10 Questions for Anjem Choudary

My challenge to the publicity-seeking, extremist windbag

From the Guardian:

The leader of Islam4UK has said he will try to persuade people in Wootton Bassett to back an anti-war parade along the main street -- the same route used to bring home the bodies of troops from Afghanistan.

Anjem Choudary, whose group is an offshoot of the radical al-Muhajiroun movement, has caused anger by calling for members to parade through the Wiltshire town carrying up to 500 coffins symbolising the Muslim dead from the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

But why do the media give the buffoonish Choudary so much time and attention? And why, when he is interviewed, are the questions so piss-poor and pathetic?

Here are ten questions that I think British journalists should be putting to the leader of "Islam4UK":

1) Do you have any qualifications as an Islamic scholar? If not, on what basis do you call yourself a "sharia judge" and why on earth should anyone take your pronouncements on Islam, Muslims or "the hellfire" seriously?

From Wikipedia: "He is a qualified solicitor and chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers, although he was removed from the roll in 2002. He has also claimed to be a "judge" of the "Shari'ah Court of the UK",[4] alongside Omar Bakri;[5] although neither man is an official of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, the only legally binding sharia court in the UK."

2) Do you not think it is even slightly hypocritical to live off benefits from the same British state that you revile and reject? Why do you say it's "not of any importance"?

From the London Evening Standard: "Mr Choudary, a father of three, admitted he lived off benefits despite objecting to the British state. He rejected suggestions of hypocrisy, saying: 'I don't think it's of any importance.' "

3) After you've gone to Wootton Bassett, will you take your coffins and go to Kandahar as well, to protest against the killing of innocent Afghans there by the Taliban and al-Qaeda? If not, why not?

From the UN News Centre: "UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] recorded 1,013 civilian deaths in the first six months of 2009, an increase of 24 per cent as compared to the same period in 2008. Of these, 59 per cent (595 deaths) were due to AGEs [anti-government elements] and 30.5 per cent (310 deaths) to PGFs [pro-government forces]."

4) Why did you call off your "march for sharia" in October 2009? Is it because you couldn't round up enough people to turn out for your "cause"?

From the Guardian: "At the eleventh hour, we heard that Islam4UK were cancelling their demonstration, rumours that were initially dismissed as the Choudary camp's standard tactical manoeuvring. When it later emerged that Islam4UK had indeed sheepishly withdrawn from their own protest, the official reason doing the rounds was that English Defence League members had made death threats towards Anjem Choudary. What an irony. Al-Muhajiroun have repeatedly praised the 9/11 terrorists as 'magnificent' yet they wholly failed to muster up the moral courage to square up to their first challenge from Muslim democrats. They ran scared -- terrified by the prospect of an intellectual duel of conflicting viewpoints, in full view of the media and the public."

5) You have called for people who drink alcohol to be lashed, but how do you square that with your own record of drinking? Do you plan to lash yourself?

From the Telegraph: "Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary has called for people who get drunk to be flogged. The lawyer, who recently praised the Mumbai terror attacks, said anyone becoming intoxicated by alcohol should be given 40 lashes in public. He claimed alcohol was 'the root of all evil'. The 41-year-old made the remarks on his website Islam4UK, which argues that Britain should become an Islamic state ruled by sharia law."

From the Daily Mail: "Photographs obtained by the Mail suggest 'Andy' -- as he was then known -- should be inflicting on himself the 40 lashes he prescribes for drunkenness. As well as downing cider and lager, the cleric is shown playing drinking games with cards, clearly forbidden under his strict Islamic laws, and holding a cannabis joint between his lips before smoking it. And the woman on the cover of the Mayfair pornographic magazine he is looking at is certainly not wearing a burka. On the evidence of friends from his student days, Choudary had sex with numerous white Christian girls."

6) You claim Islam is "not a religion of peace" but a "religion of submission" -- but have you not read the verse in the Quran which says that "there is no compulsion in religion"?

From the Evening Standard: "When a woman in a burkha asked how he could justify this when Islam was supposed to be a religion of peace, the crowd mocked her. But it was Choudary who rose to put her in her place. 'Islam is not a religion of peace,' he said. 'It is a religion of submission. We need to submit to the will of Allah.' "

From the Quran (2:256): "There is no compulsion in religion."

7) You and your allies have described 11 September 2001 as a "towering day" and the 19 hijackers as "magificent". Do you have a fatwa from any reputed Muslim scholar or Islamic seat of learning which supports your view?

From Wikipedia: Abu Hamza al-Masri created the Islamic Council of Britain to "implement sharia law in Britain", in 2002, on the first anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks, primarily through funding from al-Muhajiroun. Masri celebrated the establishment of the ICB and the 9/11 attacks by holding a conference at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London entitled "September the 11th 2001: A Towering Day in History". Bakri, who attended the conference, said that the delegates "look at September 11 like a battle, as a great achievement by the mujahideen against the evil superpower. I never praised September 11 after it happened but now I can see why they did it." Flyers distributed at the conference referred to the hijackers as the "Magnificent 19".

8) You say you have "no sympathy whatsoever" with the grieving parents of fallen soldiers, but how do you square that with the Islamic emphasis on mercy and compassion, even towards one's enemies?

From the Sun: "He also told grieving parents of war dead that he had 'no sympathy whatsoever' for fallen troops."

From the Islamic scholar Professor Ali Asghar Engineer: "The very opening of the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, is with 'Bism Allahir Rahmanir Rahim', ie, I begin in the name of Allah who is Compassionate and Merciful. Thus it will be seen that Compassion is one of the names of Allah and it is among the most popular names of Allah. Muslims always begin their name with this incantation, ie, 'I begin in the name of Allah who is Compassionate and Merciful'. A Muslim who worships Allah has to be compassionate in his own behaviour, else his/her worship would not be complete. There are four key values in Qur'an which are repeatedly emphasised: Justice ('adl), benevolence (ihsan), compassion (rahmah) and wisdom (hikmah) and compassion is one of them."

9) If one of your own four young children had been blown to pieces on 7 July 2005, would you still claim that "oppressed" Muslims had a right to defend themselves using "whatever means"?

From the Sun: "Anjem Choudary also claimed 'oppressed' Muslims had a right to defend themselves using 'whatever means'. Choudary, 38, right-hand man of exiled hate preacher Omar Bakri, repeatedly refused to condemn the 7/7 bombers at a press conference on the eve of the anniversary of the London blasts. But when asked if he would inform the police of another suicide mission he said in Walthamstow, east London: 'No I wouldn't. I don't think Muslims can co-operate with police.' "

From Wikipedia: "Choudary married 22-year-old Rubana Akhtar in 1996, who had recently joined al-Muhajiroun, which he led at the time.[46] They settled in Ilford, London, and had four children: three daughters (Hidayah, born 1999, Hajar, born 2004, and Wafa, born 2008) and one son (Luqman, born 2001)."

10) Why do you continue to reside in a country you hate so much?

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.