of the 1997 film he is no great orator. Javaid's speech is a sprawling affair, which meanders through slavery, the Holocaust, mistreatment of American Indians, Palestine, Nelson Mandela, the murder of James Bulger, and the rise of French far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Brigit Bardot is described as a "60s pornography star"; the West is condemned for "handing out condoms to 11-to-12-year-olds". The general thrust is that if the West is the problem, Islam is the solution. But anyone who watches to the end will realise there are no calls for violence or jihad.

Javaid describes the speech as 'impromptu'. Although he can clearly be seen reading from notes, he says he had no idea he was expected to speak until he got there. At the time, he had been giving pro bono legal advice to the now banned group Al Muhajiroun, and thought he had been invited as a legal observer.

Javaid accepts the speech was 'stupid', but says the kind of anti-western, anti-colonialist rhetoric he was spouting was only what you would hear at any anti-apartheid or anti-capitalist demonstration at the time. In those pre-9/11 days, no one took that kind of hyperbole very seriously, he insists.

Older and wiser now, Javaid is nothing if not direct in his condemnation of extremism. Isis are "murderous barbarians" and "an abomination that is not going to last." As a Muslim, "they would kill me sooner than anyone else," he says. "I don't have a beard. I am not devout in that way. I have cigarettes. I am an Arsenal fan. I would be killed."

Despite the number of column inches recently devoted to Javaid, there is nothing new in the claims about him.

The Trafalgar Square footage has been online for a number of years and claims about his supposed links to extremism first surfaced in 1998, when a number of newspapers published claims by Al Muhajiroun's founder Omar Bakri that Javaid was a member and a supporter of Osama bin Laden. No one troubled to check with Javaid first, so he sued five newspapers and settled with apologies and retractions. This was soon after the group had applauded the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which left 200 people dead. Javaid insists that it was only then he realised Al Muhajiroun was interested in anything more than promoting Islamic educational and social activities and he immediately severed all ties with the group.

I first met Javaid in the 1980s, soon after he left the civil liberties firm Bindmans to join CRE. At the time, he was also a leading light in the Society of Black Lawyers' energetic campaign to shame the legal profession into tackling race discrimination among its own members.

Photo of Makbool Javaid from the 1980s

Few who knew him in the 1980s would have seen Javaid as a firebrand. Quite the opposite. As well as advising umpteen community groups, he devoted a disproportionate amount of time to intensely mundane organisations. He sat on the Law Society's employment law committee.  He worked closely with fellow solicitor Henry Hodge (the late husband of Labour MP Margaret Hodge) to persuade the Law Society council to pass a practice rule against race discrimination - a bureaucratic process that would tax the patience of even the most mild mannered individual.

Rather than Osama bin Laden, his heroes are legal aid pioneers like Hodge, along with the likes of his former boss Sir Geoffrey Bindman (who represented him in his 1998 defamation action), and Tom Bingham, the former Master of the Rolls. Bingham's seminal 2010 book, 'The Rule of Law' is his "bible". "It should be compulsory reading for everyone," he says.

Javaid first came across Omar Bakri when he was approached by the Al Muhajiroun leader over media claims he wanted to assassinate prime minister John Major. "He said the press were hounding him, telling lies, so I thought, 'well, I can help him'," he says. It was a few years before he heard from Bakri again, by which time Javaid was at CRE, where his role included empowering disadvantaged groups. Javaid shared Bakri's concerns about growing anti-Muslim prejudice, and was happy to support a group which he says he understood to be dedicated to promoting educational and social activities consistent with the principles of Islam. "They'd call me up from time to time," he recalls. "They'd have issues about booking venues, and I'd try to help them, advising them on the law, and so on."

Ironically, given later developments, it was precisely because Bakri and his allies seemed fairly clueless that Javaid was so keen to help them. "They had no influence," he says. "They had no reach in the Muslim community. No one took them seriously."

Javaid wasn't alone in misjudging Bakri and his followers. In journalist Jon Ronson's 1997 documentary Tottenham Ayatollah, Bakri is portrayed as a harmless buffoon, calling for the arrest of the Spice Girls and the Islamic flag to fly over Downing Street. Javaid even makes a fleeting appearance in the film, attempting to keep the group out of trouble for plastering London traffic bollards and bus stops with its stickers.

That all changed by 2007, after a Bakri supporter was convicted of a bomb plot. Ronson wrote: "Back then we never really believed Omar Bakri's people were violent or motivated enough to actually initiate a jihad or commit acts of violence."

It was long after Ronson's film, and Javaid had stopped associating with the group that it started burning poppies and carrying out the other provocative stunts, for which it is now notorious.

Javaid says it dawned on him only slowly that Bakri had a more sinister agenda.

"The true face of the madness didn't reveal itself straightaway," he explains. "It wasn't like: 'Hello. I am completely mad!' Over time, it happens and you think, this is not sane. It's not going anywhere. They deserve all the shit they get."

He was appalled to discover Bakri had been taking his name in vain to the media, including listing him as signatory to a 1998 fatwa: 'Muslims in Britain declare war against the US and British governments.'

Javaid says Bakri's behaviour was driven by the realisation that the more unhinged his pronouncements, the more airtime he would get. In Ronson's film, he is shown boasting of having more journalists after him than Princess Di.

"Remember, this is an individual brought up in Syria, where the media is state-censored and state-controlled," Javaid says. "Suddenly, he's got the BBC, he's got Channel Four, he's got every newspaper listening to him. They send cars for him. Everyone's pampering him. This is like manna from heaven."

The group was eventually banned in 2005 and Bakri prevented from re-entering the UK.

Although clearly battered by the experience, Javaid insists his core beliefs are the same as when he had his first taste of activism a London School of Economics law student. "I don't think my politics have changed. The context has changed for everybody, but I still believe deeply in the rule of law and that civil liberties should be protected. Minority groups shouldn't be targeted."

While colleagues and lawyer friends have been supportive, others have been less so. When a colleague was litigating on behalf of a former Guantanamo detainee, a lawyer on the other side wrote back saying the client had only gone to the firm because it employs the "well known Islamist Mr Javaid". A libel silk was consulted and the comment was withdrawn.

Javaid says: "Everything that's happened to me… if I was an accountant or in any other profession, I'd be finished now. The only reason I am still standing - God knows for how long - is because this country has the greatest legal profession in the world and we have some of the best lawyers the world has ever produced."

Fiona Bawdon is a freelance legal affairs journalist, based in London. You can visit her website at fionabawdon.com or follow @fionabawdon

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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